Top Ten Tuesday (July 31) – Characters I’d Like to Switch Places With

Welcome to another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by our friends over at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week, I’m mostly answering based on who the supporting characters in the story are, or what the world is like. Because if we’re switching places, I’m obviously not meeting that character. But I don’t necessarily (or at all) want to participate in their romances or conflicts. Just want to take a nice little trip to their fictional world.

Also, you’ll notice there’s a conspicuous absence of period pieces, and the reason for that is simple: I really, really don’t want to wear a corset. Also, I imagine the bathroom and hygiene situation would kinda skeeve me out.

But, you put on your list…“ SHHHH. I don’t want to hear it. My logic is not good, but it’s mine.

Now that I’ve utterly confused you, today’s topic is…

Top Ten Characters I’d Like To Switch Places With For 24 Hours

(as always, in no particular order)

Thomas, The Maze Runner, during one of his first days in the Maze. I want to meet Chuck and Minho, and I want to see the Glade. I do NOT want to go into the Maze, and you can’t make me.

Buttercup, The Princess Bride, after the events of the story are over and they’re living out their happily-ever-after. I want to meet Inigo Montoya. And Westley and Fezzik. But mostly Inigo.

Katniss, Mockingjaysometime between the end and the epilogue. Mostly because I spent the entire trilogy thinking that Peeta needed a hug.

Bella, TwilightIn this scenario, do the other characters know we’ve traded places, or do they assume I am the character I’ve switched with? Because for this to make sense, everyone would have to think I was Bella. Because my goal here would be to break up with Edward, then get on a plane to go live with Renee in Florida.

Harry, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanI want to experience Hogwarts during one of the lighter years, and hang out with Ron and Hermione. And if I go during their third year, I’d get to meet Lupin. Score.

Mr. Abshire, The Time Traveler’s WifeOn that day. You know. That day. I would tell Mark I didn’t feel very well and we were staying home, and then I’d stay in bed all day.

Nate, Timepiece. I just want to live at the Hourglass and hang out with Em and Michael and Kaleb and Lily.

ANY of the children, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenBefore all the shenanigans start, obviously.

America, The SelectionI WANT TO BE A PRETTY PRINCESS. Also, Maxon is fun.

Polly, The Magician’s NephewShe gets to see SO MANY WORLDS. How many pools do you think I could jump in in 24 hours?

So there’s a slightly disturbing glance into my thought process. Who would you trade with?

Review: Fire by Kristin Cashore (@kristincashore)

Fire is the companion novel to Graceling by Kristin Cashore. You may be wondering what the difference is between a companion and a sequel. I haven’t read many series that take this approach, but in my understanding, a sequel picks up after the conclusion of the events in the first book and follows the same characters. A companion merely takes place in the same world, but doesn’t need to follow the same characters (although there may be some overlap) or the same timeline as the first novel. Fire actually takes place many years before the events of Graceling, in a different part of the same world, and the only overlapping character is the villainous Leck. So fans of Katsa and Po, be warned — they haven’t even been born when the events of this novel come to pass.

The Plot

Fire is a monster girl, the only one of her kind. Monsters in Fire’s world are not as we think of them; they are simply creatures with fantastic coloring and certain special abilities. So a brown cat is a cat. A purple cat is a monster cat. Fire’s monster beauty causes all creatures, but especially men and other monsters, to be unnaturally drawn to her — men to her beauty, and monsters to her blood. She has learned to diminish the attention by covering her flame-red hair and dressing drably, but she still draws the eyes of every man that crosses her path. She also possesses the ability to enter other beings’ thoughts to communicate or even alter their thinking according to her will, but she doesn’t like to use her powers to control others and tries to allow men to keep their thoughts their own.

Fire has grown up living with her lifelong friend, Archer, and his father, former commander of the king’s army, Lord Brocker. She and Archer have enjoyed a friends-with-benefits relationship for many years, as he can’t help but be in love with her monstrous beauty, but at the same time, he knows her for who she truly is. Fire loves her friend in return, but has decided she must never marry or have children, for she wouldn’t wish the life of a monster on any of her offspring.

