Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Lovely Blog Award

YAY! Thank you, thank you, Quinn, for bestowing upon me my first ever blog award!
The way this One Lovely Blog Award works is that you first acknowledge the person who gave it to you (thank you again, Quinn of seeing, dreaming... writing) and then pick 15 bloggers you've recently met to give the same award to.

Passing on the love!

Quinn decided not to give the award to anyone who'd already received it, so I suppose I'll stick with that rule. Which means he "pinched" some of the blogs I want to acknowledge!

Anyway, in no particular order, here are 15 bloggers I've recently met...

Go check them out!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Firelight, by Sophie Jordan

First line: Gazing out at the quiet lake, I know the risk is worth it.

This is one of those books that I easily lost myself in, and it seemed to come to an end
far too soon. One of those book where you think, "Okay, I've got work to do, so I'll just finish this chapter," and then five chapters later you're like, "Crap! Now I really have to work!", and then five chapters after that you're like, "Oh, what the heck. The work can wait!"

Jacinda is a draki, a descendant from dragons, who can shift between dragon and human form. She is also the last of her kind who can breathe fire. This, of course, makes her very important, and the pride of draki that she lives with watch her every move.

When Jacinda breaks the rules the pride decides to punish her - but her mother has other plans. In the dead of night Jacinda and her family sneak away to begin a new life, a life apart from the draki. A safe life.

But then Jacinda meets Will. From a family of hunters, Will is anything but safe - he is Jacinda's most dangerous enemy. But she just can't stay away from him...

I really liked the fresh take on dragons in this story, and FIRE! Wow, I'm not sure why but fire just seems dangerous and beautiful and sexy and powerful all at the same time. (I don't think I'm a pyromaniac...)

The only thing that annoyed me a little was Jacinda's back-and-forth indecision and her internal monologues that seemed to become repetitive quite quickly. But I suppose that's what it's like when you're 16!

I enjoyed this book - devoured it quickly - and I recommend it to anyone who's into this type of story.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blog Hoppity-Hop

I'm No. 60! And YOU could be next...

Enjoy hopping, everyone! (It's good exercise...)

Top Ten Novels Blog Fest

Thanks to Madeleine at Scribble and Edit for coming up with this Blogfest.

So, in order of discovery, these are the novels that qualify to be on my list because I've read and reread and reread them over the years...

1. The Famous Five Series ~ Enid Blyton
I have to include these books because they were the very first stories I read when I was just old enough to begin reading to myself. And I loved them! Little did my mother know when she got me that first Enid Blyton that from then on I would be devouring books for the remainder of my life!

2. Northern Lights, His Dark Materials Trilogy ~ Philip Pullman
If I had to pick ONE book that first stirred up my passionate love for fantasy, Northern Lights would be it. What starts out as one girl's simple journey to rescue her missing friend turns into an adventure of epic proportions whose consequences reverberate across all the worlds.

3. Harry Potter series ~ J. K. Rowling
Need I say more? EVERYONE knows about Harry Potter so I hardly need to sum up the story. If you love it, you love it. If you don't... Well, you're missing out! These books have inspired me for years and will contiue to do so for many years to come.

4. Redeeming Love ~ Francine Rivers
This is such a beautiful, beautiful story of a love that never, ever gives up and forgivness that goes beyond human comprehension. I learnt so much from reading it.

5. Twilight Saga ~ Stephenie Meyer
Twilight has to be included because this is the book that got me off my unhappy Biochemistry-Masters-butt and gave me that light-bulb moment: "If other people can write the stories they're passionate about, why can't I? Just get up and do it already!"

6. The Mortal Instruments series ~ Cassandra Clare
My newest (and possibly greatest!) love! Cassandra Clare is amazing! These are the books that I'll stay up far too late to finish reading, the books that I compare to my own writing and weep at how far I fall short of the mark. If you love fantasy, mystery, action, intrigue, really hot characters and the ultimate of forbidden love - then this is for you!

Okay, so I know I didn't list ten, but I figure since some of them are series that makes up for it!
Thanks for stopping by. You can check out the other participants here...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vampire Diaries Appreciation

(Alternatively titled "Ian Somerhalder Appreciation")

Since the Great Blogging Experiment was so fantastic yesterday and I really can't think of anything useful to post right now (and I haven't finished reading Firelight yet) I am taking the opportunity to have a Vampire Diaries Appreciation Moment (or several moments, rather...)

