surely i oughta…

Honestly, I ought to go back to bed. Come to think of it, I probably ought to go upstairs and study some more. But while I might be a night owl in normal life, I can’t make myself a night owl for my college studies. Especially when I’m not one of the teeny-bopper students that I trip over all the time. 🙂 12168714_10153620567529976_1870777962_oThough I find more and more that being a “returning student” is not a completely unheard of thing, nowadays. We are not alone. Sort of.

I wasn’t asleep, but just getting comfy and then decided that I needed to check some things on my computer. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on here, hasn’t it? But while snippets of story ideas and photo opportunities come my way, at the end of the day, I don’t have any brain space left for blogging. Unlike my time in Australia, when all I had was a constant story to tell, right? Or when I was jobless before school started? Perhaps I still have that 12124494_10153625474544976_1265596368_ostory to tell… but I’m too tired to tell it, mostly. Or when I do feel like telling it, it’s usually because I’m avoiding something. You know, like going to bed or doing homework. Fall has begun, here in the South, and I’m looking forward to taking some pictures of the changing leaves… with my phone, at least, though I tell myself I really should get over to the Botanical Gardens on one of these glorious cool days. I might even do it, between books that I’m reading for my history classes. I’m taking three of them, by the way. Modern South America, Britain from 1688 til now, and Museum History. The latter was to see what’s what in the field of Public History, but I don’t really think I’m going into that field. But I have learned one thing… no matter whether you agree with a museum curator’s method of arranging 12171063_10153621803034976_751679144_otheir exhibit or not, give them due credit. They work their backsides off for next to nothing, and often, their only reward is criticism. So, be nice to the museum people, they work hard.

What else has been happening? Weddings and receptions and drooling over DIY projects on Instagram. So, of course, after every wedding, I have tons of pics of my cousins’ kids and my friends’ kids. I have to take pictures of SOMEBODY’s kids, you know, if I can’t have my own yet! If you remember my darlings from Australia, then I can’t survive for long without playing with the kiddos. Come to think of it, I really don’t have much time for that, either. No wonder I’m always tired… haven’t gotten my baby fix. I was going to try, the other week, but then SC had serious flooding along the coast and in Columbia (the capital, at the center of the state). Interstates got shut down, roads got broken up by flooding.12022006_10153581173309976_1545617657_n

If you’re into certain shows on TV, I manage to watch Dancing With the Stars and Once Upon a Time, every week… but at the moment, I’m at least a season behind on Castle. It’s very sad, but two shows is the limit for TV goof-off time. Movies? I haven’t been to the theater in eons, but we did finally watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron during my fall break. That was quite fun, and it taught me my new favorite quote.

“The elevator isn’t worthy.”

Speaking of movies, yes, I am paying close attention to all the hoopla surrounding the upcoming Star Wars movie. However, I am a serious Star Wars BOOK geek, more so than the movies. I love the movies, especially the originals, but I’ve been reading the books for 20 years of my life. So, now, they have declared most of that 20 years of book to be NON-CANON. Don’t even talk to me about it. My 12033463_10153581340084976_447329520_nbrother and I have been cringing for a long time over it. So, yes, I’m thrilled by the newest trailer, but as much as I love J.J. Abrams, ask the Star Trek fans about their last movies. I am seriously looking forward to THIS movie, and yet I’m positive they’re going to ruin it. Because the books are brilliant… at least many of them are. So, they’re not allowed to change the story, sorry. Ok, I need to stop… this subject gets me steamed.

Books…. yes, I’m always reading books. Haven’t updated my list in a while. Sorry. I’ve been bingeing on Georgette Heyer again, though I also read through some of Juliet Marillier’s books, recently. The Shadowfell series, and then rereading Wildwood D12162874_10153606713649976_1342687055_oancing and Cybele’s Secret. I was even in a Barnes & Noble, recently, and that made my week. What did I buy? Oh, right, the new Rick Riordan book. Which I enjoyed, but I’m not awake enough to go into detail. Also, a kids’ book called The Doldrums, which I’m still reading slowly, interspersed with Heyer. Because you know, Georgette Heyer remains brilliant, and I go back to them like comfort food. If I could write like she did, I’d die happy… and rich, too, probably.

I’m running out of steam. I do actually have to get up in the morning, even though my class isn’t until afternoon, because as I said, I have a math test AND I need to make an attempt at reading some pages (in German) more in depth. We’re starting to study sports in Germany, in GER 305.

11939122_10153526703864976_2017429301_oAnd blast, do you know, I just remembered I should have looked at the school website and decide on which classes to register for, for next semester? I have a meeting with my advisor this week, and really need to have my list ready to show him.

So, to close this rambling post of mine, I’m going to include some of the latest pics I’ve taken, some selfies, some kiddos, one abandoned mill that my museum professor took us to see, and proof that I’m still an honorary Aussie… I have to have my Vegemite! Especially when it’s on my mom’s homemade toast. If we have them in the house, I add avocado slices, too. Heavenly!

