Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA/fantasy/romance
Date Read: 18/03/2015 – 21/03/2015
Rating: ★★☆

Review:

darkestpartI had really high hopes for this book. The cover blurb made it sound really exciting, and while the reviews were certainly mixed, I was sure that it would be something I would really like. After all, Holly Black clearly knows her fey, and I love my fey, and this certainly sounded like it would be an interesting and fresh take on the fey, but… it all fell a bit flat. There were some moments when I was enjoying the book, and others were I was just really bored.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is set in the small town of Fairfold. There fey leave the Fairfold residents alone, though tourists are fair game. If the fey attack a local, he must have been acting like a tourist. In the darkest part of the forest is a glass coffin, in which lies a beautiful boy with horns and pointed ears. He has been there for generations, and never woken up. Until one day… he does.

The most difficult thing about this book was the pacing. There were a lot of flashbacks to establish important moments in the main characters’ lives, but it slowed down the plot a lot. And while the language used was often crafted quite beautifully, everything was written in such a way that it all seemed to move quite slowly and undramatically, even when something important was happening.

The central characters in the book are sixteen-year-old Hazel and her brother Ben. When they were younger they used to pretend to be knights and hunt nasty fairies. They were also both in love with the horned boy in the coffin. They both harboured fantasies about being the one to wake him. I liked both Ben and Hazel as characters in their own right, and they had interesting character arcs, but neither seemed to go through any enormous amount of development throughout the story. The horned boy isn’t hugely interesting either; given how much of a deal is made of him in the blurb, I expected him to be more of a central player.

I have heard that Holly Black can be a mixed bag, that she writes in very different styles and therefore not everyone likes the same parts of her work. I know she’s got quite the catalogue, so at some point, perhaps I’ll check out some of her other work. But this was certainly a disappointing introduction to her work.

#ROW80 Round 1 Final Update

My goodness, it’s the end of Round 1 already. That certainly snuck up on me. In fact, most dates seem to sneak up on me these days. Is that what it’s like, being a grownup? Either way, I feel I’ve participated in this round far more than I have the past few I’ve tried to make a go at, so that’s good. Figuring out that weekly goals instead of round-long goals were what worked best for me has been a breakthrough.

First up in my last update for the round: I got the essay done! It was a hard slog, and I didn’t exactly follow the day-by-day goals I set for myself, but I got there. It helped that I ended up not having a rehearsal on Monday night, so that gave me some extra library time. It did get to a point where I was doing a bit of word-bashing, and thinking all the while, “This is really not a good essay” however, when I got to proof-reading last night, that changed to “This essay is kind of okay, I guess.” Certainly not my best work, but I’m quite certain I won’t fail. P’s make degrees, after all, as we say in institutions where grades are P (pass, 50-59%), C (credit, 60-69%), D (distinction, 70-79%) and HD (high distinction, 80-100%). Those percentages vary from uni to uni, but the terminology remains.

All that sitting at the library meant that my back was killing me by yesterday, so I called in for a massage on the way home. I got my favourite of the guys who work there, so that was good. And I’m now up to my free massage on my loyalty card! :D

I also found the time to rework the ending of Unicorn Love when I had just arrived at the library and then my computer decided to give me no choice in whether or not it would restart to complete the Windows update. I wanted it to end on a punchy note, and getting the dialogue just right was a challenge, but I made it work. :D I’m actually quite proud of that story. It began during Camp NaNoWriMo last July, and has sort of evolved and devolved to the point where it’s now only around 3000 words and rather more philosophical than I ever expected it to be, but I don’t see anything wrong with that. I’m going to submit it for the Writer’s Digest Annual Short Story Competition, as I think I have mentioned in previous blog posts. This will be the first time I’ve ever submitted any of my writing anywhere, so I’m a bit excited!

So! There’s now nearly a fortnight until the second round of ROW80 begins, but I’m going to be busy in that time. Shan Jeniah Burton inspired me to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo, which I intend to use to start my world-building notes for a revamp of last year’s NaNoWriMo story. I’m only aiming for 300 words a day (or a little over, my goal for the month is 10k) because I have other things, too, but this will at least give me a good start.

