Saturday, February 27, 2016

Stars Above (Lunar Chronicles Short Story Collection) Spoiler-Free Review

Stars Above (The Lunar Chronicles)Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like all short story collections, "Stars Above" is a mixed bag. However, seeing as all of the tales are set within the world of The Lunar Chronicles, I enjoyed every one of them. Here's a brief, spoiler-free summary:
"The Keeper"- This story tells Michelle Benoit's story in more depth. It touches on her relationships with both Scarlet and Dr. Tanner, and finishes with how she came to protect Cinder. Well written and plotted, it manages quite a bit of story and character development for its length. 4 stars.

"Glitches"- This story follows Cinder as she joins the Linh family in New Beijing. She's a child, she has no memory of "the other family," and she's a cyborg. Young Cinder and Peony are precious, and I enjoyed reading this part of the story. 4 stars

"The Queen's Army"- Naturally, this is a story about Wolf and how he became an elite member of the Queen's Army. This story has a decidedly different tone from the previous two, and it was one of my favorites. Taken from his parents and genetically modified, Wolf (or Z, as he's known at the time) must deny his gentle nature and become a killer if he wants to survive. 4.5 stars

"Carswell's Guide to Being Lucky"- A cute story about pint-sized Thorne at school. The most interesting thing about this story was that Thorne was from a wealthy background, and how that shaped his character. Otherwise, this one didn't do much for me. 3.5 stars

"After Sunshine Passes By"- Next is a story about Cress as a child, and how she came to be put in a satellite. This one is quite short, and it is basically a reworking of the beginning of Rapunzel in the world of TLC. 3.5 stars

"The Princess and the Guard"- Winter and Jacin are the titular characters in one of the longer stories in the anthology. Basically, this story just explores their childhoods and backstory. Jacin was the character I felt the most distant from in TLC, so it was good to get more of his personality and character. Winter is, as usual, completely charming with a stain of sorrow. 4 stars.

"The Little Android"- A pretty straightforward retelling of "The Little Mermaid," but with an android (Mech6.0). It was a standout in that only Cinder has a brief cameo (as far as the main LC characters go), and we get to see more of the world and everyday people of TLC. Bittersweet and well done. 4.5 stars

"The Mechanic"- I'll admit that I was primed to like this one, since it is the story of Cinder and Kai's meeting from Kai's perspective. It was great fun to get in his head, since he is one of the more impassive/emotionally unavailable characters. As I suspected, he's pretty funny. I would read an entire book with him as the POV character. 4.5 stars

"Something Old, Something New"- Obviously, there is a wedding involved. This story was the sappiest, and definitely had the most corny parts, but it also surprised me with some truly hilarious bits. The mental images of all the male characters decorating for a wedding together was worth the read by itself. It went on a bit long for me, but it also neatly tied up the story and sent the characters into the next stages of their lives. 3.5 stars

Overall: A fun, breezy read with some standout stories, a liberal dose of humor and mayhem, and more of lovable characters. Definitely a must for Lunar Chronicles fans. 4 stars

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books That Really Weren't My Thing (But I liked them anyway) - With gifs and reasons and stuff

Image Source: The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday is a really fun topic (again) this week* - since it highlights books from genres or on topics that we don't normally read, but that we really liked. 

As a bookseller, it's part of my job to read a diverse selection, so I have read plenty of books that I wouldn't pick up because I simply wanted to. Here are 10 of the books I liked more than I thought I would!

As always, TTT is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and you can find out how to participate in the link-up right here. (Disclaimer: All images belong to respective copyright holders and are not being used for any financial gain)

And here we go . . .


Top 10 Books That I Liked (Even Though They Weren't My Usual Reads)

 


Why it isn't me: I don't usually go for cute and cuddly NYT bestsellers.


*Sniffles* Pushing Daisies!
How it changed my mind: While it was most definitely cute and cuddly, and bestselling, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry was sweet not sappy, and a love letter to books and bookstores. How could I not approve? The author really captured the charm of indie bookstores, reading, and the quirky people you meet in the bookish world.

2. The Iron Fey Series (And The Immortal Rules) by Julie Kagawa


Why they aren't me: Two words- paranormal romance. And they were billed to me as "swoony," which always earns an eyeroll (internally, of course, one must be polite).

My eyeliner is never this flawless, but this is how I'll react . . .
How they changed my mind: While there was zero swooning, I did find the characters charming** enough to read every one of the Iron Fey books (and I even made it through the slight love triangle unscathed).

Anyhow, these books are like those giant cupcakes -- you buy one and one becomes five and . . .  anyhow, I actually really enjoyed them. But I sort of felt like I had a sugar hangover after the fact. The characters are fun, the worlds are lovely (I especially love her take on the Fey), and Julie Kagawa is a good storytellerImmortal Rules was one of the more interesting vampire books I've come across, and I loved Kagawa's take on a post-apocalyptic setting.



Why it isn't me: It's an adult contemporary romance/comedic novel. I don't usually enjoy romantic comedies, and they only ask for an hour of my time. A book is much more demanding.


How it changed my mind: It was actually hilarious. The characters were quirky and fun, and I loved Don Tillman. He's autistic, brilliant, and so socially awkward that I was immediately charmed. Rosie was fun, but Don's narration won this novel for me.