I hope to be rambling at you again soon. Have a great week! 🙂

the return of the saturday books…

You didn’t really think I’d be able to stay away from the book stores once I returned home, did you? I can’t tell you how I’ve been looking forward to having a Books-a-Million within twenty minutes of here, and TWO Barnes & Noble’s within forty minutes. Also, several small book stores, antique stores (old books), and thrift stores (slightly used books) right here in town, or one town over. Yes, I know, they’re everywhere! Isn’t it wonderful? And that isn’t even including all of the libraries!

It took me about a week and a half in the U.S. to put the jet lag completely behind me, and then I got comfortable driving on the right side of the road again, and I was ready to head to Greenville. After a lovely lunch with a friend at a new place I’ve never eaten before (Cheddar’s), I made my way to the newer Barnes & Noble, on Woodruff Road. I brought my camera, and even considered taking pictures of it, inside and out, but in the end, I just wanted to relax and soak up the books.

My routine in any B&N is always the same. If I have to go to the back of the store to use the restroom, I still want to look at the books in order, so I go back to the store entrance, and go from there. You can call me a creature of habit, but what better way is there to see what’s new, than to get up where the bestsellers are located? Also, there are usually tables and tables with different varieties of books. If I’ve read one of them, something else on the table might catch my interest, too.

Making my way, counter-clockwise, through the store, I eventually reached the Young Adult section, and was promptly creeped out by the shelf title, Teen Paranormal Romance. Now, please understand, I like Twilight and I like fantasy, but these entire shelves devoted to romance between otherworldly creatures (angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, etc..) and teenagers was… well, a bit frightening. What are the teens of today imbibing into their heads, these days? This section was a reminder of my recent thought, that there are several genres that have reached their peak, that all the copycats are out there, and no one else has anything original to write. What does it tell you, when an admitted lover of fantasy and sci-fi (me) thinks that this particular well has run dry, and the new writers need to look for something else?

Nevertheless, I still came across a book that has interested me for some time. The Selection, by Kiera Cass has a fascinating cover picture that has caught my attention before this. The description of the book implies that the characters are living in a dystopian future, where a reality show/beauty contest takes place, and the thirty-five girls are competing for the heart of the Crown Prince. From recent descriptions I’ve read, I can’t figure out whether these girls are being selected out of District 12 style poverty, or if these women were just yanked from the street like Queen Esther. However it happened, the main character, America Singer, doesn’t really want to be there, as she’s already in love with someone else. Think about being stuck in The Bachelor, if you didn’t have a choice? Yet, the possibilities behind this story are interesting. If my Kindle hadn’t died, I might have picked it up by now. I’ll have to see what our local library has in stock.

The only reason that I didn’t walk out of the store with a copy of The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, by Trenton Lee Stewart, is that I’m trying to be good about my spending, and it’s still in hardcover. Also, a little voice is not only reminding me to go look at the library, but it’s also pointing out that I have a whole pile of books I had shipped from Australia, which I haven’t finished reading yet. Sigh.

Previous to this, I have read all of Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society books, which follow the antics of some very intelligent children that solve numerous puzzles and avoid clever traps, in order to save their country from being taken over by Mr. Benedict’s evil twin. Yes, these stories are aimed at younger children, but I enjoy the delightful differences in the talent of each of the four children, and how they learn to work together, to solve every problem that comes their way. And at the end of the book, there’s usually an addendum that explains the intricacies of each puzzle that was solved, in case you’re still unsure of how they did it.

This prequel is purported to tell you about how Nicholas Benedict went from being an orphan, suffering from narcolepsy, to the brilliant man that keeps working to save the world, one puzzle at a time. I’m curious to know how he developed his intellect, as he was moved from one orphanage to another, and how his going to sleep at awkward moments would have affected those around him.

Continuing on in fantasy, I discovered that David Clement-Davies had written another book, and I debated over whether I would enjoy it as I did the earlier ones. Fell is a sequel to Clement-Davies’ earlier book, The Sight, which follows the lives of some wolves with very unique talents. It’s been years since I read the other book, so I would probably be a bit confused about what’s happening at the start. The previous books by this author were written from the point of view of the animals, and how they deal with supernatural gifts. This story will find Fell, the outcast, befriending a young girl, and together, maybe they can keep an evil ruler from fulfilling his terrible plans.

And since both last names begin with C, the next book on the shelf was Foundling, by D. M. Cornish. Now, I’ve read Cornish’s whole trilogy, and found it to be marvelous, but much overlooked by readers. Maybe it’s the early covers that were kind of creepy, or maybe the readers just didn’t like the name of the Monster Blood Tattoo series. I think the publishers are still trying to solve the issues, because I’ve seen the second book listed as The Foundling’s Tale: Part Two – Lamplighter, which maybe means they’ve left the name Monster Blood Tattoo behind?

