Friday, April 30, 2010

Horsing Around

I'm bored. I can't seem to stop yawning today, and I want nothing more than to do one of two things: Go home and take a nap, or go find some quiet bench in the middle of some quiet park and take a nap outside. But, alas, I am in the office for a few more hours. So I decided to tell my followers a little story:

There is something about me that is extremely well-known to old friends of mine, but much less known to newer ones: I am absolutely 100% horse crazy. Yes, you heard that right. This 26-year-old can't get enough of horses, and almost ten years of not being around them all the time has taken its toll.

When I was in middle school and high school, I rode horses because it made me happy. I started riding when I was in fifth grade, and I actually fell off during my second ever lesson. While trotting around the indoor arena a horse kicked the wall in its stall, the horse that was in front of me spooked and bolted, and because I was so inexperienced my horse decided to follow suit and started a pursuit. The other kid stayed on, but go figure this kiddo fell off. I wasn't seriously hurt and got right back on, but I can't lie. I was definitely shaken.

But here's where this story gets a little weird: After that incident, I was terrified of riding. I never told anyone about it, but after that each day that I had a horseback riding lesson I would shake the whole drive to the stable. I don't remember how long this lasted, but I recall it being several years that I was scared to pieces. And yet at the same time I loved it more than anything else. How's that for odd?

Anyway, I devoured horse books (both fiction and nonfiction), I looked up all sorts of facts about horses and horse care, I began to avidly follow Thoroughbred racing (something I still like to do as a hobby, and by the way my Kentucky Derby picks are Lookin At Lucky, Ice Box, and Devil May Care if you need my betting advice), and I pretty much was consumed by all things horse-related. I could spend hours browsing tack shops, and I would go through the mail order State Line Tack magazine until the pages began to fall apart.
I always was told that a rider wasn't truly a rider until he or she had fallen off at least ten times. That happened with no problem. I broke an arm in seventh grade, and I even broke a leg when I was a sophomore that left me in various casts for over three months (frankly, I think that episode counts for like 20 falls, but I digress). I competed in a multitude of schooling shows, and in my first ones I generally placed last or next to last. But as I grew as a rider, my scores improved as well. Soon I was placing first or second more often than not. It was hard work because I really don't think I am one of those "natural" horseback riders who can pick it up with no problems. I always had to work at it to be good.

At any rate, I rode up until I graduated high school. I couldn't afford to ride in college, and for some reason after college it just never happened. I did some research on stables in the area and even e-mailed one or two, but I never got this habit back off the ground. But lately I've been going a little stir crazy in my life, and since horseback riding was always a very steady influence in my young life I figured that perhaps it would help now as well.

I found a stable I like, and hopefully I can get this train rolling in the next few months. It's funny though how I was defined by horses ten years ago. Everyone at school knew I was a rider, and my friends always knew that whenever my weekly riding time was I would be completely unavailable. But these days it's not been an obvious part of who I am. Some people have expressed a lot of surprise when I have mentioned this part of my past to them, and for some reason that really makes me sad. It makes me sad because this is a huge part of me, and I want to get that part back. I want my friends to know me through and through.
So wish me luck! I have no doubts that it's going to take months, if not longer, to get back to the level I used to be at. There will be no jumping over three foot walls or oxers anytime soon.

(I would like to point out that no, this is not a photo of me.. just what I used to do!)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I admit it. I have been avoiding this book like the plague the past few months. This book has just been too popular, on too many bestseller lists, and after seeing it front and center at every bookstore the moment I walk in the door I have not had any interest in reading it.

Unfortunately for me, my grandma received it as a gift for Christmas from my mom, loved it, and promptly handed it over to me for some reading. Instead of cracking it open, I tossed it on my bookshelf and let it sit for a few months while I played the staring game with it. However, it was only inevitable that the book would win at some point, and a few days ago when I was feeling rather dejected and in need of a good read... I picked it up.

The Help takes place in 1960s Mississippi and is a story told by three remarkable women: Aibileen, a black maid struggling to find happiness in her life after her son died; Minny, another black maid who has the magic touch in the kitchen but a sharp tongue that has gotten her fired many times; and Skeeter, a college-educated white woman in search of answers about the maid who raised her and then suddenly disappeared from her life. Together, the voices of these three women weave a unique and utterly honest tale of what life was like in a racially divided Jackson, Mississippi.

Here is where I admit that I was wrong in continuing that stare-down for so long. This book was excellent. With all the hype, honestly I was expecting some kind of trite Nicholas Sparks-esque novel, entertaining enough but generally lacking any literary merit. Boy was I wrong. The words flowed so wonderfully in this book, and the story was so engaging and unique. The characters were all incredibly flawed and beautiful, and there was such an understated feel to this unique story. The plot was well thought-out, and with each mystery (what was the Terrible Awful thing Minny did to Miss Hilly?) came an eventual answer that fit into the story like perfect pieces to a puzzle.

And so I have to somewhat grudgingly recommend this book to you. It was an easy read, and I daresay it will continue to ride the waves of popularity for a while longer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Love Stories of World War II

Okay, please don't groan. I know what you're thinking, "Umm, yeah, I think my grandma might be interested in reading that..."

Truth be told, this was never something I ever thought about picking up. But it was for research for my next writing project (which I seem to be kind of stuck in place on--someone want to kick my butt into actually writing the first sentence of the freaking novel down?). It's the second of many, many books I plan on reading for research. In fact, I have three books at home that I consider research in addition to one waiting for me at the library. Sigh. Good thing there are some awesome books coming out this summer that will get me out of this little rut.

