Friday, July 30, 2021

Reading Samantha.

 To my dearest friends and followers,

It's Christmas day and I'm 7 years old. There are lots of presents under the tree for my family of 6, as there was every Christmas during my childhood.
This Christmas felt extra special and it would turn into one I would never forget, for under the tree was a large rectangular box prettily wrapped in shiny silver paper. In the box was, what I thought would be a doll - not just any doll, but an American Girl doll. Imagine my disappointment when I opened the box and there was no such doll, but a Disney's porcelain Cinderella doll.
I don't remember exactly what followed, but eventually I got around to opening the elongated rectangular box which contained the Kirsten doll by American Girl!! She was just what I had asked for and she was beautiful!
I still have her to this day and she is just as special to me as she was nearly 20 years ago.

At some point in my childhood, I decided I wanted to add the Molly doll to my collection. However, I already had several of the books from her collection, including the Meet Molly book. For some reason, I felt like I couldn't get the Molly doll because she came with the Meet Molly book and then I'd have 2 copies of the same book and I couldn't possibly do that and the thought of getting rid of one never occurred to me. Yeah, I don't get how my brain worked either. XD
Point being, I never got the Molly doll. And then at some point, I wanted the Samantha doll as well, but I went through a phase of thinking I shouldn't get her/ask for her because I felt I was too old for dolls. I am happy to say that I got past that phase and I LOVE toys again, especially dolls. I would like to point out that American Girl retired many of thee original dolls between 2010 and 2014, so it seemed like the chance of me ever getting one of those dolls was impossible. Of course, I could ways get a used doll, but I never really settled on doing that. Getting something used is never as exciting as getting something new.

Recently I borrowed all of the Samantha books from the library. For those of you who are perhaps unfamiliar with American Girl, it is a doll company started in 1986 by a woman named Pleasant Rowland. She wanted to offer something for young girls to play with other than baby dolls and the hugely popular Barbie dolls, which Rowland saw as basically an unfit toy for young girls, teaching beauty and setting unhealthy body expectations. So she started her own doll company of high quality dolls that were meant to be about 8-12 years old (the same ages as the girls who were playing with them) and teach valuable lessons through American history. Each doll was from a different time era and had a set of clothes that were historically accurate, along with a 6 book set about a girl growing up in that particular time, giving modern girls the chance to learn the history in a fun way and be able to relate to the main character.

Samantha's story takes place in 1904, where she is growing up in high society in a Victorian style mansion in New York. Her books are really good, written by 3 different authors: Susan S. Adler, Maxine Rose Schur, and Valerie Tripp. The first 2 books are written by Adler and the 3rd book is written by Schur, while Tripp wrote the last 3 books. I'm not sure why they had so many different authors write the series, but I wish Susan S. Adler had written them all. The tone of the first 2 books is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable. They're a bit slow paced and some the characters feel more stiff, but I don't mean that in a negative way at all. It actually felt more time appropriate. Samantha likes to have fun and is a very curious 9 year old, determined to lead and to achieve her goals, meanwhile her grandmother is very old-fashioned and a "proper lady", making Samantha feel as if she were in trouble when she is around her grandmother, because she knew she had to speak only when spoken to, sit up straight, and be on her best behavior.

Schur's book is very enjoyable as well, but she did leave out some of the characters we got to know from Adler's books. And then there's Valerie Tripp. I would say she became much more popular than the previous 2 authors, as she went on to write many of the American Girl books. In my opinion, her writing isn't as enjoyable though. The stories were still good, but they were very fast paced and we got to see a much more spunky and energetic side of Samantha that we hadn't seen in the first 3 books. It honestly felt to me that I wasn't reading about the same character at times, especially when Samantha would exclaim things like, "Oh gosh!" and "Jiminy!" It felt like too much, like Samantha wouldn't say that and like the story is in a slightly different time - only for the fact that Tripp's writing style did not mimic the writing style that was being written during the early 1900's, and I feel that Adler's style very much so felt like the style produced during that time.

