Tuesday, May 31, 2011

30 Days of Books, Day 3. (Yeah, I skipped a day...)

[Your favourite series.]

Not Harry Potter, though that comes pretty darn close.
I introduce you to the awesomeness of Cathy Marie Hake's series, Only In Gooding!

L-R: Fancy Pants (1), Forevermore (2), Whirlwind (3), That Certain Spark (4), Serendipity (5)
So this series by Cathy Marie Hake has taken me by storm, ever since I stumbled into a Koorong and picked up That Certain Spark. From there, it was a love affair, and though I don't usually like books much like this, I'm besotted.

Hang on, maybe I do like books like that. 
Quick scan of my bookshelf says I'm increasingly becoming infatuated with romancey-novels-of-the-Christian-Historical-Genre.

If I do my own bios of five books, you'll be reading for the next twenty aeons. So, these bios come straight from Cathy Marie Hake's website.

Fancy Pants: When "Big Tim" Creighton spies the mincing fop headed toward Forsaken Ranch, he is appalled. Thankful his boss isn't around to witness the arrival of his kin, Tim decides he'll turn "Fancy Pants" Hathwell into a man worthy of respect.

Lady Sydney Hathwell never intended to don men's attire, but when her uncle mistakenly assumed she was a male, the answer to her problems seemed clear. Her disguise as "Syd" was meant to be temporary…but the arranged marriage she's fleeing, her uncle's attitude toward the fairer sex--and her own pride--compel her to continue the guise far longer than she had intended.

When her deception is exposed, will she be forced to abandon her hopes for family….and true love?

Forevermore: Like a dandelion in the wind, Hope Ladley blows from one farm to the next, helping cook for the field hands during the harvest. Illiterate and often twisting clich├ęs and Bible verses into mind-boggling observations, Hope leaves widower Jakob Stauffer baffled by her unconventional ways. But her sunny disposition and unstinting love make changes of a different kind around the place. His little daughter and the pregnant sister he's shielding from an abusive husband adore Hope, and things are getting accomplished even if Hope's methods are unique.

Then Jakob's brother-in-law shows up and threatens the newfound peace and happiness of the farm. With Jakob's future uncertain and his heart tangled, can the farmer convince Hope to take root and remain as his wife?

Whirlwind: As a nanny, Millicent Fairweather poured her energy and talents into the two young charges under her care—only to have them suddenly and without explanation sent to a boarding school. Bereft and unsure of where life will lead her, she agrees to accompany her sister and brother-in-law to America. They board the Opportunity, confident a better life awaits.

Widower Daniel Clark determines to begin life anew in Gooding, Texas, operating a mercantile. But when his nanny leaves him stranded aboard the ship with his young son, he finds himself in dire need of assistance. Obtaining temporary help from steerage, Daniel is initially taken aback by the pretty bundle of energy who takes over his suite. Yet Miss Fairweather's unique child-rearing techniques and tireless devotion to his son soon win him over.

When tragedy ensues and a whirlwind decision is made, Daniel and Millicent's lives irrevocably intertwine. Will love soon follow?

That Certain Spark: Gooding, Texas, is about to gain a double blessing--a veterinarian and a doctor. But when siblings Enoch and Taylor Bestman arrive, the discovery that the long-awaited doctor is in fact a woman has the town up in arms. Karl Van der Vort is no exception, though he becomes Taylor's first patient...against his will.

Karl finds he can't deny Taylor's doctoring skills, but he also can't come to terms with her unladylike occupation. Taylor, on the other hand, wants only to prove that doctoring is her life's calling, despite the town's opposition. But when her practice--and Taylor herself--are threatened, Karl's protectiveness flares into a different emotion altogether.

As Pride Meets Attraction Head-On, Sparks Begin to Fly!