Why they aren't me: I am not into zombies. Period. And the Joe Ledger series are an adult zombie series, which really isn't my thing . . .

Before Rot & Ruin
How they changed my mind: TOM.*** While there are a lot of zombies in both series, they also include: strong characters, brother bonds that will make you cry in a hole, great action, swords, authentic and relatable teenage drama, adorable characters, plotlines, humor, philosophy, and really complicated but terrifying villains. And did I mention Tom Imura? No? Small oversight. And as for the Joe Ledger books - they're like a Clint Eastwood movie with zombies and humor. A little rough,**** but I liked them way more than I thought I would (I haven't read them all yet, but they're still going strong)
After

Why it isn't me: I read some of Faulkner's short stories for school and was driven mad by his stylistic decisions (run-on sentences, strange punctuation, etc). Despite my love of classic lit, we didn't click.

Trying to capture that eerie, empty feel with a gif here
How it changed my mind: I saw how short it was, and picked it up on vacation. And I was completely won over by the eerie darkness, the strange style, the drama, the depiction of the South, the story, and the narrators. Faulkner went from my never-read-again list, to my read-everything-eventually list. Just because of this book.


So pretty

Why it isn't me: I tend to avoid coming-of-age novels as a genre, especially when they sound like they're just about teenagers doing teenage things (no, I never liked them when I was a teenager).

Couldn't resist, mate
How it changed my mind: First, there was the evocative title. Second, I met a few people at Winter Institute who completely convinced me to read it with their love for this book. And then the author read an excerpt, and I loved her prose. The story is much more layered and complicated than what I expected, the characters are lovable and seem like real people, and the peek into 60's-70's Alaska was absolutely fascinating. If you like contemporary-ish YA at all, you should definitely give this book a shot.



Just look at this cover . . .

Why it isn't me: While I love manga, I'm not much into the shoujo/school stuff/romance. I prefer shonen, hands down.

And Hiro - that kid with unlimited adult sass
How it changed my mind: Blogger Victoria Grace (Stori Tori) convinced me to watch the anime first, and I was hooked. I swear I've never been so invested in school clubs or random everyday life before. I had to read the manga because the anime doesn't have the entire story! And there are three very important things I haven't mentioned:
1. Everyone and everything is so darn cute!
2. The Chinese Zodiac have human forms, and they revert to animals when hugged by the opposite sex. It's weird and random and provides tons of hilarity.
3. The characters have surprising layers, and/or really dark sides.


8. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Why it isn't me: See #2. Guys - this is so "not me" that I was almost too embarrassed to put it up (and I am not knocking anyone who likes these books, I promise). Paranormal romance, love triangles, ridiculously unrealistic characters, weird taxidermied-looking dudes on the covers, I could go on for days here - but they're not my normal thing, obviously.

 

Taxidermy . . .
How it changed my mind: This was just a fun book. I stopped thinking and just giggled at the dialogue and got lost in the indulgent steampunk world and fun. Quirky, cute characters and plenty of action helped too.
Got to love that title though

Why it isn't me: This is the sort of book I'd never even notice. Confessionals, anecdotes, personal mother-daughter stuff, chick-lit, etc.

Batman, are you trying to make us all feel bad?
How it changed my mind: I got this ARC from a box at work when I was desperately seeking a beachy read for a review program. The review was due in two days, and I needed something quick and easy. What I didn't expect was how much I enjoyed it! The stories were pretty relatable, and funnier than I thought they would be. As I have a close relationship with my mother, I found the mother-daughter stuff endearing and fun. It was easy to read, but only just fluffy enough. Sweet and sincere, I could honestly recommend it as a "beach read" to readers and non-readers alike.


10. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens



Why it isn't me: I was fully persuaded that I didn't like Dickens. (Too early of an exposure - which was my own fault!). Long, overrated, boring, and melodramatic - that's what I thought. And Little Dorrit is basically moose-sized.



How it changed my mind: I watched the Masterpiece Theater (love MT!) version and was hooked, so I decided to give the book a chance. I liked it even better. It was hilarious - with a such a heady level of satire I was completely surprised, and the characters were brilliant. The Circumlocution Office still figures into my conversations. Anyhow, Little Dorrit rekindled my love for Victorian novels, and sparked a new one with Dickens' works in particular. Many years later, I'm still a loyal fangirl <3


So, what was the last book you read that was out of your comfort zone or not something you'd normally read? Why did you like it? Have you read any of these books?

Footnotes:
*Last week was 10 Songs that Should Be Books - which was a fabulous idea!
**Ash is my spirit animal (okay, one of my many spirit animals)
***Tom Imura = <3<3<3<3<3
****The Joe Ledger covers are gross. Who wants to look at this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Songs That NEED to Be Books

Top 10 Songs that NEED to Be Books (Top 10 Tuesday on Wednesday)

Image Source: The Broke and the Bookish

When I saw this, I knew I had to participate, no matter how I managed to obtain internet. Next to books, music is my favorite thing in the world, and I could probably make a list that goes on for days. As I've written elsewhere, many/most of my own writing is either directly linked to music, or music is just one of the many ingredients. Either way, music and writing are inextricably connected for me.


