Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Rating: 4 out of 5 Skeins of Yarn

My friend Ariana raved about this book. I'm always a little leery about reading books my friends rave about because I just keep thinking "What if I hate it even though they loved it?" So there is a little pressure to be nice about the book simply because of who suggested it to you. I have decided, however, not to mince my words and just give this a fair and objective review.

It is good. At times I felt like it was overly girly when it talked about dresses and boys and all that but you cannot discredit the excellent writing of Ms. Speare. I realize it was written in 1958 so it's been around for a long time and the writing style is pretty old-fashioned, but it was still an enjoyable read.

I have been loving Salem witch trial books lately for some reason (I know I've said that before). This book shows the witch trials from a different perspective. Instead of the usual stories where you see people that have lived in the town for a long time and then it is suddenly turned upside down with all these accusations, Speare's story shows a complete outsider coming into a totally different culture and belief system that has to take on the paranoia of the Puritans. It is a refreshing tale in that sense.

Kit Tyler, the protagonist, is very believable and funny at times. Her love for Nat, the seaman, is realistic and seems to flow naturally. A lot of the visual is shown rather than told. One of my favorite moments is when Kit goes to Meeting on Sunday dressed in a bright frock with feathers. She says she feels like a tropical bird among all the gray. That visual is carried on throughout the story and is even nicely commented on by Nat who says he wondered if a tropical bird could survive here.

I liked the way the relationships were handled. Mercy is a lovable character and it is heartbreaking when John Holbrook is about to ask for her hand in marriage but is sort of coerced into being engaged to Mercy's sister Judith. It all works out nicely for everyone in the end.

As for Hannah Tupper, the Quaker who everyone thinks is a witch, I thought she should have had more play in the story. For awhile she's just a mysterious figure then she is merely a nice old woman who Kit befriends. I guess the point was to show that a harmless relationship can lead to destruction when paranoid Puritans are involved, but I wanted there to be more to Hannah because, at least at first, I thought the title of the book was named after her. But then I realized that she is not the witch of Blackbird Pond. It is Kit who is the witch of Blackbird Pond.

I only gave this 4 skeins of yarn instead of 5 because, as good as it was, I felt like it was lacking something. Maybe it's because I'm older than the intended audience so I just don't get it. It would also help if I were female and about twelve years younger than I am, then I think I would love this book. Even when I was reading Twilight I didn't feel as girly as when I read this one.

For a young reader, though, this would be a great choice. It has some great themes running through it, a little dash of symbolism with the tropical bird stuff, and plenty of intrigue and romance to go around. I just feel that, if the same type of book were written today, it should/would have more back story, depth, and emotion to it.

I did like the book. Thanks, Ariana, for suggesting it to me. I will continue to trust your taste in books. I would definitely recommend it for young readers ages 12 to 16. Preferrably female but there are some things that young men can get out of it as well. I think it paints a nice picture of that time period.

Stay tuned for more book reviews!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Tale of Halcyon Crane

Rating: 1 of 5 stupid white lacy ribbons

When I was navigating the rift between nonfiction and fiction writing during my undergraduate career I found that I don't have a knack for nonfiction. I am sure it would take practice, diligence, all that sorta stuff, yada, yada, yada, for me to become as adept with nonfiction as I am with fiction. I love fiction-writing. That is truly where my heart is. I was in a class strictly for public relations writing and my teacher told me he could tell I was a fiction writer because my sentences were too long for the PR style of writing. When you're in that sort of field you have to be short, brief, and to the point.

Wendy Webb used to be a journalist. Or maybe she still is. Whatever the case, you can see it in her book. She's trying to take the leap from reporting, nonfiction writing to fiction. And not just any fiction but thriller, ghost story fiction. Sadly enough, she fails at the leap and she fails hardcore.

I was intrigued with the storyline. I think there was a lot of potential. There were random details about the characters that I didn't think pertained to the story. Hallie, or Halcyon, is a divorcee and we briefly meet the ex who left her because, it turns out, he's gay and yet they're still really good friends. That right there made me leery about the main character.

She goes to this island on the Great Lakes to find out more about a mother she had been told was dead but had been alive the whole time. Come to find out, oh my goodness, she inherited this massive mansion and lots of money so, yippee, she gets to leave her boring life in Seattle and live on a creepy little island. That decision right there also made me leery about the sanity of the heroine, Hallie.

