Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Book Review: Olivia Twist by Laurie Langdon

     I read Oliver Twist when I was in sixth grade, but haven't read it since (because, let's be honest, it may be an exciting story, but it's rather a dull read). But I still love the story Dickens created, and was over the moon when I heard that Laurie Langdon was writing a retelling - one where Oliver was a girl. And now that I've read it, I'm pleased to say that it didn't disappoint.

     Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

     Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

     Olivia Twist is an innovative reimagining of Charles Dickens’ classic tale Oliver Twist, in which Olivia was forced to live as a boy for her own safety until she was rescued from the streets. Now eighteen, Olivia finds herself at a crossroads: revealed secrets threaten to destroy the “proper” life she has built for herself, while newfound feelings for an arrogant young man she shouldn’t like could derail her carefully laid plans for the future.

     I first read Oliver Twist for sixth grade literature. It was long, dense, and filled with half-page long sentences in nineteenth century English that rambled on about details that did bring out character but that I could are less about. I enjoyed it (enough that I was the Artful Dodger for Halloween twice), but it took me about a semester to finish it.

     Olivia Twist took me one and a half days of reading as much as I could because I just didn't want to put the book down. It was gripping, and kept me wanting to find out what happened next. I've been anticipating getting to read this book for almost six months now and have had to wait an agonizing two months since it was published before I could get my hands on it. But it was well worth the wait.

     I was a little disappointed at first, because I wasn't expecting a primary plot to be romance - I thought it would be more like a thirteen-year-old Olivia learning to navigate the world of upper-class society. But after I got over that fact, I enjoyed this book so much. I don't read romance that often, but this one I enjoyed.

     Olivia. Langdon's characters jumped off the page and really came to life for me and I really cared about their struggles and what they were going through. Olivia was relatable and a likable character, and I liked how she was headstrong and opinionated even after all she'd been through. I loved the little orphans - Archie and Brit and all of them.

     Jack. I think Jack was the one who completely stole my heart. Like I mentioned before, Dodger was one of my favorite characters when I was younger, and I was really looking forward to how Langdon would write him. And I wasn't disappointed. Jack had the wit and the charm of Dicken's Dodger, but was a character who could stand on his own. He was clever, but he often made questionable choices. Despite that, I cared for him and wanted him to come out alright - and in the end, he does have a great character arc.

     The retelling. I loved how Langdon took the original story and added her own twist (pun not intended). The story is similar and yet it's not. It takes place after what we think of as the end of Oliver Twist, when the kids are about eighteen years old. However, certain parts of the plot occur in this timeframe, like the appearance and conflict with the character Monks. These sort of changes helped make this story more than just a retelling, but make it a story in its own right, and kept me guessing about what elements of the original would come to play here.

     Oliver! The references to the musical thrilled my thespian-self, even though I know very little of the songs.

     The emotions that came with it. I think this book made me laugh out loud at least five times, and there are some really witty lines or scenarios that made me crack up. At the same times, there were times I was on the edge of my seat, heart pounding. Langdon made me care about what happened and how it it happened.

     The romance. . . I got used to the idea of love triangles, but it still kind of aggravated me that not only did a love triangle play out here, but there was some secondary character pairing. I supposed this is a genre convention that I've just never come to like, but the way it plays out just right annoys me because it barely ever does play out like that. And the "falling in love at just about first sight" cliche.

     The fast ending. Most of the pacing was satisfactory, and the story had enough time to develop well without dragging. But the ending - maybe the last fifth of the book - felt a bit rushed, and I kind of wished that there was a little more time for the final conflict and the resolution to play out.

     A bit of content. This book was a lot cleaner than it could be, I'll give it that. But at the same time, there were some romantic actions that were morally questionable, and it did go past gentle kissing.

     I had to wait for a while to get my hands on Olivia Twist, but the book was so worth the wait. It was an exciting read, but at the same time, it was well-written and it has more merit to it than just thrill. I loved the characters and how Langdon brought together old and new details to create this new work. It was one of the best books I read last month - and one that I would definitely read again! Four stars.

