What is Your Greatest Weakness?/Percy Jackson Series/Gods and Goddesses

percy jacksonI am officially only five books away from my goal of 40 books in 2018 and I can taste victory!  I wonder if I should give myself a laurel wreath crown when I’m done? lol

I absolutely adore this series.  I read the first book back in grad school for a mental break.  I was so surprised how quickly I read through it.  For a young adult series, a genre I hadn’t read in a while, it was pretty dope.

If you don’t have any idea who or what I’m talking about, I’ll give you the lay of the land.  First, our main character is Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old with dyslexia and behavioral issues.  He befriends outcasts like his best friend, Grover Underwood, a weird kid who wears a baseball cap over his ears and walks with a limp.  Percy, in a fascinating turn of events, learns he is a half-blood (half god, half human).  It comes as quite a shock when he learns his best friend is a satyr (half goat, half human) with hooves and everything!  In addition, his mother has known everything all along and has been protecting him from monsters that would very much like to kill him.

While processing all of this, Percy goes to Camp Half-Blood to be safe while he learns useful skills (like how to stay alive!), learns where he came from, why he exists, and who his father really is.  He meets a pretty blonde girl with gray eyes named Annabeth, the camp is run by Cheiron the Centaur (half human, half horse) and he receives a special gift.  It’s a pen that turns into a magical sword named Riptide!  How freakin cool for a 12-year-old boy!  He’s a hero, like Hercules!  Only he’s twelve, living in modern times, and he does not have superhuman strength, but the pen is REALLY cool! lol

I really love that Percy is dyslexic.  The idea of a dyslexic hero is just too perfect to me since my sister has dyslexia and I swear sometimes it seems like a superpower!  In the books, it’s used to explain Percy’s overactive brain and some of his other unique qualities.  In a way, the series turns a handicap (though I don’t even like using that word) into an inner strength.  The writing style is like a journal, where Percy talks right to you and he’s got an adorable sense of humor which again makes for a quick read.  As much as I adore this series as an adult, I can only imagine what I would have thought as a kid.

I love the lessons, or hidden messages if you will, that come within the storyline.  At one point in the series, Percy Jackson learns his greatest weakness, and it’s not what he expected.  Some might think of pride or fear as a weakness, but Percy’s greatest weakness is his unwavering loyalty to his friends.  Now you might think, “That doesn’t sound like a flaw to me!”  However, if an enemy can count on you to do something, it’s a pretty dangerous tool he can use against you.

Countless times, Percy put himself in danger when he had no idea what he was doing or how things would turn out, simply because a friend was in trouble.  When it is first brought to his attention, Percy doesn’t want to admit this fatal flaw, but there’s no denying it.  Time and time again he has rushed, without forethought in harm’s way for the sake of his friends.  Sometimes he even does more harm than good.  Does this mean loyalty is a bad character trait?  No!  What it means (or what it means to me) is that knowing yourself, the good the bad and the ugly, can help you win in life.  We are predictable creatures as humans.  We all have gifts, talents, strengths and yes, we all have flaws.  Yet, when we really know ourselves, when can use this to our advantage.   There’s no use in fighting who we are.  Embrace it and go kick some monster-butt!  lol  Or your Thursday work meeting, whatever! lol  You get the idea.

I am currently on book four of five in the series, and I can definitely see myself finishing it in record time!

If you’re up for an adventure, full of tears, triumphs, magic swords, gods and goddesses this is the series for you.  Don’t be like me.  I thought, “Eh, that’s for kids.  I’m too grown to be reading this young adult cr…..ooooooh he fights Medusa? Coooooool!”  Yeah, go ahead.  Let your bad teenager side out with this one.  Your inner child will thank you. 😉

May the gods go with you.

-Sarah

 

The Land of Dragons and Wizards/Earthsea Series/Ursula Le Guin

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Calm your jets GoT fans and you Harry Potterheads.  We’re not headed to see Daenerys, nor are we on our way to Hogwarts.  However, if you are in morning over finishing either of these popular obsessions, you are sure to enjoy this amazing series by the great Ursula Le Guin.

I have recently fallen back in love with this author due to a friend of mine (Let’s call him Barney) who is a very big fan of fantasy fiction.  I read the first book of the trilogy over a year ago and promptly shared it with my bookclub.  However, for some reason, I didn’t continue with the series.  Have you ever looked back on your life and realized you made a terrible mistake.  Yeah, that’s me now.  *oy*

How did I discover Ursula Le Guin you might ask…well I’m so glad you did!  I discovered her in a movie.  I know, silly but true.  If you have never watched “The Jane Austen Bookclub” you should….immediately…after you finish reading this blogpost, of course.  In the movie, Le Guin is mentioned as an amazing fantasy writer that found a place in the heart of one of the main characters.  The writers and the actor, made her sound so intriguing, I inevitably gave in and ordered the first book.

