Thursday, August 26, 2010

Top Ten Picks: Fictional Places

Top Ten Picks is hosted by Jillian at Random Ramblings. This week, the topic is "Fictional Places".

So for this week, the topic is on ten fictional places that stand out to you in the world of literature. These are the wonderful settings that either made your jaw drop in awe or simply terrified you. Either they are good or not-so-pleasant places, they have inspired your imagination to take a journey somewhere you've never been.

Here are my picks (in no particular order):

Fictional Places I'd Love to Visit

10. The Hundred Acre Wood
from Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

Who wouldn't want to hang out with a bunch of talking animals in a lovely English forest? Winnie-the-Pooh was one of the first books I ever owned. It still holds a special place in my heart. Mostly, I'd want to hang out in the Hundred Acre Wood because of all the wonderful critters who live there.

9. Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia
from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The countries of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia come to life on the pages of The Thief. Though the geography seems similar to Greece, with its olive groves and rolling hills, the cultures of these countries would make any one of them a fascinating travel destination.

8. the alternate dimension
from The Willowmere Chronicles by Alison Baird

Years before Alyson Noël gave us Summerland in her Immortals series, Alison Baird gave us a very similar alternate dimension, where reality could be manipulated just by thinking about it. I can't recall at the moment if this place had a name, but the basics were much the same as Summerland. (I can't say I'm surprised, though; the Immortals series is one of the most unoriginal and derivative I've ever read.) I'd love to visit this place and see my thoughts and dreams manifest almost instantaneously. How much fun would that be? I'd never want to leave.

7. the castle
from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

When I read this book, one of the reasons I loved it so much was because of the idea of living in a ruined castle. There are so many nooks and crannies in which to hide, and plenty of space so that you're not tripping over your family members. Living in an abode with so much history would be interesting, as well.

6. Misselthwaite Manor
from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I must admit that I never really fell in love with Misselthwaite Manor until the 1993 movie came out. And then... oh, my gosh. I just wanted to pack up my bags and move there! Too bad it doesn't actually exist. From the maze of hallways to the secret passages to the gorgeous gardens, Misselthwaite is definitely a location that would be on my "must-see fictional places" itinerary.

5. Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom
from Sabriel by Garth Nix

It's the contrast between the ancient and the modern that I found intriguing in Garth Nix's wonderful story. Can you imagine living in a fairly modern country... with a land of old magic right next door? I'd be hopping the border to explore...

4. Opium
from The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

This is one of those places that I would -- yet wouldn't -- want to visit. I'd love to see the landscape and the fields of poppies. But I don't think I'd want to live there. The ethics of the place don't really mesh with my own.

3. Hogwarts
from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

I've always liked castles, but Hogwarts takes the cake. It's just so cool! Ceilings that are enchanted to replicate the night sky, staircases that move, paintings that talk, secret chambers (or Chambers of Secrets)... There would be so much to explore that I'd probably be there for months (if not years).

Fictional Places I'd Never Want to Visit

2. the Forest
from The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I didn't really like this book, but I have to admit that the Forest made an impression on me. There's something utterly creepy about a forest where nothing lives (except zombies... and their living is questionable), and the only way through this forest is a series of fenced paths of unknown origin. Had more been explained, I probably would have liked the story more than I did. But the forest is still creepy enough to make my list of places I'd never want to visit.

1. the Forest
from The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

This forest is even creepier than the last. There are things that live there that you wouldn't want to even think about, much less encounter. You couldn't pay me to visit this place (but it makes for a delightfully creepy setting for the events in this book).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In My Mailbox (17)

Tiger Moon
by Antonia Michaelis

How does a story of India begin? Does it begin with the three great rivers—the Ganges, the Yamuna, the unseen Sarasvati pouring her dreaming waters down from the snowy mountains to the hot, dry plain?