I wasn't very impressed when I first started watching this show. My reaction was somewhere along the lines of "Great. Twilight rip-off on the small screen... Yawn..." But I gave it a chance and it ended up getting better. And then better! So that by the time the final few episodes came around I was desperate not to miss any!

Damon Salvatore (played by Ian Somerhalder) had a LOT to do with that! Why, why, why is it always the bad boys who are so darn attractive?! I find that he has only one flaw (well, he has many of course, being the bad boy and everything, but aside from that...): His eyebrow-raising habit. That kinda got to me after a while. But you know what? I think I can overlook it!

So. Let's be honest. You just wanna look at the pictures, right? Yeah. Me too.

Oh so HOT HOT!

Oh, the gorgeousness...
Oh, the smouldering gaze...

Stefan perfects the brooding look...

One word: YUMMY.

"being dead is so in right now"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters

Welcome to stop 104 of Elana's Great Blogging Experiment!

(Eeeek! I am totally intimidated by the large number of people who are also blogging about this very same topic possibly at this very same moment...)

How many times can The Hero's Journey be original?
How many times can The Love Triangle be original?
How many times can The Forbidden Love Story be original?

Answer: not many.

So why do we keep going back for more?

Answer: because of the characters, the people.

They are different every time, and so the story is different every time.

Life is all about relationships. You can have things, you can have success, you can have status, but we all know that it means nothing without people. So when we read a book - or at least, when I read a book - one of the main things that makes it or breaks it for me is the characters.

So... Having not really thought about this much before the Great Experiment, here is my take on things...

1. Get Real
Very important. If I'm reading a book and keep thinking, "There's no way anyone in real life would ever say/do/be something like that," then I'm not interested. You need characters that readers can relate to.

2. Get Interesting
Everyone has a story, or, to use the correct terminology, backstory. This is what fleshes your characters out, gives them depth and possibly mystery and intrigue. What has happened in your characters' pasts to make them the way they are?

3. Get Talking
Dialogue rocks! One of the easiest ways to show what type of person a character is is to have them interact with other characters. In both my reading and writing I'm not so keen on the descriptive parts (don't hate me!), but dialogue makes me happy :-) I love seeing how characters interact. Plus it moves the story forward.

4. Get Motive
In both reading and writing I constantly (yes, it gets annoying sometimes) ask myself, "Why is this character doing this?" And there has to be a good enough reason, or else the character isn't believable anymore. Why is my character going on this dangerous, difficult, life-threatening journey? Because they just felt like it? Not likely!

5. Get Change
In real life, change is scary. In stories, no change is BORING! If your characters manage to get to the other side of their journey/tumultuous relationship/fight to the death with a fire-breathing dragon, it must have changed them somehow. For better or worse, there's got to be change.

Thanks for stopping by! Next on the list is Writing from the Wrogan...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Parcel in the Post - Firelight!!

One of the most exciting things that can happen, on a normal, mundane day, is getting a parcel in the post!

You see, living in a part of the world where people DON'T feel the need to appreciate YA Fantasy on the day it comes out, I generally have to wait a little longer than some to read the next highly anticipated book. So, while everyone else was getting their desperate fingers onto a copy of Firelight the day it was released, I was getting my desperate fingers onto a computer keyboard to order mine from my Favourite Online Provider of Books (which sometimes lies about when it will have certain items - resulting in intense frustration and disappointment on my part...)

So in the post today was FIRELIGHT!!!

Isn't it pretty?
Doesn't is just scream, "READ ME!!"?

It really sucks (like really, really sucks) that I have third quarter exams to mark right now...


Monday, September 20, 2010

Writers' Platform Building Crusade

Over at Rach Writes there's a CRUSADE taking place to help unite all aspiring writers, beginner bloggers, industry peeps (and possibly even already-published authors) - anyone starting out their online journey and wanting to build their online platform.

The idea is that we help build other people's online platforms by following them, and they in turn help our online platforms by following us. YAY! Let's all follow each other! Let's all be, in Rach's words, people who want to pay it forward in the spirit of writerly writerness and blogging beautificity.

How to become a crusader
  1. Head over to Rach Writes.
  2. Follow her (and me please!).
  3. Leave a comment at the bottom of her post with your blog details so people can follow you.
  4. Spread the word on your blog, Facebook, Twitter etc.
  5. Smile and be happy :-)

    Speak Loudly against Rape

    Book bloggers fingers sprang furiously into action yesterday as heartfelt responses from all over the place were written in response to Dr Wesley Scroggins' article, Filthy books demeaning to republic education, in which he expresses his shock that school children are required to read material that borders on pornography.