The challenge here was limiting myself to 10! (So only one song per artists, or it will mainly be Within Temptation) Anyhow, I included videos where applicable, the song titles are linked to lyrics, and the bands are linked to their sites for more info.

1. Dark Wings by Within Temptation


There is a fantasy novel in almost every Within Temptation song (whether they were inspired by one, or it's one that's begging to be written!*). I have WT songs on almost every one of my novel playlists for a reason :) 
So why pick Dark Wings? Look at the lyrics, listen to Sharon Den Adel's vocals and the epic power of the music. This is a fantasy novel about the Faye, or some ancient winged race (related to dragons, maybe?)

2. Dragons by The Green Children



 Speaking of dragons, metaphorically, the song Dragons has a story. There are several parts to it (just click on The Green Children's channel in the links to find the others - starting with Life Was Beautiful), but it isn't a book. It needs to be. Like a modern Kay and Gerda in The Snow Queen, our video protagonists get separated and caught up in a sinister looking web of magic (?) or not. 

The video visuals are amazing, and the dance pop ambiance makes it fun to listen to. And the lyrics are intriguing to boot. There is definitely a book here. One of the many bands I love that haven't made it into a post yet, The Green Children are another frequent contributor to my novel playlists.


3. One Shot by B.A.P

Note - there is a bit of blood and violence in this video, but nothing too graphic.


Life choices are the major theme in this heavy-hitting song by B.A.P** The video above has handy subs for the lyrics, but it's still pretty obvious what's going on. But the surprise ending . . . This gives me all kinds of novel ideas. I'm thinking contemporary YA about a gang of street boys, with a sci-fi/time bending twist.


4. The Maiden and the Selkie by Heather Dale



If you're into the Celtic/Folk/New Age music scene (or King Arthur), you've probably heard Canadian singer Heather Dale. Her music is based on folklore and legends, with her own spin. 

I picked this song for the unique ending - the maiden is very proactive about this marrying a selkie prince business (basically Scottish were-seals). Instead of dying on command when she can't marry her true love (a real danger in Celtic ballads), she finds a way around it. Applause for her. Embellish this story, and it could be a lot like a Tam Lin retelling.


5. Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra



Don't feel like you have to watch all 17 minutes of the above performance, but I promise that it's worthwhile! You might recognize this piece from the movie Master and Commander. It's depth and haunting beauty always make me want to write - and if I could write something half as beautiful as this piece of music, I'd be pretty well pleased. 

I love Thomas Tallis and his sacred/choral music, but Vaughan Williams (impressively) actually improved upon the original with his 1910 fantasia (above). Seriously, if this was a book, I think we'd all read it.


6. From Yesterday by 30 Seconds to Mars



This video is another one that needs a book. Not only is it gorgeous and evocative, the powerful lyrics of the song just shout novel at me every time. Sci-Fi, historical fiction, fantasy, it doesn't matter. It would just be a really cool book, regardless. (Am I the only person who thinks that this video is better than a movie already?)


7. Shadows by Red


Lyrics, music, vocals, story, this song has it all. And it's oh so intense.  We can follow up with So Far Away and Hold Me Now. If you like powerful vocals and messages with driving rock music, then you need some Red in your life.

 I'm envisioning this as urban fantasy with a character who walks the wire between life and death, and constantly suffers from crises of conscience and complex moral dilemmas. With Red serenading them in the background, how can they not be awesome?


8. When I'm Gone by The Click Five



Maybe it starts like this: A famous young detective was on his way to propose to his gf, and he was caught in a freak accident. Or was it just a freak accident? He comes back, but no one, including his girl, can see him. He doesn't need/want revenge, and though he has some unsolved cases, he's kind of puzzled as to why he didn't pass over. And there's your story - with lots of ghost-solving-mysteries along the way. I don't think I've ever read a book like this.***  

But I want a book where the aforementioned ghost is the hero/POV character. I feel like comic books and movies/tv shows have somewhat explored this (but they're usually stupidly violent). At any rate, this is my ghost's anthem.


9. Generation Throwaway by The Used


I am envisioning Les Mis meets Holes meets The Maze Runner
Led by an uncompromising idealist, a ragtag group of misfits and recreants sets out to save the world, but it's never that simple. I think I need to write this book already, and dedicate it to everyone else who listened to lots of pop punk/emo/post-hardcore as a teenager.


10. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon


Who doesn't want this to be a literal book? The lyrics are nuts. I want to read it. Modern, jaded British werewolves just minding their business in London. (On second thought, I might be the only person who wants to read this)

So there you go: 10 songs that needed to be novels, yesterday.

Would you read any of these if they were books? Have you heard any of these songs/bands? Did you watch any of my videos? Is there a song that you think really, really, needs to be a book? Sound off below ;)

Footnotes:
*Seriously - just look over their lyrics. Novels happening everywhere. This seems to be a defining characteristic of symphonic metal - Xandria, Delain, Epica, Nightwish, Kamelot, Sirenia, I could go on forever but google it and you'll understand.
**B.A.P is the only Kpop band on this list. But I find that the theatrical, overblown nature of Kpop is more suggestive of characters or themes than complete novels. And it's very good at that (Case in point - my current infatuation with Bigbang and Kim Junsu's stuff)
***Closest thing was the ghost fiance in the Kdrama "Who Are You?" He was epic.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lovely Books: 10 Literary Couples I Was Actually Invested In (With Fanart!)

