Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review-Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Tittle: Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Author: Alison Weir
Published: July 2010, Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5

Alison Weir was my favorite biographer to ready for many years as I devoured her books on the Tudors and other royals. When she broke out into the historical fiction genre with Innocent Traitor, I was pleased to discover she had written a thorough, imaginative story about Lady Jane Grey. My expectations for Captive Queen were high, but fell short for many reasons.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is nearly 30 and unsatisfied with her monk like husband, Louis VII of France. She wishes to be free of her marriage and of France. When she sees the young Henry, Duke of Normandy, she becomes inflamed with desire and ambition.They can build an empire between their countries and his future claim on England. Throughout their marriage, she gives him eight children, but her life is marred by tragedy. Henry takes mistresses and heeds the advice of his chancellor, Thomas Becket, over her counsel. The most unforgivable thing he does is he stops loving her and seeks to keep the power away from his heirs. She adores her son, Richard, and she will not allow him to be shafted of his inheritance.

This novel is a decent read,  well researched and full of emotion. However, the execution of a few craft elements left me feeling unsatisfied as a reader.

This first few chapters read more like a Harlequin romance novel. Eleanor is portrayed as a woman driven mad for sex and love instead of a strong, independent individual. Sex scenes litter the pages at every meeting, she and Henry have throughout the first quarter of the novel. Several times the narrator's POV changes in scenes which breaks up the flow of writing and the characters' thoughts. This novel should have been written in 3rd person omniscient narration. Also, the use of modern phrases and expressions is unauthentic and shows a lack of imagination during the creation of dialogue.

I would recommend this novel to people who are interested in historical fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Personally, I will not be picking it up for a second read.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Back with Your Muse

Two years ago, my muse and I decided to break up. I'm still not sure whose fault it was. We still got together sometimes and reminisced over a poem or an article in the Starbucks by the JRA Shinjuku station. Maybe, he felt deserted as I wrote letters to my fiance in India and produced numerous cover letters for job applications. I felt like part of me was missing. So, I asked him if we could try to write together again.
There was something I found daunting about starting to write creatively again. My muse and I were out of sync. I had to reflect and realize that I had not been giving my muse the time it needed. I no longer went to the movies alone or read poetry. Writing had become a chore associated with cover letters and resumes. I had stopped nourishing my writer's soul.
I started taking time for myself and my muse. I read books that made me want to write. I watched foreign films on Netflix that made me ponder humanity and cultural norms of other societies. I took my horse out for long rides in the forest alone. I started to claim back the part of myself that had been lost somehow along the way between family deaths, traveling and job hunting.
There are not many regrets in my life, but I do regret not writing the past two years at the volume I used to. There is nothing I can do to get that time back. However, I can share what I did with other writers to find my writing voice again.
1. Read anything that inspires you to write: books, poetry, comics, articles, reviews, music lyrics or even Facebook statuses.
2. Pull out that unfinished novel or poem and start editing it on any page. You might reconnect with the emotion that sparked the words you wrote down sometime in the past.
3. Watch movies that have depth and meaning that makes you think about the human condition and human truths.
4. Commit to a writing project with a friend as you are held accountable for your part. One of my best friends and I started a round-robin novel and use Google Docs to share and update our story file.
5. Travel to places that make your heart soar. The mountains of Vermont always make me want to sit down with pen and paper and write a poem.
6. Spend more time doing activities that move your soul and make you feel blessed to be alive.
7. Talk to other writers about what they are working on. Their enthusiasm can be a reminder of why you used to write.
8. Make a writing goal no matter how small to start off. Have one for everyday so you can get back into the habit of writing everyday.
9. Use your writer's block as a source of inspiration.
10. Take the time every day to write something everyday, no matter how short it might be.
What is something that you did to get back your writing muse when it disappeared? Did you do something to claim back your writing life that took you on a journey?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Kings of Colorado

Kings of Colorado
Author: David E. Hilton
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2011
Genre: (Realistic) Fiction
Rating: 5/5

For a couple of years, I kept having an interest in this novel as I walked by it on display at Barnes & Noble. I finally ordered the novel after seeing it for sale on to complete my New Year's book order. Kings of Colorado is a of a more tough version of The Outsiders where friends band together to survive against their social enemies.

