Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Reading Year in Review

Since I've been in grad school, I haven't been reading for fun as much as I'd like. This past semester, I made a conscious effort, with some success, to read more books that weren't for school. Here are my five favorite books I read this year.

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

A friend recommended this to me. I went through a few stages while reading it. (1) This is interesting. I like the setting and the idea. (2) Oh, come on. Another teen love story? (3) Wow. The writing is gorgeous.

Thank goodness I didn't stop after stage two. I still haven't picked up the rest of the trilogy, but it's only from lack of time, not lack of interest.

"Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters?"

4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

This was the first book I read for a class in romance subgenres and one of the first books I read this year. It was different than I expected from the cover synopsis, but it was imaginative and full of wonder.

"I have been surrounded by love letters you two have built each other for years, encased in tents."

3. The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham

I remember listening to this audiobook a few years ago, maybe when I was in college. It left a much bigger impression on me this time around. Kitty isn't an extremely likable character, but she's a remarkably relatable one, at least to me. Very rarely, I read books that make me stop and wonder how the author got into my head, and I love that.

"I have an idea that the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art."

2. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

I think, for a 26-year-old girl, I probably put a lot more faith than I should in a boy who refuses to grow up. Somehow, this book slipped through the cracks when I was growing up, so this was the first time I read it, and it's one of those cases when I read a book at the exact right moment in my life. It's funny and adventurous with an undercurrent of serious observations about the world and especially about growing up.

"To live will be an awfully big adventure."

1. Lovestar, Andri Snaer Magnason

Oh, my goodness, this book was so strange and so wonderful. Another recommendation from a friend, this Icelandic book is one I never would have found on my own. It's set in the future, when mankind has been freed from its reliance on cords by the harnessing of animal waves, and the story juxtaposes the life of Lovestar, the scientist who was responsible for this technology, with the lives of Indridi and Sigrid, two young lovers who believe they're meant to be together. It's very different, but in a refreshing I-didn't-know-I-needed-this kind of way.

"A seed becomes a tree becomes a forest green as a carpet. An egg becomes a bird becomes birds fill the sky like clouds.

An egg becomes a bump becomes a man becomes mankind, manufactures cars, writes books, builds houses, lays carpets, plants forests, and paints pictures of clouds and birds.

In the beginning all this must have been contained in the egg and the seed. Forest. Birds. Mankind."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Writing Retreat Photos

the sword in the stone - King Arthur Literary Park
Hopkinsville Community College; Hopkinsville, KY

the round table

Melpomene, the muse of tragedy

writers of the round table

our lovely B&B - Futrell House
Cadiz, KY

I Survived My 100-Day Hiatus

I'm back! I did better on my Tumblr hiatus than on Facebook because my class has a group on FB that we use to keep in touch, stay on top of classes and submissions, and be general goofballs. This blog didn't miss much, mostly because I don't do much besides school and work. But I did mostly finish my second draft (minus a battle scene), went on a writing retreat in Kentucky and visited King Arthur Literary Park, and adopted a greyhound. I named her Elphie, though she is neither green nor beautifully tragic.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MSFF: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

My friend at work (who speaks fluent French) lent me some French movies last week. I’ve been trying to get a good mix of movies from different languages and countries, but I’ve really enjoyed every French movie I’ve watched. I don’t know if French film is generally a cut above the rest or if the only ones I have access to are the best ones, but either way, I’m enjoying myself (and eating a lot of crepes and baguettes).

Based on a true story, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, a successful magazine editor who suffers a stroke and must learn to live with locked-in syndrome, which leaves him unable to do anything but blink and, eventually, move his head a little bit. With the help of a physical therapist and a speech therapist, he utilizes a new way to communicate. Someone recites the alphabet in order of frequency, and when they reach the appropriate letters, he blinks once. And so on until he communicates first a word and then a sentence. In this way, he undertakes to write a book about his life.