This bewitching story within a story, set in magical India, explores the power of narrative to change the course of lives. Raka, the doomed young bride of a violent merchant, weaves a tale of rescue so vivid, it might just come true. She tells a servant boy the story of Farhad, a thief and unlikely hero, who must retrieve a famous jewel in order to save a kidnapped princess from a demon king. Farhad’s unforgettable companion on the journey is a wisecracking white tiger with an unnatural fear of water. It is their unusual and funny friendship, and the final sacrifice that they must make, that is the heart of this grand, beautiful novel about summoning the hero within.
After the Basajaun debacle, I was not willing to leave anything up to chance. I'm so tired of spending money on books that I hate, based on glowing reviews online. So I went to a local children's bookstore and told the clerk I was looking for something that was well written. Her recommendations were My Name Is Memory (which I've already read and reviewed), Ship Breaker, Sovay, Birthmarked, and Tiger Moon. A number of those books were on my wishlist already, but I'd never heard of Tiger Moon. So why did I pick it? It was the cheapest. But you know what? So far, it's pretty good. I've been transported to turn-of-the-century India... and I love it.

What was in your "mailbox" this week?

In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Booking Through Thursday (19)

Booking Through Thursday asks:

1. Favorite childhood book?
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

2. What are you reading right now?
Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None. Our library sucks. Unless I want to read Harry Potter or Christian fiction, the pickings are kind of slim.

4. Bad book habit?
Using the dust jacket as a bookmark.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Nothing. (See #3.)

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No. I'm conflicted about the whole e-reader thing.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I used to have a bunch of books on the go at once. These days, I'm reading them one at a time.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Not a lot. Although, I will try to finish books so I can review them (even if they're utter crap).

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)?
Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Most of the time.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Anything that's well written (and these days, that seems to mean very few books).

13. Can you read on the bus?
Probably not now (due to motion sickness). But I have done so in the past.

14. Favorite place to read?
In bed.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I don't do it.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

18. Not even with text books?
No. I think I'd probably use Post-It Notes or something, if I really felt the need to make a note.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English. Although, reading in French can be a nice challenge.

20. What makes you love a book?
Good writing and characters I can relate to.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
See #20.

22. Favorite genre?
Contemporary fantasy.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
High fantasy.

24. Favorite biography?
Child Star by Shirley Temple Black (technically an autobiography, but it's still my favourite)

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Yes. It didn't help.

26. Favorite cookbook?
Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. The pictures make me want to bake!

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Memories of the Afterlife by Michael Newton, Ph.D. (okay, so I read it last December... so it was within the past year)

28. Favorite reading snack?
Nothing. I don't like food around my books.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Um... probably every case in which I picked up an over-hyped book, only to find out that it was garbage. That happens way too often.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Critics? As in bloggers and reviewers? Probably less than half the time.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
An author can't improve if everybody lies to them and tells them they're awesome. So I won't hesitate to point out flaws when I see them.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Swedish? (I don't know that I would really want to bother. Most books seem to have English editions, anyway. At least, most of the books I'd want to read do...)

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. I had a feeling it was going to be bad, and the sheer size of the thing didn't help.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Anything by Charles Dickens.

35. Favorite Poet?
Dr. Seuss. (Seriously, though, I don't really read a lot of poetry.)

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
I've returned plenty that I never finished, but I usually at least start them.

38. Favorite fictional character?
I can't pick just one! See here.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
I can't pick just one! See here.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
I don't think I'd take books on vacation. I can read at home.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Without reading anything? A few hours (when I'm asleep). Without reading an actual book? Probably a few months.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Any sort of noise. So I wear earplugs when I read.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
There are too many! See here.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Howl's Moving Castle, hands down. I still feel like crying when I think of how awesome it could have been in the hands of someone like Tim Burton.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Hmmm... About $100? Probably less.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Less often than I should.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Surprise Christian evangelism or graphic sex. (I mean, I should know what I'm reading going into it, but I have been surprised in the past.)

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
I like to... but I don't always.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I keep the ones I love. The ones I hate go to the used book store.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
The 3rd, 4th, and 5th books of Alyson Noël's Immortals series. The first two were enough to put me off the author for life. Also, anything by Shannon Hale because her response to the failure of Breaking Dawn was insulting and arrogant.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson. No book that bad should ever have gotten through the gatekeepers at a traditional publishing house.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. This was a huge surprise. It's one of my favourite stories now, and I'm grateful to that weird English professor for assigning it (even though the other two books she assigned that semester I would have preferred to burn).