Image Source: Adventure Awaits/Tracey Dyck

Well, I'm behind on reading and reviewing, so I tossed it all out the window and decided to join Tracey Dyck's new February link-up: Lovely Books (Adventure Awaits)

This is a new link-up that goes live the Saturday of every month. Rules (very few rules) can be found here.

Since Lovely Books is all about loving on books with other bloggers and bookworms, I knew I had to join in. I totally missed the first one, but the second one was, you guessed it, Valentine's Day themed.

In unintentional rebellion, I'm doing it for President's Day.*

Looking good, George.

But, yes, favorite literary couples. I'm slightly embarrassed that I did a total mind blank on this at first. I love books and characters, but I never get that invested in romantic plots. That being said, there are some couples in fiction that were so awesome, I felt my heart clenching in concern for them.** That's some mighty fine writing, my friends. (I intentionally ruled out all manga/comic book couples, because that was easier and required less mental straining)***

Warning: Some of these might be a little spoilery (but I find that figuring out romantic plotlines is one of the easiest to do, so probably not).

There is also fanart. So enjoy! (All art is credited when possible and belongs to the artist. It is not being used for any profit/marketing/or anything other than promoting awesome artists)

1. Howl and Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle

Unfortunately, I have no idea who the artist is! :( I want to credit them. Source: Tumblr
It's a testament to the late Diana Wynne Jones' writing that she made us all fall in love with someone as awful as Howl. He's a spoiled brat of a wizard, albeit a brilliant one, and his antics are too funny. On the other hand, I think Sophie is one of the great unsung heroines of literature. She's smart, sensible, and forced to spend most of the book in the (fitting) guise of an old woman. Howl really doesn't deserve her - though I defy you to not want them to end up together. This a charming fantasy that resembles Beauty and the Beast, if the Beast was attractive in looks but not behavior, and the Beauty had a beautiful spirit but was a little old woman on the outside. A must read.
Sophie proving her love - movie version


2. Eugenides (the Thief) and Irene (the Queen of Attolia)

Attolia + Attolis by annmarieri on Deviantart

In Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, the story of how Irene comes to respect Gen as a man and an equal is an impressive, mature look at love and relationships. And these books aren't  romances at all. They're based around a fantasy world that resembles Ancient Greece and Rome, full of intrigue, deception and lethal scheming. In the center of it all is Eugenides, the titular Thief, whose charm, wit, and quick fingers get him in and out of loads of trouble. When he starts falling in love with the powerful, proud, and disdainful Queen of Attolia, things get messy, and deadly, fast. Just read it, I don't want to give too much away.
Via Natroze on Tumblr - so funny!

3. Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing



Love this - poster from Ali de Souza's 2011 production
Much Ado is one of the deepest, and yet most entertaining, comedies from the Bard. If you get the chance to see it live, take it, as it's hilarious to see the action. Beatrice and Benedick are the bachelors, the confirmed singles who have sworn of love, marriage, and everything in between. Their relationship is realistic and funny, contrasted with the "love at first sight" of Hero and Claudio. My second favorite couple in Shakespeare is the Macbeths - who put the bad in badass and are scary as all get out. They're also hopelessly devoted to each other. Take that, Romeo and Juliet.
She has such a way with words, you know.


Image Copyright: Laura Tolton

4. Sabriel and "Touchstone"  from Sabriel. 


Image Copyright: Laura Tolton
Another pair from a book that isn't really romantic. Garth Nix's Sabriel is awesome. Sabriel is the Abhorsen, a sort of reverse necromancer that puts the dead back, as opposed to calling them up. When she's forced to take on the responsibilities of her father (the current Abhorsen), Sabriel must leave the safety of school to confront all the powers of darkness. She's a feminine, authentic girl who is  way cooler than anyone you've met, yet identifiable. She's also strong, very strong, in a quiet way that never screams "I can do anything a man can do!" Her relationship with Touchstone is believable, touching, and humorous. READ THIS BOOK. (Artist Laura Tolton has an amazing gallery with more Abhorsen related works - check it out.)


5. Kate and Christopher, from The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. 

Christopher Heron by Whimsical Cow on Deviantart.com
Another book I've read that no one else seems to have heard of. And it's their loss, because The Perilous Gard is one of the best YA novels ever. Really.

Kate Sutton by WhimsicalCow on Deviantart.com

It's set in 1558, and the historical accuracy makes this the most believable novel I've read about the Fae. Kate is the heroine, exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to the Perilous Gard of the title. It's an unwelcoming place, full of secretive inhabitants, including the handsome, rude, and mysterious Christopher Heron.



Their relationship has a bit of the Jane Eyre-Mr. Rochester dynamic, but without all the creepiness (Christopher just acts like the type of guy who'd hide a wife in the attic, but he isn't). And there is a sad lack of fan art for this book! However, Jenn Rothwell's (Whimsical Cow) illustrations are perfect.


