Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I've been caught up in reading two trilogies lately. I finished Mockingjay, the last book of the Hunger Games series, this weekend.  And I just finished book two, The Girl Who Played With Fire, of Stieg Larsson's trilogy. The two couldn't be more different - post-apolyptic YA versus tightly plotted thriller - but they have their similarities: they're both brilliantly written, and almost impossible to put down.

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)There's another difference for me personally. I read the first two Hunger Games books before Mockingjay came out, and I waited for months and months to read it (serious anticipation!). In that time, I began to develop my own thoughts on how the story could end well. Team Gale? Team Peeta? Forget it... I was Team Let's Have Katniss Grow Up and Make An Emotionally Healthy Adult Decision On Who She Loves. But then, I'm a killjoy like that; I would be okay with the books ending without Katniss making a decision, but how many other people would be? (For the record, I totally support Suzanne Collin's right as the artist to tell the story she had to tell, and I think she did so brilliantly!)

I loved Mockingjay, but it was weird to come to the end of a tale we were so heavily invested in and have it end... differently... than what I imagined. There were areas where I was fully satisfied and a few where I wasn't, althogh I'm not going into details to avoid spoilers (If you'd like to talk Mockingjay with me, there's a spoilers-allowed conversation in BlogFrog, because I'm dying to talk about it!). 

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage)Stieg Larsson's series, although just as addictive for me (I read all 724 pages of The Girl Who Played With Fire between yesterday and... now), is a different story sequel wise. I have no ideas where I want the books to end up, except that I want to see a happy ending for both Lisbeth Salander and Blomkvist.  I think that's because I started the books after all three had been released, and there's no waiting - and wondering - and daydreaming up my own ending.

Do you have a preference, fellow book lovers? Do you like to be among the first to discover a great new author even though it means waiting forever for the next installment of a story, or do you prefer to read all the books in a series one after another?

Monday, August 30, 2010

I saw the Sorcerer's Apprentice this past weekend.  The plot summary, courtesy of IMDB is:
Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan trying to defend the city from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Balthazar can't do it alone, so he recruits Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a seemingly average guy who demonstrates hidden potential, as his reluctant protégé. The sorcerer gives his unwilling accomplice a crash course in the art and science of magic, and together, these unlikely partners work to stop the forces of darkness. It'll take all the courage Dave can muster to survive his training, save the city and get the girl as he becomes The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
I liked this film. First of all, it was entertaining, and that's the primary thing I ask for a film - that I not end up checking the time or daydreaming instead of paying attention to the screen.  There were a few things that made MJ and I snicker at each other (Two words: "Prime Merlinian". Heir to Merlin's power. Yep).  Kudos to the movie for featuring a Physics geek and Tesla coils (Is it a realist depiction? No. but it's very cool). The scene on Youtube can't be imbedded, but it's linked and worth checking out.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice was inspired by Fantasia, and it was so cool to see the moments where Fantasia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice intersected. Probably the most memorable scene from Fantasia is the coming-to-life of the broom, and the scene that duplicates that in Sorcerer's Apprentice was very cool.

All in all, this was a fun family-friendly flick, nothing groundbreaking, but I did love its pro-science, pro-geek take on the world.   My primary complaint was that the female characters are pretty bland - Morgana is supposed to be the Big Bad, but we don't see much scary from her; it's all her henchmen.  Veronica is the love of Bathalzar Blake's life, and all we get from her characterization is that she wanted to be normal - we don't see much power from her. And Dave Sutler's love interest is such a bland blond type that I don't even remember her name. Her characterization was limited to her making a sad face when ten-year-old Dave is embarassed in front of their classmates, indicating that she is Nice.  I like a little more from my female characters than Nice.  And, despite the three female characters running around, the movie fails the Bechdel test.

I still liked the movie, though, and I reccommend it as a fun fantasy that nicely attempts to incorporate science and rational explanation. 4/5 stars from me. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I just love the new CoverGirl commercials. I liked that they had Drew Barrymore for a cover girl - she's one of my favorite actresses, and I think she's just so lovely in a unique way.  But I love that they have Ellen Degeneres as their cover girl now. And I like that they're funny. It seems like a lot of the products marketed to women are too serious, not enough sass - being pretty is not my job, just a hobby, thank you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I think I mentioned that this week for work, I'm in Sierra Vista, AZ, about 80 miles south of Tucson. Yesterday I went to Tombstone, AZ, home of the O.K. Corral.  I did the tourist thing, went on a tour of a town, saw the infamous gun fight re-enacted, and visited a few museums there. And I fed animals in the petting zoo and drank far too much sasparilla soda given that I'm supposed to be on a diet.