I really can’t be sure of what the publishers are up to, but I do know that this is a fantastic series, completely original subject matter, but written with an almost Dickensian terminology. There’s a specific vocabulary that Cornish must have spent years developing, and the book is full of illustrations to show what their garments looked like, aside from the tri-corn hats. Monsters, both big and small, abound in the tale, and Rossamünd Bookchild, the orphan who has set out to become a lamplighter, must find out what he thinks of them. He eventually meets Europe, a monster slayer and he is both fascinated and frightened by her. When he finally arrives at the lamplighters, will he stay with them, or choose to go with Europe as her general factotum?

Finally abandoning the Young Adult section, I headed into the children’s book area, and stopped short when I found myself looking at Titanic Sinks!, by Barry Denenberg. I’m interested in every book on the Titanic, but I thought this one was a bit odd to be in the kids’ section, at first. But then, it was written to look like a long newspaper article, a combination of fact and fiction, and told you snippets about different characters that had been aboard the ship. Lots of faded print, with interesting pictures, so I think that any child that has an interest in history really would get caught up in the fascination of Titanic. Because whether you’re young or old, Titanic had a unique collection of passengers, of a huge variety of backgrounds, and as much as you look into the subject, the stories continue to enthrall. And yet, it’s always mixed with a sadness, knowing that however many times you read the story, the ending doesn’t change, and many of these people lost their lives.

Starting at the beginning of the shelves of kids’ fiction, I noticed some books with beautiful covers (like Winterling or The Storm Makers), and I stopped to take a look. But my feeling of overkill on certain subjects, it hadn’t gone away, even if I’d left the Young Adult section. These books may be wonderful, and very well written, but they all fall into the same category. Young man or woman is leading an ordinary life, or perhaps a very sad, lonely one, when someone taps them on the shoulder, and they find that they actually have magical abilities that no one else has. They are now invited to either save our world or go to another world and save it, so they do.

Now, you’re going to think that I’m being excessively cynical, but I think I’ve discovered the disadvantage of a huge book store. Really, a disadvantage? No, I’m not committing sacrilege, just hear me out. These stores hold just about every book that is in print, seemingly, and when you see them all together, you can be struck by the similarity of subjects, over and over. In a small store, you can miss it, because your selection is limited, but the bigger the store, the more obvious it becomes.

In recent years, the same theme seems to be running through all the fantasy books for children and young adults. And again, I want you to understand that I love fantasy stories, I like the idea of magical worlds where you can fantastical things. But my allegiance lies with the originators of some of these stories. Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games are some of the recent ones. Yes, you can tell me until the cows come home, whether you love or hate these books, but that isn’t the point.

After Harry Potter, how many books were written about kids discovering their wizardry skills or going to fascinating other-worldly schools? I’ve already told you how big the section on paranormal romance is, so how many writers are jumping on Twilight‘s bandwagon? And now, how many stories are being set in a dystopian future, courtesy of the popularity of The Hunger Games? I think that many authors can be influence by these stories, and then do their story, and do it right. But I think most of them are just earning their money, from the crumbs that trickle down from the tables of J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins.

While still in the kids’ section, the only books that really caught my attention, after I was having these cynical (and probably accurate) thoughts about the current book market, were the ones by William Joyce (and sometimes Laura Geringer). The title of the book, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, caught my attention, and then I probably would’ve completely lost interest, after seeing the sequel, E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core!, except for one thing. These titles, especially the second one, seemed to be a bit over the top, but I had recently seen a new trailer from Dreamworks.

Rise of the Guardians was a name that originally had me thinking they were creating a sequel to that Ga’hoole owl movie.But it’s actually a story about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny being more than the tiny, pudgy, or fluffy characters that generally think of them as. The idea to this movies is that they’re heroes and guardians of our world, oh, yeah, and the Sandman is a Guardian, too. And then they have to fight with Jack Frost.

So, though I haven’t done any research, the combination of these two book titles made me think that either the movie is based on the books, or the books are being written to go with the movie. And as I enjoyed the movie trailer, and the books are full of great illustrations by William Joyce, I decided they might actually be worth a second look. I’ve always liked the idea of Father Christmas, as written into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and then I enjoyed the warrior look they gave him in the movie version. So, I don’t mind at all, hearing a warrior version of Santa, in books or on films, as long as they do a good job of it.

To finish off, I wandered through many genres, but it wasn’t until I stepped into the comedy section, that I found a title worth mentioning. Darth Vader and Son, by Jeffrey Brown, is a comical take on what life would have been like, if Vader had been raising his four year old son. Though I think you’ll laugh more if you’re actually familiar with the Star Wars films, I still think they’re funny, even without that background. Reading about Luke trying to steal cookies using the force, Vader telling Luke that “That isn’t the toy you want”, when he’s interested in a Jar Jar toy, or telling Luke to not blow bubbles in his blue milk, while visiting the Mos Eisley Cantina…. these are scenes that all SW fans will get a kick out of.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my return to the Saturday books, and please forgive me for my huge doses of cynicism. But I still think these are good points to consider, when you’re in a book store, whether you’re shopping for yourself, or for your children. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but a reminder of what life can really be like, as a child or teen, would be good, too. Not just in our times, but in the past. Go check out the books on the Newbery Medal list, or let them read Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain), The Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner), or the Little House series (Laura Ingalls Wilder). A magical world may be all well and good, but remember that the real world can be a joy, too. For any age group.

reveling in star wars…

There’s some confusion on my part over what I read next, once I’d finished The Courtship of Princess Leia. I vividly remember the cover of The Truce at Bakura, with the handshake of a black gloved hand and a woman’s hand with a fancy, wired golden bracelet. I probably read my cousin’s copy of that first, because I remember how miffed I was when my own copy had some words blocking out the handshake. This book, by Kathy Tyers, follows almost directly after Return of the Jedi. An alien race is trying to invade the planet of Bakura, so when the Rebels come to the rescue, they have to call a truce with the local Imperials, in order to defeat the Ssi-Ruuk.