Still, even though I know the books were targeted toward young girls, I thoroughly enjoyed them and felt like a kid again, being able to relate to Samantha on several aspects, as I remember very well how I felt about certain situations when I was her age.
I believe that American Girl was doing something very positive, with each book containing a "peak into the past" section at the back, talking about the historical events that were happening at that time in relation to the events that were happening in the story. They dared to touch on such topics as child labor in factories and dangerous conditions they faced and the next to nothing wages they made, immigrants coming from Ireland to work as servants, how awful the orphanages were most of the time, and young girls quickly growing up to be "proper ladies" or suffragists advocating for women's rights and the right to vote.
Every character and every book was so bold as to touch on the topics they did, including the trials and difficulty faced by pioneers, fighting for the freedom of slaves, winning independence from Britain, facing the Great Depression, growing up during World War II, and so much more. These were all huge moments in history and American Girl was making sure they were teaching that history and those lessons to young American girls.
I feel sad that the newer dolls being released do not have as impactful stories and they have taken away the historical sections at the backs of the the books, like they are trying to erase the history (the good, the bad, and the ugly) that shaped this country.
I think that American Girl is doing a lot of things right and I believe they are a positive influence on kids today, but I think they have also strayed away from some of the more impactful stories of their past.

That being said, I am so excited that they have rereleased 6 original characters for their 35th birthday, and I am happy to say that I now own a Samantha doll. XD
Definitely be sure to check out their website if you're thinking you want to get yourself a new doll because they are selling out fast!!
As always, thank you for reading. 

Yours truly,
Me

ADDITIONAL:
Check out American Girl's 35th birthday collection!!
Check out my fantasy novel on my ko-fi shop!!

Friday, July 23, 2021

A Book For Writers.

To my dearest friends and followers,

One thing that really helps me with writing and in this case, getting motivated to write, is reading.
I believe, one way to always be improving your writing is to read and never stop reading. Because when we read, we are learning. Obviously if we're reading educational or informational books, we're learning, but we're also learning when we read fiction. We're learning new words, writing structure, and style. Every writer has their own unique style and I think there's something to learn from each and every one of them. And as a bonus, maybe something you read sparked an idea which can be used as inspiration for your own work.

I've been reading a lot of fiction lately (which is typical of me) and I'm really excited to share with you the latest book I ordered!! It's not a typical book, and by typical, I mean it's not the typical kind of book I usually read, it's actually a book put together specifically to help someone with their writing.

I saw it advertised on Facebook. I usually try to stay away from ads like these, but this one really pulled me in and it seems legit. The ad was for a book titled The Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook by Scribe Forge. Caught my attention almost immediately.
It's supposed to help you organize your ideas and build a world for your story (whether it's a fantasy world you're creating, paranormal romance, or sci-fi) by offering tips on worldbuilding, thinking about the location (geography, climate, etc.), the magic system, the technology, the religion and/or mythology and philosophy, the history, etc.. It also includes tons of worksheets allowing you to think about your answers and build the ideal world for your story.
Personally, I feel like I probably won't write my ideas in the spaces they provided, I'll probably get a separate notebook or journal to write in so I can use the Worldbuilding book for other projects in the future.

Since I've been having a bit of trouble writing The Death of Jack, I thought this would be really helpful for building the world for this project along with understanding how to build worlds in future projects.
My order hasn't arrived yet, as I just placed it yesterday, but I'm super excited to work through it!! I'll definitely write another post on this in the future to give you my thoughts and to let you know if the book is actually helpful. XD

The price isn't bad and the shipping is free anywhere in the USA, so if you want to check out the book, feel free to do so by clicking here.

Thank you so much for reading!!

Yours truly,
Me

Disclaimer: I feel like I should add that this isn't a sponsorship, I'm just excited about the Worldbuilding book and I wanted to share it with you lovely people in case anyone else would benefit from it. XD

Additional:
If you are interested in getting a copy of the Worldbuilding book, might I suggest getting one of my handmade fairy journals from my Ko-fi shop to use as your companion for writing down ideas?? The support means more to me than you know...

Also...
...you should totally take a look at my fantasy novel, The Story of Hollyhocks. XD

Friday, July 16, 2021

My Thoughts on Coraline.

 To my dearest friends and followers,

A couple weeks ago, I went to the local library and borrowed a small stack of books, one of those being Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
So...Coraline is an interesting one haha. It's a book that was published in 2002 and in 2009 it was adapted into a stop-motion claymation film with Laika.