6. Gemma and Kartik - The Sweet Far Thing (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy #3) by Libba Bray

Image Copyright Sam Schechter

I read this book a long time ago (whenever it first came out), but to be honest, the only thing I really remember is the ending - and Gemma and Kartik's characters. I always liked these two fine, but I didn't really care about their romance until, gulp, it was threatened by death and destruction and mayhem.

I'll warn you, they don't get a "happy ending." But it's a beautiful finale that really proved how much they meant to each other. In other words, we had real, self-sacrificial love, that made sense, in a YA novel. Not kidding. And yes, fine, they had good chemistry and a convincing relationship too. At least, as far as I remember . . .



Dragon Fire by Leanna Crossan

7. Aerin and Luthe from The Hero and the Crown

Robin McKinley really likes her bittersweet endings. A lot. The Hero and the Crown is no exception. Somehow, her characters seem to make more adult decisions than most YA protagonists. Which means that these two do not end up together - because it would be irresponsible. Cue my twelve-year-old tears.

Yes, I really did cry for them when I was twelve. I just wanted them to be okay, you know? It doesn't affect me like this anymore (I'm all "hooray for people making the right choice instead of the romantic one"), but I still like them together. After fifteen years, it would be a shame if they weren't on this list.

There is basically zero fan art, or art at all, of either Aerin or Luthe. Sadly.




8. Luthien and Beren from the Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

Beren, Luthien, and Huan by Steamey on Deviantart.com

Tolkien wasn't known for romance, but is there anything more romantic than disguising as monsters to infiltrate "worse than Mordor" to steal a mystical gem from a guy who makes Sauron cower?

I didn't think so.

Beren and LĂșthien against Carcaroth by Justin Gerard
In fact, Luthien and Beren are so hardcore that they die and come back to life, mainly because Luthien is so stubborn that she refuses to lose her man after everything they've been through. It's pretty epic.(I love all of Tolkien's couples, but Luthien and Beren are definitely my favorite!). On a side note, I could probably fill about five posts with all the quality fanart of these two, so narrowing it down to just a couple pictures was hard.


Cinder by chrysalisgrey on deviantart.com

9. Kai and Cinder from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Prince Kaito, Cinder, and Iko by Mari945

I admit that I was rooting for them just because I loved both of their characters separately.


Kai's evolution from a slightly silly prince into a seriously impressive Emperor was one of the highlights of the series. And Cinder is the sort of character I love the minute they're introduced. Practical, no-nonsense, not afraid to laugh at herself, headstrong, determined, you get it. I can relate (and I'll add that I wouldn't say no to Kai either . . .).Cute fanart aboundeth for these two.



10. Morwen and Telemain from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Forest Scene by chibi-oneechan on Deviant.com
(I couldn't find art I liked of these two, but I did find some gorgeous forest art that reminds me of the entire series)

If you know who Morwen and Telemain are, can we be friends? I love this quirky little fantasy series, and the whole Morwen + Telemain thing is a definite highlight. Granted, the fact that they like each other isn't confirmed until very late in the series, and it is a side thing, but it was obvious.

They're hilarious every time they interact - the ultimate odd couple in denial. She's a sensible witch with a lot of opinionated cats, and he's an absent-minded magician (not a wizard) who relies on endless theories and experiments instead of raw power. Classic.

So there you have it: 10 of My Favorite Fictional Couples

True. Love.

The trick to getting me invested is making me care so deeply about the character that I want what they want. A good author can make you feel a little heady during a romantic scene. A great author can make your heart ache with the characters, make you want their "happy ending" for them so badly that you confuse it with your own feelings. And a brilliant author will do all of the above without you realizing it happened until it's too late ;)


What was the last fictional couple you got invested in? Why did you care (or not care) about a fictional relationship? Do you tend to anticipate the romantic bits, or are you like me, and distracted by swordfights? Have you read any of these books? Why not?




Footnotes:

*George and Martha approved
**Confession time: I actually have a fictional couples themed Pinterest board.
***Winter Soldier + Black Widow <3

Monday, February 8, 2016

Beautiful People: In Which We Pretend I Have An Ounce of Romance in My Soul (and Interview My Characters)

For clarification: I believe I have claimed to have exactly 2.5 ounces of romance in my soul. 

That's a reasonable estimate. I have felt palpitations of the heart (when I see tiny baby creatures - or a really cool pair of shoes), and I sometimes feel lightheaded when I see an expertly crafted piece of art (whether it's a hand forged knife or a Monet). I will even admit to swooning over babies or particularly amazing voices (Hong Kwang-ho, I'm looking at you). But to sort of paraphrase a fictional character I can relate to, "Romance is, tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me."*



What's the point of this monologue, you ask? (Since you came here to read about my writing, not about me, I get it). Well, it's February, so the Beautiful People is, *you guessed it,* "Valentine's Edition." (Beautiful People is the Monthly Writing Meme hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. To participate, click here.)

Anyhow, I love BP and really wanted to participate, so instead of digging up one of my unedited manuscripts with a romance,** I decided to go hunting one down in one of my WIP's.

