Book Beginnings and Friday 56: The Leviathan

So I think I’m going to start doing The Friday 56 meme from Freda’s Voice and the Book Beginnings meme from Rose City Reader as one post. Everyone else seems to be doing it, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

Because of Thanksgiving, I’m back home and not with my usual collection of books. Since my sister frequently raids my library, I thought I’d raid hers to find today’s Friday 56. I chose The Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, a book I’ve never read. (Based on the cover and first sentence, I’m guessing it’s steampunk.)

The beginning:

The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised. Behind them two ranks of diesel-powered walking machines stood ready to fire, cannon aimed over the heads of the cavalry.

Selected line from page 56:937f8-friday2b56

As the echoes died down, Volger called, “Do you know how to load a Spandau machine gun, Alek?”

Prince Aleksandar knew nothing of the sort, but already his hands were moving to unbuckle his seat straps.

Book Review: City of Dark Magic

Title: City of Dark Magic
Author: Magnus Flyte, with an assist from Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch
Genre: Urban Fantasy, historic fiction, spy (sort of?)
Published: 2012, by Penguin

What I liked/ will be drawing inspiration from: For a book that I picked up entirely based on the cover and without knowing anything about what was inside (other than it would be fiction, since it was in that library section), the City of Dark Magic was an enjoyable read. Although it dealt with some potentially dark topics, i.e. murder, drug use/abuse, government conspiracies, the story remained a light and easy read. I tackled this book around the same time as The Night Circus, which I think helped me better enjoy both. What TNC lacked in fast pacing, City of Dark Magic more than made up for. Most of the story focused on unveiling the action, unlike TNC which spent a lot of time on setting the scene.

The story centers around Sarah Weston, a graduate student in musicology (points for focusing on a grad student!), who goes to Prague to investigate the mysterious suicide of her mentor under the guise of preparing a Czech prince’s Beethoven collection for a future museum.The author(s…) clearly knows his stuff about Prague and Beethoven, which helped me appreciate the story more so than if it had just been a more straightforward mystery/thriller that just happened to be set in a very old city.

As the story goes, the plot gradually becomes more complicated and the happenings more surreal. I really enjoyed how things unfolded. The plot stayed on the more realistic side of the fantasy/paranormal/surreal (or what have you) line until the very end. With all of the detail (and there is a lot of detail) about Prague and Beethoven’s life, I think it would have been strange if the author(s) embraced heavy fantasy elements throughout.

What I might’ve written differently: So the points I liked above are one side of a coin. The other side: things that maybe I would have done differently, not just if I were writing the story but also if I were to re-read it. Let’s start with the biggest force in the book: Beethoven.

I’m not a fan of Beethoven. His music’s great and I have his channel all set up on my Pandora account. As for Beethoven the man, which the book spends a lot of time on, meh. He was kind of a poop head. Fans of Beethoven will probably enjoy the book more than people who are simply familiar with him. I felt similarly when I read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fjord, a story which revolves around saving Jane Eyre (the book and the character) from biblio-terrorists. I liked everything about Jane Eyre except for the plot, so The Eyre Affair definitely did not hook me as much as it could have had I been interested in seeing Jane Eyre saved.

Back to Beethoven. Many of his songs as well as the symphonies of other composers are mentioned. I realized after the fact that I should have looked up the music as I was reading to get a feel for what characters were hearing. One scene in particular has a song playing during a bad drug trip, so I can only imagine what that would have sounded like to a Beethoven soundtrack.

My final critique is actually similar to my comment about The Night Circus not having as much character development as I would have wanted because time was spent elsewhere. Because City of Dark Magic is pretty fast paced, there isn’t as much time to devote to developing greater depth of plot or characters. Once the mystery is unfolded, it’s more or less straight forward. But I suppose every writer has to sacrifice something.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and will be reading it’s sequel, City  of Lost Dreams. If I had to give it stars, I’d bestow 3 out of 5, but my stars are worth about as much as points on Whose Line is it Anyway.

The Friday 56: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

Truth be told, I just started reading this book so I’m not *quite* on page 56. I’m not 100% sure what’s happening on this page… but this certainly was an interesting sentence to immediately lay eyes on.

I sprained my ankle running away,” she whispered. “That thing sounds like it’s going to eat us.”


Editing, the Second Freak This Time

Since I spruced up the Fabulously Flexible Man’s introduction from my Freakshow creative writing post, I need to do the same for the others. I was the least satisfied with the paragraph on Annie, the Armor-Skinned Woman because I didn’t feel like the paragraph clearly separated her from a regular strong woman. Let’s see if I can better capture her unnaturally tough skin in this post.

Circus strong woman, 1905. Photo from Physical Culturist’s Top Ten Old Time Strongwomen.

They tear into the second tent and into the impenetrable chest of Annie. Instead of comfort from a maternal embrace, they feel the jolt from her brick wall stance and fall into a jumble of limbs. They are jelly fish flailing in her shadow. Her guests stumble to their feet and cower under her gaze.