I was aware when the Coraline film came out. My parents wouldn't have let me watch it, but it reminded me of Tim Burton's films which I also wasn't allowed to watch. That's probably a good thing, because having seen them now, I think they would have really scared me at the time.

In the summer of 2019, someone asked me and my husband if we'd seen the movie and then proceeded to tell us a little bit about it (if you're reading this, thanks Brianna 💜). It sounded creepy as hell, but it also intrigued me. I thought, "I should give that a watch." And then I put that in the back of my brain and didn't come back to it until early 2020. So my husband and I watched the movie.
So, here's the thing. I like scary movies. But for some reason, animated creepiness is more terrifying to me than live-action creepyness.
Basically, I thought the Coraline movie was REALLY creepy and disturbing. I wasn't sure if I even liked the movie or not. But it's one of those movies that you can't stop thinking about.
Earlier this year, I watched the movie again with my sister. And last week, I read the novella.
If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, then you might want to skip this post because I'm going to be giving away spoilers. XD

There are a few differences between the book and the movie. I'm honestly having a hard time deciding which I liked better as I can now say I enjoyed them both. The movie features a character not in the book: Wybie (short for Why Were You Born). Horrible, right? But he's a likable enough character and it's fun to see someone else in the movie who is Coraline's age. I kind of wish he was in the book.
The other thing is, the beldam seems to know what Coraline wants and what she (Coraline) thinks she's missing in life. How does she know this? In the movie, it seems to be through the eyes of the doll she made that Coraline now possesses. In the book, it's a little unclear how she knows, though we do see a spider-like shadow which seems to be her spying on Coraline.

I did a bit of research about the beldam and I found very little. I wanted to know, what is a beldam? Is it a creature found in folklore in different cultures? Is it a monster who appears in several fairy tales? I don't know. It seems maybe Neil Gaiman invented it, but don't quote me on that. What I did find, is that beldam basically means "witch". So who is the beldam in Coraline?

To answer that, I suppose we must first look at who Coraline is. Coraline Jones is around 10 years old when her family moves in to a new house. Only it's a very large victorian house that's been divided up into multiple apartments. Coraline's parents work at home and ignore her and want her to keep quiet and keep to herself. She's not allowed to play outside in the rain, and she's not allowed into the drawing room of the house. So her life seems rather dull. She loves exploring and has a wild imagination though. 
At one point when her mother asked where she was, she answered by saying she was "kidnapped by aliens," but managed to escape by "wearing a wig and laughing in a foreign accent." I really liked this side of Coraline and I wish they had shown it in the film. She's not as likable a character in the movie in my opinion. She shares a lot of traits with her mother and is mean to Wybie for really no reason that I can see.

So who is the beldam? She is the being who creates a world almost identical to Coraline's - with the house and the surrounding garden. The beldam then disguises herslef as Coraline's mother (and by disguising herself, it's hard to say if she can shape-shift or if she puts the idea in Coraline's head that she is her mother, therefore tricking Coraline into thinking that she looks like her actual mother). She also and creates a creature to look like Coraline's father. I feel like I should note that the beldam doesn't really create something from nothing, rather she takes things which already exist and twists them and shapes them in to her liking, creating something new. 
The beldam has shiny black buttons instead of eyes. And she was a little bit too thin and a little bit too tall and her fingers were a little too long and her skin was a little bit whiter than Coraline's actual mother. The beldam introduces herself as Coraline's "other mother" and the father as the "other father". The other mother even says that everyone has "another mother." I sure hope not.

Coraline comes to learn that the other mother wants her to stay in her world that she created, but Coraline must allow the other mother to take her eyes out and sew on button eyes instead. Pretty messed up, right? That's because the eyes are the windows to the soul - and with the windows open or gone, the soul is vulnerable. And it appears that the other mother likes to feed on children's "lives", though she doesn't actually eat the soul, she just drains them of everything that makes up their lives - love and happiness and memories. Coraline is definitely not the first child the beldam has come after, but I do appreciate that in the movie, we get to learn a bit more backstory about who one of the other children was.