Ironically, my NaNo from last year, The Butler Did It, starts off because of a bad romantic connection (the heroine's, to be precise). But for 5.7 thousand reasons, her story is about the polar opposite of romantic. So instead, I decided to interview a pair of sensational side characters who *official statement* "have nothing going on between them")

Confused? You can read more about The Butler Did It right here. And here's a tongue-in-cheek synopsis:

Ernestine Grey thought her life would be perfect when she disguised as a boy and ran away to the Citadel with her one true love, Lord Atlantis de Carrefour. But when Atlantis is (inconveniently) brutally murdered, Ernestine finds herself adrift in a world of manners, monsters, money, and under the thumb of Atlantis' unpredictable sister Sif. And what does the sinister yet efficient butler, Sydney Smith, have to do with everything?
Set in an alternate history where the continents never divided, and the outside world is overrun with monsters, The Butler Did It is currently a murder mystery that terribly subverts Cinderella and Victorian romances.
I didn't finish this project for NaNo, but I did make a good start. If I'm going to finish it (I intend to), I need to get to know every character and their motivations thoroughly. This is especially important as TBDI is trying to walk the line between absurd and authentic.

Today, I'm going to interview Sydney Smith (not his real name, exactly) and Pasifica de Carrefour (Sif). Since TBDI is in (MC) Ernestine's first-person perspective, I thought it would be fun to get more of the story from her more flamboyant companions' point of view, savvy?

Before we start - pictures and character descriptions! I actually managed to find some pics that looked like just what I was picturing for each of them (if you've never tried, then you don't know how difficult this is!!)
Sydney, in the flesh (actually it's Shota Matsuda, but whatever)

And his character description pilfered from a previous BP: 

Sydney Smith (?), Butler (?)- He is surprisingly young and scary. His spectacles seem to reflect rays of light into your soul. And he's so efficient, condescending, and capable that Ernestine sort-of hates him. However, his past is apparently linked in interesting ways to the de Carrefours, and Ernestine is determined to get to the bottom of it.

I picture Sif as having this dark , silent-film vibe (and looking a lot like Maude Fealy^)

Second pilfered description:

Pasifica (Sif) de Carrefour - Atlantis' scandalous and "wild" sister. She seems to be more irritated that her brother's murder put her in mourning seclusion than that he was murdered. She has a surprisingly crafty brain, and she daydreams about exploring lethal jungles and reporting her findings back to the Citadel.

And now, please humor me as I ask them these questions and "let"them answer for themselves.***


-Lady De Carrefour is a tall, imposing young woman with an inappropriately direct gaze. Though she is garbed toe to fingertips in impeccable mourning black, and quietly seated on the settee, something about her seems wild.
-Standing ramrod straight, somewhat to her left (the closest patch of shadow), is a pale, slim young man who appears to be of East Asian descent. Despite his youth, he's sporting a pair of spectacles that obscure his eyes and make his impassable face even harder to read. Based on his neat black suit and white gloves, he's probably a butler. He was introduced to you as "Mr. Smith," with no first name or title, so this seems a safe conclusion.
-R - Yours Truly, and my description is unnecessary (text in italics)

R-Shuffles notes, clears throat- "Good Afternoon, I hope you don't mind if we ask you two a few questions?"


Sif raises a brow, "I assumed that's why we're here?" Her tone is haughty, removed. Not very encouraging.


1. R-Clears throat again - "How did you first meet each other?"


Sif fans herself with an ebony-handled fan that has a pattern of skulls burned into it. "We met as children. Old Master Smith got himself a child in East Asia."

Sydney makes an intriguing, strangled sound, and Sif waves a hand. "Mr. Smith, you're part of this, did you wish to add something?"

"My mother was a diplomat," his voice is soft and low, so I have to lean in to hear. "She couldn't leave, and my father was the Head Butler to the de Carrefour house. He returned to the Citadel when I was young, and my mother remained behind. But they were married, and there was nothing untoward." His lip twists a bit, in scorn, perhaps?

2. I decide to address the next question to him first, "Mr. Smith, what was your first impression of her ladyship?"

Sif snorts (very unladylike), "Tell the truth, please. It won't leave this room."

Sydney shifts from foot to foot. It's the first unnecessary motion I've seen him make. "If my lady insists," there's a waspish hint to his voice now. "I thought she was a spoiled, wealthy brat. Like every other aristocratic child I had met. Rude, ill-bred, and too inclined to speaking her mind."

"What?" Sif's outraged shriek makes me jump. She finally turns to look at Sydney. "Excuse me?"
Sydney bows, but not before I catch the hint of a smirk, "You asked me to be frank."

"Not that frank,"mutters Sif, her cheeks flushing a bit. "Well, I suppose that's fair, if it's never leaving this room. It didn't even happen. And since none of this is happening, I want to you to come sit beside me, where I can see your face as you insult me."

Sydney sighs, "Due to our difference in station--"

Sif cuts him off, "Never leaving this room. As your superior in rank, breeding, privilege, position, etc, etc., I command you to come sit where I can see you."

Mr. Smith sighs heavily, but he comes round the settee and seats himself a proper foot away from her ladyship. And he refuses to look at her, focusing on me instead.

Sif gives him an irritated scowl, "Well, don't you want to know what I thought of you?"

"Not particularly."

