Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas, Reality Check

So when you turn on the TV and you see all the Christmas commercials, do you notice that they all have a certain look? The square, colonial-style house with a chimney, snow all around, etc? That's become our Christmas imagine, but why? That's not my reality. For goodness sake, I'm from California, where it never snows and rarely freezes. But we do have the best malls. Forget the snow, all I need for a good Christmas is time off from school to waltz around South Coast Plaza.
Christmas always seems more magical when you're younger, doesn't it? Somehow when you're 3 feet tall, your Christmas tree seems all the more gigantic and crouching at its base, you truly feel like you're in the middle of some great forest. And of course, the multitudes of presents seem endless when you're smaller. All the wrappings come off and litter the floor in a sea of colors. When you get older, and you actually have to buy presents yourself, somehow the magic chafes under the stress. You grow older, your tastes become more sophisticated, and yet there remains little to keep you jittery with excitement until the big day. I for one was really into those Play-Mobiles: I had the castles, the forts, the ships, the mansions...I had my own universe. What child doesn't love to create her own world and stand in the middle of it? My favorite Christmases were when I was a kid. I remember one year, I was maybe 8 or 9, and we went to Keystone for the holidays with my uncles and aunts and cousins. That was the first Christmas where I actually experienced snow. Then for awhile we went to Santa Fe. New Mexico in the winter is especially beautiful. Now, as a young adult, the greatest part of the Christmas holiday is not having to wake up for 8:00 classes - not having classes at all, actually. When did the greatest part of the holidays--or just the greatest part of my life--become the ability to sleep in?

New Fantasy Series

Last week I went through about 1800-pages worth of the Bridei Chronicles, a 3-part historical/fiction fantasy series by Juliet Marillier. The series blends fantasy elements with historical 6th century Scotland, called Fortriu, and at that time the land of the Picts.

I really liked the first installment, The Dark Mirror, best out of the three. In fact, I thought the other two books kind of went downhill from the first. Here are my reviews:
Rating: 'PG-13' for thematic elements (this is a bit of a challenging read, just because of its level of detail), violence (including a near rape scene) and dialogue
Okay, I *love* this book!!! like, incredibly love it!!! excellent blend of history and fantasy in a quite unique timeperiod. Writing about the 6th century Picts is no easy feat, since most of their culture has been lost. I will cautin that this is a very "wordy" book: Juliet Marillier is very good about drawing readers into her story through vividly descriptive passages. In other words, she spends a lot of time, I think, on details, and sometimes that can seem overwhelming. Fact and fiction may blend - and I'm not sure where they meet - but everything is very very detailed. Sometimes (and I felt this way reading her other book) I think that she could pick up the pace a bit and nothing would be lost, but whatever. It was a fun read. I certainly have found a new character to add to my list of all-time favorites: Bridei himself; it's always good to like the main character. If you've gotta read about 'em, you might as well like 'em. And the little irksome thing from Wolfskin has been entirely reconciled ;) That's another likeable thing about Bridei, heehee. Too bad Eyvind, you've been replaced! - At its very core, the story revolves around the preparation of a boy, Bridei, to be king of Fortriu (ancient northern Scotland), and his relationship with Tuala, a mysterious foundling he discovers as a child. I absolutely loved their story--it was indeed my favorite part of the book. However, they spend nearly half of the 600+ pages apart from each other; I really liked the scenes where they were together, so I had to discipline myself against skimming ahead! The last 50 or so pages are definitely the best part :) The Bridei & Tuala scenes, I think, are the very heart of the book, and I wish that the 663-page saga would have featured more of them together. Not sure how I feel about Broichan: I flip-flopped between hating him and understanding him. He was certainly an interesting figure, that's for sure. - The story, in my honest opinion, didnt have to be so long. I know, who am I to say something like that? Stories can be however long the author wants them to be!!!! It's just that her plot has so many twists and turns, I started to see patterns: you can almost sense when an author is going to yank the plot in another direction, and after 600 pages, it starts to get a bit old. It seems to me that this book had a little too much information: it really wanted to be a historical, it really wanted to be romantic, it really wanted to be a fantasy... And the funny thing is, The Dark Mirror *is* all those things: it's just that Marillier could have heavily simplified and lost nothing of her magic. She is an excellent writer; at no point is she "boring," but she requires a lot of concentration and a lot of stamina. She gives you such a great, simple story and such wonderful characters that you feel impatient and angsty for the resolution to come. ***So great book! I give this a 5 because even though the immense details tend to bog down the plot, her story at its heart is simple and beautiful, and her characters are enjoyable and loveable.
Blade of Fortriu (set about 5 years later). Bridei is now King of Fortriu and, unfortunately, a Secondary Character. This story revolves around Faolan and Ana, minor characters from the previous story. I usually dont like that.
I didnt really like this one as much as the first book. I don't know why. The writing is just the same quality as in The Dark Mirror, but that book seemed to have more depth and more heart than this. I always get sad when Main Characters from the 1st book are pushed to the back to make room for New Characters in book 2. I wished for more Bridei-Tuala interaction, as they were the most important characters in the first story (I mean, come on: it's called the BRIDEI Chronicles...) Faolan and Ana were interesting, but they didnt hold my interest. I kept asking, "Why are Bridei and Tuala suddenly 'Boring?'" So anyway. I dont really have much else to say, except that the story was alright, but not as deep or heart-felt as its predecessor.

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