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I don't feel guilty about what I read to begin with.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review - Basajaun

by Rosemary Van Deuren

This is the first self-published novel I've read and reviewed (at least, for the purposes of this blog). I am kind of conflicted about how to proceed. On the one hand, I don't want to discourage people from writing and putting their work out there. On the other hand, I certainly don't want to encourage anyone to read this book.

(There will be spoilers in this review. I can't very well talk about the things I hated if I can't talk about the ending...)

On the plus side, the cover is great. Unlike a lot of self-published book covers, this one looks very professional. If I saw it sitting on the shelf in a bookstore, I wouldn't automatically assume it hadn't come from a traditional publisher. The author had to design and make the cover herself. She's apparently got a visual arts background, and it's evident here. Unfortunately, the lack of a background in writing really shows on the inside of the book.

According to the back cover, this is what Basajaun is about:

In the world of the rabbits, she is hailed as a savior.
In the world of men, a holy man wants her dead.
She is twelve years old.

In an isolated European farm town in 1906, a Pastor known as 'the rabbit killer' is preaching that the overrun of rabbits is a parallel for sin and corruption. But when Cora - a farmer's daughter - befriends a rogue rabbit named Basajaun, she becomes enmeshed in a hierarchy of sentient rabbit armies and ceremony. Soon the secret behind the rabbits' plight is unraveling, and Cora is fighting to save the lives of those she loves - as well as her own.

But that description is misleading. If that had really been the plot of the story, I might not have been as disappointed as I was. Here's my quick synopsis:

In an isolated farm town in 1906, a 12-year-old girl named Cora runs afoul of an unhinged misogynist who wants to kill rabbits. He became insane after being seduced by a 16-year-old girl named Nellie who wanted to have a baby that she could sacrifice to complete a spell, finally rendering the rabbit she'd fallen in love with into a man (who'd been stuck as a 6-foot-tall talking rabbit since the spell went awry back in Australia).

No, I am not kidding. Unfortunately.

I originally thought that the fantasy element of this book was just that there were talking rabbits. The first time the eponymous rabbit Basajaun spoke to Cora, she didn't seem at all surprised. (My reaction probably would have been, "Holy crap! A talking rabbit!") Fine... I'll suspend disbelief and imagine that rabbits who can talk (and smile, apparently) aren't something to call the newspaper about. But then in the last half of the book, all that magic and spell stuff started to creep in, and it just didn't feel right. It felt forced. Actually, everything felt forced. I didn't understand for a long time why the townspeople went along with the Pastor, since he was obviously crazy. His metaphor about the parallel between the rabbits and sin might have worked... if we'd been shown a town that was obviously sinful. But we're not shown much about the town at all, other than in one scene where all the farm hands are whooping it up with a bunch of whores in a farmhouse. That didn't seem that unusual to me. Cora also mentions something about the town not being a very good place for women; but again, we're not really shown that. (It's also a bit confusing as to why the author says this story takes place in Europe. The human characters have names like Wayne, Cora, Henry, and Sam. There seems to be no reason why this couldn't have been set in England or the U.S.A., so the names have me a bit confused.)

And, since this is young adult fiction, we've got to have a bit of pedophilia in there. Never mind that Cora is twelve. She's obviously old enough to make the decision to turn into a rabbit and become Basajaun's mate (and I got the feeling she only did so because she'd already lost everything in the human world; her decision seemed a bit defeatist to me). Let's set aside the furry fandom aspect for a moment and just mention again that Cora is twelve. Not twenty-two. Twelve. Why, oh, why do young adult books always have to have old men (or rabbits) lusting after young girls? Yes, Cora takes the place of the baby so that Nellie can complete the spell and turn her rabbit boyfriend into a human. There had to be a balance, you see. (As far as I know, rabbits only live for about 10 years. So if Cora turned into a rabbit, shouldn't she have instantly died of old age? And if Nellie's boyfriend was a fully mature rabbit, why did he end up being a handsome young man? Shouldn't he have been at least middle-aged?)

Let's also not forget the marmot ex machina (don't ask). With all these talking animals (and the age of the main character), I wasn't sure if I was reading a young adult novel or a middle grade one. The speech was all very juvenile, and at times I really felt like I was reading fan fiction written by a pre-teen. People (even adults) kept saying "yup" instead of "yes". (Coincidentally -- or perhaps not -- "yup" entered our language in 1906.) But then I hit the part about the human girls developing romantic feelings for rabbits and I wondered if I'd stumbled onto some sort of kinky adult book...