The tales of dragons, mages, cracks in time, the edge of the earth, with all the missions and fables and folk songs, took me to this whole other world.  I was so happy with the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea I gave it to a friend (Let’s call her Annie)!  Needless to say, it was a fast read, so when Barney mentioned it to me last week, a lightbulb went off in my head.  Fast read…40 books by December 31st, 2018….MUST READ NOW!!!

I have devoured the last two books of the trilogy in less than a week!  Here’s the low down if you’re still aren’t convinced.

A Wizard of Earthsea–First book: A young wizard, named Ged, is cocky and talented.  He believes power is wielded like a sword, powerful and unstoppable.  He tries to do what no wizard has ever done before and he succeeds, only to realize he has put the universe in danger.  His master risks his life to save his student.  Ged learns his true strength by trying to set things right.

The Tombs of Atuan–Second book: A young priestess, named Tenar, proud in her lack of identity as the head priestess of the Tombs of Atuan, lives a dull and boring existence until she is sixteen years old.  She finds and traps a wizard in the labyrinth beneath her temple.  Through her curiosity and courage, she learns who she is and who she is not.  Unfortunately, everything she knows to be true is a lie.  What will she do with her prisoner now?

Still need more….wait for it.

The Farthest Shore–Third book: A young prince, named Arren, is sent with a message to the wizards of old.  He tells of how the power has gone out of all mages and those who used to speak the language of dragons can no longer utter a single word.  The young prince is recruited to accompany a wizard to the ends of the earth to seek, exactly what neither of them knows.  Through enslavement, near-death experiences, and facing down the most powerful dragon of all time, Arren learns the danger of wanting too much from life, magic, and power.  He learns the limits of the powerful, and how eternal life is a double-edged sword.

Yeah, go ahead, let that sit around in your noggin’ for a little while and see if you don’t devour every book this woman has ever written.

Here are some of my favorite themes from the books:

  1. Names are so important.  You are given a name at birth.  However, your parents don’t give you your true name.  A mage gives you your true name.  You must not reveal this name to anyone, unless out of necessity and trust.  Some wizards are so powerful they know your true name by the mere sight of you.  I sometimes wish that we still held on to our Christian names more tightly.  I wish someone had to ask my permission to call me by my first name.  There’s something very romantic about that tradition.  After all, names have power…even today.
  2. Destiny plays a big part in the story of each character.  Everything comes back to what fate decides.  Sometimes things don’t work out exactly as said character would wish, but the truth of their destiny fulfills them more than any alternative path.
  3. There are little nuggets of wisdom in these one-liners throughout the books.  Such as:
    • “It is much easier for men to act than refrain from acting.”  I know this to be true in my own life.
    • Or when a character obtains eternal life in Earthsea, they become zombie-like.  There is no joy for them anymore.  You might see some Circe themes in that portion if you’ve read the book by Madeline Miller. *wink*
    • The last tidbit, “Is a good man, a man with no evil in him?”  We always try to make things so cut and dry, but even the definitions of good and evil, or right and wrong are subjective to mere humans.

Each story is a coming of age story, where a youth learns reality versus fantasy.  (Ironic theme since the genre is fantasy-fiction lol.)  Ged learns the repercussions of his magic.  Tenar learns who she really is by breaking every rule she’s ever known.  Arren learns the folly of thinking that magic can make a man invincible.

I really am enjoying this series and not just because it puts a pretty great dent in my grand reading total for the year 2018!  And guess what!  It’s not over yet!  There are THREE more books!

The next three are a part of The Earthsea Cycle series and I’ve already started on book four!  Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle), Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind are waiting for me, so I’ll leave you to dream of dragon tales, wizard staffs, and the fantastic worlds created by the amazing Ursula Le Guin.  Fare thee well, my fellow book-dwellers. *wink*

-Sarah

 

Stephen King/What does the King of Horror have to Teach Me?

 

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I admit it.

I have NEVER read a book by Stephen King.  Until now.  Unfortunately, it was not The Shining, or It, or Carrie.  I’m not too keen for horror, blood, or guts.  Instead, I decided to read, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Over a year ago, this book caught my eye in Barnes and Noble.  I saw a contemplative character on the cover, feet propped up on a junky desk with an out of date computer in the backdrop.  I didn’t even notice the smiling dog at his feet.  He held a pen and paper in hand.  I had no idea who he was but I wanted to find out.

My eyes scanned to the name of the author and I almost kept walking.  For some strange reason, I didn’t.  I picked up the 10th-anniversary edition paperback and scanned the description on the back.  I placed it back on the 10% off table and walked away.  However, I did get my phone out, opened the Goodreads app and added the title to my “To Read” list.

