Randomosity on Fridays: Stylin' Edition

Maybe traveling two weekends in a row was not a good idea because I am POOPED OUT, friends! Needless to say, my SF/Berkeley girls' trip with my favorite ladies was a smashing success. We went BIG (perhaps too big)! So when I say TGIF today, I really really mean it. I need SLEEP.

That aside, here's a slightly different randomosity for you today.

The lovely Medeia Sharif gave us an award, which I will pre-emptively pass on to you, dear commenters! You may see this as laziness (which it sort of is), but no! It is merely an expression of how very much I do appreciate your frequent visits and input. Your comments are like little pick-me-ups throughout the day. So thanks!

Without further ado, I present you with the...

Isn't it pretty? It's so sleek and stylish - like the Oscars will hopefully be this weekend!

The one condition that comes attached to this award is that you have to share 7 things about yourself and then pass it on to at least 7 people. Here's my 7:

1. I'm actually not that stylin'. The sister is way more stylin' than I am, which is why I often steal her clothes. Thankfully, we're generally the same size.

2. On top of being a slow reader, I'm a slow eater. What? I like to enjoy my food! The exception is ice cream. I eat that stuff so fast...

3. I'm a dog person, but I do like cats. I'd probably like them more if I weren't so darn allergic.

4. I'm a thoroughly Californian girl - born and raised in SoCal, higher-educated in NorCal, and higher-educated at the University of California.

5. Alz and I have known each other since elementary school. However, we did not really hang out until high school when Physical Education pushed us back into each other's immediate social circles.

6. I'm an unabashed nerd/geek - academically and pop culturally! Classics, history, literature? LIKE. Star Wars, Buffy, anime? LIKE. You name it, I've probably seen it.

7. Following up on that, I have a major crush on Alexander Hamilton, and not just for his shapely legs. (I kid you not on that last note. It's one of my favorite descriptive quotes about Hamilton from Ron Chernow's biography of him.)

Sharing the awarding love is up to you, but I would love to learn 7 things about you. So spill! Enjoy the last few days of February!


Throwing in the Towel: Reading

Reading / writing relevant but short post today darling ones because I had oodles of fun in San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend. As someone said at some point this weekend, we went BIG but maybe too big?

In any case, my brain's ability to produce coherent thoughts in the evening is severely limited. You can ask Alz. We've been trying to work on the New Project and I'm only useful for shouting out random things like "LET'S NAME HIM BOB!" and  "THEN HE GETS PUNCHED IN THE FACE!". Yeah, I'm possibly in the running for worst writing partner ever.

Anyway, I've been trying to get through my last batch of library books. I've decided, you see, that I should read more of the books I own, so I stopped myself from adding more titles to my library queue. (It is very hard, friends.)

One of the books I started has an interesting premise - a mix of fantasy, history, and time-travel fun all packaged in a quick YA read.

The problem is I don't know if I should continue.

Now, don't get me wrong. It isn't terrible or anything. The writing style is not disagreeable, and the characters don't make me want to claw the type out of the book. I already mentioned that the premise is interesting, and there are plot-related things happening.

BUT it's weird.

I suspect it has something to do with the way certain events are paced. For example, the back-cover blurb, prologue, and main plot line all point to this high stakes fantasy adventure, where people with supernatural powers are trying to either protect the normal/present world or send it spiraling into chaos. You have the regular world existing alongside this unseen supernatural one. All good stuff.

However, the 2 main characters are teens with "regular" lives on top of their supernatural ones. So they also have normal teen problems - school, crushes, friendships, family issues. That's all great, and it's something I expect for really good, realistic character development.

BUT... (always the 'but'), the interweaving of the two worlds, in terms of the protagonists' conflicts and character arcs, is done in a strange way. For me, it just feels uneven and is therefore jarring.

Now, I'm one of those stubborn people who HAS TO FINISH what I start reading, but there is a point of no return, so to speak. If it's early enough in the book, I can stop and not feel compelled to finish. If I get further than a certain point, say past the first 80 pages, then I usually feel like I have to finish.