Serendipity: Todd Valmer should have known better. A farmer who's been through several disasters, he travels to Virginia to fetch his widowed mother to cook and help him around his Texas farm... or that was the plan until she keels over on the train and they get kicked off. Maggie Rose barters for a living and also makes soaps, lotions, and perfumes with a special rose recipe passed down from mother to daughter for generations. She hasn't wanted to marry... until that handsome Texan shows up. Her heart skips a beat, and when he proposes, a hasty marriage follows.

What ensues, however, is a clash of culture and a battle of wills--and it's clear they both mistook instant attraction and infatuation for love. As their marriage loses its sparkle and fills with disillusionment, Todd and Maggie must determine what is worth fighting for. He dreams of a farm. Maggie wants to fulfill the family tradition with her rose perfumes. Todd's mother, however, has entirely different plans for her son that do not include Maggie. In light of their hasty marriage and mistaken dreams, is there any hope of recapturing their love and building a future together?

So while the writing standard would make my creative writing lecturers scream, and some may find these novels preachy, I adore them. They're pure escapism, and something about these times are sweetly alluring. The cynic in me howls about farm life and women's rights and whatnot, but come on. It's lovely. It's amazing. These books are excellent. 

Read. Enjoy.
(If you don't enjoy, I don't like rocks being thrown at me.)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

30 Days of Books, Day 2.

[A book you've read 3 times.]

Flipping difficult.
Flipping, flipping, difficult.
I don't really read books from beginning to end more than once. I'm one of those abhorrent folk who flick through books once they've been read and go for my favourite moments.
Anyway, consulting my bookshelf for the most dog-eared, ruined copy of a book, I have found a book I most certainly know I have read three times over.

And I don't care what America says.
This is the right cover.
*insert immature nyah*
Hands down, this was my favourite Potter novel of them all. I can't quite figure out why, but there's a weird sense of joy I get from it. Maybe it's that, while reading the novels, I feel it's here that Rowling really gets into the swing of the novels, that pure sense of adventure that hurtles through the last five books in a clearer fashion than Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets.
Maybe it's the lack of Voldemort. I adore Voldemort (not in a creepy way; I'm not a huge fan of murderers but my writer-side emerges to go "That is one epically designed character" and froth), but there's something refreshing about Harry having to deal with another foe that's not Voldemort, and having to deal with things not being as they seem.
This is the novel that kicks things off for me. Yeah, the Horcrux did appear in CoS, but Pettigrew escaped in this one.
It will happen tonight. The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by those who once followed. Tonight, before midnight, his servant will break free and rejoin his master, and with that servant's help, the Dark Lord will rise again, greater and more terrible than ever before...
And from that, Voldemort ran free.

People may howl at me, but for all the beauty that the other novels possess, the intelligence and the respect for reading that are contained in the pages, I feel that this novel portrays them in the most accessible way. You can tell that Rowling understands the importance of words, and you become aware that she's passing those words down to the children who need to understand it as well.
I read this book when I was 8.
I'm still reading it today and being inspired.

For Christians out there who declare that Harry Potter is inappropriate reading, there is no instance where Rowling intends to turn children into witches and magic-folk. I'm a Christian myself, and I see no more problem with this series than with Lord of the Rings, or C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. The world Rowling has chosen to tell her tale in isn't a conventional one, but how else do you teach kids to take notice of things? 
The themes she portrays are no more different than any other YA novel - or adult one, for that sense.
She writes about confusion, about loss, about hurt, about pain.
She writes about friendship, unspeakable joy, and seizing the day.
She shows children that there are tasks that you're called to do, and no matter how big they are and how small you are, you CAN accomplish them.
And above all, it's a battle. About good vs evil, and about good triumphing in the end.
Isn't that what we all want?

Fantastic, amazing, and oh-my-gosh-all-the-sneaky-references-froth.

Friday, May 27, 2011

30 Days of Books, Day 1.

[Best book(s) you read last year.]