Also, since I'm at the end of revisions, I tackled the end of THE GODDESS OF VENGEANCE WORE PINK GALOSHES, and I wrote about 3k this weekend.  I know middles are supposed to be the worst, but writing a satisfying ending that isn't too pat isn't exactly a cakewalk, either.  I always feel like the stakes are so high at the end!

The Girl with the Dragon TattooToday I had originally planned to go to Bisbee, AZ, another historic town, but I was distracted by Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. As usual, I'm a day late and a dollar short reading the books everyone's talking about, but this book was brilliant.  Painful to read at times (I don't like graphic scenes of violence), but tightly plotted with intriguing characters. Sometimes Larrson's writing style is a little different (of course, it's also a translation, so I don't know how much of a factor that is).  He goes into much detail about the characters - what kind of software products they use, what kinds of sandwiches they eat, what anti-establishment slogan is on Lisabeth Salander's t-shirt.  I sort of enjoyed all those details, though, since the books are set in Sweden and it made me feel more a part of that world.  I like knowing that they eat veal cutlets in a cream sauce and lots of open-face sandwiches on rye... usually, my only involvement with Swedish food involves dragging MJ to the cafeteria in Ikea.

Anyway.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a thriller, but it's also very much a murder mystery for the solving. In fact, it's practically a locked room mystery, as alluded to by the main character, Blomkvist, directly. I thought plotting was very tight, although it ended up in a darker place than I expected. I do admire a writer who plots nicely.  But really, it's the two main characters, Lisabeth Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo) and disgraced investigative journalist Blomkvist, who make the story. The two form an odd couple pairing, and I found myself deeply invested in their welfare. They're supported by a nicely fleshed out supporting cast, especially Blomkvist's "occasional lover" Erika Berger, who was very likable though I found myself wishing she'd just get out of the way already.  I also appreciate the theme of these books - Larsson had something to say about violence against women, and I think he makes his points poignantly without ever reducing the women in these books to mere victims.

I don't want to give away any spoilers. Suffice to say that, while this book goes to some very dark places, the darkness is ultimately redeeming. It's a real page turner both for plot and interest in the characters -- this one is going on my bookshelf at home. And the other two will be ordered forthwith.

So, on another note, knowing I'd be out of town when Mockingjay came out, I neglected to pre-order in the hopes of being able to score a copy here.  Except, yeah, the nearest boosktore is back in Tucson over an hour's drive away. Blast.

How was your weekend?  Were you caught up in any good reading/writing, or just having fun and relaxing after a long week - I consider either valid. :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

These are the things I love: cats, writing, baking, chocolate, travel, adventure, running, and money.  Most of these obsessions interests don't lend themselves readily to a career. I'm not mentally tough enough to be a vet and I've never been fast enough to be a professional athlete.  But my interest in money has led me to get my M.S. in Finance (one class and a thesis to go!), so I thought I'd share some financial tips & thoughts you might find useful.

  • The place to go for a free credit report is AnnualCreditReport.com, which offers you three free credit reports - one each from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian - per year.  But the best way to use this great service is to space out your credit checks to to catch accounts opened fraudulently. I like to check one each on January 1st, May 1st and September 1st, so you're checking every four months. Consider checking your credit report on September 1st or picking another "first day of the month" to make yourself a regular date for a credit check!
  • Budgeting doesn't work for me. Just like when I diet, I feel deprived, and I don't do deprivation.  But saving for retirement, vacays and a new car is crucial. I love David Bach's The Automatic Millionaire for a system I can live with. Each payday, money goes to bills, retirement accounts, and into savings automatically, what Bach calls "pay yourself first". Then the rest of the money? Mine to blow on whatever suits my fancy. If I have the sudden desire to splurge on a new bag or to spend $100 on random crap in Target (not that this happens on a regular basis, cough cough) and the money's in my account... I can.  Less discipline required than a budget, but the end result is the same as long as you a) pay yourself first faithfully, as automatically as possible, and b) only spend what you have!
  • Do sweat the small stuff.  I ask everywhere for a military discount, and have found I get 10% off at Lowe's, Home Depot, Wilson's, my cell phone provider, my massage studio... If you're a student, a teacher, a government employee, or just generally awesome, it's worth asking if you can have a discount! I also love Swagbucks and Ebates for spare change that adds up.  Here's the deal with these two things--
  • Swagbucks is a search engine that brings up some sponsored results as well, and as you search, you earn points. You also earn points for referring others to Swagbucks, for answering polls and surveys, and for taking special offers... although I'm not really into the latter options. I don't work very hard at Swagbucks, but I still recently cashed in $15 of Amazon gift cards earned through my points.  Free Amazon books? Yes please. If you're interested in signing up, I'd especially appreciate it if you used my link as I earn points for the referal... help me earn free books faster, and earn them yourself! ;)
  • Ebates is pretty neat. For any online purchases you'd make anyway from your favorite stores, you can earn cash back - anywhere from 1% up to 10%!  Just join Ebates, then visit B&N, Target, Borders, Old Navy, and tons of other stores to receive your cash back on your purchase!  Sign up from my link, and there's a possibility I can earn a iPad - and if you refer your friends and family, you could earn one too!
  • To save on mutual funds, consider using an ETF - an electronically traded fund eliminates the need for a market manager by buying & trading stocks automatically. A brilliant market manager is worth his or her share of the funds, but given how many fail to beat the S&P 500, you might be better off with a well-chosen ETF that follows that S&P 500!
I'd love to one day become a financial adviser, specifically working with artists and writers, so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I'd be happy to share my amateur opinion!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I have the song, Tell Me Something Good, stuck in my head thanks to Glee. Yes, I'm not quite a full-on Gleek, but I like Glee. Enough to possibly own all the soundtracks. Anyway...