But my biggest complaint with this book was the writing itself. It was absolutely dismal. I felt embarrassed at first, as though I was reading someone's first draft that they didn't want the public to see. It was that bad. I could never quite get a handle on the point of view. It started out as limited omniscient, but then you'd suddenly get a glimpse into another character's thoughts for a couple of sentences. It was quite odd and completely disrupted the flow.

Then there were all the outright mistakes. Despite what Fantasy Book Review claims, this book is not "well-written and for a self-published book, very precise." The assertion that "the sentence structure is firm and there are amazingly few typos" is just ridiculous. I can think of a number of typos and mistakes off the top of my head: the author wrote chose instead of choose; loose instead of lose; they instead of the; got instead of go; rabbits instead of rabbits'; and Nellie eye's instead of Nellie's eyes. There were plenty more small mistakes, too, as well as a number of silly "said bookisms". There were also some problems with the visual breaks. A couple of them were placed at the bottoms of pages, and I tended to miss them... which led to confusion when the scene subsequently changed. There were also a number of breaks that seemed to be missing altogether.

However, the biggest single mistake was that the author didn't seem to know how to properly punctuate dialogue. I encountered this to a lesser degree in Helen Stringer's Spellbinder. The author would write a bit of dialogue and then, instead of a speech attribution, would tack on the next sentence with a comma. I encountered this in the first few pages of Basajaun and my heart sank. Little did I know how bad it would be. This is done on nearly every page of the book (or at least every page where there is dialogue).

The thing is, this probably would have been caught if Van Deuren had published through a traditional publisher. The problem with self-publishing is that you have to do everything yourself... and that includes editing. The author claims that she wrote the first draft in nine months and then revised on and off for eight months. I find that a little difficult to believe, considering all the mistakes in the book (if you went through it with a red pen, you'd have more red text than the New Testament!). But if it is true then she really needed to hire a copy-editor. If you don't have the skills to do something, then you should hire someone who does.

So, all in all, I'm left with more questions than answers (Why did European characters all have Anglo names? Why are these girls sexually attracted to rabbits? How did a six-foot-tall rabbit make his way from Australia to Europe without being noticed?) and a bit of a sour taste in my mouth with regards to self-published books. Do not listen to the glowing blurbs and reviews; you'll regret having done so. Rosemary Van Deuren is a good visual artist... but she should probably stick to cover design and leave the actual writing to someone else.

(When I read Spellbinder, I honestly didn't think I would come across another book that had worse writing. I don't really like having to give negative values, but since I gave the writing in Spellbinder a -2, it's only fair that I continue with that system here and give the writing in Basajaun what it deserves. Hence the -4.)

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: -4/5
Originality: 2/5

Overall: 0.4 out of 5
(so bad it killed the ladybug!)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fill-Ins (20)

Friday Fill-Ins:

1. Life is short... but sometimes it feels too long.

2. Screaming kids just keep going, and going, and going...

3. My last text message (or IM) ended in these three words: shiny and minty-fresh.

4. Chinese noodles and sizzling pan-fried vegetables is what I'm thinking about for dinner sometime soon. Doesn't mean that's what I'll be eating, though.

5. On the 1st day of August I was sitting at my computer. Just like pretty much every other day of the year...

6. People who are lively and energetic confound me; where do they get all that energy?

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to reading a really bad book, tomorrow my plans include trying to stay cool and hydrated and Sunday, I want to learn the art of vegan taxidermy!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Top Ten Picks: Favorite Books Of All Time

Top Ten Picks is hosted by Jillian at Random Ramblings. This week, the topic is "Favorite Books Of All Time". It took a while for me to come up with a list. I'm not even 100% sure about some of my picks, because I read them a long time ago. They might not still be my favourites. But if I'm going on memory and nostalgia and the "OMG, I loved this book!" feeling I had when I read them, I have to include at least a few of the titles on the following list:

10. The Neverending Story
by Michael Ende

I saw the movie years before I ever got the book out of the library. I just happened to get the awesome edition with alternating green and red type (one for Bastian's "real life" point of view, one for the events he's reading about in Fantastica). I was surprised to find that the book actually encompasses the stories of the first and second movies. It's so imaginative (and it deals with imagination), so it's right up my alley. I don't think I've read anything quite like it before or since.