I read very few books that I truly enjoyed last year. As I said, I'm getting picky. Books are just... so vampirey, and I only read vaguely realistic chick-lit (and only if it's actually humorous). Rampant romances are just horrible, because I don't care how much you brood and scowl, I don't care if you're this season's version of Mr Darcy, I DON'T WANT DETAIL ABOUT YOU SLEEPING AROUND. Crime, heck no. Contemporary literature is, more often than not, overdone (prove me wrong; I'm glad to be wrong) and everyone raves about Tim Winton over here. I don't think that grammatical failing counts as postmodernism (come on, Tim, use a flipping full stop once in a while), so I don't approve.

Anyway, due to the nature of my uni studies last year, I was reading more short stories than I was novels. However, second semester introduced me to an absolute gem.

Meg Rosoff does a fantastic job in this novel. After reading Just In Case, I was a little hesitant when I saw her debut on our reading list. Maybe I read Just In Case too young (14 or 15, I would have been), but something was just creepy. And, upon a quick Wikipedia hunt, I found out it was essentially a World War 3/Apocalypse kind of situation. I don't do those novels.
Best novel I read last year, hands down.
I've noticed lately that YA novels constantly blur boundaries between adult and child fiction. Just looking at the market for them, you notice that many books are sold in different categories across the world. (Can't quite remember specifics, but I think Marcus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief, was marketed as adult in the US, and as YA over here.) And you see that so fully with How I Live Now. Ordinarily, I wouldn't think a book dealing with incest, war, terrorism, eating disorders and survival in the most brutal of conditions, to be marketed towards children. I mean, if Harry Potter made the librarian mothers howl, surely this would, right? 
But Rosoff sucks you in. You forget, forget that these are taboos. Because in war, in times of survival, the taboos seem to fall away. You do what you can to feel alive. I've never been in such a situation - massively blessed, I am - but I know what it's like to feel every day is a mental battle. And if screaming, if shouting, if forcing yourself to be ill makes you feel like something exists, you do it. 
So I loved Daisy. I thought she was magnificent, a female protagonist young children actually need. And that's both young boys and young girls. Daisy had passion. She had strength. She did have maternal instincts, but she had almost a Lady Macbeth desire to let a typically male side of her take over, the one that takes nothing from anyone. And her maternal side wasn't the 50s housewife style. It was the lioness, snarling at whoever dares touch her family. 

One more thing I noticed was that Rosoff had a Blyton influence, but more if you handed a Blyton novel to Tim Burton and let him go to town. And rather than the males having all the say - Julian, in the Famous Five, hogged the spotlight all the time, while Anne cried every time something scared her - I think Rosoff was getting at the times having changed. That we're not stuck in a time period where women are subpar to men, and that women can be just as strong, if not stronger, than men. Edmond, at the end, sat there in a depressed funk, and it was Daisy who had to fix it. Daisy chose her name - and I know from writing myself that I choose characters' names with their life paths in mind. She didn't have to masquerade as a boy, a la George, in order to assume her position as a leader. Piper had the instincts that Daisy had, too, but she also showed that age is no barrier for survival. 

No matter the age, I class this novel as essential reading. For young adults, it shows that no matter your circumstances - parents divorcing, death, depression, war - you do have the ability to survive, despite how kids are sheltered now. And for adults, it shows  much the same. You can survive. You have always been able to survive. 
And Rosoff handles this beautifully.

Uh, whoops.

I intended this blog to be updated regularly, but living down here? Writing muse just flees in spectacular fashion.
At uni, they mentioned that whenever we hit roadblocks that we should do exercises to keep the writing muscle strong; when we do eventually pick up our pens or return to our keyboards, we're still able to coherently form a sentence.
Anyway, my sentence structure is dying, so I'm going to do a 30 day... what, intensive exercise thing?

My abs will never get intensive exercise.

I digress.
The challenges I'll be doing, starting now, are the thirty days of books, and the thirty days of truth, challenges. Truths are always fun, and a good way to explore emotions and self in my opinion, and my gosh I need to do this. And I love books, adore books, but I've just hardly read anything decent lately so I feel I should revisit my old favourites.

So. Explanations, fails, challenges. Nothing new at all.