Friday, December 4, 2009

[Book Review] A Bend In The Road by Nicholas Sparks

A Bend in the RoadA Bend in the Road by Nicholas Sparks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Miles Ryan's life seemed to end the day his wife was killed in a hit-and-run accident two years ago. Missy had been his first love, and Miles fervently believes she will be his last. As a deputy in the North Carolina town of New Bern, Miles Ryan not only grieves for Missy, but also longs to bring the unknown driver to justice. Then Miles meets Sarah Andrews. The second grade teacher of his son, Jonah, Sarah had left Baltimore after a difficult divorce to start over in the gentler surroundings of New Bern. Perhaps it's her own emotional wounds that make her sensitive to the hurt she first sees in Jonah's eyes, and then his father's. Tentatively, Sarah and Miles reach out to each other. Soon they are both laughing for the first time in years . . . and falling in love. Neither will be able to guess how closely linked they are to a shocking secret -- one that will force them to question everything they ever believed in . . . and make a heartbreaking choice that will change their lives forever.

Part 2: Recommendation

I've seen the movies based off on Nicholas Sparks novels like A Walk To Remember and The Notebook and while I wanted to read the book (after watching the movie), time passed me by and I forgot all about my good intentions. I love those two movies mentioned earlier but of course, movies can't tell me much about the writing style of the writer now, can they? I've always wondered what Sparks' writing style is and I guess I'll never know if not for my husband's gracious aunt who lent me A Bend In The Road, I would have forgotten (again) to pick up a book by Sparks.

The story opens with a narrator telling the readers whose story he's writing about and what type of story it is. For starters, it is the love story of Missy and Miles Ryan and of Sarah Andrews and Miles Ryan. Missy Ryan, "a wife and mother in love with the life she lived," died two years ago and the killer was never found nor identified. She was found lying on the side of the road with a blanket covering her. "Her death dimmed the light in Jonah's eyes; it haunted Miles for two years..." Miles Ryan, as a husband, father and sheriff, he was so consumed with the thought of finding his wife's killer and bring him to justice that he never thought how Missy's death was affecting his son, Jonah -- until he found a note from Jonah's teacher, Miss Andrews, stating that she wanted to talk to him about how Jonah is doing in school.

So that afternoon, he dropped by the school and met with Miss Sarah Andrews who explained to him that Jonah is behind in reading, writing and math saying, "Johan's teachers had a responsibility to teach him, but they didn't... I'm sure it wasn't done out of malice -- it probably started because no one wanted to push him too hard" then she proceeded to suggest to Miles to work with Jonah everyday after school but since Miles' work schedule only allows him to work with Jonah two out of five school days, Sarah was kind enough to offer, "Now, I don't usually do this, but I'll make a deal with you... I'll work with Jonah after school the other three days a week if you promise to do the same on the two days you're off" which of course any sane parent would agree to and the payment: a fan to ward off the heat inside the classroom for Miss Andrews.

When Jonah heard of this deal, he said to his father, "I don't want tot stay after school" which of course Miles countered with, "I didn't ask if you wanted to." All throughout this scene, Miles never raised his voice at his son and he was calm and encouraging, helping Jonah see the positive side to staying in school for an hour or so longer with Miss Andrews. And because Jonah took a liking to Miss Andrews because "she's nice," Sarah ended up watching Jonah's soccer games and that was the start of her relationship with Miles. They went out on dates, and in time, "... their relationship progressed with dreamlike intensity. When they were apart, they hunger for the sight of each other; when they were together, they longed for more time." Then it was time for Miles and Jonah to meet Sarah's family.

Thanksgiving went by smoothly at the Andrews' and Jonah, finally catching up with school, was reduced to staying after school for just one day instead of three. And he was actually sad about that fact because he enjoys Miss Andrews' company. He missed Sarah all the more because Miles discovered something important at work when he arrested a drunk driver which lead to Miles being suspended and because Sarah actually agreed with Charlie "that he thinks it would be best ... until all this [investigation] works itself out" which further infuriated Miles and they started avoiding each other. Until a few days before Christmas.