At this time, I would’ve been reading the X-wing series, because who wouldn’t want to find out what happened to Luke’s buddies in Rogue Squadron? I loved following the adventures of Wedge Antilles, Wes Janson, and Hobbie Klivian, but things really picked up when they handed the writing over to Aaron Allston, and he wrote the book Wraith Squadron. Allston has a lot of humor in his writings, and the Wraiths were quite a hilarious bunch. Come on, how could you not enjoy the squadrons having a Gamorrean (one of the pig-like aliens) pilot, as well as a former movie star, and the prankster Wes Janson along for this ride? There’s another book coming out in this series, in August, and my brother and I are both looking forward to it.

But whatever order I was reading the books in, and as there weren’t as many in print, back in the 90’s, it didn’t take me long to reach the Thrawn trilogy. If you read my last post about Star Wars, then my brother already commented at length on this subject. But I’m going to go right ahead and give my own spin on things.

Timothy Zahn is one of the best Star Wars writers in existence, and he gave himself that honor by writing one of the best trilogies in the series. Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command returns us to the original favorite characters, and introduces us to some new and fascinating ones. Han and Leia have gotten married and are expecting twins, while Luke attempts to re-form the Jedi Order. Meanwhile, the Empire’s only alien Grand Admiral, Thrawn, is searching for a Dark Jedi to help with his plans. And a smuggler becomes involved in the tale, along with his sidekick, one Mara Jade, who has a mission to fulfill, given to her by the Emperor himself. That is, to kill Luke Skywalker.

What amazing people that Zahn was able to create! Other Star Wars fans can freely correct me, if I’ve forgotten, but I’m almost certain that Gilad Pellaeon, Mara Jade, and Grand Admiral Thrawn were created by him. Thrawn is a blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss, and the only alien in high command in the whole Empire, as the Emperor was definitely pro-human and anti-alien. But in this case, he looked beyond the outward attributes to the brilliance within. With the Empire struggling to survive against the New Republic, he almost single-handedly puts the former Rebels on the run. He studies each planet and race through their artwork (yes, you read that right), and is able to determine their flaws, and defeat them.

And, of course, Mara Jade, the redheaded former Emperor’s Hand, has a bone to pick with Luke Skywalker, and she continues to have a large role to play in the rest of the series. I also gave away a spoiler to my brother, in my last SW post’s comments, but Captain Pellaeon also remains with the story for the next 30-40 years. And from all I’ve read about him, I don’t think the Empire ever knew a better commander or a better man.

The story becomes more complicated with creatures that can repel the Force (ysalimiri), the alien Noghri that attempt to assassinate Leia Organa Solo, and the lost Katana Fleet being found. Ah yes, and this would be the trilogy that introduced me to the planet Kashyyyk, home of the Wookiees. I do not forget what I learned then, and I still can’t forgive George Lucas for attempting to change the layout of Kashyyyk and the Wookiee mentality, just to stage a battle in Episode III. That is a rabbit trail that I will attempt to NOT go down with you, but if you’re really interested, I’ll explain more.

Obviously, when the series needed an author to write the Hand of Thrawn duology, ten years (in SW time) later, then Zahn was again brought in to write Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. I won’t tell you how the trilogy ended, but I believe the premise of this duo was extremely clever, bringing in the character of Flim to do a brilliant impersonation.

I’m inclined to think that I read Children of the Jedi and Darksaber next, which are supposedly part of the “Callista trilogy”, but I don’t understand why Planet of Twilight is part of that. I don’t recall the character of Callista Ming being in that one, but then again, it’s been a long time since I read it. I really liked reading Children of the Jedi, at the time, because it threw you into Luke Skywalker’s first romance. No, his fencing with Mara Jade in the Thrawn books doesn’t count, because they only ended up with a truce. But as a romantic teenager, I figured it was about time. Han and Leia had several kids by now, why hadn’t Luke met a girl, yet?

Luke and two of his students end up on the Eye of Palpatine, a re-activated ship with artificial intelligence, which intends to destroy their planet. But while onboard, Luke meets the spirit of Callista, a Jedi that died thirty years ago, stopping the ship’s mission, the first time. As Luke and Callista begin to care for each other, he knows that nothing can come of it, but impossibly, something does. I won’t tell you how, though, because that would spoil the story.