Anyway, Love Stories of World War II was compiled in 2001 by Larry King. Yes, THE Larry King who is currently going through some serious marital issues for the gazillionth time. The book is comprised of multiple real stories of love from the World War II era--some end happily, and as to be expected some end with tears. Some of them made me want to throat punch one of the people in question for being stupid (yes, seriously, there's one in particular), and some made me want to cry right alongside them.

Each story is so unique, and it really gave a unique insight into the time period of World War II. You always hear about the battles, the victory gardens, Rosie the Riveter, and occasionally you hear about those USO dances where the boys in uniform are greeted by plenty of pretty girls to raise their spirits. But to see what happened to these unlikely couples was really interesting. Most of the stories also included a few photos or a copy of a card or letter sent home. This added to the visualization for me, and the reading went by quickly. And most importantly, this book made me want to go and hug my husband. I love a good happy ending, and this book was full of them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

College Girls by Lynn Peril

First, I suck. I've been meaning to post this blog for almost a week, but I've either been too busy or just not in the blogging kind of mood. Which is a shame because this is a really good book!

College Girls is a nonfiction look at, you guessed it, college girls through the years. The author explores how women first were given the opportunity to a higher education, and how not only the collegiate landscape changed, but the girls themselves. Also included are societal impressions of college girls, from the thought that they were all spinsters in the 1890s to husband hunters in the 1940s and 1950s to women with loose morals in the 1970s.

This is the first nonfiction book I have picked up in a while. I originally planned on reading bits and pieces of it for the purpose of some research, but I was so fascinated with the description that I felt the need to just read it cover to cover. Frankly, I'm glad I did. Never before have I felt so proud to have a college degree. Periodically my jaw dropped with surprise at the things people actually believed 100+ years ago (women should not study during their menstrual cycle because it would disrupt blood flow and thus damage their reproductive organs?!), and parts of it I found immensely interesting. I loved the photos and various advertisements that were included because it really gave a great feel to the particular time period represented.

My only complaint about this book was that the author spent too much time I felt on early early early college days (1800s) and not as much time on college girls in the 1930s and on. I would have loved to have seen more information about those eras, how the Depression affected colleges and the girls there, how WWII impacted college, and so on.

One more complaint: This book actually made me miss college days a little bit. You never realize how fun they were until they're long gone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chipping away at my work in progress

I am ashamed to say that the novel I have been working on has been shelved for now. I'll probably keep at it here and there for the purpose of keeping the juices flowing, but for now I have something else on the horizon that I'm really excited about!

This new project is daunting, and I cringe to think about how long it will take to even complete a first draft, let alone go through the revisions and fact checking! You see, I am going to be writing a historical fiction novel. Despite the fact that I absolutely love the genre, I never really had any interest in writing a historical fiction because it's just so. damn. daunting. I'm a history minor, and so I will never half-ass a project like this. And while that's certainly not a bad thing, at the same time this is going to take a while. But regardless of how scary being at the start of this process is, I think this story is a good idea that I'm not about to pass up.

I've already made some good steps though: I have been writing out some ideas, and sometime soon I will be starting on an outline. I read one book for research purposes (that I loved!), and I have a stack of other library books that will be tackling sometime in the near future. This evening I also made contact with an old college history professor I had, and hopefully I will soon get a response that will point me in the right direction for some of the information I will need.

One thing I'm unsure of is whether I should do the bulk of my research before I start my first draft, or if I should just start writing and then fill in the details as I go. There are a few facts I need to find out in order to shape the plot, so obviously that will come first, but what about the little details? I'm not sure! I have a hunch that at first I will be doing a lot of trial and error before I get into a groove.

Regardless, I am super excited about this project. I'm not ready to share the details yet, but I think I'm going to have a lot of fun writing it. I am really looking forward to the process, and hopefully within the next few years I will be satisfied enough with it to begin to query agents.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Aside from being a total musical prodigy, Deirdre is your typical teenage girl: She clams up before performing in front of anyone, works at a local ice cream shop, and she's often texting her best friend James when she's not hanging out with him. But then something strange happens: While in the bathroom before a big musical performance, a boy suddenly appears. And this isn't just any boy: His name is Luke Dillon, and Deirdre could swear that she had a dream about him the night before. He's stunningly beautiful, is a gifted musician, and he seems to bring out the best in Deirdre. So it's no wonder that soon her heart is fluttering for this boy, despite knowing that somehow he's very different, and possibly very not-safe.

But Deirdre isn't so typical as she thought either. After meeting Luke, she begins to discover some disturbing facts about herself, the strangest of them being that she is a Cloverhand, or a person who can see faeries. These faeries know that Deirdre is special, and their queen is out to get her.

Honestly, it took me a little while to get into this book because I was so. utterly. confused. during the first part of it. There was so little explanation, and the author simply catapulted into the story without any hesitation. It was interesting, but I found myself very lost and unsure of what each character's motivation was.

Once I got my bearings and was able to figure everything out, I ended up enjoying the book. I loved that while it was a YA paranormal romance, it was different because it was about faeries and not something overdone like vampires. I'm always interested in reading something "trendy" but with a variation of some sort. This story was unique (with the exception of a love triangle, but I doubt I'm giving much away here since a girl with a male best friend means there's ALWAYS a love triangle), and when it ended I was really excited about reading the sequel, Ballad.

But here is where the big issue comes. I actually started Ballad, and I am ashamed to say that I could not finish it! It was completely not what I was expecting, and it was a big disappointment after enjoying Lament. Bummer. But regardless, I'm still desperately excited for Stiefvater's latest book Linger to come out this summer.