    A book that he specifically refers to is SPEAK, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This highly acclaimed and controversial novel is about a girl finding her voice after having been raped.
    Scroggins says:
    This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page.

    Okay, so this book doesn't describe the perfect example of Christian living, I get that wholly and completely. But it's REAL. Rape is REAL. Rape is NOT PORNOGRAPHY. People should be allowed to SPEAK about it and those who want to LISTEN should be allowed to.

    There are some heartbreaking and powerful responses out there (several are listed below) and I don't feel I need to add too much. I just wanted to do my part for getting the word out there.

    I had not heard of this book, and there seem to be a number of other people who hadn't either, but thanks to Dr Scroggins' article and the powerful response it brought out from so many, we all know about it now. And I think the effect of his article will, in fact, be the opposite of what he intended.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010

    When I opened up my e-mail and found a message telling me that I had received a Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition I had to work hard to stop myself jumping up and down with excitement (we had guests here...)! I mean, sure, I wasn't the overall winner, and sure, I wasn't even a regional winner, and sure, it's not like someone was saying "Can I publish your novel?", but STILL. I wanted to shriek out, "SOMEONE LIKES MY WRITING!!!".

    You can see the full list of winners on the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association website. This was my humble entry...

    Thembi's Bicycle

    The taxi swerves to a halt in front of the entrance and a young man jumps lightly out from the front passenger side. He swiftly slides the back door open; passengers spill hastily from the vehicle. Ma Gugu, her handbag clutched tightly under her arm, shuffles her way to the front of the taxi and steps heavily onto the ground. The door whooshes closed behind her and the taxi is gone, the thumping of its music a memory in her ears.

    She slowly climbs the stairs that lead to the entrance of the gaudy casino, one hand to her wrinkled brow to shield her face from the unrelenting sun. A couple pushes their way out of the rotating door; Ma Gugu steps into their vacated pie slice of space and moves with it, welcoming the cool air as she enters the building.

    The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air. Ma Gugu has never been a smoker herself and the persistent haze used to catch in her throat and made her choke. But now it draws her back here as surely as the alluring thought of winning does.

    Flashing lights and the clang of falling coins greet her as she reaches the casino floor. The once bright carpet is dull with age and the pile has been trodden flat, but she doesn’t see this anymore. Instead her eyes are seeking out her favourite machines. Most of them are available; the casino is never full on a Monday morning.

    She seats herself at the nearest one, her swollen feet dangling high above the ground. Her hands shake slightly as she inserts a crisp new note into the slot; it is sucked greedily out of sight in one swift movement.

    Her fingers move with familiarity over the slightly greasy buttons as she chooses the number of lines and the bet per line. A small sigh escapes her lips as she settles into a comfortable rhythm of pushing the ‘repeat spin’ button and watching the colourful cherries and sevens fly by.

    If she wins today she and Thembi will be able to eat well for the rest of the month, and perhaps there will even be enough to buy Thembi that bicycle she wants so badly. Ma Gugu thinks of her little granddaughter playing at home with Gladys, the neighbour. Gladys wouldn’t approve if she knew Ma Gugu was gambling with the grant money.

    But Ma Gugu won’t lose this time. It won’t be like that morning she got carried away and lost everything. She remembers the nights they went hungry that month, remembers the guilt she felt looking into Thembi’s trusting eyes. But she is more careful now.

    Her money is disappearing and this machine has yielded none of its wealth. She moves to another one of her favourites. She has only pushed the spin button four times before her machine suddenly starts singing loudly at her. She watches in delight as the numbers on her screen go up and up. Before long a person appears at her side, pushes a few buttons, writes a cheque.

    As she waits in line at the cashier Ma Gugu feels pleased with herself. She collects her winnings and hugs her handbag close as she lumbers towards the exit. But then she hesitates. There is enough money in her purse for food for the month and to buy the medicine she really should be taking for her feet, but what about Thembi’s bicycle? It only takes a moment to decide and then she turns, a small smile lifting her lips, back towards the machines.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Misspelling can be funny

    You can just see them standing there thinking, "Um... that doesn't look quite right..."

    He he he!

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Rereading Old Favourites - Harry Potter

    When the first few Harry Potter books came out they weren't yet a big deal here (South Africa) and the only reason I knew of their existence was because my aunt from London had given the first two books to my little brother and sister. I thought the names sounded funny and I had no interest in reading them (after all, at the age of 13 I had far more superior taste in books!).