William Shepard is 13 the night he stabs his father for beating his mother. His punishment? William is sent to the Swope Boys' Reformatory in the Colorado mountains for two years. He will learn who his friends are and who are his enemies. He and his friends will break the horses as the guards break their spirits. In a prison filled with corruption and abuse his friendship with three boys are his only comfort. What is considered  horror will seem like child's play after they learn what Hell is. William will never come out the same boy who entered the ranch. Others who entered will never leave. 

Hilton's writing is an exemplary piece of literary fiction. He imbues every page of this novel with a strong narrative that allows the reader into William's maturing mind. His reactions and those of the other characters drives the story forward with mounting tension towards this novel's climax. Reader's of this novel will feel the characters' emotion evolve in this coming of age novel.

This novel is jarring and will leave you wondering about the emotional scars you have suffered. Perhaps, yours are small compared to what these characters will suffer through as you read.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Letters from Skye

Today I finished reading "Letters from Skye" by Jessica Brockmole for the second time. When I read a book a second time, it means I will read that book several more times throughout my life. This novel holds a special place in my heart because I am living my own modern day life version of the characters' struggle.

David Graham is an American who receives a book of poetry written by an Elspeth Dunn while recuperating the hospital. He sends a letter of admiration that sparks a love story that spans into two World Wars and two generations. Through an epistolary novel Brockmole brings the beauty and pain of falling in love through writing alive.

Nearly two years ago, I received a message on Facebook from a young Indian man asking me how I was going about looking for a job in Japan. He had gotten my email off of and searched for me on Facebook. I replied a few days letter and told him he could send me his resume and cover letter if he wanted me to look at them. We kept emailing letters to each other but never talked on Facebook after that. I knew he had fallen in love with me even though he tried his best to hide it with the words he chose.

Part of me loved him, but I refused to acknowledge it to myself as I left to start a new life in Japan in September of 2012. One of my friends knew I was starting to have feelings for him when I mentioned him several times. After all, I talk about horses not men!

We continued our emails for several months until I forgot to reply to one with my crazy Japan life schedule. Three weeks passed and when I did not hear from him I sent him an email asking why I had written to me.

We started talking on Facebook a bit everyday after that. He told me he loved me and wanted to be with me. I thought, perhaps, he was simply infatuated with me for some reason. Okay, honestly, I thought he was nuts since we hadn't even exchanged photos.

One night I called him and we talked for three hours. The second night I called him and we talked six hours. I've called him everyday since then. We began a relationship and even decided to marry before meeting in person. We started researching how we could be together and I soon realized we were in for a long, hard and convoluted path. To apply for a fiance visa, I would need to meet an income requirement in the USA to apply to sponsor him. So, I decided to leave to Japan to look for work in USA.

It has been one year now and I am still looking for work despite my best efforts. Pankaj has been patient through this whole process. We met in March of this year in India and we got along as if we were kindred spirits meeting after a long separation. He even took me home to meet his family, and he got his mother's approval for the "American girlfriend". The American girlfriend they believed would never come.

But I did. I traveled the 7,649 from Boston to Nagpur to meet him. He kept asking me write again like I used to. Just like how David Graham kept asking his "Sue" to start writing poetry again. This is what I ended up writing.

I never will write letters from Skye Island, but I will send him letters about my horse Skye.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: Penguin, 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5

As a writer, I often wonder what was it like to live in a different time period. What ideals, customs, standards and threats helped to weave together the life of an individual? While I am at home writing fantasy pieces my reading passion lies with historical fiction. My curiosity to know about the past and the people that existed led me to consume various historical fiction, biographies and nonfiction books over my lifetime. When an author successfully brings tears to my eyes I know they have harnessed the deepest emotions from the well of humanity.

Lina is fifteen and preparing to attend art school over the summer. She lives in Lithuania and the year is 1941. Her father is a successful college professor who does not return home one evening. A knock on her family's door changes her life forever. The Soviet secret police rip her apart her home, her family and her life. Lina sees horrors she cannot even comprehend as her family is sentenced to forced labor on a farm in Siberia. Unable to discover what has happened to her father, Linda embeds clues through her art hoping her father will see her drawings someday. She hopes her love for her family will keep her alive as she fights for her survival and those around her. Lina will come to know heartbreak so deep that the scars will remain open wounds for the rest of history.