On a passing note, one random thing that I enjoy about the Star Wars series is that in the cover pictures, they age Luke, Han, and Leia as their characters would have, not like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford have in real life. When you reach The Joiner King, you’ll find Han and Leia are going gray on the book covers, and even have some wrinkles, but they still look like the smuggler Han Solo and the Princess Leia Organa that we met many years ago at the movies.

But before we can have Luke fall in love, we have to have him reform the Jedi Order, which brings us to the Jedi Academy trilogy, which actually followed the Thrawn trilogy. Written by Kevin J. Anderson, Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force follow Luke’s search for Force sensitives and Han’s mission to Kessel, where Han gets imprisoned in the spice mines. The story also introduces a young man named Kyp Durron, who happens to be extremely strong in the Force, and all the gyrations that he goes through in his journey to Jedi Knight.

I, Jedi takes place at the same time as this trilogy, but is written by Michael Stackpole, of the X-wing books. Considering he was the first to write the character of Corran Horn, it’s only fair that he continue Corran’s journey to becoming a Jedi, as well.

I don’t think I’ll drag this subject out much further, because if you’re interested, you’ll go read one of the above-mentioned books. If you’re not interested at all, you probably stopped reading by now. If you have kids that want to know more about Star Wars, I’d recommend they read the Young Jedi Knight series, which comes not long after I, Jedi. The series covers the years that Han and Leia’s children spend at Luke’s academy, as well as Chewbacca’s nephew and Teneniel Djo’s daughter (see The Courtship of Princess Leia). If your kids really want to continue reading SW books, then having them read all fourteen of this series will be a good indicator.

For now, I’m stopping short of the New Jedi Order. Perhaps I’ll write about that, eventually. But if I try and tell you what happens, you won’t understand, because the characters involved are twenty-five years older than they were in A New Hope. You won’t know anything about the Solo children or why we should care about any number of other people. And the books I’m reading now are twenty years beyond those. If you’re a fantasy or sci-fi reader, in general, then I’ll just mention that R.A. Salvatore wrote the first New Jedi Order book, Vector Prime. An excellent introduction to the war against the Yuuzhan Vong, if I do say so myself.

Oh, and before I forget, the Star Wars books (especially the ones that are “canon”) are generally pretty G or PG-rated, not filled with sex or graphic violence. I’ve always liked the fact that Han, Luke, Lando, and the rest are not the type to jump into bed with a new girl in every book, like some movie and book characters. These guys are the real deal, looking for the love of their lives, and if something happens with an occasional girl, it happens off the page. As for graphic violence, sure, there are fight scenes, and occasionally the descriptions can be… well, descriptive, but if you’re looking for fights with monsters that drip blood and guts so realistically off the page that your stomach turns, this is the wrong series. I say that, even with the creepier pictures on the New Jedi Order books. When I was living at home and reading those, I tried to keep my mom from seeing the covers, so she wouldn’t wonder what crazy books her daughter was reading. But there are a few SW books that are NOT canon, like Death Troopers, which covers things like storm trooper zombies, but I’ll never read it, because I wouldn’t like it anyway.

I told you at the beginning that I never went to anything like Comic-Con or got dressed up in Star Wars costumes. I still don’t, even for all my love of Star Wars. To me, the people in these books are more than characters, and they’re more than just the costumes that you see in the movies. I’ve known these people so long, if they were real, I could almost consider them family. I know them that well.

I think my Facebook page still lists my second language as Mandalorian (Mando’a), because after I’d read all the Republic Commando books, I knew Mando’a better than I ever knew French or Spanish. Yes, many of the SW books involve Boba Fett, his fellow Mandos, and the clone troopers, for those of you that are interested.

And on another small rabbit trail, as I’ve seen some recent interviews with George Lucas, concerning the prequels coming out in 3D. I agree that George Lucas is only out to make the extra bucks with Star Wars, and that he no longer cares for the stories themselves. I am only interested in the stories and the characters, so I go ahead and enjoy the movies, and forgive most of the issues with the prequels. But as far as I’m concerned, Lucas may have started Star Wars, but he doesn’t know anything about the real tale, not anymore.

May the Force be with you.

reading-come-lately…

There are many types of books out there. And when you see what I’ve been reading lately, you’ll wonder if there are any genres that I skip over. The answer would be yes, I don’t read horror or anything too creepy. But I’m pretty uncritical of the books I read. If I start a book and don’t like it, or just can’t get into it, I put it down and move on. I’m not a published author, so I don’t have any room to talk when it comes to critiquing how they write. Right?

And then I picked up Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. Well, I pulled it up on my Kindle, while I was eating dinner at McD’s, expecting to sit there for a long time after I finished, reading away. But no, shortly into the story, I was finished with my dinner and ready to get back to my computer, because I didn’t want to forget what I’m thinking before I read any further. Ok, if I read further, which I should. I still find the online blurb about the book interesting, so I’m waiting for things to pick up.

As little as I know about writing a novel, I was expecting to get drawn right into the story from the start. I knew before I opened the book that Katsa is a girl Graced with the ability to kill, so her uncle takes advantages of her skills. The story should start to fill you in on some details, right from the start, making you want to know more and more, as it continues. But that didn’t happen.