In the end, Coraline escapes the other mother and returns to the real world where her real parents don't even seem aware of what was happening. The book does leave the reader wondering if Coraline actually defeated the beldam...

One thing I might add here is that while we can all agree that the other mother is super creepy, I would beg to differ that she's actually not the scariest thing in the book. I guess I should mention how Coraline actually gets to the other world. There is a door in the drawing room that opens up to a brick wall, and on the other side of the wall is the other apartment which nobody lives in. However, sometimes this door opens into a hallway or a corridor  - a corridor that is similar the one in Coraline's actual house, only it's not her actual house, it's the house the other mother created to look like Coraline's house. Toward the end of the book when Coraline is running for her life back to the real world, we are told that "whatever the corridor was was older by far than the other mother. It was deep, and slow, and it knew that [Coraline] was there..."
Notice it says "whatever the corridor WAS" and not "whatever was IN the corridor." So that begs the question, is the entire corridor / other world in and of itself a living being like Tartarus in Greek mythology? Does that make the other mother a parasite within that being..?

Probably my favorite character in the book is the cat. He's just a stray black cat and for whatever reason, the other mother doesn't like him. I'd even go as far as to say she's scared of him.
The cat is cool and witty though. Coraline isn't really startled that the cat can talk and assumes that he's the "other cat", but the cat says, "I'm not the other anything. I'm me...You people are spread all over the place. Cats, on the other hand, keep ourselves together."

When Coraline asks him his name, he says, "Cat's don't have names...Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names." And when Coraline is in the world that the other mother created, she asks, "...what is this place?" and the cat answers, "It's here." Coraline then wonders "whether cats could all talk where she came from and just chose not to, or whether they could only talk when they were here - wherever here was." 

Another favorite part is in chapter 5, when Coraline is back in the real world and the beldam has taken her real parents so she must go back to the other world to rescue them from the other mother. The cat is with her and she's telling the cat about a time when her father and her were out and were being attacked by wasps. Her father told Coraline to run ahead of him and he stayed back to let the wasps attack him so she could get away. In the process he loses his glasses, but he too makes it out ok, though he was stung nearly 40 times. He then went back to that spot to find the glasses. She remembers her father saying that he was not brave the first time because he didn't know the wasps were there. Staying there so she could get out was the only thing he could do. But when they both got out and he decided to go back to get his glasses - that was brave because he knew the dangers that were there. 
She tells the cat that she too is brave because she is choosing to go back to the other world when she knows the other mother is waiting for her. I appreciated that little insight. XD

I feel like the message of the story is pretty simple: the grass isn't always greener on the other side, or be careful what you wish for. On one hand, the message is so clear, it hits you over the head. On the other hand, the terrifying and disturbing images distract from what's really going on in the story and it might take a minute or two to actually grasp what's happening.

Coraline is a tricky book because it's one of those that's written for children and it will be found in the children's section of a bookstore, but I'm not sure how many children will actually appreciate it for what it is. Its message is simple, but the way that message is told is, in my opinion, not for children.

I really enjoyed the book as well as the movie, but if I'm choosing here, I think I'd have to choose the book. XD
Coraline had a lot more personality and imagination and was more likable. The cat had some pretty great lines that were missing in the movie. The corridor added a whole other dimension. The spider references are everywhere and plainly told to the reader (I had a difficult time interpreting several things from the movie when it came to that). Also, it's so fun to see Gaiman's writing style.

Whether you enjoy dark fantasy / horror stories or not, I would highly suggest reading Coraline if only to take note of the writing style itself. It is, after all, written by Neil Gaiman who is easily one of the best writers of fiction of our time.

Also, if you want to know more about Coraline and the history / backstories of the different characters, you should definitely take a look at the Horror History video series on YouTube made by CZ's World. His videos are slightly creepy, but extremely intriguing and insightful.

Thank you so much for reading!!

Yours truly,
Me

ADDITIONAL:
Check out my young adult fantasy novel, The Story of Hollyhocks from my Ko-fi shop!!
Read Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Watch the Coraline movie!!

Friday, July 9, 2021

Into the Wildwood.

To my dearest friends and followers,

For the past month, I've felt really dry. By that I mean, creatively dry. Several times I sat down with the intention of writing a blog post and I just stared at the blank page before me, my mind equally as empty. I felt I had nothing to share, nothing exciting was happening that I felt like I wanted to talk about, and I still haven't worked on my novel.