What about you? Would you finish this book in this situation? What is your point of no return? Or are you totally okay with stopping partway in if the story hasn't grabbed you?


Randomosity on Fridays: Mixed Bag Edition!

It is PRESIDENT'S DAY weekend! Luckily, I do actually get Monday off. I hope you all do too, especially since we all deserve a nice mini-vacay every once in a while and celebrating presidents is awesome! :)

Even though I am still tired from last week, I'm going to San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend with my favorite ladies for a girls' weekend out. It will be epic and awesome-o. Maybe there will be pictures, and how I do miss the Bay Area. The Bay Area evidently misses me too because it's welcoming me with its characteristic moody weather, which means wind and rain. To think I came back from all that SNOW for this...


1. Alz and I are working on a new WIP. It's exciting and fun and a little bit creeptastic! We've been talking about it so much that when Alz suggested I do a "WIP Wednesday" post on a story I'd been brainstorming before this one, it took me a moment to realize what she was talking about.

2. A mysterious package arrived for me earlier this week from Penguin Teen. Inside was this awesomeness:

Breathless Reads pins! Signed Across the Universe!
Yeah, it's pretty freaking cool. It was their Thank You for helping out with the blogosphere launch of the Godspeed. I totally forgot about it, so it was a very pleasant surprise. Even more awesome was the SIGNED copy of AtU actually addressed to me. THANKS Penguin! THANKS Beth!

3. This past weekend, Luce, the sister, and I overdosed on 90s music videos and performances. Oh nostalgia! Also, they just don't make boy bands like they used to because those dudes could dance and sing, and they did not use backtracks during live performances the way a lot of people seem to do now. Props.

Photo from Bread et Butter
4. Thursday was the 15th day of the new lunar year, which marks the end of the New Year's celebrations. Accordingly, my mom made one of my favorite Chinese desserts: tang yuan (rice balls) with sesame filling. SO GOOD.

5. Oh and belated Chicago stories. I mentioned there was A LOT OF SNOW. It was also a frigid -2 degrees one morning. MINUS 2. I don't even... I had to scrape ice off the car windshield. I've never had to do that in my life. I also missed terribly the ability to wear just ONE layer of pants.

But it was fun and much good food was had.  I totally want to go again when I'm actually there on vacation and have time to do fun things. Warmer weather would also be preferable. Here are pictures:

Me, pushing the bean. I don't know why...

The Bean!

A snowman that I did not make in Millennium Park.

What's your mixed bag of random this week?

Have a lovely, non-rainy, non-snowy weekend everyone!


Key Scenes Illustrated!

I was digging through some random files and found a doodle I did for Krispy when I read Twilight a few years ago and got to the scene with Bella and Edward in the valley. I was prepared for the Big Sparkling Reveal since Krispy had told me beforehand just why vampires don't venture out into sunlight, but even armed with that foreknowledge I still snorted chai up my nose.

Click to see detail of his six-pack sculpted-marble abs. (Edit: I guess it's not clickable. That's just as well.)

That got me thinking about the books I've been reading lately, and what key scenes and big moments are important to stories, and which ones get remembered the best. The I Am Your Father Scene in Star Wars, Hamlet holding aloft Yorick's skull, Prince Philip facing down Dragon!Maleficent, Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, Katniss volunteering to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games—these are all memorable scenes. Most of them take place near the end of their stories, but Katniss stepping forward happens at the beginning, and Hamlet's "Alas, poor Yorick!" schpiel occurs—actually, I don't remember when it occurs, but it's not at the end.

At any rate, I was thinking about what makes scenes memorable and/or powerful, but I pretty much clinched it right there: the most memorable scenes are usually powerful ones, either emotionally or intellectually. Or sparklingly, I guess.

So, since I don't really have much more to say than that and therefore have nothing to blog about, I'll just finish off this post with random doodles illustrations of key scenes from a few more books.