The story begins with Katsa finding her way through a dungeon, in the dark, and then beating up some guards, in order to reach a certain prisoner. You find out that the prisoner is a Leonid (I think I spelled that right), and then she goes around knocking the rest of the castle guards unconscious. While this happens, you hear a little bit of back story on her Grace, and how she discovered it, but not much. You find that those that are Graced are almost shunned, but you don’t really know why. Why would a person Graced with the skill of cooking be shunned? How do you know that someone is Graced? Just their eyes? There should have been more details about where she came from, not just that she killed her disgusting cousin, by accident, at the age of eight. The little bits of details felt very haphazard and annoying, not enough bait to make me enjoy the character build-up.

From there, you start to hear some explanations of the seven kingdoms and their rulers, but it just comes out as a jumble of names and places, and you have no way of knowing which is which. The kingdoms of Sunder and Nander (?) run together in your head, and the names of kings, or details about them, don’t stick in your mind. Why should we care about any of them? And some mentions of the Council only start to become slightly more clear, as you get an inkling that Katsa helped create it (what is it, anyway?) to fix the problems with the kingdoms (what problems?).

In addition, Katsa is supposed to be a gifted fighter and killer, but the descriptions of these scenes come across as “kicking and hitting them before they saw it coming”, and no interesting details about the fights. Sure, when she initially killed her cousin, she knocked his nose cartilage into his brain. That was the most detailed any of the “fights” got, and it wasn’t even a fight. I’m not looking for disgusting details, or extra violence, but why would I believe in a natural fighter/killer, when you never hear anything about they fight, except she knocks soldiers down like dominoes?

One chapter into the story, and I found it to be detailed in a very helter-skelter fashion, and I wondered if all the Amazon reviewers had lost their minds. Perhaps things will improve. I know this was a first novel, but even Eragon (the book, not the movie) was more detailed and fascinating, right from the start. First authors are not expected to be Anne McCaffrey or Tamora Pierce, but their should be more reason that this book was able to finish out the series, and capture so many people’s attention. Then, as I’ve said before, I’m generally uncritical, and could be misreading this completely, and since I haven’t written my own novel yet, I have no room to talk, just a blog to air an opinion. So there it is.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, lets look at what else I’ve been reading, recently. Reviewing some of my previous posts, I’ve already talked about reading Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton, The Hobbit, Detection Unlimited, and several others. So I won’t go covering those again.

At the very end of January, I finished reading Conviction, by Aaron Allston, which is #7 of the Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi series. It takes place about 45 years after Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke Skywalker, having been relieved of his position as Grand Master of the Jedi Order, is traveling around the galaxy with his son Ben and the Sith girl, Vestara Khai. Their goal is to track and defeat the alien being Abeloth, who has been causing some of the younger Jedi to go crazy. Han and Leia Solo, along with the rest of the Jedi Order, are trying to keep the Galactic Alliance from falling apart, as Chief of State Daala becomes more and more paranoid. The Solos are also doing their best to protect their only grandchild.

Sorry, I won’t go into more detail, because if you don’t read the Star Wars Expanded Universe, then you won’t understand some of what I’m saying. And if you do read them, and I give out a spoiler, you may be very upset with me. But as you’ll see from my previous SW post, I plan to do another Star Wars post sometime soon. Maybe I’ll wait until I read the next book, Ascension (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi #8), by Christie Golden, before I write that one.

After Star Wars, I followed the recommendation of a fellow blogger, and re-read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain. I hadn’t read it since I was in seventh grade. It’s the last school reading book I can recall not hating, because they ruined every one afterwards… except for the ones that were already horrible. The only reason they didn’t ruin Tom Sawyer for me is because I’d already read it, and liked it. But you still can’t make me read The Call of the Wild or Jacob Have I Loved, but after that, I still haven’t forgiven my school teachers for forcing us to read Brave New World, 1984, The Metamorphosis, Sons & Lovers, The Lord of the Flies, and a bunch of other garbage.

Now, if you’ll consider there’s no real reason I should dislike reading Jack London or Katherine Paterson, especially Paterson. I’ve read plenty of her other books. But our teachers made us literally dissect the stories, try and figure out the characters’ motives, and often, they would tell us that “this is why they did this”, and you’d be horrified by what they told you. My twelfth grade teacher, in particular, was always able to find sexual innuendo in the most beautiful, sweetest of poetry and prose. If you are an inveterate bookworm who just loves to enjoy a story, how would you like your teacher to explain to you what the characters’ dirty and vile motives were for everything?

Then we got to read the books that were already garbage. Ok, I’ll forgive Mr. Beckley for trying to make us like the Shakespearean tragedies, as Shakespeare really is pretty good. But I don’t know why he had to try it with MacBeth. He was our only English teacher that actually made things interesting, mostly, and since he was a black belt in karate, you were cautious about what you tried to get away with in class. But I’m pretty sure his class was still the one that made us study Lord of the Flies, so I can’t give him bonus points for that. And in my junior and senior years in high school, I remember forcing myself through my summer reading list, 20o pages a day, and I’d be in tears when I was done, I hated the subject matter so much. I’ve pretty much put up a mental block over Sons & Lovers.