What about you? Have you read Olivia Twist? What about Dickens' original story? Talk to me - I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Looking Back: June

I've seen a lot of other bloggers do this kind of wrap-up post, and have thought that it would be a neat thing to do, but never write tried it - until now. Hopefully, I'll be able to get one up in the first few days of every month - but lets see. ;) For now, though, here is a wrap-up of the highlights of my June. 

     With summer started and school gone, my days are a lot less structured but only a tad less busy. Still, June was not a slow month.

     At the beginning of the month, my family had our annual end of school celebration - just a little thing with family. And then we put some mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke (just "to see what would happen") and went bowling. A great way to wrap up our school year. 

     Throughout June, we've been involved in a local theater production that is opening soon! I'm running the spotlight for the show, and have also been covering for our lighting operator while he was gone, so I've finally learned how to operate a light board. (I've been having way too much fun with that!) This is my eighth production, and west's been so much fun to be a part of this. 

     My family went camping in the 103 degree weather one weekend. (Technically, we cheated and got a screened shelter, but shhh.) It was a lot of fun, despite the heat, and we went hiking, swimming, geocaching, and just had a good time together away from home for a while. 

     Overall, June was a great month for family and friends (and a lot of theater). Watching movies with my sisters, just having fun during rehearsals and at the playwriting conference, and getting together to sing with friends (there may have been plans for a flash mob included in this . . .). 

     June was a good month for reading - there were, in particular, a few hot, lazy days when I had no plans so spent them writing and reading. By my count, I've finished 11 books this month, which is a little above my recent average. I've also been reading (but haven't finished) a few other books in addition to those eleven, including the monster of a book known as It. Not as creepy as I thought it would be, and I'm enjoying it so far) 

     Olivia Twist by Laurie Langdon. I've been wanting to read this book ever since it came out back in May, and finally got to two weeks ago. I think I read it all in one day, and it was such a good story. My first book by Langdon, and I wasn't disappointed, even though it wasn't exactly what I expected. (There may or may not be a book review coming up for this soon.)

    Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman. I read and enjoyed Serephina about two years ago now, and when I saw another book by Hartman, I picked it up. It surprised me that it was set in the same world, a few years after Shadow Scale. I enjoyed the story, but Hartman's writing sometimes seems overly complex or wordy in a way that makes my head hurt from trying to keep up with it. Still, I liked the characters and how Hartman tackled some present-day issues in a fantasy setting.

     The Genie's Bone by Savannah Grace of Inspiring Writes. This novella was admittedly one that I read a beta-reader this month - but let me tell you, it was gorgeous. I had so much fun reading it, and it was such a beautiful story and definitely one of the reading highlights of the month. (And if you haven't checked out Savannah's blog yet, you should. She has so many amazing posts and is one of the sweetest people in existence.) 

  I completed a flash fiction piece for Rosalie Valentine's flash fiction dash, which you can read here. This was my first time to really write flash, and I loved it! I'm already going back and experimenting with this style and genre some more, and I'm having so much fun.

     Participated in the 100 for 100 Challenge. It's been harder than I thought it would be, but writing every day is something that I've found helped me a lot. About twenty days in, I realized I really needed a better outline, so now I have a chapter-by-chapter outline that's really helping to condense my seat of the pants rambling. My 100 for 100 project is a (year old) work that I've been rehauling - June was spent fixing the plot and starting out on the second version and writing it again. 

     I've also been working on outlining and planning another novel. This is probably the first time I've tried writing something that's not pure fantasy in four years or so, and I'm realize just how different it can be to write different genres - or even plot them! 

     Like I mentioned above, Rosalie Valentine did her annual flash fiction dash, and the stories that came in were so good! Her wrap-up post links to all of the stories - so if you have time for some light reading, you should really check it out! I'm still working my way through the stories, and am so impressed by the talent and creativity in these pieces!