As some of you may or may not know, I’m writing a novel based on some work I did for my thesis in history.  I have been researching, reading, and working to find out the best ways to start writing, the best tricks to get you off on the right foot, should you plot ahead of time, character development, story arcs etc. etc. etc.  With my head spinning and feeling a little lost, I picked up this book last week with the hope I could find some clarity.  As chance would have it, King waited for me in my Kindle with so much wisdom and tough love to offer that I will make this an annual read.  Though I will probably never read his best selling thrillers, I will count him as a helpful mentor as I learn about the writer in me.

He starts off with a brief synopsis of his childhood that is both endearing and disturbing.  I myself had a wonderful childhood but it does make you wonder about why certain memories stick out and others don’t.  He wrote about how he used to recreate comics and then he began to write his own.  I used to create magazines like the ones in my favorite movies or I would pretend to be a journalist in a newspaper office with Kermit the Frog.  I’ve never thought of myself as a writer until recently and moments, where I can relate to a writer like this, make me feel like I’m on the right track to figuring out what I want to do with my voice.

I was surprised to find out that Stephen King was, at one point, ashamed of what he wrote.  I’ve felt that I didn’t really have anything new to say, so I’ve never taken the chance to submit articles, or stories until recently.  To hear someone like Stephen King say, “I have spent a good many years…being ashamed about what I wrote.” makes me think I really shouldn’t be afraid of the backlash.  Every writer experiences it, and I will be no exception.  So, why should I let my fear of rejection stop me?

One of my favorite lessons from this book is the process King uses to write.  He describes it this way, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.  Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out.  Once you know what the story is and get it right–as right as you can, anyway–it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.  Or criticize it.  If you’re very lucky…more with want to do the former than the latter.”  I have always feared the pain and soul-crushing feeling of criticism.  Yet, I know it’s necessary if I want my stuff to be any good (and I really want it to be good!).  This idea makes me think I could handle it.  If it’s only mine for that short time when I write the first draft, I can cherish that and appreciate it, in that moment.  However, once I hand it to my IR (Ideal Reader, a term by Stephen King) it now belongs to them.  I have to appreciate that moment too, without holding on to the way each chapter felt with the door closed.  In other words, the second draft needs a good game face!

The number one lesson I will carry with me as I write my first draft will be the lesson of making time for writing.  I know you think you know where this is going but just wait for it.  When I read this in King’s book, I grabbed my phone, added a note to the Kindle and stared out the window muttering it over and over again, “Holy freakin’ crap!”

Here’s the quote that gave me such an eloquent revelation:

“It [writing] starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support-system for art.  It’s the other way around.”

I know right!  For a while now I thought, “If I only had a studio, a special desk, a room for creation alone, I would be able to create amazing things.”  I really thought the atmosphere makes the difference.  In a way, it does.  You should turn the tv and the phone off if you plan on concentrating on writing (at least a one-track mind like me), but the atmosphere does not make or break a creative process.  If I’m going to wait for life to give me this huge chunk of an uninterrupted, perfect, big desk in the middle of the room moment, I’m never going to write anything.  I reiterate.  “Holy freakin’ crap!”

There is one quote by Stephen King that I have always loved.  It’s on a lot of bookmarks and cute Pinterest and bookstagramers posts, so it should be familiar.  However, I’ve never known the context of the quote.  I did not know it came from this book…until now.

He’s talking about the unique form of time travel that books allow us to experience.  In a way, I’m listening to a conversation King is having in the year 1999.  That’s pretty cool when you think about it.  The quote I’m talking about reads, “…books are uniquely portable magic.”  Guys, he’s talking about audiobooks!  *Eeeeeep*  I don’t know why I got such a kick out of learning that Stephen King reads audiobooks but I did.  His philosophy is the more you read the better you write so he always carries a book with him and an unabridged audiobook in the car.  I’ve never liked the idea that “audiobooks don’t count” and I can’t stand when someone belittles someone’s reading experience for silly smug reasons that don’t make sense to me.  It would be wrong to say it’s not reading when you use your hands to read braille.  So, why is it not wrong to say it isn’t really reading when you read with your ears.  One person can’t read with their eyes for reasons beyond their control.  A lot of us don’t have the time to leisurely read a physical book, so we read audiobooks.  I don’t know that’s my two cents [backed by THE Stephen King] but you can think whatever you want to think. lol *giggle*  Books really are magical, because they can take you to far away places, they can carry your words across continents, and they can immortalize a moment forever.  Forget the packaging.  Books are the bomb in whatever form!

If you are a Stephen King fan, you will love this book.  You will love this book if you aren’t a big King/thriller/blood/guts/etc. fan (like me), you’ll still like it.  If you’re a writer, you’ll learn from it, and that is the best a book can give.  Thank you, Mr. King.  From one writer to another.  Thank you.

-Sarah