The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)

First off, sorry I’ve been gone so long. This is exam/project/essay season. I really do care about this blog still, but school comes first. As does the newest season of Doctor Who–but that’s over now, too.

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Maybe I’m being a little harsh but, while this book is certainly a fantastic start to what looks to be a promising series, it’s not as good as The Lightening Thief. Still, Riordan makes improvements in some areas.

Take the character list. We have a blonde teen as the protagonist Magnus Chase. Then we have his friends: Hearth, who’s deaf, and Blitz, who’s–well, he doesn’t easily fit a mold. Riordan makes an effort for diversity, too, by including Samirah Al Abbas, a Muslim Valkyrie. Annabeth pops up again, too.

Some of the side characters are different from Riordan’s previous work, but Magnus has the same voice and personality as Percy Jackson and Jason Grace. Magnus says all the right things. Even though he gets himself into trouble, he manages to find a way out. He’s snarky and cheesy and loves adventure. He’s the typical hero; I’ve read a number of books in his voice before and, frankly, I’m bored with him. I think Riordan’s philosophy on this is “it’s worked well before,” but this book sounds too similar to the Percy Jackson series for my liking.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book, nor does it follow the exact same path as the previous mythical adaptations. What I think I like most about this book is the lack of romance for the main character. The fact that this is a bestselling YA page-turner without any romance is refreshing.

It’s also different because it lacks the formal “camp” setting that runs through the Percy Jackson and subsequent Heroes of Olympus series. There’s a sort of gathering place for the Norse demigods in the afterlife, but most of the book takes place on a quest. In that way, it’s a little more like the Kane Chronicles.

The book fails to live up to my usual standards for Riordan, though. The climax falls short of the suspense I want it to have. Really, the whole plot lacks tension. I wanted to see the progression of characters. The plot didn’t startle me at all–in fact, it was fairly predictable. I never bought into the whole “end of the world” scenario because I know Riordan’s not going to do that to me. I’m disappointed he didn’t take more risks with this book by putting characters at risk.

Riordan does well shaping the characters of Samirah and Heath, though. Whatever else may be afflicting this book, at least those two are solid characters, unique to the series. And even though the novel runs in the same vein as the other books in this mythical universe, the mythical universe itself is original, and it seems Riordan still has more to explore.

Recommendation: Honestly I feel too old to be reading this series still, but I appreciate the nostalgia of going back to a world I remember losing myself in throughout middle school and high school. It’s not obscene and the violence is mild. While I believe the book is best suited for middle school or upper elementary school students, those who have been exploring this world with Riordan for a while will likely still find pleasure in this novel.

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The Wilting of the Roses

Here’s a short story I just dug up! I wrote it at night a year and a half ago, but I thought you might enjoy reading it. It’s not one of my best works (those are the ones I send to literary magazines), but I like it, nonetheless.


 

 

The Wilting of the Roses

          She turned on the lazy ceiling fan. Its cool breeze gave her a moment’s reprieve from the June heat. She hadn’t felt this hot since the day she found her Danny hanging from this very fan.

She watched the simple wooden boards spin around and around, chasing one another in a never-ending game. With a long sigh she released all the pent-up air from her lungs. That had been many years ago. Danny should have been in his thirties by now. He would have laughed to see how wrinkled and frail she had become.

She didn’t blame him, of course. She had often seen herself dangling somewhere, too. She guessed that the fan was as good a place as any.

The grandfather clock echoed through her empty house. Five, six, seven… the pendulum swung back and forth, back and forth. Then there he was again, swinging back and forth, back and forth. She had come too late. His body dangled limply, still swinging from the struggle he had made just seconds before she came. Back and forth.

Back and forth.

Antony had inherited that clock from his godfather. They would not have been able to pay for something so ornate and delicate—not with his factory job. She had begun to work, too. She had to, so that Danny could go to college. When Antony died, she had to start working twice as much and still keep up with the chores and her relationship with Danny. Well, she had failed at the Danny part. He still hung there in her mind, the rope scratching at his neck as he swung back and forth, back and forth…

It was time. The sun had risen over the horizon, painting the sky with red and orange. It had been twenty years since Antony had died, to the day. You wouldn’t think it, looking out at the way the rising sunlight tinted those few wispy clouds and hearing the black-capped chickadees calling for their mates.

But it was on this day that the roses would bloom. Roses were Antony’s favorite flowers, so she had planted them in honor of him, and they always came up at the same time each year. She had plenty of poppies for Danny, too, of course, but the poppies were never as pretty as the roses.

She unlatched the door and heard a muffled creak when she swung it open. She was surprised to feel the dew and grass clinging to her feet. Had she really forgotten her shoes? Odd. No time now, though. She had to watch the blossoms open before it was too late.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the poppies lying open on the damp dirt. And flashes of purple—were those wild violets? She would have to stop to check, but the grandfather clock still rung in her ears.