In light of that, goals for the next week (I’ll still do a post like this next Wednesday, even though it’s not officially ROW80 time):

  • Write review of Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
  • Write review of The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
  • Write review of Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park.
  • Type up the end of Unicorn Love and send it out to my writing group for their consideration before submitting.
  • Spend an hour continuing to format AMCF and compare two files with text-to-speech software.
  • Research and write Module 3 750-word response for HIST8015
  • Research and write Module 5 750-word response for HIST8015
  • Decide which essay questions I will use before meeting with lecturer on Monday (also HIST8015)
  • Decide on an object to use for my significance report (MUSC8017)

It looks like a lot, but I’ll be able to knock over quite a few of them quickly. I’m going to leave this post here because I’m out tomorrow night and I’m having people over Friday, so I really need to clean my kitchen and lounge room. See you soon!

~ Emily

#MirthMusicMon – A Little Bit Meta #MondayBlogs

So it is actually Tuesday in Australia, but it’s still Monday in plenty of parts of the world, so this counts as a Monday post! (I’ve been trying to get a paper written that is due Wednesday, so my brain has been a bit of a schemozzle this week). I’m rushing this post a bit because I’m at work and should probably be doing more constructive things. I don’t think I’ve posted the Oscar Winning Movie Trailer on MMM before, despite it being one of my favourite YouTube videos. And Edy pointed out that The Title of the Song would go rather nicely with that, but you also get the bonus The Song That Goes Like This from Monty Python’s Spamalot because I am quite fond of that show. But it’s a bootleg, hence it being the bonus.

The linky for Mirth and Music Monday is here. Feel free to join in!

~ Emily

#ROW80 – Don’t mind me, just having a bit of a crisis

My friends, I need you to indulge me for a bit. Long-time readers of this blog will know that every now and then I have a bit of a crisis with my writing, and then I do some actual writing and it stops. This one is possibly a little more in depth than usual, though, so I’ll give you some dot-points about why I’m feeling down tonight. I hope it makes sense.

  • During my undergraduate degree, I wrote very little for pleasure. A few small pieces of fanfiction, but that was it.
  • I started a Master’s degree this year, so there’s a vague feeling in the back of my head the same thing will happen again.
  • I have an assignment due a week from today and I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing with it.
  • Apart from uni, I’m also doing a musical at the moment. Sometimes we’re not required at all, but other times that’s a full two nights out of my week. And as we get closer, it will be busier.
  • With the exception of NaNoWriMo last year, I have basically been on a rewriting/revising/editing cycle for the last 12-18 months. I haven’t really had that writing-solidly-on-a-new-idea rush and outpouring of words for a long time. This isn’t to say I’m not passionate about my existing characters, but there’s something about starting a new project.
  • What made me realise the above point was the tinge of jealously when meeting with my writing group tonight. One of the other members has calculated that in a couple of weeks she’ll be finished her 2014 NaNo story. This is because she’s had that time to solidly work on it over the past few months.
  • It also made me realise that until I get this piece of paper (I’m studying part time, so it’ll be the best part of four years), I’m unlikely to have that sort of time, except over mid-year breaks and summers.
  • And on top of all that, what with AMCF being in post-writing stages and Unicorn Love being just about done, I’m having the I-don’t-have-any-new-ideas! freak-out, which is being made worse by the And-I-have-no-time-to-explore-new-ideas! freak-out.

My Internet was down last Wednesday, and since I wasn’t able to blog, I didn’t write myself goals for the week, even though I had proven the two weeks prior how much it helped. I’ve also been constantly tired lately, which isn’t helping. I actually really can’t wait until Easter, when I have Good Friday through to the following Wednesday off work. I have a terrible tendency to get obsessed with housework when I’m at home for long periods, but I have faith my partner will insist I relax for at least some of the time.

Anyway, so, goals for this week. Mostly I will be trying to concentrate on getting the paper written that I have due next Tuesday. I’m seeing a local production of Evita on Saturday so that will take a chunk out of my day, and I’ve got some church commitments which are going to take a larger chunk out of my Sunday morning than the regular service normally would. So I’m really going to have to try to work on this every night…

Thursday: Read relevant readings on Wattle. Makes notes.