    Then my first high school end-of-year exams came along and my English teacher used an exerpt from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" for the comprehension questions. From that moment, sitting in a classroom tense and anxious in the middle of an exam, I was HOOKED! 

    I rushed home, found the first book on my sister's shelf, and started reading. For as long as it took me to read the first two (those were the only ones out at that time) that's how long I spent tucked away in my room, pretending to be diligently studying, the books propped open inside my school file so that my mother couldn't see them when she came in to check on how hard I was working...

    I recently took "Harry Potter and the Philospoher's Stone" off my shelf and began rereading it. Eleven years later, I still love it! 

    It is such an interesting experience going back to the beginning of a series, after having travelled with the characters for so long, watching them grow while you yourself grow, experiencing their hardships and their joys, laughing with them and crying with them, seeing them become whoever they're meant to be... (Anyone who's read and loved this series, you KNOW what I'm talking about!)

    I lay on my bed reading Harry and Ron's first awkward meeting on the train to Hogwarts and I couldn't help but think to myself.... You guys have NO idea what's in store for you!!

    Have you ever tried this?  
    Pick a friend you've known for years and years. 
    Can you remember the very first time you met that person? What you said, what they said, what you thought of them?
    I find it fascinating to think of those first few moments... knowing everything that I know now about that person...

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    My No. 1 Distraction...

    ... just got worse!

    Because I discovered BLOGFEST 2010!!

    I will admit it here: my No. 1 Distraction is reading book blogs.

    I mean, reading a new book is obviously the best, but second to that is reading about new books and what other people think of them. So most days, after I get home, I check my e-mail and then "quickly" check blogger to see if the book blogs I follow have been updated. I'm always desperate to know what my next fiction fix could be! The problem is, "quickly" checking isn't always "quick"...

    So what is Blogfest 2010?
    A Journey of Books can tell you...

    "BlogFest is a massive carnival of giveaways with a great collection of participating blogs. Each blog has a giveaway and the idea is to hop from blog to blog, entering all the giveaways your little heart desires. Hopefully you might even come across a few blogs you might want to bookmark and continue visiting."

    Sounds FABULOUS!! There are over 200 book blogs participating (now how many book-related giveaways is that...) and you can find the list here.

    Oh yes, and Book Blogger Appreciation Week is almost here :-)

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Book Review: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

    This book has been on my reading list for a number of months now.
    I wish I hadn't waited so long!

    First line: In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.

    In the land Katsa lives in there are certain people who are Graced with special skills. Katsa was born with a Grace that set her apart at an early age as a weapon for the king to use - for hers is a killing Grace. She can kill a man with her bare hands and is faster and more skilled at combat than anyone she has ever come across - until she meets Prince Po.

    There are many things Katsa never expected: she never expected that she and Po could become good friends, she never expected to discover something new about the Grace she always thought she understood, and she never expected that she might meet a threat one day that she couldn't protect herself from...

    The gender roles in this story are somewhat reversed: Katsa can kick some serious butt while hardly breaking a sweat, and Po, unlike many men, is completely unthreatened by this! It was refreshing to read a book with such a strong, independent and self-sufficient heroine.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Judging books by their covers

    Books are often released with different covers in different places (or at different times). You might buy one and then see the same book a year later and think, "Wow, that cover is so much cooler." 

    I generally tend to prefer covers that have some kind of abstract picture on them, rather than covers that show actual, real people. Although I don't really mind real people on a cover as long as I can't see exactly who a person is, the reason being that I want to make my own picture in my mind about the way the characters look. It's fine if I can only see part of a person, like half their face, or their neck and shoulder, or their eye...

    The following are some examples, with the first cover being my preference in each case:

    I LOVE the original cover for "Twilight". I think it perfectly depicts what the novel is about, more so than the covers of the other the three books.

    The second cover looks like some kind of erotica novel that I would never pick up, whereas the first cover has a mysterious air about it that is much better suited to the type of fantasy novel that it is - and that I'm far more likely to pick up!

    The first one, definitely. Like I said, I want to be able to imagine my own characters. If there's a person on a cover and I don't like the look of that person, I'm not going to pick the book up.

    There are, of course, exceptions to my own "rule"...

    The second cover might leave you thinking that this is a story for little children - which it isn't. The first cover, however, is absolutely perfect for this story, and if you've read it I'm sure you'll agree. I can't see exactly who the boy is, and so my imagination is still free to conjure up it's own version of him.

    What do you think?