But soon, Fire’s comfortable life with Archer and Brocker is upset. Her presence is requested by King Nash, and his brother and current commander of the army, Brigan. They need her to use her special abilities to help them determine who is sending spies with mysteriously clouded minds into the kingdom, and what their enemies are planning. Although Fire is reluctant to go, she realizes that her powers may be the only way to prevent the kingdom from falling to evil in what seems to be an inevitable war.

My Thoughts

Fire was a very different type of story from Graceling. Whereas Graceling was more of an adventure story with just a handful of important characters, Fire is much more political and character-driven. There is a host of varied and intriguing characters, and while there is some action, most of the story revolves around unraveling the mysterious political motives and actions of nations on the brink of war.

Right off the bat, I liked Fire more than Katsa. My biggest problem with Graceling was that I couldn’t connect to Katsa very well, and therefore had a hard time becoming truly invested in the story. With Fire, although her monster beauty and her semi-telepathic abilities make her even less human than Katsa, I found her spirit and inner struggles much easier to identify with. She definitely had some thoughts and attitudes I disagreed with, but they all fit with her character and you could see why she was the way she was.

This book has a large supporting cast, and it took some concentration to keep them all straight. My favorites were Brigan, Brocker and Archer, even though none of them was infallible (it may be weird that I picked Archer, given his cornucopia of character flaws, but seeing him through Fire’s eyes allowed me to like him in spite of them), but I also really enjoyed the female members of Fire’s personal guard, who were a constant presence for most of the book, and the king’s other siblings, Clara and Garan. It was a lot of personalities to keep track of, and Kristin Cashore did a fantastic job of giving each of her characters, supporting or not, their own distinct personality and voice.

The plot was complex and at times hard to follow, simply because of the nature of books about political intrigue. I normally tend to speed through books, but I had to pull back and pace myself with this one so as not to miss any of the intricate twists and turns. The pacing was a bit on the slow side, but it worked for me because it allowed the characters to develop more naturally. I felt the ending was a bit more drawn-out than seemed strictly necessary, but it was still largely satisfying, tying up many loose ends. There’s definitely room for more stories set in Fire’s world of monsters and monarchs, but even if this book was a standalone and not a companion, it would be fulfilling.

The writing, as in Graceling, is beautiful. Settling into Kristin Cashore’s prose is like curling up by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. It’s just comfortable and soothing for my brain, and I could actually feel my thoughts relaxing as I sank into the world of Fire. I love the way Kristin Cashore tells a story, and I’ll read anything she writes, simply to experience her lovely storytelling.

Fire is a beautiful and fascinating tale, set in a unique fantasy world full of colorful characters that I wanted to immerse myself in completely. Even if you haven’t read Graceling, you could read and enjoy Fire with no trouble, although Graceling would probably enhance the reading experience. I loved it, and look forward to more stories set in this world.

Content Guide: Contains violence, threats of sexual violence, and several mentions of casual sex.

My review of Graceling

I WENT ON VACATION.

I mentioned before that we went on a cruise last week, and some of you actually want to hear about it. So I thought I’d share some pictures and highlights, although BRACE YOURSELVES: We are the most boring cruisers ever. Seriously.

Beforehand, I was unreasonably nervous that they wouldn’t let us on the boat, since G didn’t have a passport and we were traveling with his birth certificate instead. Even though I checked approximately 935 times to make sure that traveling with a birth certificate was okay.

Turns out, the lack of passport was not a problem. What was a problem was this:

Customs agent: “Sir, do you have a knife in your backpack?”
G: “No, do you mean the corkscrew?”
Customs agent: “No, it looks like a knife.”
G: “Well I don’t have a knife.”
Customs agent: [Sends us to be searched. We pull out the corkscrew and are very helpful.]
G: “Are you sure you don’t mean the corkscrew?”
Customs agent: “No, I mean these.” [Pulls out giant pair of hedge clippers.]
G: “Oh, I forgot I had those in there.”

Yeah, those got confiscated.

We also lost our corkscrew and had to get the cabin steward to come open our bottle of wine. Oh the humanity!