It’s a beautiful, quiet film that touches on how and what we value in life. Communication is oftentimes taken for granted. With email, texting, phone calls, Skype, and other things, we don’t even have to be in the same room or the same city to have a conversation. As a writer, I think it’s important to recognize the weight that words can and do have and to be mindful of how we communicate.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The 100-Day Hiatus

Starting today, I’ll be logging out of Facebook and (much worse) Tumblr for 100 days. I had an easier time limiting distractions when I was writing my first draft. But my life is crazy busy, and now that I’m on my second and focusing on revisions, it’s a lot tougher. I get stuck on the smallest things. My first deadline is next Tuesday, and if I’m having this much trouble cobbling together 60 pages, it’s not going to get easier once my teaching class starts in August.

So with the help of a friend at work, I decided to eliminate my two biggest timewasters. When I hit a snag in a scene or even in a sentence, my tendency is to head to one of these websites to ‘let it percolate,’ but I really just waste time. I don’t even use Facebook a whole lot besides posting pictures of baseball parks, but I do use it to keep up with my far-away friends (which are most of them). And Tumblr is magnificent because it’s all about (for me, at least) being enthusiastic about the things I love, including writing, reading, and Orphan Black. I’ll still be writing blog posts, though, and I’m not falling off the grid completely!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

MSFF: Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

I’ve been watching these movies in short 20- or 30-minute chunks before I go to sleep or on my lunch breaks. But I started Mere Brother Ki Dulhan last night and had to force myself to stop watching so I could get some sleep. And then instead of being productive when I woke up, I finished watching it.

When Luv, living in London, gets into a fight with his girlfriend of five years, Piall, they break up and he calls his brother, Kush, working as a famous film director in Mumbai, for help in finding him a traditional Indian girl to be his bride. However, when Kush meets Dimple, whom he’d known briefly years before, sparks fly. She’s lively and different and unapologetic for it, and she proves to be a perfect complement to Kush’s quiet yet caring nature.

It’s a situation that could easily become silly and but it’s never played for stupid laughs like American rom-coms are so fond of (okay, there’s maybe one instance). The ample length of the film (145 minutes) lends itself to a fully fleshed love story, with the first half allowing the relationship between Kush and Dimple to grow naturally. It’s not unpredictable by any means, but for me, part of the charm of rom-coms is the certainty that, despite all the issues plaguing them, the hero and heroine will end up together in about two hours.

I am somewhat familiar with Bollywood films, though I don’t watch them often. I haven’t watched one in a while, so I forgot how much fun they can be. It wasn’t until the first full song and dance number that I remembered that was a Bollywood staple. Sometimes I wish it would be a Hollywood staple, too! The musical numbers are basically music videos, complete with wind machines and fire, in the middle of a movie. It’s an experience which could be jarring for viewers unfamiliar with Bollywood but which ultimately ends up contributing to the lighthearted, romantic flavor of the film.

Monday, July 14, 2014

MSFF: Thérèse

Thérèse is the story of a woman stuck in a provincial life. She agrees to a marriage of convenience with her neighbor’s son, Bernard, a marriage which will unite the pine forests of both families. But it doesn’t satisfy her, doesn’t keep her from wanting more excitement and fulfillment out of life. Her sister-in-law and best friend, Anne, soon falls in love with a man her parents consider to be an inappropriate match. Anne’s passionate relationship only highlights the lack of passion in Thérèse’s. As the months and years go by, Thérèse’s depression deepens, eventually driving her to unforgiveable acts.

I read an article on NPR last week about the French film Violette and the likeability of protagonists, which is a subject of much interest to me. It’s worth looking at characters who are unapologetic for their imperfections. While Thérèse’s story is an intriguing one, I found myself more drawn to Bernard and Anne. Bernard seems slightly cartoonish through Thérèse’s eyes, always hunting and counting aloud when he puts his medicine in his water. But hard circumstances bring out his true character, which is compassionate and forgiving.