Tell me something good - your opinion - on writing a sequel to a work that hasn't yet been sold. I met Lynn Colt of Type a Little Faster at a coffee shop on Thursday, which was fun! It's so nice to meet other local writers... I miss my old writer's group in California and I'm dreaming of starting/finding another. Lynn helped me out with a dilemna I've already been mulling over...

The Goddess of Vengeance is just dying for a sequel. I've already realized that even though there's a villian introduced (peripherally) in The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes, I don't plan to wrap up that storyline, even though Pink Galoshes can stand-alone quite nicely.

I've not written a sequel before - well, not a real sequel. I wrote endless series about the same characters as a kid, but I didn't exactly have a strong sense of craft back then. :)  So a part of me is very curious to tackle the sequel to The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes (tentatively to be titled "The Goddess of Vengeance Wore White", delving into both Nemeses' romantic history and Lauren and Jake's relationship).

But that also seems a tad unproductive - I'd be losing out on the time to work a different story, one that might have a better chance of publication, by working on a sequel. After all, if my craft is improving all the time (as I certainly hope it is!) Goddess 2.0 might be better than the original, but it wouldn't be saleable without Pink Galoshes. I'd like to believe The Goddess of Vengeance Wore Pink Galoshes is publishable - I'm very partial to this story and I think I've written it decently well - but it's hard to judge your own work.

Lynn suggested that it's best not to write a sequel before you have a market for it - because the first book's been sold.  She thought it might just be too heartbreaking to go through the effort of writing a sequel that will never see the light of day! And I think she's convinced me. I'll make copious notes of my ideas for the Goddess of Vengeance as a series and let them rest until I (maybe, hopefully) someday need them.

What's your take on sequels? Have you any sequel ideas that you're writing or waiting on?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Nifty stuffs on the interwebs:
  • Open Yale courses. Free videos of lectures plus downloads of blackboard notes, exams, etc - allowing you to essentially audit Yale courses for free! I've been watching one on Game Theory to satisfy the econ nerd within, but once I get the books from the library, I'm looking forward to this one on The American Novel Since 1945.
  • OpenCulture is a source for both those courses (and many more) and also free audio books, plus links to free classic films and movies. I usually read my online books at The Gutenberg Project, but it's awesome that there's so much out there!
  • Pippi Longstocking was my childhood heroine (although I also loved the Emil books, also by Astrid Lindgren). In fact, if I were to ever get a tattoo? It might be of the girl with the iconic upturned braids. The New York Times highlights an interesting Pippi Longstocking/tattoo connection - the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson was originally created as the grown-up Pippi Longstocking. Check out the NYT article here.
  • I think the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest is a fascinating thing, and I liked this article about their 2010 winner - who was rejected by 54 agents.
  • The novella isn't dead. In case you were wondering.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Looking for AlaskaI just finished John Green's Looking for Alaska, and I love this excerpt:

How could the girl who told that joke three hours ago become a sobbing mess?

Still staring at me, she said, "I try not to be scared, you know. But I still ruin everything. I still fuck everything up."

"Okay." I told her. "It's okay." I didn't even know what she was talking about anymore. One vague notion after another.

"Don't you know who you love, Pudge? You love the girl who makes you laugh and shows you porn and drinks wine with you. You don't love the crazy, sullen bitch."

And there was something to that, truth be told.

First, can I just say that this book is amazing, that John Green so far seems to be consistently amazing? But I love this excerpt in particular, because it reminds me of why I love MJ so much.  We're on opposite sides of the country tonight - me in Colorado Springs, him in Virginia - which always makes me a little extra bit cognizant of how much I love him. Here's a story about why.

