Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Garden update 5/31/11

I have lots of sugar snap peas! Such a happy plant!

This tomato plant (& basil) look happy too, but no tomatoes yet.

But 2 other tomato plants have started making babies.

Is this not the prettiest leaf lettuce you've ever seen?

My herbs from seed are growing slowly.
I used seed-starter mix rather than topsoil. Won't do that again.

This purchased mint, however, is doing wonderfully.
I've already used it in tea twice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Breakdown of a Heroine: Valancy Stirling

Who is Valancy?
She's a girl who has never lived. The first chapter begins and ends with her crying. Generally speaking I do not like mopey heroines. These emo-chick main characters do not work for me. Valancy has drifted through life, being bossed around by her family, retreat within to her imaginary Blue Castle. Outwardly she's a sickly, silent, old maid.

Strength of Character
At the beginning of the book Valancy is the picture of weakness. She's got nothing going for her and she won't stand up for herself. But that changes (and that's what makes this book so good). By the end of the novel Valancy is barely recognizable.

Valancy's storyline
Valancy thinks she's doomed to live out her life with her overbearing family, a lonesome old maid who is really just a shell of a person. Inwardly, Valancy has a bit of a rebellious streak and a funny sense of humor. In a small act of outward rebellion Valancy secretly goes to see a doctor (*gasp* it's not he family doctor but another one) about her health problems. The doctor is called away immediately after the appointment because his son is in a car accident. A short while later she receives a letter telling her that she has a year or less to live.

This is where the previously weak-minded girl says "To hell with it." Valancy starts smarting off, telling people what she thinks and living by her own rules. What can they hold above her now? There will be no family inheritance, no marriage prospects, no reputation to ruin. Valancy realizes she's going to die never having lived. Rather than give into that fate, Valancy decides to live what life she has left to the fullest.

Romantic Entanglements
To answer this category properly involves spoilers. I know you want to know if Valancy stays an old made but to get those answers you have to read the book. I will say that Valancy doesn't let anyone take away her new found sense of freedom.

What makes Valancy a great heroine is her ability to change. In the beginning of the book there are no pretenses that she's strong and just misunderstood. She's weak. There's no way around that. If you're going to have a main character who is mopey and weak, it's better to embrace it and go from there. The story follows Valancy's progress from pathetic to powerful.

This is a very good book and a pleasant surprise. I read it for the featured author challenge on my goodreads group (LM Montgomery) and would have never picked it up based on the cover. Once Valancy starts telling everyone how it is, she's pretty funny. After reading this book it's rather tempting to follow in Valancy's footsteps and start telling people exactly what I think of them. However, I can't say that I've done that.

Note: Because I am myself, I have to complain about the cover-fail that is this book. I know the book is old and thus I don't expect a fantastic cover. However, I do expect the main characters to somewhat match their description. The man you see in this cover never appears in the book. The main male character in this book rarely shaves and always wears overalls. He is not a preppy country-club kid from the 1980s. That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Allow me to be a Hunger Games fangirl

There is so much Hunger Games news to be excited about this week. And I'm for reals excited about it. Originally I had my doubts about the Hunger Games movie. Serious doubts.

But you know what it's no fun being a negative nancy. Sure the book is in first person and movies are distinctly 3rd person. Sure it's violent in a way that I'm really not sure that audiences can stomach.

But you know what? I love Hunger Games and it's so much more fun to love Hunger Games than to stress over Hunger Games. So I've decided to be FLIPPIN' EXCITED about this movie. If it ends up sucking at least I had fun beforehand.

Fangirl moment # 1
SHE LOOKS JUST LIKE KATNISS!! It's almost freaky how much she made the transition with one picture. I don't care if she's originally a blonde the brown hair works for Jennifer Lawrence. In this picture Katniss (see what I did there, she is Katniss now folks) looks both strong and heartbreaking. That's what you call perfection.

Highlight from the article
After officially signing on, Suzanne Collins herself called to offer a starstruck Lawrence her most hearty congratulations. "I feel like when you said yes," the author told her, "the world got lifted off my shoulders."
Jennifer I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But that world that Suzanne Collins was so worried about, might just rest on your shoulders now. But I've totally got your back--I have complete faith in you.