Though she may have a five o’clock shadow, she’s no bearded woman. The dark glean along her jaw reflects the strength of a steel cross-beam. The silver plates of her bikini sparkle as much as her oiled skin in the light of the iron torches. The oil slicking her muscles may define every contour as well as the next body builder’s, but Annie’s need to protect against corrosive attacks is the main reason she greases up each morning. 

Her guests ogle as she draws a sword and runs it against that could slice through rhino hide. They recoil as she drags it along the taut skin of her bicep. A collective gasp echos as the blade is sliced to ribbonsThey cluster around her bare feet like pencil shavings. They Her guests look eager to stay until she flicks her sledge hammer toward them as if she expects that they, too have, the diamond toughness.

“Don’t go,” she cackles after, “I’ll toughen you up yet!”


I like this better than the original paragraph, but now I worry that I’ve not given Annie any feminine qualities. One of the things I liked about the circus strong woman picture I found is that she’s clearly strong but she’s hasn’t been masculized (is that a word?).  Often it seems like female characters can only be tough if the become physically/emotionally like men/ male stereotypes. Annie should be able to have armored skin and be as graceful as a swan, should she so choose. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to write that now, so maybe I’ll revisit this later.

The Friday 56: The Awakening of Ren Crown

I just stumbled on The Friday 56 meme, started by Freda’s Voice, on Black Mutts, Black Ink‘s blog. Now this is a meme I can get behind. It’s quick, easy, and painless. All you have to do is follow the rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

I had set Will up with an alarm clock and some cymbals while he stood watch, but even then, with the sketch lying on my pillow, I had woken in a panic every fifteen minutes thinking he had been impaled or eaten.


The Forest in Winter

I had this idea by in October  that I’d post the best tidbits of my daily dose of NaNoWriMo on here… Then I remembered that writing during NaNoWriMo sucks. It’s not until National Novel Editing Month that the writing gets any good.

However, I haven’t posted creative writing in a while, and all of my creative writing time is pretty tied to NaNoWriMo right now… so I guess I will submit something I wrote today. I was trying to capture the feeling of awe I sometimes get while standing in a snowy woods, when you can almost hear the trees humming.

The gate house had been built deep in an evergreen forest now blanketed in a pearly comforter of snow. Each crystal glittered in the green sunlight filtering down. Although the branches at the tops of the trees were lush with emerald needles, their bases were sparse enough to see for what felt like miles all around us. The snow dampened all sound until the forest seemed to purr. Gentle breezes sprinkled snow from the branches and it fell with muted sighs into the drift below. Although the air was frigid, it smelled clear, fresh. The mingling of the damp winter and the evergreens created a welcoming aroma that relaxed my freezing muscles.

Sunrise in a Snowy Forest by John Crowe

Book Review: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Fantasy,
Published: 2011, by DoubleDay

Since I’m moving through my reading list of books in order to better understand what’s out there and prep for my own book publishing journey, I’ve decided to (try and) approach my book reviews as a writer rather than a passive reader.

What I liked/ will be drawing inspiration from:  The Night Circus is a steady barrage of sights, with the other senses sprinkled in for good measure. Exploring the other, non-sight senses in my writing is something that I’ve been trying to work on so it was nice to read a book where all the senses were such a critical part of the reading experience.

The idea behind the circus was interesting: a mysterious, enchanted, captivating place inherently tied to a “duel” between the two main characters, Celia and Marco. I enjoyed watching the circus evolve as the characters’ relationship(s) did. Much of the imagery in the story is tied to the circus and the various tents that house its wonders.

The writing was also very stylized, in a way that I enjoyed. Often when I read stories, I find words or sentences that are a little off in my mind and I end up trying to think of how I might rephrase it. Not that the original sentence was bad or anything, I just would’ve written it differently. That didn’t really happen with The Night Circus. It’s narrative voice strong and appealing (to me at least).

What I might’ve written differently: So much focus was on exploring the circus that there wasn’t much room in the narrative for exploring the characters and at time the relationships left me wanting more. For the most part, relationships between the characters kind of just were. Take it or leave it. When I finished the book, I remembered my 10th grade English teacher explaining that most fiction was either plot-driven or character-driven. The Night Circus felt plot/sensation-driven. I do wish there had been more time for developing the characters, but of course, you can’t always squeeze everything you want into the story. If more details about the characters had been included, something else would’ve gotten the ax.

Also, this is more in how the story was sold, but I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the pacing. The Night Circus is kind of described as having this harrowing duel between Celia and Marco and while that’s central to the plot… the story does not advance at the speed of fight. The pacing is actually pretty slow at times, which was fine for me. I just sat back and enjoyed the descriptive ride. But I can see how people would get frustrated that there was no real mystery or duel to be had among the pages of the circus.

As a final critique, I don’t quite know how I feel about the circus itself. Without giving to much away, I was fascinated by the psychology of the circus and how it got into people’s heads (go figure, I am a psych grad student…). For the most part, the book frames this as a good thing, although the darker side of being sucked into the magic of the circus is explored. I think I would have explored that darkness more. By the end of the story, I was firmly in the camp of the circus would be nice to visit but I would not want to stay.

Ultimately, I give The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 4 out of 5 stars. What’s a star worth? Oh about 50 thousand Schrute bucks.