From Nightshade by Andrea Cremer: The very first page of the book, where Calla the Alpha Werewolf fights a bear that's already mauled the mysterious hot love interest who was innocently hiking on the forbidden mountain.

Yes, the hot love interest was mauled by a bear before the book even began.

From Across the Universe by Beth Revis: Elder gazes awestruck upon the cryogenically frozen Amy.

This is pretty much how I visualized it in my head.

From The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce: The twelve-winged icarus vampire darkangel confronts the compassionate girl who would save him from himself.

To be fair, it never said where his wings were located.

And that's all for today, folks! Stay warm if you're cold, and stay cool if you're hot!


Randomosity on Fridays: Snowy Edition!

Guess what? I'm still in Chicago! Technically, I'm in the suburbs now since that is where my work is located, but it still counts because it is also covered in snow and freezing.

Anyway, it's been a tiring but also fun week! I've missed you all and am sad that keeping up with the blogosphere is proving harder than I thought it'd be. I'll make it up to you next week! Here's my Friday 5.

1. SNOW. It's everywhere. I've never seen so much snow in my life. I want to jump and frolic in it because it is so white and shimmery and pristine, and it's just piled on thick EVERYWHERE.

2. It's also freezing. This isn't as bad as I thought it'd be, and actually, it's kind of EXHILARATING and amusing to me when it's 5 degrees outside. BUT IT IS COLD. Cold like my fingertips start tingling and going numb after like a minute outside. Psychologically, it's even colder when your friends and sister at home are tweeting and Facebooking about how GORGEOUSLY mid-70s it is in California.

3. Yes, Chicago is in the state of ILLINOIS. I had light bulb moment on Wednesday when I made that connection. Oh yes, I am in a different state. It is not called Chicago.

4. Most of this trip has been defined by varying degrees of COLDNESS and FOOD. So much food.

5. So the one thing I bought in Chicago, I could have bought back home at any old Disney store. I'm bringing myself back a new friend - a pink bear that smells like strawberries!

HAPPY WEEKEND everyone! I'm pooped and while I wish I had more time for Chicago adventures (this was, after all, a business trip), I'm excited to go home to mild 70-degree weather.

What did you do this week while I was gone?


Book Review: The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

The idea of a dead angel buried behind an abbey caught my attention. The story actually turned out to be less about angels and more about fairy folklore, but this did not at all disappoint me.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

Pros: Brilliantly researched, deft handling of historical, religious, and folkloric themes, writing doesn't feel "simplified" for kids.
Cons: Quite a few loose ends because it's the first book of a trilogy, protagonist is a good boy but not particularly unique or engaging.

Intellectual Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Emotional Grade: A-

Book Blurb: It's 1347 and fifteen-year-old Will, an orphan boy, lives at Crowfield Abbey. Sent into the forest to gather wood, he rescues instead, a creature from a trap - a hob, who shares with Will a terrible secret. Somewhere in the forest behind the abbey where he lives,is a grave. And buried deep in the snow is an angel. But how can an angel die? What has it to do with the monks of the Abbey? When two hooded strangers arrive at Crowfield asking questions about the angel's grave, Will is drawn into a world of dangerous Old Magic.

Alz's Take: This book is touted as MG and I approached it with that mindset. Several chapters in, I had to reset my expectations—this book doesn't read "young" or as if it's been simplified or dumbed-down to suit younger audiences. The language is neither under- nor over-sophisticated, and a few of the events and some of the subject matter are indeed chilling (as they are meant to be). Additionally, life in medieval England wasn't exactly a clean, safe, child-friendly thing, and the book reflects that reality. Gratuitous? No. Graphic? Sometimes. Fitting and deftly handled? Yes.

The other thing that amazed me was how much research Pat Walsh put into this novel—though admittedly I boast no great knowledge of what life was like in an English abbey, I never questioned the authenticity of anything and was fully immersed in England in the year 1347. There's even a glossary in the back for unfamiliar terms and further details about abbey life, though everything can easily be understood through context. I loved how the author was able to recreate an engrossing and historically accurate world without infodumps or tedious overbearing detail.