By the way, the only reason I actually like Shakespeare at all is because of our drama teacher, and how she explained the language and got us to watch some excellent movie versions. And then she’d explain it all some more, so that I came to love the comedies and tolerate a few of the tragedies, like Romeo & Juliet. Yes, Ms. Cramer did that for me, and I thank her for it.

So, when I finally located Tom Sawyer on my Kindle (the index was a little convoluted), I was surprised and delighted by the amount of detail to the characters and how much I’d either forgotten (or possibly skipped over) from when I was younger. Had the descriptions of nature always been there? Had Aunt Polly always been so much fun? I remembered, vaguely, Tom’s escapades with white-washing the fence and flirting with Becky Thatcher, but I’d forgotten about all of the superstition that he and the townsfolk surrounded themselves with. During the trial of Muff Potter, I was mentally agitated, wondering why Tom and Huck were so stupid as to keep it a secret about what Injun Joe did.

Yes, of course, it’s just part of the story, and dragging out the trial, along with them being terrified of Injun Joe, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to throttle those boys over hiding the truth. Because no matter what kind of vagabond Potter was, he didn’t deserve to be hung for something he didn’t do.

When I reached the school recitations and got an idea of Twain’s opinions on school compositions, I had some more fun. I wouldn’t have paid attention to comments from the author himself, when I was younger. And when they played the prank on their teacher, I realized that when I was a kid, I had no idea what the prank actually was. Because I didn’t know what “gilding” was, so how could they have gilded the teacher’s head? I probably skimmed that part, or just read it really fast, letting it go in one ear and out the other.

At the end, I didn’t remember at all how the adventure in the cave was resolved, or that Injun Joe really had very little part in it. I kept expecting him to pop up around a corner again, and didn’t recall how he received his comeuppance. So that was nice that the ending wasn’t ruined for me. The book left me actually considering trying to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I’ve never been able to get through. And with all of Mark Twain’s books on my Kindle, I became aware that there are one or two sequels to Tom Sawyer. Are they not as good, that most people have never heard of them? Maybe I’ll get around to trying one of them, someday.

I like to keep some variety in my life, for your sake and for mine, so instead of heading to my next SW book, I jumped from Twain to Patricia C. Wrede’s Thirteenth Child, followed by the sequel, Across the Great Barrier. Many people will be familiar with Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, Talking to Dragons), which is quite a hilarious set of books. Who doesn’t love a princess that doesn’t want to be normal and marry a boring prince, but instead, she meets a dragon, and volunteers to be its princess. And then has to chase away all the princes that try and rescue! These are Wrede’s most famous books, but many people aren’t aware of her other wonderful books, such as A Matter of Magic, The Seven Towers, and Snow White and Rose Red. Some are set in a Regency world involving magic, some are retold fairy tales, and some are original tales. All are marvelous.

But Thirteenth Child introduces her new Frontier Magic series, in a United States that is sometimes recognizable and sometimes not. Set in the late 1800’s (I think), our world is full of magic, and the American frontier has plenty of fantastical (and sometimes magical) creatures in it, which makes it very hard to settle the West. It’s actually not the American frontier, as many places we know have different names, but some have a familiar sound to them. I’m pretty sure the Mammoth River is the Mississippi River, while the Secession War refers to the Civil War. The first three Presidents are just like ours, but after that, things change. Lewis and Clark’s expedition never returned from the West, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson worked together with their magic to create the Great Barrier Spell, and many other familiar names pop up.

So, not only is the story fascinating, as you follow the tale of Eff Rothmer, a thirteenth child and twin sister to a double-seventh son (seventh son of a seventh son), who is considered unlucky for where she falls in the birth order. The first book has her trying to overcome her childhood, when her neighbors and relatives her hateful to her about her position as a thirteenth child. But eventually, with the help of her new teacher, out West, and the love of her immediate family, she begins to get beyond this and explores the different types of magic, to come up with her own way of doing things.

When I finished the first book, I knew that Across the Great Barrier had just come out recently, so I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle, while I was still involved in the story and wanting to know what came next. I wasn’t disappointed, as Eff, her twin Lan, and others get to cross into the West to explore and survive amidst the strange and sometimes magical animals on the other side. The only disappointing part isn’t in the book itself, it’s in the fact that there won’t be a third book for quite a while yet. Sigh.

Now, I have to decide what to read next. Whether to continue to give Graceling another chance, or to fall back on another book I’ve read in the past. And as I now have Jane Lindskold’s wolf tales on my Kindle, I’m really tempted to leave Graceling alone and start on Through Wolf’s Eyes, the first of her Firekeeper series. I read them all several years ago and loved them.