I really need to take the time to write it, I know I keep saying that. What I think I want to do and maybe will set a goal for myself in the next few weeks, is find a writing buddy who will motivate me and share the experience of writing with me. Someone to keep me accountable basically. And I will do likewise for them.

While I've felt a bit dry, I've been doing some reading. I wasn't allowed to read this certain book when I was a kid, but I recently came across it again and began reading it. Wildwood Dancing is the title, written by Juliet Marillier.
It's one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read, right up there with The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

Wildwood Dancing is a bit different than most middle grade fantasy novels I've read though, in that it is not set in the traditional English settings that most fantasy novels are, but rather, it is set in Transylvania and pulls heavily from the folklore from that surrounding area.

The story is lightly based on the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brother's Grimm. Instead of 12 sisters though, Marillier writes about 5 sisters who live in a castle. Every Full Moon, the sisters pass in secret from their world into the Other Kingdom and spend the night dancing with the fairy folk.
Jena is the second eldest sister, but behaves like the oldest sister, while Tati is the eldest sister, but behaves, in my opinion, much more like the youngest sister.
Tati becomes deeply involved in the seemingly dangerous affairs of the vampire-like Night People, while Jena is trying her best to look after the household in her father's absence.

Possibly my favorite parts of the story are in the flashbacks where 5 year old Jena and her 2 older cousins, Costi and his younger brother, Cezar, are playing near the Deadwash (the body of water that separates their world from the Other Kingdom and which they are forbidden to play near).
The 3 children find themselves playing a game of make-believe in which Jena is Queen of the Fairies, Costi is King of the Lake, and Cezar is King of the land. However, while the children are playing, the Witch of the Wood comes to them and tells them that their game is not a game of make-believe, but that there is truth in it, and that each of them must sacrifice something to get what they want. Jena gives the witch her precious paper maché tiara, while Costi gives the witch a precious family heirloom given to the eldest son, and Cezar - well, we weren't sure what he gave up.

Eventually the witch left and the children continued their game. If only they hadn't been playing near the Deadwash, Costi would still be alive. If only Cezar were as kind-hearted as his father had been, the village might still live in peace. If only Father had not gotten ill and left Jena in charge. And why did the Night People have to show up and steal Jena's sister away? Why won't the witch help her make things right again? And who is the little talking frog who mysteriously showed up?

Honestly, it's such a good book filled with strong friendships, family bonds, heart wrenching betrayals, forbidden love, and hidden secrets.
There are many unforgettable characters, such as Gogu the frog, Drâguța the shapeshifting witch riding upon her tiny white fox, Sorrow and his sister, Silence, and of course, strong headed Jena.

There are many things I really liked about the book, but one of the things that really stood out to me was Jena's character. I feel like there are a lot of modern shows being made that are not historically accurate at all, in that the woman is not at all what a woman would have been at that time; she talks back, is not respectful of others, is stubborn, unladylike, etc. and it's not addressed by any of the other characters - like it's not out of the ordinary. 
However, Juliet Marillier did a really great job in writing a character who is not like the typical women of that time in that she incorporated it appropriately into the story. Jena is different, she stands out, she is outspoken about women's rights. An early feminist as it were. I compare her to Jo March from Little Women. She is a strong female character without being a physically strong bad-ass warrior woman like we see so often today. She is strong because she is breaking the stereotype of women of her day, she is standing up for what she believes in, and is pursuing her dreams and determined to succeed in a man's world and she is acknowledged for her efforts and faces backlash from her male peers. It feels very real for the time that the story is set in. But most of all, it feels real. It feels like something achievable. While Katness Everdeen and Wonder Woman are pretty epic ladies, they're not realistic or achievable for someone like you or me.
I give much credit to Juliet Marillier for keeping the book feeling time-appropriate and also writing a strong female heroine. We need more books like this.

Currently I am reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Perhaps I'll give my thoughts on that next week.
I hope you all are doing well and thank you so much for reading!!

Yours truly,
Me

Additional:
I highly suggest you take a look at Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. I definitely give it ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ stars!!