Sif whacks his arm with her fan, and turns to face me. "I thought he was a girl. And once I realized my mistake, I thought he was a prissy, insufferable bore. And far too good at combat for a mere child."

Sydney's fingers clench a bit, but he remains silent.

3. "Well," I say, trying to smooth over the tension, "That seems like an inauspicious beginning. But you're friends now. More than friends, if Atlantis was ever to be believed. Which brings me to my next question - how long have you been a couple?"


Sif goggles at me, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly. Sydney starts, but he seems speechless as well.

Sif finds her voice first, but she sounds strangled, "What? I do not, do not perceive your meaning? Atlantis spread rumors about me? Why would he do that!?"

Sydney snorts now, "Why wouldn't he?"

Sif whacks him with her fan again, "Don't speak ill of the dead! Even if he was a pig, he was my brother!"

Sydney leans forward, clasping his gloved hands together and watching me over his spectacles. His eyes are extremely dark, nearly black, and his hair is inappropriately long for a butler. "Regardless of your source, it's all entirely unfounded. It's impossible for a lady and her butler to even be friends. And despite her lack of manners, my lady's reputation is without reproach. She has never committed the slightest romantic indiscretion, and she has a degree of restraint that her brother would have been wise to emulate." I know I'm not imagining the scorn now, though he is trying to hide it.

4. I decide to drop this line of questioning, but I note that the foot between them has decreased by about half. "How loyal are you to each other? Would you have a falling out over secrets or disagreements?"


Sif flicks her fan open and shut, almost as if she is nervous. "These are ridiculous questions, you know. No relationship is interesting without a few secrets. Otherwise I get bored too easily."

Sydney finally looks at her, and his mouth softens a touch, as if he wants to smile, "I am a butler to the honorable House de Carrefour. I am nothing, if not loyal. To the death."

Sif rolls her eyes. "Really, Sydney. You're so melodramatic. Of course he's loyal, it's the East Asian oath and loyalties and honor nonsense. I, however, am as fickle as the ocean and half as reliable."

"That's only part of the truth,"says Sydney. He drops his voice (as if I can't hear him), "My lady, don't use my first name."

Sif just swats him with the fan again, but this time, he stops it with a single finger.

Sydney continues, ignoring her frown, "I take pride in following the ways of my ancestors, true. But I have other loyalties that take precedence. And don't let her flippant tone fool you, My lady is at least as loyal to her house as I am. But to her ancestors . . ." Sydney steeples his fingers, and his expression is grim, "That depends on her ancestors. As might my loyalty."

Sif's eyes widen, and she goes a bit pale. 

5. I sense that there is an entire subject we are all just glossing over, and in the hope that this interview doesn't turn into a bloodbath, I continue to the next question. "Could stress put you two at odds? And if it came down to it, would you die for each other?"


Sydney's brows raise a hair. "Stress to dying for each other. That's quite a leap. I'd be appalled if my lady would die for a humble butler. And I'd also be appalled if something as commonplace as stress affected my professional or private relationships. That being said, I feel it would be my duty to place myself in harm's way, if my lady were in danger."

"Nonsense, Sif scowls at him, "You know full well that I can take care of myself. I'd be offended if you died for me."

"I didn't say anything about dying," muttered Sydney.

Sif continues to glare at him until he meets her gaze. "Well, I'm glad you don't intend to die yet,"she said at last. "I abhor serving tea, and no one is as efficient as you."

Sydney's lips twitched, "So glad to be appreciated, my lady."

Sif raises the fan, but Sydney grabs her wrist before she can smack him, "If you even try to do that again, I'm going to throw it out the window."

Sif tugs at her arm (not very hard) "How dare you lay a hand on me? And this is my favorite fan. If you touch it I'll cut holes in your shirts."

Sydney shakes his head, "Immaturity does not suit you."

6. I clear my throat, "Instead of squabbling, why don't you list five food or drink quirks that you know about each other. If you can."


Sif blinks at me, as if she had forgotten I was there. "Food . . . quirks?" She wrinkles her nose in thought, "Sydney has a lot of eccentricities. I've had many years to observe them. So I'll go first. He never eats with the other staff, ever. He abhors cold tea - and he takes it personally if we let it go cold. He always prepares tea himself, and never lets anyone else touch it. He is mildly obsessed with tea, and it's the only subject he ever becomes tiresome on. He hates boiled eggs, and steak and kidney pie." Sif leans back, looking self satisfied, "I could keep going for days."

Sydney (still has her by the wrist) clears his throat, "My turn." He looks at me, pointedly, his eyes narrowing over his spectacle frames, "If I'm eccentric, then I'm not half so eccentric as her. She will drink tea, regardless of the temperature, and she thinks nothing of it. She always takes cream and sugar in her tea, even if it ruins the delicacy of the flavor. She eats far more than is proper at parties, and then complains endlessly about being too full. She is overfond of wine and strong spirits, though she is much wiser about them than her late brother. Her favorite food is steak and kidney pie," his mouth curled in disgust at the last one.

Sif elbows him and frowns at me, "Whatever happened to discreet and honorable de Carrefours and all that?"

Sydney tugs her arm, pulling her against him, "What happens in this room, never happened."

Sif keeps her eyes on me, though she is blushing. "All men really are the same."