14-year-old William has to deal with living at a rundown old abbey—he has to earn his keep since he was given over into the abbey's care when he was orphaned by a fire. It's not a bad life, as such, for he has food to eat and a place to sleep and has a father figure and mentor in Brother Snail, whose hunched back earned him his nickname.

Then William finds an injured hob in the woods, an event that will change William's life forever. What is a hob? It's a fairy creature of sorts, and what I like about the way this book is written is that there is no single long description of the hob or what it is. Instead you receive an impression via bits and pieces of description—green eyes, beechnut-colored skin and reddish fur—enough for you to imagine what it looks like without being told straight out. The rest of the book goes in a similar vein, with concrete imagery, facts, and details to set a scene, and then passing descriptions of other things that are, in fact, quite skillfully done so that your imagination fills in everything else.

On the other hand, I have to admit that a few times I did wonder, specifically and exactly, what the hob/etc. looked like, and I can also see how the occasional glossing-over of some details might annoy some readers in the long run. The narration is third-person and varies between distant and close. I would have preferred being closer to William's perspective; as it is, I felt like I was watching everything from a nearby vantage, rather than being in William's head. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it contributed to my not feeling as close a connection to William as I might have liked.

The hob is William's (and the reader's) introduction to the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and fairy creatures, and he gives William guidance as a pair of wealthy but mysterious strangers come to stay at the abbey: a bard named Mr. Bone and his bodyguard Shadlok, but the former is a leper and the latter is forbiddingly grim. And what is this talk among the abbots that William overhears about an angel buried somewhere nearby? How can an angel be dead—what killed it, and who buried it, and why?

This setup and these intriguing bits of information were enough to keep me interested and invested throughout the book, particularly as William proves to be a practical and identifiable young protagonist who cares for his friends and understands his situation even as he dreams, wistfully, of greater things. Though I liked William, I didn't love him, and while he's a sturdy steadfast boy, there are tons of sturdy and steadfast boy protagonists populating the field of YA and MG literature. Brother Snail and Shadlok, for instance, seemed to have more history and depth to them, whereas William felt a bit like Bob Everyboy. He is neither the most unique nor memorable of characters.

No, what makes this book so good is the setting, the medieval life and the intersection of Christianity and fay lore, and the boy being dragged into its midst. The mood is fairly serious and the tone ranges from gloomy to grim, but William lights the way for us, a little spark of fear and courage in the dark. William accepts with equanimity the fact that angels exist as well as the hob and old gods and fairies, as does Brother Snail, though Brother Snail of course warns William to not go blabbing these things about since they do, after all, live in an abbey. The Crowfield Curse occasionally touches upon but does not focus on the struggle, pursuit, reconciliation, or persecution of faith or superstition, and I'm glad that it didn't venture into this territory.

I thought the book was standalone when I read it so I was a little surprised at how many loose ends were left dangling—which told me that there was probably going to be a sequel. A quick Google search later and yep, there is indeed a second book coming out, The Crowfield Demon, much to my joy. I'd rate my end-satisfaction at a brisk 85% because there was sufficient resolution and sense of moving on for me to nod my head and say, "Okay, that's good enough, even if there isn't total closure." There were enough looming threats and potentialities on the horizon, however, as well as some unanswered (but not Hugely Unanswered) questions that I really look forward to the second book.

Alz's Conclusion: The Crowfield Curse is a beautifully-written, realistic, well-researched book about angels, fay folk, and a boy named William living at an English abbey in the 1300s. Though William is not a particularly unique protagonist, the solid authenticity of the world around him and how he is unwillingly drawn into the world of the fay provides more than enough intrigue.


Randomosity on Fridays

Helloooo, friends! I wish I had more time to properly post and chat with you, but it's been a hectic week for me - what with normal work craziness plus trip craziness plus holiday madness. So here we go into the five.