The problem with Thérèse, though, is it takes great care in depicting Thérèse’s actions without dwelling much on her motivations. She makes decisions that don’t entirely make sense and can’t always be chalked up to unhappiness. For instance, her friendship with Anne is an important one, but when Anne begs for help regarding Jean, Thérèse instead influences Jean to end the relationship via letter. She doesn’t do it to help Anne or to preserve the family honor, but neither is it clear that she does it out of jealousy. I thought the relationship between Thérèse and Anne would be much more important, but it falls by the wayside to allow the movie to focus on Thérèse’s depression. All in all, it was a surprising, beautiful film.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mr. Wicker Cover Reveal

Cover created by artist Ryan Rice

Debuting 9/16 • PRE-ORDER for $2 off

Mr. Wicker Cover  

Mr. Wicker by Maria Alexander 

Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. The Librarian is Mr. Wicker — a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as lethal. After committing suicide, Alicia finds herself before the Librarian, who informs her that her lost memory is not only the reason she took her life, but the cause of every bad thing that has happened to her.

Alicia spurns Mr. Wicker and attempts to enter the hereafter without the Book that would make her spirit whole. But instead of the oblivion she craves, she finds herself in a psychiatric hold at Bayford Hospital, where the staff is more pernicious than its patients.

Child psychiatrist Dr. James Farron is researching an unusual phenomenon: traumatized children whisper to a mysterious figure in their sleep. When they awaken, they forget both the traumatic event and the character that kept them company in their dreams — someone they call “Mr. Wicker.”

During an emergency room shift, Dr. Farron hears an unconscious Alicia talking to Mr. Wicker—the first time he’s heard of an adult speaking to the presence. Drawn to the mystery, and then to each other, they team up to find the memory before it annihilates Alicia for good. To do so they must struggle not only against Mr. Wicker’s passions, but also a powerful attraction that threatens to derail her search, ruin Dr. Farron’s career, and inflame the Librarian’s fury.

After all, Mr. Wicker wants Alicia to himself, and will destroy anyone to get what he wants. Even Alicia herself.

 Praise for Mr. Wicker  

“Elegant chills, genuine awe, and true tragedy are all ingredients in the spell cast by Maria Alexander’s Mr. Wicker. Anyone who has encountered Maria’s short stories surely expects her first novel to be extraordinary, and she doesn’t disappoint. Mr. Wicker is rich, lovely, and deeply unnerving.” —Lisa Morton, author of Malediction and Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

MSFF: Myn Bala

“Love can never be measured by sacrifice.”

Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe is the story of Sartai, a Kazakh boy who witnesses his village’s destruction and his family’s death at the hands of Dzungars. Seven years later, he’s become the de facto leader of their band of Kazakh refugees living in the mountains. With his best friends, Taimas and Korlan, Sartai leads a small group of young warriors in attacks against the Dzungars while their grandfather figure attempts to convince the khans of the area to unite and fight off the invaders. Some still resist and choose to cooperate with the Dzungars. Zere, the object of Sartai’s affection, is the daughter of one such khan.

I know more about Kazakhstan than most Americans, but I still don’t know a lot. The first half was a little hard for me to get into because of the unfamiliar history, but the second half picked up steam and barreled toward the conclusion. The heart of the film is Sartai’s need for revenge and freedom, but the interactions between the three main teenagers added compelling complexity. They’re like siblings, but Sartai is the leader, the standout, the hero. Taimas’s descent into jealousy is much more than that because he’s the one to shed light on how Sartai’s actions, however noble, are leading their clansmen to their deaths.

And Korlan! I want to talk about Korlan because she is amazing. She’s wicked good with a bow and can keep up with the boys in battles. The movie is peppered with hints that she might be in love with Sartai, but that falls by the wayside when Sartai is injured. Zere runs away to join him, but when her father and his men come to retrieve her, they’re attacked by the Dzugars. Korlan’s two companions fall in the fight, but it’s Korlan who gets Zere out of the chaos. When Zere’s horse exhausts itself, Korlan offers her own even as the Dzugars come galloping up the hill. Korlan tells Zere the horse knows the way to their camp and sends her off, turning to face half a dozen Dzugars with just a bow and some knives.

Myn Bala is good, heart-pounding fun with a sweeping story and intricate costumes. The scenery is gorgeous and shows off the lovely juxtaposition of the stunning mountains with the flat steppes. It made me want to go back to Kaz to see all the places I missed.