Ahem.

We participated in one, yes, one organized shipboard activity. It was a stand-up comic, and let’s just say, it became real obvious real fast why he was performing on a cruise ship during hurricane season. Yeah.

Speaking of hurricane season, it rained some (the day we left was all sorts of dreary), but not a ton.

Never fear, even in the case of torrential downpour, kids would STILL be in the pool. On a related note, we never went in the pool, and we’re not sorry.

After the horrible comic, we decided that what we would rather do is just relax and read and eat a lot. So that’s what we did the large majority of the time. I even wrote some blog posts.

These drinks were super-delicious. Too bad I have absolutely no idea what was in them.

My souvenir glass seems pretty darn confident.

The boat wasn’t deserted. It was just so windy, most people weren’t crazy enough to try to read at the back of the ship. NOT ME.

PSA: Neither of us got seasick. G didn’t even have to break out his seabands. And as a point of reference, back when G used to take the bus to work, he had to wear his seabands every day for a 30 minute bus ride. So. There’s that.

We stopped for a day in Cozumel, which was really just a morning because all we wanted to do is shop and eat Mexican food. Which doesn’t take a whole day. We were back on the ship watching The Hunger Games by 12:30.

Mango Margarita. Yes. Let’s just all ignore the fact that I look insane.

These guys were performing during lunch. It added to the tropical ambiance of it all and even made the guacamole taste better.

(Just kidding. There is no way to make guacamole taste better, because it is perfection already).

The only problem was, DID YOU SEE THAT GUY’S FACE?

It’s like he is staring into my soul, and he doesn’t like what he sees.

He was like that the whole time.

Anyway.

We may or may not have watched parts of The Hunger Games three times, and the entire movie once, while we were on the ship. They were just playing it around the clock on the ship’s movie channel. We couldn’t resist.

Also, we ate a lot, because when all the food is included and you really love food more than you should but you can’t help it, you eat a lot. And thus I have many food pictures. But I won’t post them, because honestly, unless you were the one eating the food, cruise ship food pictures are kinda boring.

Okay, here’s one. G really wanted me to use this picture for the blog, and I’m not sure why, but I’m a good wife and so I’ll use it.

“I want you to see my pizza and the view at the same time!”
Okay, honey. Okay.

Speaking of food, on our cruise, we had the option of an assigned dining time, where we would be eating with the same group of people every night at the same table at the same time, or flexible dining, where we’d eat by ourselves during a certain window of time. We opted for flexible, because we’re antisocial and didn’t want to have to meet people (don’t judge). But even with the flexible dining, while you’re not at the same table as strangers, you’re still sitting really close to them.

So although we didn’t want to actually interact with other people, we decided to play the game of “try to make the people at the table next to us laugh because we are so hilarious, which is awkward for them and amusing for us because they’re trying to pretend they’re not listening to our conversation.” It was a fun game. Especially when I made the guy next to me choke.

Me, laughing at the guy next to me, laughing at me. I’m too hilarious to handle.

G, pretending he doesn’t know me. Like we’re not sharing the same tiny table.

Hey, I told you not to judge.

Moving on!

We discovered mini golf on the upper deck of the boat, and G has a deep and profound love for mini golf, so we played 3 times. I won twice, and he won once. The time he won was when it was freakishly windy, and he still tied my best score. Apparently G thrives on wind in mini golf. It’s his mutant power.

And, um…that’s really pretty much all we did. There’s not a lot to report when you spend about 80% of every day sitting on the deck reading, munching, and writing. If you want to read about all the fun and exciting cruise activities, you should probably go check out a travel blog, which I’m guessing is a lot more action packed when it comes to travel activities than a book blog. Or at least my book blog.

We did make sure to take some “look, we’re on a cruise without our kids” pictures though!

I’m taking “windblown” to a whole new level.

I was dumb and started the day in pants. That lasted for a whopping 30 minutes.

Waiting for the safety demonstration. SO EXCITED TO BE SAFE.

