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Book Review: Song of the Lioness series March 30, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Uncategorized.
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I am a big fan of Tamora Pierce books. When I was a teenager I read the Wild Magic series and absolutely fell in love with the heroine, Daine, and of course her lanky, intelligent, handsome and powerful teacher Numair. 15 years later,  I still re-read the Wild Magic books when I’m sick, or down, or particularly when I’m having Man Troubles. Numair would probably be my “Fantasy Man” I’ve managed to hold onto for years as a nice little romantic ideal.

That said, I hadn’t read Tamora Pierce’s first series in its entirety and my roommate brought me the books as a gift. She had found the entire set at a used book sale.

It’s a great series, although you can definitely see the “new writer” aspects in the writing. Some of the sentences are a little bulky and the heroine is “Just Better Than Everyone” and “Has Cooler Magic Stuff”, the common fantasy tropes. Now, I do like that she does have to work and practice to earn her accolades and even hone her skills, which makes her a great role model for children. The other characters are well presented, although the supporting characters are a little static apart from Thom and Jonathan, which is another sign of developing skill in a writer. You can see a clear progression from the first to the last book in characterization.

I also particularly like how much more daring Tamora Pierce was in the themes she presents in the Alanna series verses the Wild Magic series. Female sexuality is explored with frankness, but tastefulness and a lack of preaching. The title character goes through a very natural coming of age in understanding her womanhood and her sexuality, which you don’t often see in books geared at young adults. There’s nothing at all explicit, but it’s handled in the same frank way as “Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret”. For that, alone, I think the book is a great one for young girls to read and discuss with their parents, because all of Alanna’s fears are those I can remember having at her age as well.

Genre:  Young adult fantasy

Age: pre-teens and up

Content:  Violence, sexuality (but a very ‘frank’ mother to daughter sort of manner, if you want a specific explanation feel free to e-mail me and I’ll detail it out)

Overall:  4/5

I’d give it a 5/5 save for the stylistic complaints.

Love letters and literature… March 10, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Inspiration, Life, Musings, Romance.
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I’m taking French, one of the many requirements for the PHD. I recently was able to read a passage from L’education sentimentale by Flaubert in its native language and found it captivating. It got me thinking, though, of a lost art: the love letter. With the speed of e-mail and texting, we have a lot of electronic-flirting, but some of that is the ‘gut instinct’ communication. But… do people still write love letters? I know a few friends who try to do love notes in their relationships, but what about actual letters. We see romance on tv, we read about it in books, we sing about it in songs, we celebrate it on Valentine’s day, but in our personal lives do we truly take those risks?

I know that I pulled over on the freeway to listen to love letters read on NPR from an author to his sweetheart. I don’t remember the author, but I remember the letters were so compelling I couldn’t focus on the drive. Working in Special Collections I have discovered the power of reading letters between friends and lovers, and the beauty of the prose and turn of phrase you can find in them. People used to read them as literature, as well, but I don’t recall being given any in my education. In Women’s Studies there is an argument that the ‘letter’ and the ‘diary’ is a form of literature that has been ignored because it may have been more the province of ‘the sentimental’ rather than the ‘cerebral’ which is celebrated in literature.

How many of you have written or received a love letter? In my life I’ve received one, when I was 15 years old. I kick myself for not keeping it, even though it terrified me. I wasn’t emotionally ready for such a thing at the time. I have now, at 28, written my first love/goodbye letter. It was liberating, it was fun in a way, it was self-educating… and it was terrifying. But it was also gratifying to hear from the few close friends I asked to ‘edit it’ for me, that they found it touching. What more can a writer ask for?

And… as writers and artists, aren’t we asked to fearlessly bare our subconscious to the world? So… if you haven’t written a love letter, why not try it! If you don’t have someone in your life right now that you’d write to, why not try to writea “friendship” letter to a friend, explaining the value of your friendship? And I’d love to hear about some of the best/worst love letter experiences others have had.

Book Review: Ghost Country by Patrick Lee March 9, 2011

Posted by Realitybypass in Book Review, Book Series, Science Fiction, Thriller.
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This last week I had the joy of heading out to Disney World for an Anniversary trip with my Dear Husband.  I love this trip as we escape the cold of the winter for a few days and bask in the Florida sun, and this year the Florida sun was even warm…last year not so much.  One of the best parts of away, besides the warm, is that the trip is a lovely time to read…and read…and read some more.  Both DH and I brought a stack of books and we had to buy more in the airport for the trip home, which is a sign of a good vacation to me.

One of the books I picked up in the airport bookstore was Ghost Country by Patrick Lee.  I’ve been curious about this one since reading a few blurbs about it over on Janet Reid’s blog and in a couple other places.  I’m happy to say that it was totally worth my 8 bucks and I’m going to go get the prequel.  I didn’t realize this was the second book in this set, though it’s not a problem at all to start with this book.  There were a couple things that felt like the author was assuming information I didn’t have, but they were few and far between and I really only realized The Breach was the first book about Travis Chase when I got to the last page of the book and saw an advertisement for it.

Ghost Country is the story of Travis Chase and Paige Campbell, lovers parted by unanswered questions and their own past.  Paige works in a place called Boarder Town which is the guardian of an alien phenomenon called The Breach.  Various machines referred to as ‘entities’ come through the Breach and the scientists in Boarder Town work to determine what they are and if they can be safely used by human beings.  Ghost Country picks up when an entity gives proof of a future where life as we know it is over and Paige is taking the information to the President.  Unfortunately she finds out that the President already knows what’s going on and has no intentions of stopping it…in fact he and other highly positioned people are helping it along.  A thirty second phone call involves Travis, pulling him out of a self imposed retirement to come to Paige’s aid and to work with her and another young scientist, Bethany, to unravel what is happening to the world and how they can stop the bleak future from becoming a reality.

I can’t really get into too many more plot details without spoiling the book, but it was a fun fast read.  The writing is engaging and the action keeps moving, but it’s obvious the author has thought his technology through and is a fascinating view at what happens in the minds of people when they give up on making things better.  There’s a romance angle through the book, but it’s very gentle and added to the story without the narrative stopping to let Paige and Travis deal with their issues.  They have to deal on the trot and in the end…well…they’re still dealing.

Definitely worth the read!

Genre:  Science Fiction Thriller

Age: Late teens and up

Content:  Violence, language, very mild sexuality (there’s one kiss)

Overall:  4.5/5

Scary fiction… March 8, 2011

Posted by kmcalear in Uncategorized.
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I was reminded not too long ago about a set of books I adored as a child. These were the Alvin Schwartz “Scary Stories to tell in the Dark” series. I hadn’t thought about them for years, but I remember reading them under the covers in my bed, and always finding the pictures so terrifying even turning the page became as scary as reading the next lines. I used to use the ‘jump stories’ to terrify neighborhood kids, and they were some of my first “performance art” as I used any chance I got to read them in my spookiest and most ominous voices.

I still love a good ghost story, particularly if I can find a well told tale out doing pub crawls or at storytelling festivals. It’s sad, really, how ‘horror’ has become synonomous with gore. For me, that touch of the unknown, the supernatural lurking in the darkness was always more compellingly scary than the promise of slasher pain.

However I posed the question to a friend of mine: are there any good creepy stories these days. I mean UF combines action, fantasy and horror, but what about those good old fashioned ghost stories and supernatural dealings that made Poe such a staple of American Fiction? I’d love some suggestions.

I know I have a goal, now, to try to write a few of my own “Classic American Ghost Tales”, and will hopefully feature a few here.