Friday: Read collection development policies for the institutions I’m comparing in the assignment.

Saturday: (Morning) Make notes based on everything I’ve read and which angles I’m looking at. (Evening) Try to begin a first draft.

Sunday: Finish writing.

Monday: (I think I have My Fair Lady rehearsal)

Tuesday: Polish, proofread, etc.

Judging by this, it’s probably not going to be the greatest essay I’ve ever written, but as long as I turn in something, I should be all right.

I could say “no time for writing in amongst all that” but I saw a very helpful post on Twitter today, and I really think I ought to follow it.

So I’m going to try! It’s 10pm, though, so for now, I’m off to bed!

~ Emily

#MirthMusicMon – Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I’m not exactly a soaps fan myself, but if you’re Australian, you’d have to have been living under a rock the last 30 years to not at least have a vague knowledge of Neighbours. The show is celebrating its 30th Anniversary on Wednesday, and lots of old stars have returned for the occasion. They also had a special on TV tonight, where even more of the former cast members talked about their time on the show. I sort of nearly forgot about MMM tonight in amongst watching that, so when I finally realised it was time, Edy suggested a Neighbours themed post. Seemed fitting.

For music, Angry Anderson’s Suddenly, which was played over Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene’s (Kylie Minogue) wedding. This scene was voted the number one Neighbours moment, and basically every Australian ever (and probably a fair number of Brits as well, given the show’s popularity there) has seen this scene at one point or another, regardless of whether they’ve ever seen any more of the show.

This second one is not one I was familiar with until it came up in the special tonight. Bouncer was the loveable dog on Ramsay St, who basically belonged to everyone on the street. Apparently this was his dream wedding. (Apologies for barely understandable Aussie accents)

Our Mirth and Music Monday linky is over here. Feel free to join in! I’ll see you Wednesday!

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi

Title: Redshirts
Author:
John Scalzi
Genre: humour/sci-fi
Date Read: 25/02/2015 – 28/02/2015
Rating: ★★

Review:

redshirtscoverI really expected to like this book. Even love it. A book that makes fun of some more of the tropes we love about bad sci-fi? Count me in! Unfortunately, I was left feeling like the book had tried to be clever and missed the mark, and after three years of meaning to get around to reading it, I was disappointed.

Ensign Andy Dahl has just been assigned to the xenobiology lab on the Universal Union’s flagship, The Intrepid. It’s a prestigious posting, but soon Andy and his friends notice that strange things happen to the crew-members on away missions: namely one of them ends up dead, while the Captain and other senior officers never seem to suffer so much as a scratch. As they dig deeper, they learn that the explanation for all this is far more ridiculous than they could ever imagined.

The title of this book is a reference to Star Trek – the unnamed crew member in the red shirt would always die on an away mission, so often that the term “redshirt” is a trope in its own right (warning: TV Tropes link – click at your own risk!). The novel embraces this and plenty of other b-grade sci-fi tropes, and for a while it is quite entertaining. Less than halfway through, however, I started feeling like I was just reading one big in-joke, and while I perhaps expected that a little going in, actually reading it got irritating after a while.

The setting in essentially a thinly-veiled Starship Enterprise. There’s nothing wrong with that and given the subject matter, it’s hardly surprising. The characters, though… I honestly could not tell them apart. There was very little to separate one of the main characters from the other three, and on several occasions, I had no idea which side character was which. There was also a lot of bad science… while that’s kind of the point, I like sci-fi science that doesn’t just leave me confused.

The story itself ends about 100 pages before the end of the book, and what follows are three codas, exploring characters and experiences we had only met or touched on briefly in the main part of the book. It is here that some real depth is added to the prose, but this felt quite jarring after the main story.

As you can see, I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone, but I will say this: it is possible that many of these things I didn’t enjoy in the book (the bad science, the bland characters…) were deliberate choices on the part of Scalzi. Given that [Important Plot Things redacted], it would actually make sense for these things to be that way. But nonetheless, it didn’t click with me, and I was left feeling a little bit like I had wasted my time.

This is my first John Scalzi read, and while I was disappointed, I don’t intend to write him off just yet. I have a couple of his other books on hold at the library, and they sound quite different to this one. Maybe they will be more my cup of tea.