What will you be reading next?

journey to another galaxy…

It did not begin in a galaxy far, far away. Rather, it began in a large, brick-and-mortar book store, in the science fiction aisle. I was probably wandering, scanning the shelves to see random book titles, and looking to see if there were any new Anne McCaffrey books, in the days before you could look it up online. And then, I tripped over a book called The Courtship of Princess Leia, by Dave Wolverton.

I was three years old when Return of the Jedi came to theaters, for the first time, and though I have no recollection of it, I may have actually been taken with my dad to see it. But maybe that’s a rumor. Or, considering I vaguely remember a nightmare about the blue “elephant” that played the piano, maybe I really did see it at that age. Whatever happened, my Star Wars education started early.

No one in my family was an excessive fan, so we never went to anything like Comic-Con, in costume. We didn’t even dress up as Star Wars characters for Halloween, as far as I know. I just grew up watching the movies with my family, just like I watched Indiana Jones, Rocky, Rambo, Crocodile Dundee, and many other movies. Of that collection, I can say that I loved Star Wars the most, even when I was still young enough to be scared by some of the aliens. Who wouldn’t want to watch a real princess get rescued by two handsome princes? Oh, come on, with both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo involved (before you know who’s the brother), there are definitely two “princes”.

Of course, I wished I was as beautiful as Princess Leia, and wished my hair could be long enough to create any of the hair styles she wore. Yes, including the first one. But my hair has never grown fast enough, and I always seemed to get a hair cut before it could get anywhere near long enough.

But my childhood wasn’t spent obsessing over movies, I just enjoyed some of them like anyone else. We taped them onto Beta and VHS tapes, and then watched them when we wanted. Even at that age, though, I was a bookworm, and spent my spare time reading lots of books. I didn’t read constantly, of course, but I still managed to read plenty of classics like The Secret Garden, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Little Princess, The Boxcar Children, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, The Swiss Family Robinson, Daddy-Long-Legs, and The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. Of course, I also worked my way through everything by L. M. Montgomery and Beverly Cleary, all the Narnia books, and any number of Newbery Award books.

The years went by,  and I was introduced to the fantasty/sci-fi book genre. I dove headfirst into Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon, the Pern books, by Anne McCaffrey. At this point, I had still avoided reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, because I found the Gollum picture on the cover to be creepy, and I had accidentally tried to read the prologue in one of them. I thought they would be hard to read and creepy, despite knowing that my mom and older brother loved them… Yes, I know, I’m just telling you what I thought about it then.

But book stores will always drag me in, and that day came, when I was about fifteen years old, and I was staring at The Courtship of Princess Leia. The cover was of Leia dressed in her woodland gear from Return of the Jedi, with Han and Luke in the foreground (also in Episode VI gear). And pictured behind them was… a rancor. Now, if you’ve watched the Star Wars movies, you’ll know that a rancor is the huge, gross looking monster that lived in Jabba the Hutt’s basement. Luke was dropped through a hole in the floor, with the intent of the rancor eating him. We all know the story, right?

Now, some of you will have heard my opinions on a good cover picture. I think this was an excellent choice on the artist’s part, in the case of this book. I will never know if I would’ve picked the book up, if it had had Leia dressed in a wedding dress, like on my cousin’s copy of the book. I still think it looks like a stupid dress, nothing like they would’ve worn in that galaxy. But this!

Think about it. In Return of the Jedi, the movie, we assume that Han and Leia will get married afterwards. End of story. But this title implies that some courtship was necessary on Han’s part, so what happened? Also, the rancor in Jabba’s basement died when Luke dropped the big steel door on his head. And the rancor keeper cried. All the land was in mourning, so…. no, wait, wrong story. The rancor was dead, so why was there a picture of one on the cover of this book?

Well, after the Death Star was blown up, the Rebellion was still fighting the rest of the Empire, and they were short on money. So, the prince of the Hapan Consortium came calling and proposed to Leia, offering a fortune in gifts to the Rebellion. Han gets jealous, he and Leia fight, and Leia says she won’t marry him. Han being Han, he gets drunk and enters a Sabacc (galactic poker) tournament, and he wins a planet. In order to win Leia back, Han kidnaps Leia and takes her to the planet Dathomir, insisting that he’s going to make her fall in love with him again. And did I mention that Dathomir is the home planet for both Dark Side witches, and the rancors that they ride on? Yep, if you can control the Force, you can make a rancor be your “horse” of choice.

Not all of that was in the blurb on the back of the book, but there was enough to lure me into the idea of a continuing story of Star Wars. Because if there’s something I’ve never been able to resist, it’s a good story. Yes, a good movie will be good if it has a good screenplay, but I will always opt for the book, if I can get it. There’s more detail about characters and back story, in a good book.

And sure enough, The Courtship of Princess Leia won me over, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve been reading the books of the Expanded Star Wars Universe for over fifteen years now, and I’ve never gotten tired of them. The prequel movies came out, and they expanded those into numerous books, with enough back story to make you forgive the movies for their issues. The SW Universe continues to expand in both directions, and I am now reading about what takes place forty-five years after A New Hope. But I think I’ll stop there, and tell you more about the other books, later.