Ring, ring…red, red…

No! Not again! Red on the ground…his body crumpled and unnatural. His grey eyes widened in dismay before flickering between a hundred emotions. His life flashed by him and the light went out. No, no, no. Why had he followed her? She had not wanted this. No matter her words, she had not wanted his death. She loved him! She felt it in her heart. She never meant any of the threats. She did not want this red on the ground.

But it couldn’t be! Her roses—the red on the ground. Scarlet satin petals scattered across the rich soil…she had worked so hard! How could they have died before even blossoming? The vines were naked; thorns stuck out at odd angles.

No! He couldn’t be dead. Didn’t he see the car coming? She wondered what he was going to say. His mouth was still opened in a small oval, but blood stained the corners of his lips. It dripped slowly, painfully onto the cracked white sidewalk. She bent forward to brush the hair out of his eyes, but jumped back when her fingers felt sticky and wet.

Blood on her fingers! The traitorous thorns had stabbed her. She watched the drops fall onto the petals at her feet.

The roses had wilted. It was her fault. She had not been careful enough. She should have paid better attention. She could have stopped Danny. She could have stopped Antony. But the red had clouded her vision. She could not see. It hurt! She had been pricked! Oh, how her heart hurt! She had failed them all!

In another world, she could hear the ringing of the grandfather clock. The song was dull and flat, joined by the screeching of car tires and the words that Antony could not say. His mouth in that little ‘o,’ the light fading from his cloudy eyes, the red on the cement…The pendulum of that old grandfather clock was red. Back and forth, back and forth…

Through a gauzy veil, she saw Danny—her Danny—hanging from the fan. Back and forth. Back and forth. She had failed. She should’ve cared for him more. Of course he would feel just as dark as she did—he was their son, after all. Back and forth. The necklace of red beads dripping from the scratches of the rope against his neck. Red. Like the petals on the ground. They were next to her now. She could feel them—the roses, Antony, and Danny. They were there. They were hers. She would run to them now.

She pushed the veil aside and let the light flood in.

Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Flaws

Today marks the start of a new weekly post: the Focus on the Lyrics Fridays.

Henceforth, I shall post a song every week along with the lyrics and my interpretation of them. The goal? To emphasize the power of words in music (and rejoice in the fact that not all modern music lacks poetry).

Who better to start with than my favorite band, Bastille? You probably know them for their hit Pompeii, but have you heard their other songs?

All their lyrics are poetic and unique; they lack the strings of profane and sexual language common in popular music today. More than that, they make you think.

Without any further fanfare, I present to you Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Flaws by Bastille.


Lyrics to Flaws by Bastille

When all of your flaws and all of my flaws
Are laid out one by one
The wonderful part of the mess that we made
We pick ourselves undone.

All of your flaws and all of my flaws
They lie there hand in hand
Ones we’ve inherited, ones that we learned
They pass from man to man.

There’s a hole in my soul.
I can’t fill it, I can’t fill it.
There’s a hole in my soul.
Can you fill it? Can you fill it?

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.
Dig them up; let’s finish what we’ve started.
Dig them up, so nothing’s left untouched.

All of your flaws and all of my flaws,
When they have been exhumed
We’ll see that we need them to be who we are
Without them we’d be doomed.

There’s a hole in my soul.
I can’t fill it, I can’t fill it.
There’s a hole in my soul.
Can you fill it? Can you fill it?

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.
Dig them up; let’s finish what we’ve started.
Dig them up, so nothing’s left untouched.

Ooh
Ooh

When all of your flaws
And all of my flaws are counted
When all of your flaws
And all of my flaws are counted

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.
Dig them up. Let’s finish what we’ve started.
Dig them up. So nothing’s left untouched.

Ooh
Ooh

All of your flaws and all of my flaws
Are laid out one by one
Look at the wonderful mess that we made
We pick ourselves undone.

Analysis

“Flaws” tells of two people, one who doesn’t hide her flaws and seems completely comfortable in her own skin, and another who buries his flaws and feels empty.

Let’s examine my favorite parts here.

1.) “When all of your flaws and all of my flaws / Are laid out one by one / The wonderful part of the mess that we made / We pick ourselves undone.”

This stanza puts the two starkly different characters on the same level, both exposed as they bare their flaws to one another. I love how Dan Smith (lead singer and songwriter) calls the “mess” of their flaws “wonderful.” Our flaws may be messy, but they’re deeply personal and they are a part of us. As a writer, I know the best way to develop a character is not through her strengths, but through her flaws. Flaws help us relate to one another and they shape our character as we either embrace or pick them off. When we share our flaws, we expose parts of our souls. When all our flaws are shared, we are “undone,” or untied.