Before I met MJ, it used to seem like I was always apologizing to boys I liked for being a disaster of some sort or another.
"I'm sorry, I'm not ready, don't touch me, but you're very sweet and I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, I'm just emotional sometimes, I don't know why I'm so crazy."
"I'm sorry, I know you said not to get attached, but I feel the way I feel."

Blah blah blah. Just typing that makes me want to go back and hug my excessively earnest adolescent self.

I don't even know what set me off, but it was early in my relationship with MJ and I ended up sobbing in his arms as we laid on his bed. "I'm sorry, I'm just crazy."

"It's okay," he said, toying with my hair. "You're not crazy."

I twisted my head on his shoulder to look at him. He appeared to be serious, and in need of a shave. "I'm not crazy?" I repeated. It was the first time anyone had said such a thing to me, in the history of many admissions of insanity.

He shook his head. "No, anyone would be upset about that. I don't think you're crazy at all - I've met crazy, imbalanced girls, and you seem pretty normal."

Ah, that makes me laugh to type. But he said it, and I knew he was a keeper - because he thought I was normal, and that made it safe to just be me. No apologies required.

There was another moment, which cemented "I must love this man" for me, and that story involves Windex. But it will keep for another day.

*Note: Today is usually WIP Wednesday, but seriously? I'm halfway through revisions. Nothing to tell here, folks. Check back next week!

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Netflix queues and library hold requests tend to form patterns. For instance, at some point in time, I'll be browsing through indie films and see eight different "dark, visually interesting" films that look intriguing. The next thing I know, I'm at my mailbox flipping through the DVDs that just arrived and wondering how I ended up with three biopics about serial killers.

The same thing holds true with books - I tend to have my library open as a tab in my browser when I'm reading other book-blogs or reviews.  Which means I end up with 16 YA paranormals in a row, or a batch of thick non-fiction works that'll take me two months to read through, based off where I was perusing.

The last time I went to the library,  I walked out with a couple of non-fiction books (one on resumes, because I really should write one of those sometime) and what I've come to think of as the Triad of Sad Stories.  They were all interesting, I just wouldn't have chosen to read them all together if I'd put more thought into my selection as a whole.

The Hour I First Believed: A Novel (P.S.)One of them was Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. This is a story set around the massacre at Columbine, so I was certainly prepared for a rough ride. It's a story about how victims respond and cope with trauma - as well as the people who love them, who form collateral damage.  Lamb is a masterful fiction writer who creates utterly believable characters - even more painful than his description of the damage done at Columbine is the story of the damage that people do to themselves in the aftermath.  But it's also a story about love and redemption, and it's just so beautifully told. I have some issues with the book's portrayal of military vets, but that's a post for another day, if ever - I still recommend it.

Every Last One: A NovelMy feelings as I read were less mixed about Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, which is a beautiful portrait of a mother and wife in a lovely, but imperfect, family. The main character, Mary Beth, worries about her teenage children - daughter Ruby and her fraternal-twin sons. Quindlen spends the first half of the novel building up their family life before a terrible act of violence wrenches her world apart.  What I loved about this book, too, was Quindlen's quietly masterful use of tension - even though nothing exactly is happening in the first half of this book, about the family's life leading up to that destructive day, it's never dull.  I really liked this book, which is a detailed and loving portrait of both family and the grief that we risk by having those families. Well worth the tears.

The Shack (Special Hardcover Edition)Last but not least, I read The Shack by William P. Young, continuing my (proud?) tradition of reading uber-popular books at least two years behind the crowds (I think the only one I've ever read promptly was The DaVinci Code, which was fun to discuss, and also someone gave me a copy for free). For those of you who somehow missed all the fuss about The Shack, it's the story of a man who returns to the place where his young daughter was murdered years before to meet God. So, I was very interested in the theology behind the story, and there were some very moving moments in the book.  For me, the writing style was a little irritating at times - the prologue, in my opinion, is the epitome of the Unnecessary Prologue we writers are often warned against. And, while I was sometimes in tears as I read, I also laughed - perhaps not quite as Young intended - at the utterly bizarre scene where God talks about too many greens giving you the runs. It's an interesting book, but it's not one that will find a lasting place on my bookshelf. I'd rather have a straight theology book, to be honest. But the idea - man meets God face-to-face - is an intriguing one, and the end is satisfying without being easy.

I liked that while all these books were sad, they were ultimately about people triumphing - in their own ways - over their circumstances. 

What are you all reading lately? What's the last sad story that you read, and would you recommend it?