Oh and, as an added bonus, the mother's lawyer just so happens to be young and handsome and a perfect match and love interest for Hallie. Gag me. There was no chemistry between these two. In fact, Webb had to have Hallie tell me, the reader, that there was chemistry between them.

Speaking of chemistry...There's a random character named Jonah who, according to Hallie, there is nothing going on between them. Yeah. There was definitely more chemistry there than with the lawyer whose name is, ironically, Will (think about it...he's a lawyer...lawyers help write wills and stuff...Forget it...).

I'm sure Webb is a fantastic journalist. She's just not very good at fiction writing. Let's discuss her writing for a minute.

She uses weird metaphors for smells:

"He smelled of rain and kindness" (88). Tell me, what does "kindness" smell like? I know I've never smelled kindness. I'm thinking this is just a failed attempt at being cute and poetic.

"She smelled of decaying roses and dirt" (109). Decaying roses? Seriously?

There are a smattering of other examples of this. I started marking them down but then I got tired of it.

Also, there is a very amateur tone in the writing. Consider some of the minor details. One of the big ones is here:

"I settled the tray down on my bed and switched on the TV..." (88).

Then, just on the next page it says this:

"I switched on the television, wanting to fill the room with voices..." (91).

Funny thing is that, apparently, in Wendy Webb's world you can turn on the television twice without turning it off. There was never a mention of Hallie turning off the television. This seems like a small detail but it really bugged me because it is something that should have never made it to a published page.

Let's talk about the main conflict: the house Hallie inherited is haunted. Conveniently, no one ever believes Hallie. And Hallie never actually seems too scared. So, in turn, I never get scared. The spooks fall flat because the writing just plain sucks. I don't feel the atmosphere when I'm reading it. I want to know what Megan Chance was smoking or how much she was paid when she called this book "hypnotic, twisting, and vividly imagined."

Ok, last point. The climax is retarded. Apparently all Hallie had to do was tell the three ghost girls that they were being naughty and they needed to go home. Wow. It reminded me of the dumb climax at the end of The Haunting in which the main character seems to befriend the ghosts who have been haunting the house the whole time.

And, wow, Jonah is actually Hallie's half-brother which I figured out when Hallie had a dumb vision about an affair her father had with an innkeeper who is also a medium. You see how ridiculous this story is?

I think, if handed to the right hands, this story could have been good. But Wendy Webb should probably stick to nonfiction journalistic writing.

I thought I was done with terrible books. Apparently not.

Well, I'm done with this review. I want to forget I ever read this book. I give it 1 of 5 stupid white lacy ribbons.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Rare Treat

Here is a teaser from the beginning of the book I am working on.

The working title is Befall: A Tale of the Unluckiest Lucky Girl.

Do you believe in luck? I sure don’t. I just can’t fathom the idea that standing on your toe and facing east and singing a song all while holding a duck on your head will bring you good luck. Okay, so that was a bad example. Who would hold a duck on their head just for luck? So you know several people who would. I don’t care. The point is: I don’t believe in luck because I’ve never needed it.

I was a star in high school. So I know what you’re thinking now. Oh great, here’s the ex-prom queen trying to tell us that she did it all on her own. Well, you’d be right. Sort of. I was not prom queen. I was the hottest singer and actress ever to set foot on the auditorium stage at Chapman High School. I have it on good authority, even to today, that I am still the best, and it’s been almost ten years since I graduated. In case you’re wondering, I do have connections still. Greggy, the biggest nerd in high school who had the hugest crush on me since grade school, is now the principal at Chapman. Another example of my success is that he would still do anything for me.

Let’s back up before you think I’m some arrogant brat. All right, so I might have laid it on a little thick. The point is, you don’t get to where I got by being lucky. It takes hours and hours of practice and a little natural talent doesn’t hurt either.

My name is Olivia Jordan. Like most high school graduates, I left the world of adolescence with glimmers in my eyes and the whole world at my fingertips. The world was my freaking oyster and I was going to slurp that nasty seafood right up. Broadway was my goal but I knew that I would have to work my way up to that like Liza Minelli and Patty Lupone did. Ok so Liza had Judy Garland for a mother. That, my friend, is not luck; it’s fate.

I saw my name in flashing lights on the marquee. In my dreams. When I was awake that was a different story. I moved from a barely smallish town in Missouri to New York City, scraped every bit of cash I could get out of my savings, and started doing small auditions all while working as a waitress at a little cafĂ©. Once that job wasn’t paying enough to get me by I got a second job. And then a third one.