2.) “Ones [flaws] we’ve inherited, ones that we learned / They pass from man to man.”

Our flaws can be hereditary or picked up along the way. Physical “flaws” (birthmarks, disabilities, etc.) and potential genetic flaws (alcoholism, some diseases, etc.) can be “inherited” while personality flaws (bossiness, pride, competitiveness, etc.) and other physical flaws (burns, scars, etc.) are typically “learned.” Either way, flaws only develop from other people.

3.) “There’s a hole in my soul. / I can’t fill it, I can’t fill it. / There’s a hole in my soul. / Can you fill it? Can you fill it?”

The protagonist, who has hidden his flaws, feels empty and can’t seem to fill it himself. He asks the other character who embraces her flaws to fill him up. This stanza is probably why people often interpret the song as romantic, but I don’t think that’s right. There may be romance between the two characters, yes, but that doesn’t make the song romantic. The focus remains on the relationship between people and their flaws, not flawed people.

4.) “You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve / And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground. / Dig them up; let’s finish what we’ve started. / Dig them up, so nothing’s left untouched.”

Here is why the protagonist feels empty; he has buried part of himself away while the other character wears her flaws clearly. I won’t pretend I understand the reference to “what we’ve started,” but I believe he wants to “dig” his flaws up in order to fill the hole in his soul mentioned previously.

5.) “All of your flaws and all of my flaws, / When they have been exhumed / We’ll see that we need them to be who we are / Without them we’d be doomed.”

Ahh, here’s my favorite stanza. When the characters’ flaws “have been exhumed,” or dug up, they’ll see that their flaws are part of themselves. Without our flaws, there’s a “hole in [our] soul.” As I said earlier, our flaws are more defining than our strengths. This is not to say that we are our flaws (wouldn’t that be an ugly world); this means our flaws are the knives that sculpt our personalities.

Last little tidbit about Bastille: do you know where the band’s name comes from? No, they’re not French. Dan named his British band Bastille because his birthday falls on July 14th, the day the French celebrate the overthrow of their monarchy, also known as Bastille day. Speaking of the Bastille day, don’t forget to check back here next week for another Focus on the Lyrics Friday involving a popular singer, the French Revolution, and a far-fetched theory of mine.

Top Ten Little-Known Novels

A little while back, Goodreads voted for the best books of 2014. If you’ve been following my account, I’ve read many good books this year, and quite a few were nominated in the Young Adult Fantasy category. I fully expected one of those high-rated novels to win. (The Winner’s Curse, These Broken Stars, Ruin and Rising, Heir of Fire, Cress, and The One were some of my favorites this year.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when Cassandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire won. I rated The Mortal Instruments series low recently. Also, I don’t believe Clare needs any more publicity. Her novels have already caught the eye of the film industry, reaching an even larger audience than they did before. Her bigger fan base is why she won, I’m sure, but it’s also why she shouldn’t have won.

Oh, well. Life is unfair.

Because of this little blip in my otherwise perfect reading world, I decided to make a list of my own praising the lesser read novels I have rated highly. Each of the 10 novels listed below has less than 10,000 ratings on Goodreads but five stars in my rating system.