9. Wren to the Rescue
by Sherwood Smith

This middle-grade book was one of my favourites when I was younger. It's been a long time since I read it, but I remember being completely captivated by the adventures of Wren and her friends. I think I checked this one out of the library numerous times! There are a few sequels, which I haven't read; I enjoyed the first book so much that I'm afraid the sequels might not live up to my high expectations. I hate when that happens (see The Thief, below).

8. The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger

I don't read a lot of adult fiction, but this one just sounded so interesting that I couldn't help myself. I loved the story. The book is so much better than the movie; if you were at all intrigued by the movie, you must read the book. Henry and Clare are unforgettable.

7. Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë

I probably wouldn't have read this book if it hadn't been assigned in my first-year university English class. But I was so pleasantly surprised! It's not the stilted, boring classic you might expect it to be. Jane's voice is fresh and interesting, and it's one heck of a good story. And as far as relationships go, Jane and Rochester will always be one of the most memorable.

6. I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

I adored this book when I first read it. I identified so much with Cassandra, and I loved the setting. A ruined castle in the English countryside? How can you top that? Plus, there are some great characters in this one. Stephen is such a sweetheart.

5. The Light Princess
by George MacDonald

I got this one from the library (and it's also available for free online), but I really would like my own copy to read and enjoy again. As far as fairy tales go, this is one of my favourites. There's nothing like a self-sacrificing hero to make a girl swoon.

4. A Certain Slant of Light
by Laura Whitcomb

I was captivated by this book from the very first page. Aside from the imaginative and gripping story, this book has some of the greatest writing I've seen in years. Seriously. If you want an example of how to make your story and characters come alive on the page, you must read this book!

3. Trader
by Charles de Lint

I fell in love with this book because of the characters... especially Max. Like many of de Lint's novels, this one veers into a sort of alternate/dreamtime universe. It was one of the first books by this author that I had read, though, so the premise was fresh for me.

2. The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner

Oh, gosh. What can I say about this one? I love Gen, and I love The Thief. I reread this book a few times (which is something I rarely do; it was that good). I know I'm not the only one to gush over this book (and Gen), which makes it all the more peculiar that the author basically did away with the character in the subsequent books. (Not that she killed him off. He's still there, but he's not the same Eugenides that we all knew and loved.)

1. Fire and Hemlock
by Diana Wynne Jones

Sure, there's an older man and a younger girl (and I give authors a lot of flack for that), but this book was written back when every other YA novel didn't have that same theme. I read it about 9 years ago during my bus commute to work. Let's just say that I wished that the bus ride had been longer! I loved the story and the characters and the blossoming romance. I also loved how the author took an old story (the ballad of Tam Lin) and wrote a modern-day fairy tale around it. (I didn't realize that when I read it, but I guess the fact that the guy's name was Thomas Lynn should have been my first clue!) Anyway, if you like modern retellings of old stories, you might like this one. And you can't really go wrong with Diana Wynne Jones.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In My Mailbox (16)

This week, I got a book I've been looking at for a while. It's a self-published work, but I'm already impressed by the professional look of the cover. The story sounds intriguing, too.

I'm in a rabbity mood, I guess. We've got our own "rogue" bunny living in our backyard; it looks much like the rabbit on the cover. It's fun to just watch it eat the weeds that are growing in the lawn (and the weedy lawn is probably the reason why he took up residence in our yard rather than in the neighbours').

by Rosemary Van Deuren

In the world of the rabbits, she is hailed as a savior. In the world of men, a holy man wants her dead. She is twelve years old. In an isolated European farm town in 1906, a Pastor known as 'the rabbit killer' is preaching that the overrun of rabbits is a parallel for sin and corruption. But when Cora - a farmer's daughter - befriends a rogue rabbit named Basajaun, she becomes enmeshed in a hierarchy of sentient rabbit armies and ceremony. Soon the secret behind the rabbits' plight is unraveling, and Cora is fighting to save the lives of those she loves - as well as her own.

What was in your "mailbox" this week?

In My Mailbox was started by Kristi of The Story Siren.