#WIPpet Wednesday – “Make no mistake” + #ROW80 Update

cupidI’m going to start my post with WIPpet Wednesday, so that those who are only visiting for that don’t have to scroll through all my lists in my ROW80 update. For those who don’t know WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly blog hop where writers come together and share excerpts from their WIPs. The only rule is that it has to somehow relate to the date. The linky is here. I’ve got three paragraphs from Unicorn Love. After Aphrodite informs Lydia that she was responsible for Lydia and her (now ex-)boyfriend, David, coming together in the first place, she drops another bombshell: David is moving back to town.

“He’s been offered a job here, and he’s hoping that enough time has passed that he can deal with the return.”

“Then I imagine he’ll be trying to avoid me at all costs.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Lydia tilted her head at her boss. “Five years later and he’s still got your number on his phone. His fingers have hovered over it more than once in the past few weeks, though he’s talked himself out of calling you every time. Make no mistake, Lydia, you are certainly on his mind.”

As you’ll see below, I have basically finished Unicorn Love. The whole story is there, I just need to polish some of it up.

Onto a ROW80 update. ROW80 is the Writing Challenge That Knows You Have Life. Last week I decided to try setting myself some weekly goals to see if it helped with my time management. I think it was really beneficial and I’m definitely going to keep doing it. Here’s how the last week went:

  • Complete readings for critical exhibition review for MUSC8017 – completed Monday night
  • Get first draft of critical exhibition review up to 750/1500 words for MUSC8017 – I got it to 736 words, which is close enough.
  • Complete Module 2 forum discussion response for HIST8015 - I wanted to do this last night, but ended up being too tired. Howeverm Module 2 runs for this week as well, so I’m okay.
  • Do 50% of readings for Module 2 online exercise (HIST8015) – ditto
  • Write a review of Cinder to go up on here on Friday - done and done!
  • Finish second draft of Unicorn Love. – also done! Though the final scene is awful and basically needs a complete do-over. But I’m having some away time for a little while before I do that.
  • Visit 5 ROW80 blogs and at least 50% of the WIPpet Wednesday blogs – while I only got to maybe 30% of the WIPpet blogs, I did visit some ROW80 blogs after the Sunday check-in (even though I don’t actually participate in that one myself).

row80Additionally to everything above, I also brainstormed a new short story on my lunch break on Monday. I wrote a little of it during a meeting on Monday afternoon but I think I will wait until I’m on a computer to really start it in earnest. I’m quite enjoying the short story writing, even though I don’t know what I’m really going to do with them later.

So, goals for this week. We have a long weekend in my state this week, so an extra day for doing things! :D (though that day will probably be reserved for housework, as my other half is working anyway, so I’ll have the house to myself)

  • Write review of Redshirts by John Scalzi
  • Spend an hour each day reading
  • Write 500-1000 words on First Christmas*
  • Complete A Day In My Life post for LiveJournal.
  • Visit 50% of WIPpet posts and at least 5 ROW80 blogs
  • Complete Critical Exhibition Review for MUSC8017
  • Plan 750-word response for HIST8015

*I actually have no idea how long this story will be, but this will be a good start on it.

This is how I’ll achieve these goals:

  • Write Redshirts review tonight
  • Spend an hour writing tonight with the Internet turned off
  • Organise photos and post ADIML post tomorrow
  • Spend an hour tomorrow finding sources for history assignment
  • Dedicate Saturday to critical exhibition review. Ask Edy to assist with structure, as well as making sure what I think is critical analysis is in fact critical analysis.
  • Spend two hours on Sunday doing reading for 750-word response. Make notes.
  • Spend an hour (or two if necessary) on Sunday dot-pointing a plan for response.
  • Spread out blog visits over the weekend.

If some of the weekend tasks spill over into Monday, that’s okay, but I’d like to have one full day of the long weekend to enjoy if I can manage it. (I know what you’re thinking: “Enjoy? But you said you were doing housework.” Yes, well, I’m one of those people who gets immeasurable pleasure and satisfaction from cleaning).

We’re waiting for dinner to be delivered right now, but I think I will go start on my Redshirts review. I’ll catch up with you all soon!

~ Emily