Fangirl Moment #2
So EW is clearly trying to give me fangirl spasms this week because today they posted this article.
I told Gary, ‘I totally understand if you don’t hire me, but please remember that after Katniss shoots a bow and kills someone her face cannot be badass. It has to be broken.’ She has to be heartbroken because she just took another person’s life. It’s so tempting, especially with a cool, big budget franchise movie, but we have to remember that she’s a 16-year-old girl who’s being forced to do this. These kids are only killing each other because if they don’t, they’ll die. It’s needless, pointless, unjustified violence. So there’s nothing cool about her. It’s not like she looks around the arena and goes ‘Yeah, I got this, I’m going to do this.’ I think she looks around terrified and thinks, ‘Well there are all the million different ways that I can die.’”
Jennifer Lawrence GETS IT. She really understands! Katniss is not a hardened killer, she's just a girl thrown into these horrible circumstances trying to stay alive. It would be way too easy to play Katniss like a super-awesome superhero/superspy/killer but that's not "The Girl Who Was On Fire" or the girl who inspired a revolution with her humanity in the arena.

Fangirl moment #3

Josh Hutcherson inteview that makes him seem so Peeta-esque

Peeta is supposed to be good with language and completely charming. I'll admit that I'm totally charmed. He's a Kentucky boy (as is Jennifer Lawrence) so I've already got a soft spot for him. But then he starts talking about driving across country and camping. That's when I totally melt. Even though he looks nothing like how I imagined Peeta he's just so likable and that's one of Peeta's strongest points. If you don't see Peeta personality in this interview you need to go do a re-read ASAP.

So maybe I'm just overly optimistic & a bit of a Suzy Sunshine. But I think there's more to be excited about than not with the Hunger Games movie. Why panic before they've even started filming? Why not just experience the joy of every new detail, released photo and everything leading up to the movie? You'll have a lot more fun that way!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Breakdown of a Heroine: Mary "Lang" Quinn

If you haven't noticed, I'm very picky about my female leads. A book can make or break based solely on the female MC. If she's a weak lass, following after every boy she meets and not thinking for herself then odds are I will hate the book. Girls in book need to be kick-ass, in the way that Sophie Mercer, Toby Daye, Deryn or Jacky Faber are. I do not tolerate Mary Sue's (or Bella-Loos) in the books that I read.

I'm assuming that I'm not the only one with his problem. That's why I bring you breakdown of a heroine! I'm going to start breaking apart the female characters in books I read in hopes of separating the strong female leads, from the girls they could easily beat up.

First up I'd like you to meet Mary "Lang" Quinn from The Agency

Just who is this Mary?
When we first meet Mary she's a street kid being convicted of stealing. And for that horrible crime (to prevent starvation) she's sentenced to hang. If the story ended there it would be a very short book. A mysterious benefactor appears from The Scrimshaw Academy, an all girls boarding school that also serves as the training grounds for the Agency.

Strength of Character
When we first meet Mary she's a tough little cookie. The death sentence doesn't even bother her. There is no crying, no begging. More just the attitude of "Well my life sucks, this can't make it any worse." And while I love someone with a survival instinct, Mary isn't giving up out of weakness. She just can't be bothered to beg, cry or give into girly hysterics.

When we see the more grown up Mary it's almost shocking how much she's changed from that little girl. She's intelligent, bright, stubborn, but she's gone a little soft. In some ways I liked young Mary's you-can't-hurt-me-anymore attitude. But no worries, Mary hasn't gone too soft.

Mary's Storyline
Mary, a little frustrated will the doldrums existence of teaching students at the academy, wants to look at other options. So the headmistress offers to let her join The Agency. It's a secret group of all women spies that work throughout Victorian London. They pose as maids, companions, etc, taking advantage of the misconceptions about women to solve crimes. So needless to say restless Mary joins The Agency and gets her first assignment.