1. THANK YOU, EVERYONE for your cold weather survival tips! When I come back with all my fingers and toes intact, I will have you to thank. First though, I must dig into my old college clothes for the warmer items. NorCal is actually colder than SoCal, but I've sadly lost my tolerance for even that bit of cold. Alz made me a hat. Luce made me a cowl and scarf (not for this specifically, but it's good I have them!)

2. Speaking of, anything I should try to do while in Chicago? Sights I should see? Things I should eat? I only have 1 free day though, so make these your absolute BEST suggestions. :)

3. New Year's dinner was small (not quite the feast I lead you all to believe), but it still involved much more food than we could eat. Yum. Unfortunately, Alz and I made a boba run after dinner, which was an EPIC FAIL because they were all closed. Yeah, most boba place people celebrate Lunar New Year.

4. I spent 12 hours at work today (Thursday). TWELVE. I don't even...

5. The sister has recently picked up a lot of awesome(weird) dance moves thanks to the internetz. From the band Parachute (one of her faves), she got DOUBLE DREAM HANDS.

And from a reblog I did on Tumblr, she got her new Midterm/Exam conquering victory dance.

Well, I'm off to Chicago this weekend, so I might miss the Wednesday post (if I don't think of something clever before I leave). I'll try to be back Friday, perhaps even with pictures! (...if I'm not frozen solid.)

Until then, stay warm everyone! Have an awesome weekend!

What are your awesomest dance moves? Anyone else going to learn the DOUBLE DREAM HANDS routine?


Happy Lunar New Year!

The house is clean. The feast is prepared. Decorations are up, and fresh flowers are sitting pristine in vases. Family members have been invited, and the kids are totally excited because they're getting gifts.

What? You say Christmas was a month ago? Well, that's NOT A PROBLEM because TONIGHT is Lunar New Year's Eve aka Chinese New Year's Eve!

(Chinese people aren't the only people who celebrate the Lunar New Year, but that's my demographic. So from here on out, everything I'm presenting is going to be from my experience of the holiday, which is in the Taiwanese/Chinese tradition. There's my disclaimer. :P )

So there's tons of stuff I could tell you about the New Year, but I'm not an expert and I don't want to write you an entire essay. Besides, that's what Google and Wikipedia is for! Instead, I'd like to give you a visual tour of the awesome-o stuff.

Mostly, this means food. New Year's Eve is all about the big family feast, and trust, it IS a FEAST.

Why, yes, that is a roast pig.
We usually don't have a roast pig, but we did one year. So I thought I'd share. More traditional New Year's foods are more like the following:

Nian gao: it's made of glutinous rice and can be stir-fried or served as a sweet dessert.

Credit: Wikipedia entry on Nian Gao
Sweet Nian Gao / Credit: Wikipedia

There's also fish for prosperity, based off the saying nián nián yǒu yú, which roughly translates as "may there be fish every year." Also, you don't eat all of the fish; there's supposed to be leftovers.

Steamed Fish pic from Weave a Thousand Flavors (recipe there too!)
Noodles for longevity.

From New Asian Cuisine
Oranges because they sound like "luck / fortune" and Lo Bo Gao - a turnip cake.

From Wikipedia
There's a bunch of other food, but now I'm getting hungry from looking at all of this. Basically, the thing with New Year's food is to wish everyone good fortune for the coming year. I mean, check out all that food symbolism. If it's a New Year's dish, it is probably because the food is a homonym for another word that sounds like "luck" or "fortune" or "abundance."

So, I hope you enjoyed my short little forage into food. It is one of my great loves.

Here's to a fantastic Year of the Rabbit. Happy New Year to you all! Gong xi fa cai! (Congratulations and be prosperous!)

P.S. Luce insisted I share this gem of a Lunar New Year's song: Gong Xi Gong Xi (Congratulations, congratulations)
It's like the Feliz Navidad of Chinese New Year.

P.P.S. I think all the congratulating might stem from the folkloric history of the horrible Nian (a monster, also the word for 'year') rampaging about and eating people and livestock at the start of every year. So you know, the congrats is for surviving!