Luck schmuck. I finally got my break and it wasn’t because of luck. By now you may be wondering why the diatribe about luck. Well, be patient, I’m getting to that.

At night I would come home to my tiny apartment that cost more than my car, frustrated and tired, and I’d jam out to Les Miserables or, on a really bad night, Wicked. Something about Idina Menzel singing about defying gravity is very liberating.

One night, call it fate, I pulled out my laptop while Mandy Patinkin sang “I Dreamed a Dream” to me and I started typing away, plucking away my frustrations with each stroke of the key. By the end of the night, I felt a surge of relief that I had never felt before.

That night was the catalyst of what would become my addiction. Writing. And I found I was pretty good at it. So I started a blog. Just like about ninety percent of the country does because we all think that our thoughts are something everyone will actually care about.

My blog was called A Starlet’s Unending Road to Broadway. Within just a few weeks I had about 100 followers. I could not believe it. My popularity went out of control and, suddenly, my life took a completely different path. While I still had Broadway on my brain, I was desperate enough for some solidarity in my life that I decided to put my dream on hold.

Fast forward a few months. I left NYC for Boston where I landed a job as a blog columnist for The Boston Phoenix. All right so you’re probably thinking that, for a girl who doesn’t believe in luck, she sure is lucky.

I will tell you one area in which I am not lucky, and that is with the men folk. I’m not hideous. Yes, my eyes are an unfortunate and boring brown and my skin is a little pasty. But I have sleek black hair which, I am told, is my most endearing quality. My dad called me Black Irish. In other words, I’m a freak of my own kind. It’s all right. I have accepted this.

So, it’s not my appearance that repels the opposite sex. I’ve yet to discover what it is exactly. My best friend, Nikki, constantly tells me that it’s because guys don’t like a girl with determination. I thought guys got a clue since the 19th century.

I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel sorry for me. That is the last thing I want. My so-called luck just does not spread into all aspects of my life. If there is such a thing as luck or some outside force that, by chance, does actually step in and bring about good things then I would want said outside force to step in with Jesse.

Jesse Phillips. I get to work with this beautiful specimen of rugged manliness. He’s one of the top reporters at the Phoenix. Nikki has seen him and says his face reminds her of a weasel, but she is wrong. If he were compared to an animal he would be a lion, proud and fierce in his own little Serengeti. He has sandy hair that he wears loose and wild like a lion’s mane and his eyes are the blue of what I’d imagine African skies to be like.

One day, when I had forgotten my lunch, I went to the candy vending machine to get some sort of chocolaty sustenance. When I’m at work I am in the zone. It is where I am at the top of my game. My hunger was a burning knot at the back of my throat.

I pushed the buttons for a king-sized Snickers. Don’t judge me; I love my chocolate.

To my despair it got stuck, hanging on for dear life by the edge of the little spinning wire that keeps the candy in order. A harsh growl of despair escaped from my hungry mouth.

I kicked at the machine. I’m weak. I know that much. Slapping at the glass was no use either. Groaning, I rested my forehead against the clear cover of the vending machine, the only thing holding me back from my lunch. I closed my eyes and, just as I was about to resign myself to use some more money to try again, I heard a voice behind me.

It was a voice with an apprehensive tone with a slight rumbling of amusement and tenacity. I recognized it instantly. I had heard that voice in meetings and at cubicles far away from mine.

“Mind if I try?” Jesse Phillips edged around me. I lifted my head from the vending machine, looked up at the broad-shouldered Adonis before me, and felt heat rise to my cheeks.

With a sound akin to a hiccupping squirrel jangling from my mouth, I stepped back, allowing Jesse ample room to try his hand at freeing my precarious Snickers bar. He took the flat of his hand and smacked the plexiglass with a practiced ease and a loud thwapping noise. The Snickers fell with a victorious little crash to the bottom of the vending machine.

Jesse retrieved the candy bar for me and turned to me with a gleaming white-toothed grin. “Good choice. Definitely worth the trouble.” I noticed his careless Henley shirt that was a green color that made his skin look even tanner.

“Thank you,” I took the candy bar from him with a sheepish smile.

He looked at me carefully, as if seeing me for the first time. Okay, I have no illusions in my head that he had ever noticed me before that moment. Jesse Phillips could have any woman he wanted and I knew I would always be far, far down on that list.