7. I decide that grinning is a bad idea and continue with a question, "Does anyone disapprove of your relationship?"


Sydney, expressionless and completely deadpan, "What relationship?"

Sif, almost at the same time, "He's the family butler. I'm the lady of the house. How is there anything reproachable about that?"

I note down that they are sitting completely next to each other and holding (gloved) hands.

Sif leans forward, looking suspicious, "You wrote down that Atlantis is full of . . . lies, correct? There is nothing going on here. It would be, practically illegal, not to mention impossible."

8."Yes, duly noted. Next question: what's your ideal date?"


They both look blank. Sif leans back, puzzled. "Day of the week, holiday, what do you mean?"

"No, a date, it's uhm, new slang for a 'romantic outing.'"

Sif's cheeks are burning again, but she looks angry. "Why on earth would we go on a 'romantic outing' if we're a butler and a lady?"

9. I put up my hands, "Hey, I didn't pick the questions! But just pretend, humor me. If you were in a relationship, what do you think would be a fun thing to do together?"


Sydney answers almost before I finish, "A week at the Hidden Sanctuary of the Brothers of Solitude. You have to take a week-long vow of silence, and time is spent in meditation, gardening, calligraphy, tea ceremonies, tending bees, that sort of thing. It's just what my lady needs after her trying last month."

Sif hits him with the fan, and this time she is successful, "No - that sounds like what you want to do. I don't want to go anywhere I can't talk!"

Sydney snatches the fan and tosses it behind the settee. "A place you can't talk sounds wonderful."

"But you still want her to come," I point out, afraid that this is going to derail again. "Lady de Carrefour, do you have a better suggestion?"

Sif freezes, "Monster hunting in the Amazonian wilds? That could be exciting. Or we could disguise as soldiers and explore the Siberian wastes. I love snow."

Sydney rolls his eyes, "I despise snow."

"Then don't come with me!"

Sydney smiles at last. "We aren't going anywhere. This is a pointless exercise in futility."

"Oh, yes,"says Sif, flushing and averting her eyes. "That's right."

Sydney sighs, and then kisses her gloved hand, "If you decided to go to Siberia, I'd have no choice but to follow, unfortunately. Your brother and father are both dead. I'd be highly irresponsible to let you go alone."

I glance from one to the other, "Don't go to Siberia just yet, please. I still have a few more questions."

Sydney looks at me, and I can see irritation behind the spectacles, "Hurry up then. They're tiresome."

10. "I think you've both displayed your personality dynamics - very opposite. And you fight plenty and do not mesh perfectly."


Sif frowns at me, "We're complementary. Like bitter and sweet. And we do not fight a lot."

Sydney snorts again, but he doesn't add anything.

11. "Well," I say, "Then what are your best and worst moments together?" I wisely decide to leave off "as a couple."


Sif shrugs, "None of the moments have been particularly notable. He's the butler."

"Likewise,"says Sydney, "She's Lady de Carrefour. Sometimes she is more reasonable, those are the good times. I suppose the past few months have been, trying."

Sif sighs heavily and leans into his shoulder. "My brother's murder has put a damper on things, and well . . . he was my brother." She looks at her lap.


12. I nod, trying to look understanding, "I see. That is difficult, I'm sure. So where do you see yourselves and your relationship in the next few years?"



Sydney frowns thoughtfully, silent a moment before he replies, "I suppose that one or both of us will probably be dead. Someone targeted Atlantis, there's been a slew of strange murders, the creatures outside the Citadel are proliferating and getting closer, and the earth has been full of tremors. Add Lady de Carrefours insane desire to go adventuring, and I'd give us, three years."

Sif straightens, "Excuse me? With our many skills, I think we could last at least five. Don't be such a wet blanket."

Sydney shakes his head, but he starts to smile, "With the amount of trouble you de Carrefours get into, I don't think that's likely."

Sif rolls her eyes and shoves him rudely, "Speak for yourself. But whatever is this relationship she keeps alluding to? As if we are, or have ever been, anything other than butler and lady." She scowls at me. "There is nothing inappropriate going on, except your bold and scandalous questions, ma'am."

Sydney pokes her, "Don't be rude, Sif."

"Don't use my name in public."

"We're not in public."

I decide to remove myself from the scene, and resist the temptation to peek back in the room after I shut the door. Let them think they can keep their secrets for a little while . . .


So there you have it. I enjoyed letting Sif (and Sydney) finally speak for themselves instead of being filtered through Ernestine (as fun as she is to write). And I feel like I learned a few things about their characters by the end (so this paid off).


What did you think? Would you want to read more about these characters? Should I just swear off Valentine's' Day posts and leave them to the pros? And for the last time, are they actually in a relationship? Sound off in the comments. (And applause if you made it all the way to the end - this is long!)



Footnotes:
*Despite the fact that I am not: handsome, rich, or male. Mr. Darcy and I can relate on a personality level (which is probably why I'm always confused at why most people I know think he's so dreamy, lol)
**I do have some books with romances - even a couple weddings. But as a writer, I tend to gravitate more toward unresolved sexual tension or attraction that's never acted on. You've been warned.
***I wrote this in a dash and only read over it once, so apologies for any roughness :P
I know brother, I know.