Romantic Entanglements
Often this is where female characters lose points from me. Seriously you'll think a girl is smart, then she goes weak in the knees and loses her head when she meets a cute boy.
There is a little bit of romance in this book. Mary is rather reluctant when it comes to relationships. Mary is focused on accomplishing her mission and solving the mystery of her first assignment. Nothing is going to get in the way of finding out the truth not even her assignment itself (which she goes well beyond the scope of to try to prove herself a worthy agent). Mary is a very practical, even when it comes to boys. There is only so much I can say about this without spoilers. The romance never gets in the way of story and is nicely done. Bravo to Mary Quinn (and the author of this book) for avoiding the biggest problem area.

Mary is smart and determined to the point of stubbornness. She navigates the world of Victorian England with strength uncommon for her time period. At times this novel is a little heavy-handed with "yay women are strong." But in a world where too many "strong" female characters lack real strength when push comes to shove, I'm glad to have the Agency with its pretty blatant message. The book is enjoyable, Mary is likable and the romance is just enough to leave me wanting more (and not enough to start the gag reflex).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Photo update of my Garden

So my garden hasn't done much interesting yet. The sugarsnaps look healthy & happy but no peas. I'm blaming the unusually wet spring so far (wettest on records) and I'm hoping the sunshine will coax the peas to appear (notice the sun is shining today. We haven't seen many days like this). I improved my terraces this year (only a little tweak) and it seems like having a terraced hillside garden was a brilliant idea with all this rain. If only I could pretend I planned it for exactly that purpose. My herbs haven't done much either. Like I said, not much sunshine this year.

The garden proper.

What I have dubbed the garden annex.
I outgrew my garden space.

Inspired by my time living in Switzerland.

Orange mint & peppermint. Smell so yummy.

The much sought after Lemon Verbena.
And it does smell good. Hope it makes divine tea.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why do I love girls pretending to be boys in YA?

At the moment I'm reading both Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld and Mississippi Jack by LA Meyer. That alone has probably led to this reflection. But I've noticed a disturbing trend in my read habits.

I love girls who dress as boys. Maybe its my inner tomboy. I spent most of my childhood playing in the woods, riding my bicycle and not understanding why some parents let their sons do more than their daughters. (This is not an issue I'm trying to preach about but something I really did notice as a child).

My favorite girls in boy clothing

Alanna from the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.
She's the classic example. An ambitious girl who wants to be a knight but nobody lets her. Thanks to having a twin she pulls the old swicheroo, cuts off her hair and plays with swords. She has grand adventures, saves the kingdom and becomes a hero. I love Alanna, I do. Her story is one of my regular re-reads. However, she is a little serious for my taste. Which leads me to my favorite cross-dressing girl of all time....

Bloody Jack (aka Jacky Faber, Mary Faber, Lily of the West, aka more and more nicknames.)
Honestly I cannot express my love for this series enough. I wish I could say that Jacky is a girl after my own heart. But honestly Jacky is more the girl I'm jealous of and wish I could be. Never has a cross-dressing girl enjoyed herself more than Jacky (especially in later books where she is known as a girl but still has a tendency to wear men's attire. She sings, she dances, she flirts up a storm. If I could hang out with any of these girls it would be Jacky. She has spent more than her fair share of time in the brig and jail cells, but I think the fun would be worth the inconvenience.

Bloody Jack follows her adventures from street child, to midshipmen in the Kings Navy, and onward after that. This is best enjoyed in audiobook format.

Deryn Sharp, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Thus far I've only read Leviathan so no Behemoth spoilers my friends. Deryn is a nice middle ground between Jacky and Alanna. She's in His Majesties Navy, only on a Darwinist airship rather than an actual sailing ship. She's much more serious about being a soldier than Jacky (who is an excellent soldier, but much more fun when she's galavanting on her own). She's not the flirt that Jacky is but she's got a sense of humor. She's prone to heroics (aren't they all) but she doesn't take herself too seriously (I'm looking at you Alanna). She's a nice addition to the girls-dressed-as-boys collection.

Cross-dressing girls on my to read list:

I guarantee I'm missing some people from this list AND I'm always open to suggestions for more books like these! Please let me know who your favorite girl-dressed-as-a-boy character is!