“I’ll see you around?” Jesse’s brows lifted. It was a question, a promise of future run-ins that I hoped were not as humiliating.

“Probably in our meeting later today,” I said, matter-of-factly, with a nod.

His smile drained off his features, leaving behind a dumbfounded shock. “Right,” he said sharply. “Well, enjoy your Snickers.”

I looked down at the stupid Snickers which was, in fact, snickering at me right at that moment. Such an apt name for a dumb candy bar that ruined my chances with Jesse Phillips. I tucked some hair behind my ear, wanting to take back the last, say, twenty minutes. Start over at the moment I decided I wanted a candy bar for lunch.

“Maybe I don’t know how to flirt,” I said to Nikki on the phone approximately twelve minutes after my Jesse Phillips encounter of doom.

“That’s just silly, Liv. You totally know how to flirt.” I could picture my best friend painstakingly straightening her pale blonde hair, her head crooked to the side so she could hold her phone between her cheek and her shoulder. Nikki has a hard life. She works from home as some sort of consultant. I’m not really even sure what she does.

I sighed. “I’m just too serious.”

“I’m the serious one, remember?” Nikki said jokingly, and I could hear her chewing bubblegum.

I groaned at that, lowering my head to my desk without worrying with how hard it would hit. “I can’t go to that meeting today.”

“Why not?”

“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because Wonderboy will be there?”

“Now he’s got a nickname?” I heard some rustling while Nikki was quiet. “You act like he’s Brad Pitt or something.”

My lip curled involuntarily at the comparison. It just was not right. “You’re really bad at metaphors and comparisons. Did anyone ever tell you that?”

“Only you, darling,” Nikki said with a smile I could hear.

“Well, you work on your whatever you do. When you get a break, try to write down some metaphors. We’re going to make a metaphorical queen out of you in no time.”

“I think there was a play on words there. I’m not sure though.”

I laughed. “I don’t play with words. I work with them, Nikki.”


A few hours later I gathered up my things and went to the conference room. It’s a thoroughly modern building where I work. Everything is made up of sleek lines, glass, dark wood, and shiny metal. Being in the conference room is like being in a glass house and not just because the four walls are made of glass. Sometimes the words thrown around in the conference room can be just like stones being thrown in a glass house and I am always shocked when the walls don’t just shatter all around me.

I took my seat at the long, lustrous table in between Margie the events columnist and Tyrone the sports editor. The seats slowly filled up. I stuck a pen in a twirl of my hair, a quick fix to get the hair off my neck. When I looked up, across from my seat, I saw Jesse Phillips.

My mouth popped open and I quickly averted my eyes. Before I did so I noticed he had been watching me unabashedly. What was he doing sitting at the low end of the table? The top reporter usually took his seat to the right of Jade Catrall, editor in chief and my boss.

Speaking of which. My boss, Jade, walked in last. She likes to boast an entrance wherever she goes but it’s never anything flashy, but it’s not understated either. People notice when she walks into a room. Her tall, lithe form is always covered with designer brands. Today it was a white sweater with a silver belt and slick black pants that hugged her thin legs. As if my boss weren’t tall enough, she always wore pumps.

Her handsome face regarded us sternly for a moment as a rush of quiet fell over the glass house conference room. Jade Catrall had to have Cherokee blood judging by her high cheekbones, dark hair, and almond shaped eyes.

Jade’s eyes fell on Jesse momentarily and I swore I saw a brief glimmer of shock. He had never moved from his position to her right. This was going to be a bad meeting.

“Good afternoon,” Jade said calmly, lowering herself into her chair.

We all murmured our responses half-heartedly.

“Just two more hours before tomorrow’s paper goes to press. Let’s have a rundown.” Jade eased back into her seat.

You have to realize how out of my element I feel when I’m in these meetings. While the other columnists can drone on and on forever about their subjects and the subjectively exciting things they are writing about, I find that I can only say a few words. What is there, really, to say about a column that is just an extension of my blog? Yes, that is what they hired me to do: write a column the way I write my blog. It was all a ploy to get more readers which, according to Nigel, our resident numbers guy, has been a success. Since my column started running in the paper, readership jumped nearly twenty percent. Luck had nothing to do with that either so don’t even start with me.

As we went around the table I noticed the tension in the room. I was not alone either. Everyone could tell that Jade was fuming at the disruption in the seating arrangement. Jesse sure had guts to change things up when we all knew how much of a control freak our boss can be.