Sepetys is a talented, fresh historical fiction writer. Her chapters are short and powerful infused with raw emotions some humans will never experience. The atrocities of the Stalin occupation in Lithuania tore open the hearts of those affected and bled their lives into history. Sepetys emotionally-driven writing will leave her readers contemplating how Lina found the strength to survive. She will make her readers wonder how much strength do they have hidden inside themselves.

(Book #2, 2014)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: Red River Stallion

Red River Stallion
Author: Troon Harriosn
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury (Feb 2013)
Rating: 4/5

As 2013 came to an end my friend, Kim, and I found ourselves on the verge of change. Another year had come and gone and neither of us had made progress in our writing careers. Vowing we would we would work harder to get our names in print we purchased books that cold New Year's Eve. A couple of days before Kim had sent me a link to the Red River Stallion by Troon Harrison. One year ago, I read Harrison's novel The Horse Road which brought me back to my childhood days of reading Marguerite Henry's novels like "Misty of Chincoteague" and "King of the Wind". It was these novels that started my love for books, reading and writing. Now, twenty years later, I thirst to both read and write novels like Marguerite Henry's. I ordered this novel sitting in Kim's room as we talked about our dreams to become published writers.

Amelia Ottergirl Mackenzie is an orphan left to care for her younger half-sister, Charlotte, after their mother dies. The girls are half-Cree living the life of their mother's people near a trading post of the Hudson Bay. Amelia has seen her animal spirit guide in her visions, but has never seen any such creature in the living realm. One day, she is saved by the red stallion name Firefox and forms a close bond with him, even though he belongs someone else. Firefox is the dowry a woman, Orchid, is bringing to her husband across the Red River Valley. Amelia is drawn to follow the horse's travels and discover what happened to her Scottish father. She longs to find a place where she and Charlotte belong and a place where she can thrive in her new found love of horses.

Harrison is successful in giving historical details through both prose and dialogue in her novel. The language is beautiful, eloquent and gives the readers the imagery needed to envision the historical setting. Amelia's narrative is authentic and shows her maturity while retaining the teenage voice. Harrison has researched many historical and cultural elements and has successfully written an accurate portrayal of the view a half-Indian child might have. This novel is a must-read for horse enthusiasts or those that love strong female characters.

Horses are a creature symbolic of freedom and journeys. Harrison's novel is a tribute to this Native American belief and it is found in the words of every page. I hope readers will enjoy the journey this book takes them on.

(Book #1, 2014)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book Reflections of 2013

Sorry, my dear blog readers! After promising I would continue to regularly post book reviews after October I failed in this task. I have read many books the past few months, but these books dealt more with  self-improvement techniques. This year has been hard for me looking for a job, losing my father, and maintaining a long distance relationship, but there were novels I read that helped me through it all. There were a few stories that seemed to reach inside my soul and take out the pieces of my heart. If was as if I could lay them out and look at them and how they were shaped, sharpened and even broken. How did they fit together? Where had I left some of the pieces? Were some of the pieces going to be found along the way?

To honor these books, I have decided to write a list their titles and only say they helped me on many levels. There is something about stories and writing that has always helped me through the hardest times in my life. I suspect, it's because every time I read a novel my soul learns something new about human truths and the human condition. Humans are always changing as their circumstances change and as they have new experiences. After all, are you not different now than you were last year, last month, last week, yesterday or even an hour ago? Have you not grown and changed in ways you never thought possible?

  1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
  2. A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin
  3. Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice
  4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  5. Catch Rider by Jennifer H. Lyne
  6. Dark World by Zak Bagans
  7. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
  8. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki 
  9. Essay in Idleness by Kenko
  10. The Secret Circle #1-3 by J.L. Smith
  11. Wabi sabi: The Japanese Art to Impermanence by Andrew Juniper
  12. Spirit Princess by Esther Friesner
  13. Walking in the Dust by Trent Reedy
  14. Ink by Amanda Sun
Thank you for reading my blog! I will be posting more regularly again from now on. As for a reading goal for 2014 I have chosen a simple one: read all of Haruki Murakami's novels. This gives me an excuse to read Norwegian Wood again!

Purchased in Japan and waiting to be read  in 2014!