Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, December 31, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of When Ruby Tried to Grow Candy

When Ruby Tried to Grow Candy by Valorie Fisher

"Why are teacups hanging on your tree?" Ruby asked.
"My teacups aren't hanging, they're growing," Miss Wysterious snarled.
"You grew a teacup?" asked Ruby. "How?"
"The usual way—with water, sunshine, and the occasional chitchat."

This picture book is absolutely delightful!  Ruby accidentally bounces her ball over the fence into the neighbor's yard, and she follows it into a garden where buttons and shoes are the produce. Miss Wysterious, the fierce gardener, suggests Ruby grow candy, and though Ruby is skeptical, Ruby plants lemon drops and toffees and waters them everyday. As Miss Wysterious says, "If you're in doubt, nothing will sprout."

Quirky and lovable characters, imaginative plot, gorgeous multi-media pictures, and a good dash of wit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of The Christmas Wedding

This morning I finished reading The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo. Widowed for three years, Gaby Summerhill announces she's going to get married on Christmas. She wants all four of her children and their families to come to the wedding. The catch? She's not saying who the groom is. She's not even telling the three eligible bachelors who she's chosen. The book follows Gaby, her three daughters, and her son as they deal with dysfunctional families, sexist bosses, cancer, and car accidents. Will they all make it alive and in one piece to the wedding? And who in the world is Gaby going to marry?

This was my first ever Patterson book. I don't think I'll be trying another. It was OK. Many of the characters were two-dimensional; they just didn't come to life. The chapter breaks were annoyingly and unnecessarily frequent. The narrative was sometimes dumbed down or redundant. For instance, every time a certain character said something funny, the narrator would then say, "That guy's such a joker." If the book weren't so short and quick to read (I read it in two sittings) I probably would have decided it wasn't worth the time and effort.

Still, the book had it's funny moments and it's heart-warming moments, and the characters were likeable. For a fluffy holiday book to be read on a leisurely morning over a cup of coffee while watching the snow out the window, it was fun.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How Do You See Jujubes and Aspirins?

Over the years, I've tried a number of formats and a number of subjects for this blog. Originally it was a place to post poetry. Then it shifted to being about all things bookish. While I was in Spain in 2011 it was a way to keep my family and friends in the know as well as a place for me to express my experiences. In March, while lying sick in bed with the mumps, I had the idea to expand my content to include cooking and the outdoors. I've tried Gardening Wednesdays and Food Fridays, now I'm doing On the Bookshelf and In the Kitchen and In the Garden and The Great Outdoors. In September I added Manifesto Mondays, and I still sometimes do Sundry Sundays.

I see this blog as a work in progress. Imagine construction zone signs all over J&A. I've been thinking about the essence of Jujubes and Aspirins, what my goal for the blog is, who is my ideal readership. Some days I see Jujubes and Aspirins as a setting for my evolving writing career. Some days I see it as a sort of indie Martha Stewart Living, with articles on traveling and gardening and vegan cooking. Some days it's just a place for me to play with words and express myself.

How do you see Jujubes and Aspirins?

I want to know what my readers thinks of all this. Most of you are silent lurkers, but I know I've got some readers out there. What do you think of my content? Are there subjects you prefer, types of posts you like best? What do you think of format and organization? And if you're one of those people who've told me Blogger won't let them comment, you can send an email or respond on Twitter. I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Harlequin Romance

A friend told me that on the Harlequin website you can find exact guidelines for how to write a romance novel.

If you don't know, Harlequin is the most prolific publisher of romance novels, especially known for those serials you find in the grocery store.

Today I decided to check out Harlequin's writing guidelines—and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found:

  • Know and respect your readers—choose the most recent novels and read widely across the romance market. Then target the series/genre that excites you and suits your voice.
  • Innovate, don't imitate! There is no formula—only a format, as with all genre fiction, which allows room for creative expression, unique writing voices and memorable characters. So throw those clichés out the window!
    I ♥ my characters: At the heart of all great romances are two strong, appealing, sympathetic and three-dimensional characters.

This is writing advice anyone would do well to heed.

On the Bookshelf—Review of Fablehaven

Brandon Mull
Middlegrade fiction, fantasy

I've just finished reading the fifth and final book in the Fablehaven series. I loved the enchanting and colorful world of Fablehaven, and I'm sad to see it end, but I look forward to reading the series again some years down the road.

When I think of the first book in the series, I think of a lush fragrant garden, the heat of summer, a green and verdant forest, and the richest most delicious hot chocolate.

A sister and brother—Kendra, 13, and Seth, 11—must stay with their grandparents for a few weeks. They don't look forward to this tedious visit. Grandpa Sorenson lives on some sort of nature preserve, but he won't let the kids stray beyond the yard into the forest. Grandma Sorenson is mysteriously absent. There are some odd things about this place—like what's in that ginormous barn, and why do they put pans of milk out in the garden?

What Kendra and Seth will discover is that this isn't a normal nature preserve. It's a refuge for magical creatures: fairies, golems, satyrs, trolls. But Fablehaven isn't home to just the beautiful and wondrous—it is also home to dangerous beasts and dark magic. And if Kendra and Seth aren't careful, they just might release a powerful evil, and the two siblings will have to save their family and Fablehaven—and maybe the world.

The more of Fablehaven I read, the more I thought of it as a new Harry Potter. There's a secret magical world. Our protagonists run into magical creatures and beasts, learn about potions and magical objects, meet a host of intriguing adults who inhabit this magical world and have a wide range of interesting talents, some of whom may be traitors and spies. There are even a couple satyrs to provide the comic relief and humorous antics of the Weasley twins. But it's not just this fantasy basis that makes me think of Harry Potter, it's also the pacing of the plot, the level of suspense, the quest for objects like the sorcerer's stone or having to work through magical mazes à la the Goblet of Fire.

But Fablehaven isn't just a Harry Potter knock-off, it's its own unique entity. I even think it improves upon Harry Potter in some ways, explains plotholes that annoyed the hell out of me in Rowling's work.

And instead of the patriarchal chosen one for a protagonist, we've got a refreshingly female protagonist in Kendra; she's not even the masculine Katniss Everdeen.

In the first Fablehaven, Kendra is fairly solidly the protagonist, with her brother Seth as a sort of uppity sidekick. But the further into the series we get the more the brother and sister become dual protagonists, and I love this balance. I loved watching Seth develop. At first he's just a courageous and curious youth lacking caution and common sense (good god, that sentence was alliterative!). Slowly he must learn how to distinguish from taking risks for the good of the cause and taking risks just for the thrill, slowly he must learn responsibility. Kendra, on the other hand, must find her courage and discover her own inner resources.

Make yourself a cup of rich hot chocolate, and curl up with this engrossing and enchanting series.