In case of emergency, one of THESE BOATS would save us. And they are completely UNSINKABLE, even if they’re full of water. At least, that’s what they told us in the safety demonstration. I wanted to see this in action, but I guess that would have involved the boat sinking, so it’s okay that I didn’t get to.

So there you have it! And much as we sound like the most boring cruisers in the history of the world (or at least since cruising became a thing that people do for fun and not to discover brave new worlds), we had a really good time.

Except for when our rental car overheated on the way back home and added 5 hours to our drive. But we’re going to pretend that didn’t happen. And it wouldn’t have happened if we would have just stayed on the boat forever.

Lesson learned.

P.S. We never got the hedge clippers back.

Books read:

Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Circus Summer by Kailin Gow

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede

[Husband re-read Fellowship of the Ring and listened to some audio book about the Trojan War. Our tastes are slightly different]

Movies watched:

The Hunger Games

This Means War

The Vow

 

Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard grabbed my attention when I first saw it. Looks pretty and Victorian and mysterious, right? But then I found out it was about zombies, and I’ll admit, I don’t read a lot of zombie books. I’m not opposed to them in theory — I like stories that incorporate magic and the supernatural and action and suspense, and zombie stories tend to have all of the above. I just often find zombie stories to lack the finesse and nuance of other paranormal creatures, and so I tend to gravitate towards fairies and vampires and demon-hunters and aliens and time-travelers.

However, something happened to make this book stand out: I saw the video of the Susan Dennard’s reaction to finally seeing her book in print, and my heart grew three sizes that day. It was just so sweet. And I thought to myself, “If the author is that cute about getting her book published, I kinda want to read it.” And then I was fortunate enough to snag an advance digital copy from the publisher, so I happily dug right in.

The Plot

Something strange and deadly is afoot in 19th century Philadelphia. 16-year-old Eleanor Fitt goes to the train station to pick up her brother, Elijah, but instead of meeting Elijah at the station, the Dead have arrived. No one knows what has caused the recent rising of the Dead from their coffins; the only thing the citizens of Philadelphia know is that the Dead are dangerous. After hiding from the Dead, Eleanor finally finds a note from her brother, saying he has been delayed — and the note has been hand-delivered by a corpse.

Avoiding the subject of the Dead, Eleanor simply tells their mother that Elijah has been delayed. Her mother then decides to change the welcome-home party she had planned into a seance to summon the spirit of Eleanor’s dead father. This wouldn’t be the first seance her mother has hosted, and they are always a farce, so Eleanor agrees to play along. However this time something goes horribly wrong — a spirit appears, and it is most certainly not Eleanor’s father.

Nervous for her brother and terrified of the malicious spirit her mother has conjured, Eleanor seeks the help of the Spirit-Hunters, a Ghostbusters-esque group that has arrived in Philadelphia to hunt down and put a stop to the necromancer that has been animating and controlling the Dead. And while the Spirit-Hunters are initially hesitant to trust Eleanor or allow her to help, they ultimately are forced to join forces as the necromancer gains power, and Eleanor may hold the key to stopping him.

My Thoughts

I want to say first off that I found this book action-packed and entertaining. I really enjoyed Eleanor, even if she did seem a tad too liberated for 1876. She was fun and feisty and tried her very best to be useful instead of just reporting on what she knew and then waiting for the Big Strong Men to save her. Yes, she probably would have been better off on several occasions if she had let other people handle certain situations, but I admired that she wanted to be helpful and contribute.

I also really enjoyed all of the Spirit-Hunters. They were an interesting and assorted group of personalities, each with their own intriguing backstory that wound up being crucial to the plot. It was nice to have such a varied group of characters in a setting as restrictive as 19th century Philadelphia.

As a bonus, none of the villains (save one) were actually all bad. Each had some redeeming qualities that allowed me to understand them, and even sympathize to a degree, even if I totally disagreed with their actions. I liked that none of the zombie shenanigans was as simple as evil for evil’s sake.

And as far as zombie shenanigans goes, there was plenty. It was exciting and fast-paced, with the requisite amount of grossness that any book dealing with zombies has. It was almost reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in that it blended the nasty violence of zombies together with the refined etiquette and culture of earlier times.