     Lisa is celebrating her blogoversary! (If you haven't checked out her blog before, let me tell you that it is amazing and you really don't know what you're missing out on.) And she's hosting a writing contest to celebrate, so if you like writing - or really cute GIFs - you should go check it out.

     Julian also celebrated a one-year blogoversary! (And again - if you haven't checked out Saver of Memories before, you really should because it's a great blog and Julian makes awesome posts.) 

      I'm also very excited to announce that A.M. Frisby, a writing acquaintance of mine, is starting a writer/beta reader matching service, where you can send in requests for betas for your story or to be a beta for someone else's work. She's really looking for people to submit stories to help get this project going and to spread the word. So if you're looking for someone to edit or beta your story, you should definitely check out this form and contact her at ampfrisby@gmail.com to get matched with a beta (or become a beta)! 

     June was a good month - a lot of writing, reading, and having fun with friends and family. It also meant I wasn't as diligent in putting up blog posts this month (*winces*) - something I'm hoping to make up for in the coming month. 

     How was your summer so far? Anything exciting? Fun? Have you read any good books this month? 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Encouraging Your Fellow Creatives: Why Your Words Matter

Last week, I was in a large conference room with about seventy other writers, actors, and creatives. We had come together as a part of a local playwriting conference, and were getting ready to be assigned into groups to write and produce ten-minute play in the next three days. This was my third year, and it was as amazing as ever. The conference is especially special to me because it was the thing that lead me to the theater. But looking back, I realize that this conference is also a significant mark in my writing journey. 

The first year, the playwright who came to speak to us encouraged me to keep to writing. Her encouragement came at a time when I needed it, and I left the conference with something important. She’s remembered me each year, and each year, I’ve come away from the conference with some advice or encouragement to consider. 

This year, I went up and talked to her after the conference and thanked her for her encouragement and told her how much it meant to me. We talked for a bit, and one of the things that she said resonated with me. 

That as writers, artists, actors, musicians, and creators, it is our purpose not only to create, but to encourage others to create. 

Because we know the struggles. We know the feelings of imperfection and the toiling hours of trying to get this one line or this one chord just right. We know the joy of seeing your character or your poem stand up on its own or the fear that it will never be good enough. We know how the ideas come at crazy times and waking up in the middle of the night groping for a piece of paper or a recorder. 

We know it all. We’ve been there, and we’ve felt that. And these experiences make our encouragement invaluable. 

As their brother and sister creatives, we can speak from experience - because we’ve been there and we got through it - or just from relating to them - because we know their pain and we can sympathize. 

Praise and encouragement from you can be so meaningful because you have authority in the creative world, believe it or not. You have a journey behind you that tells a story. You have the authority to tell the young little hobbits “I think you have the pluck to succeed on an adventure.”

You, my little Bilbo telling stories around the campfire - can’t you remember being a wide-eyed little hobbit-ling and having someone give you that piece of encouragement? Praise about your music might be more valuable when a music teacher or artist gives it compared to your little sister. And praise from you, the hobbit who has been on real adventures can mean so much to a person who needs it.  

You as a creative can remember that piece of encouragement that helped you on your journey. You know how powerful your words can be - why can’t you use them to help others? 

Encouragement can come in so many forms. It can be talking to a person, pulling them aside and telling them how much you liked their work. Leaving a comment, or a review of their book. Constructive criticism. It can be a “Great job” or a like on Facebook. Anything that says “Hey, you. I see you - and I like something of what I see. Keep it up.” 

You don’t have to like everything about their work. You don’t have to like anything except for the fact that they tried, sometimes. Because it costs you so little - and it can build the community so much. 

So today, I repeat what this playwright told me, and I encourage you: when you see a creative struggling, stop if only for a moment and pass on some of the encouragement that you have received. Because as creatives, we need to help one another, because we are the ones who can understand and who can pass it on.