  1. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis: 9,581 ratingsEnchanted brings the fairy tale world to life, mixing dozens of fairy tales in an irresistible concoction. Kontis focuses on the princess and the frog story (which, if you haven’t read the Grimm’s version yet, please do so; you’re in for quite the shock). This book was intoxicating to the point where overly-fantastical character names and nauseating romance seemed almost normal–exactly what I want from a fairy tale adaptation. I think it helped that I was such a fairy tale nerd. Plus, it’s safe for all ages.
  2. The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke: 9,395 ratings The Assassin’s Curse blends a middle-eastern setting with a magical world. What really bought my love in this book is the main character, Ananna of the Tanarau. Besides sounding like the French word for pineapple, Ananna is witty, intelligent, fiery, and really everything I could ask for in a main character. The assassin whose life she saves is equally as captivating and I couldn’t help but ship them. Besides, who doesn’t love a good pirate book?
  3. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Francis Long: 3,804 ratingsThe Treachery of Beautiful Things is another book that mixes fairy tales, but it’s surprisingly dark and most of the characters have normal names this time! It drew more from the fey of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and less from the fairies of Grimm, Anderson, or Perrault. I loved the brother-sister relationship and Jack interested me from the start, shrouded in secrets as he was. Most of all, I loved the main idea that the more beautiful something is, the more treacherous it is (thus the title). It applies to the cover itself, which, though beautiful, annoys me because of the use of a stock photo… Nonetheless, The Treachery of Beautiful Things is a must-read for faery lovers.
  4. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch: 3,668 ratings Snow Like Ashes is my most recent read, and since it just came out I’m certain it will gain more ratings soon. It certainly deserves it. Raasch first wrote this book when she was 12 years old, but it is in no way childish. The warring kingdoms plot is tired, but this novel is different in that the kingdom of the protagonist, Meira, was defeated. It is ultimately up to her and seven other refugees to save those who survive in labor camps. The use of magic in this book is also unique, since each kingdom has a conduit and each of the Season kingdoms lives constantly in their season. (Meira’s kingdom, for example, was constantly winter.) The use of an alternative weapon (a chakram) is applaudable and the fierceness and depth of Meira drew me to her from the start. Though I’m always a skeptic of love triangles (who could possibly win the heart of two men?), this love triangle feels natural. I mean, who couldn’t love Meira? Especially considering what the plot twist reveals…
  5. Stork by Wendy Delsol: 2,206 ratings Stork blends Norse myth with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Though it starts off in the usual “pretty girl’s parents divorce and she moves to new town and new school” format, Delsol constructed a one-of-a-kind plot. The main character, Kat, is the first fashion-savvy character I’ve read about in YA, but she was also funny (and, we later find, quite powerful). The series didn’t seem completely natural to me (the romance included), but the unique concepts really pushed this book to five stars.
  6. Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury: 1,934 ratings Just look at that cover! Wrapped is a historical fiction novel that features an intelligent (yet confined) debutante. I never knew the popularity of unwrapping Egyptian mummies among the wealthy during the Regency period; it’s simultaneously grotesque and intriguing. More points to this book for teaching me something new! I love the time period, the plot, and, most of all, the protagonist. Agnes is nerdy, funny, and complex; besides, who can resist a fellow Jane Austen fan? Between Agnes, the plot, and the cover, you’re sure to like this novel.
  7. Linked by Imogen Howson: 1,821 ratings By now, I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out how much I judge books by their covers. Linked is no exception. Just look at that beauty! But the cover isn’t all. Howson’s sci-fi focuses on a once-popular schoolgirl turned ill. When the protagonist discovers the reason for her mysterious bruises, pains, and visions, the plot takes off, and I happily flew along. Twins, a love/hate relationship, and a run from a utopian society make this novel one of my favorites. (And the sequel is just as good.)
  8. Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick: 840 ratings Do not read this if you are passionate about historical adaptations remaining factual. Though the events of this historical fantasy are rooted in true events of the Russian Revolution, it does deviate quite a bit. I thought the fantastical aspects fit into the time period quite well, given the magical qualities of Rasputin. The main character, Natalya, is both loyal to the Romanovs and sympathetic towards Russian peasants. She is feisty, independent, and lovable. The love between her and Alexi was believable and subtle, and my main ship was even more convincing. It helps that I love the name Leo.
  9. The Glass Maker’s Daughter by V. Briceland: 595 ratings The Glass Maker’s Daughter threw me into a new world full of magic lightly based on medieval Italy, where seven entitled families practice each specialize in an art to the point of magic. The main character, Risa Divetri, grew up in the family that specialized in glass making–that’s what got me to pick up this book in the first place. Glass has always enchanted me; who’s to say it couldn’t hold actual enchantment? It impressed me because it had all the romance and intrigue without all the sex and gore. Risa’s magic did not manifest until later, but I appreciated that; after all, who needs magic to be special? Risa makes a path for herself without any supernatural abilities.
  10. The House of Windjammer by V.A. Richardson: 144 ratings How could this book not have more ratings? The House of Windjammer may have a slow start, but don’t let that stop you. I learned more through this novel than through any other book listed here. Did you know the Dutch were once so crazed about tulips they treated various varieties like investments or stocks? Did you know Dutch trade with the Americas was dictated by private companies (primarily the Dutch West India Company)? Did you know how much worse banks were back in the 1600s? The novel made clear the heavy amount of research the author did on the 1630s in Amsterdam. Even the characters are flawed to the point of realisticness. And did I mention there’s another love/hate romance brewing? My favorite kind!

These books deserve far more ratings than they have. (I feel like an ASPCA commercial: save the books!)

Do you know any other books that should be more popular? Comment below!

Why I’m Here (Literally).

For NaNoWriMo this year, I decided I wasn’t actually going to write a novel. I know that’s the whole point of the event, but there’s no grand story in my head demanding 50,000 words.

I still plan on celebrating writing, though. In the midst of exams, essays, work, and an attempt at a social life, I have little time to write. My pathetic goal is one blog entry every week.

So here I am, re-learning how to write about myself in a publishable manner while listening to the new Pentatonix Christmas CD. And that’s really all I have to say today.

(Apologies for the lameness of this post; I’ll work my way up to good blogging eventually.)