So those were all the things I liked. Unfortunately, they were counterbalanced by a lot of things I wasn’t so fond of.

The main problem I had in this book was the predictability. By the first chapter, I had figured out the identity of the main villain, and by the fourth, I had also figured out most of the villain’s motivations. It took the entire book to confirm my suspicions, and when it finally did, there weren’t any surprises thrown into the mix. I could pretty much have stopped reading at chapter 4 and still been able to give an accurate synopsis of the entire book. And that was disappointing.

Also, in spite of the fact that I was able to figure everything out really early on, I thought that the characters in the book — especially Eleanor — made some decisions based on giant leaps of conjecture that had huge holes in their logic. Eleanor would suddenly remember something from her childhood, apply it loosely to something that happened recently, and firmly decide that not only were the events related, but that they suddenly explained  everything. The fact that she was prone to wild conjecture wasn’t the problem. The problem was that her assumptions almost always proved to be correct, whereas in real life, “logic” like hers normally proves faulty. And meanwhile, while she was Sherlock Holmes-ing her way through a convoluted backstory, she was missing tons of painfully obvious clues right in front of her face. Either the girl is remarkably perceptive and intuitive or she’s not. It seemed really odd for her to be both.

So while I enjoyed the premise of the story, the characters, and the feel of the storytelling, the execution came off a bit clunky to me. It just didn’t gel as cohesively as I wanted it to, especially since this was, underneath all the zombies and supernatural elements, a mystery. I like mysteries to be tight and smart, and this one felt weak.

I still think that fans of zombie stories, especially zombie-historical mashups, will enjoy this book. It’s fun and fast and chock-full of zombie craziness. It just fell flat as the intelligent mystery I wanted it to be.

Content Guide: Contains oodles of zombie violence and some profanity

Feature & Follow (July 27) – Required Reading

Welcome to the Feature & Follow Hop, hosted by Parajunkee’s View and Alison Can Read!

If you’re here for the first time, I’d love if you could follow via email, RSS, LinkyFollowers or Networked Blogs. Just let me know your follow method of choice in the comments, and I’ll be happy to return the favor.

And if you’re not new, welcome back! Repeat visitors are the best thing in the world after chocolate for breakfast.

Come on, you know you’ve had chocolate for breakfast and that it’s awesome.

Today’s question is:

What was your favorite required reading in school?

Ummm…so this is hard because my school didn’t require…how shall we put it…good books. 

Lord of the Rings? No.

Anne of Green Gables? No.

Chronicles of Narnia? No.

Little Women? No.

Anything by Jane Austen? No.

I had to read things like The Grapes of Wrath (which was so boring, I actually broke out the Cliff’s Notes, which I am pretty adamantly opposed to) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (which…okay, I have a story about that one, but it’s long and I won’t get into it now). I know they are considered classics and all the Classic Lit people are going to come and beat me now, probably with a copy of The Grapes of Wrath because it’s just so darn BIG, but you can’t ever convince me that either of those books is good.

Tess, in particular…well. I have a story about how this book caused a group of otherwise highly intellectual straight-A high school seniors to turn rebellious and a little bit crazy. But now’s not the time.

[One day, I need to write an entire post -- or maybe a series of posts -- about my senior year AP English class and our spacey teacher. It's mind boggling, folks.]

I also don’t like The Great Gatsby. There, I’ve said it.

Anyway.

I remember a whopping two, yes, TWO, books that I was required to read that I actually liked. Both of which I read in that weird and somewhat surreal AP English class.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (The superior Bronte sister, in my opinion.)

I love how untraditional this story is, how neither of the main characters is particularly attractive or swoon-worthy, how neither of them really feels like they need romance to be complete as a person.

And yet, it’s somehow a beautiful love story. Complex and emotional and fabulous.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Dystopian before dystopian was a thing. I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was about this book that I liked. Just that I really, really liked it.

Also, I gave my presentation on this book in a leather miniskirt and black fishnets, to be in character. Because my English class was so weird that that was normal.

Thankfully, there are no pictures. Just thought you’d like to know.