I looked over at Jesse, my lips pressing together into a firm line. Conferences are awkward enough without this weird tension. He looked back at me, a finger tapping his bottom lip pensively. I could feel my expression darken as his bright blue eyes met mine. He was up to something.

“Olivia,” I heard my name and nearly jumped out of my skin. Jade, not to mention the rest of the room, was looking at me. I felt my cheeks burn.

“Yes. Right,” I stammered, trying to gather my thoughts.

“Whatever you are working on must be pretty thought-provoking to make you speechless, Olivia,” Jade mocked. She was right; it takes a lot to make me shut up. Unless I’m in awkward conference meetings, I’m usually a chatty Cathy.

I took time to take a deep breath and looked down at my notes.

“I am working on a piece on Kristin Chenoweth’s new tour and, of course, tying it with how I wish I could be her.” I am an unashamed loser. I will be the first to admit that I failed my dream to make it to Broadway, and I am not afraid to joke about it.

That earned light laughter and an approving nod from Jade. And they moved on. I may have saved the paper by giving it more readership but they know I don’t like to gush about my writing.

I zoned out again as they continued going around the table. Until, that is, it was Jesse’s turn to report his article. The tension in the room heightened as we waited for him to speak which also pulled me out of whatever reverie my mind was conjuring. I like to escape from the conference room mentally at least because it eases the boredom.

Jesse had a funky smile on his lips, light from the windows in the next room touching his cheek and making the stubble on his jaw golden. “I am doing something a little different this time. Changing it up.” His eyes were on Jade, a pencil twirling in his fingers. I suddenly felt a clenching in my stomach.

Jade’s brows shot up. “Go on, Jesse. Indulge us.”

He took a deep breath, an eye of the storm in the midst of the tumultuous tension around him. I tried to pretend the apprehension did not bother me, but I found myself tapping my fingers against my notepad nervously.

“I am going to do an article on Broadway hopefuls. What separates the hopefuls from the stars. And my first interview will be,” he paused, turned and laid his summer breeze eyes on me. And then everyone’s eyes were on me. “Our very own Olivia Jordan.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Historian

It took me nearly a month to read this book which I found was sort of frustrating because I had been on such a book-reading frenzy. However, that being said, it was nice to read a book with some depth and intelligence.

I had been wanting to read The Historian for a long time but always put it off. I even read The Swan Thieves before I read this one which, to me, was a good move. Her second novel was a little more accessible while The Historian can be daunting.

Elizabeth Kostova is a gem. She writes with a fascinating eye for details some may call it a little heavy but I find it beautiful and refreshing. I found this book in the runnings to be a contemporary classic if nothing else but for the literary value of the writing. What Kostova has done is taken a classic and made it her own.

The book follows three storylines: 1930s with Professor Rossi, 1950s with Paul and Helen who are searching for a missing Professor Rossi and the tomb of Dracula, and 1970s with Paul and Helen's daughter. Some say that the 1970s plot is the main story when, to me, it is just the basis while the story of Paul and Helen is the main plot line. It doesn't really matter which one is the main one because they are all pleasant to read. The book itself jumps around quite a bit but it is not confusing or bothersome in any way. Kostova handles the timeline differences deftly. While there are some scenes that get confusing, namely at the end, where the action seems too vague, for the most part, this book is easy to follow.

I loved, absolutely loved, the descriptions of the places. I am not very familiar with Eastern Europe and its history so this was a delight to read because it was all somewhat new to me. I want to take a The Historian tour through Europe and see all the places feature in the books. Here are just a few pictures I found on Google (you can see why I want to go there):

1. Hagia Sofia in Istanbul

2. Budapest, Hungary

3. Bachkovo, Bulgaria

4. Sveti Georgi

5. Amsterdam

Those are just a few of the places I can remember from the book. They spend a lot of time traveling which is not that exciting in itself but it is handled well by Kostova. She makes the landscape itself seem mysterious and compelling which is quite a task.

My only real complaint about this book is that it goes a little long. There are some things in there that I felt were dragged out a little too much. But the long read was rewarded with a stunning ending. Even though it's a long book (my copy was just over 900 pages) it goes by really fast until about 3/4 of the way through then it gets a little sluggish, but plow through because it is very much worth it at the end.

This was me while reading Elizabeth Kostova's novel. It is quite suspenseful!

I give it 4.5 out of 5 cloves of garlic.