She had to see him and they talked and Miles discovered a huge secret that screams betrayal. And now he questions everything they had.

Although Missy Ryan wasn't mentioned much only in snippets in the novel, the story basically revolves around her accident and untimely death. And one could see that her relationship with Miles can only be described as "... like two young kids, they couldn't keep their eyes and hands off each other. Hugging and kissing, holding hands, flirty looks -- it was like no one ever bothered to tell them that marriage was supposed to be hard... Brenda used to joke that Miles and Missy would probably be making out in a nursing home, fifty years from now" and when Jonah was born, "Missy took one look at the bundled newborn and knew motherhood was the best thing that had ever happened to her... she was a wife and mother in love with the life she lived."

"Her death dimmed the light in Jonah's eyes" as it would probably do to any children at such a young age and though he had problems in school, "Jonah is very intelligent. Once he learns something, he remembers it" as Sarah was explaining to Miles about Jonah's problems. He's also very polite and well behaved and though he knew that Miles wasn't so pleased with him after the talk his father had with Miss Andrews, he managed to say to his dad, "Thanks for not being too mad at me today" which is a really nice example for parents in the sense that parents should be like how Miles handled the whole school problem situation, being calm and encouraging instead of angry and screaming at their kids. Jonah, like most kids, is very observant of the people around him like when he said to Miles one day, "It's okay if you like Miss Andrews... because I think she likes you" and another observation that shows just how perceptive he can be was when Miles was so absorbed in looking over the file on Missy's death that he didn't talk to his son for a whole day and Jonah finally approached him asking why Miles didn't talk to him at all yesterday and the answer he came up with was "Because you were looking at those papers again... I don't like those papers... because they make you sad... and they make me sad too." And when Jonah saw his mother in one of the home videos Miles was watching, he missed her so much he said, "Why did mom have to die? ... I wish she was still here... She's never coming back..." which made Miles realize that no matter what happens, nothing can bring Missy back to life.

Sarah Andrews, " a young girl, she'd always assumed she would have the kind of life she wanted: marriage, children, a home in a neighborhood where families gathered in the yards on Friday evenings after work...," didn't get what she wanted in life for she can't ever be like Missy Ryan as she explained to Miles, "That's the reason Michael left me... I couldn't get pregnant... I can't have children. Ever... It just seemed so ironic... I'd spent my early twenties trying not to get pregnant. I used to panic if I forgot to take my birth control pills. I never even considered that I might not be able to have children." She tried to work it out with ex-husband Michael but after hearing the results from the doctor, Michael grew distant everyday and even had the audacity to say to Sarah, "You don't own me" when all she asked for was where he'd been out of worry. At the end of her marriage to Michael, she came to the conclusion that "... Sometimes, things don't work out the way we want them to" and now with the confession from Missy Ryan's killer, she couldn't make sense of the bitterness of her fate, "How on earth had this happened? ... why, of all the people in the world, had it been Miles who later came into her life?" and now it seems that the love she just found is about to be broken into a million shards of glass with this horrifying confession.

This is what guilt can do to a person's appearance: "...pale, with the pallor of someone who seldom ventured outside the library... she thought he almost looked like someone who'd gotten involved with drugs." He wasn't involved in drugs, of course. He was riddled with guilt that when "night would come. Like an itch I couldn't reach, the compulsion to spy nagged at me, growing stronger as the hours rolled on... and even though I knew it was wrong, I'd make the decision to go... and I would make my way through the bushes... one step after the next, not understanding what had driven me there. I watched them through the windows... when I would finally leave the window to return to my car... I would swear that I'd never do it again. That I would let them lead their lives without intrusion. The urge to watch them would be satiated and guilt would set in, and ... I would despise what I had done. I would pray for forgiveness, and there were times I wanted to kill myself... But then, no matter how much I wanted to stop, no matter how much I wanted to die, the urge would come again... then I'd say to myself that this would be the last time... and then, like a vampire, I would creep out into the night." After two years and meeting Miles Ryan in person, learning of Otis Timson being arrested for his crime, his conscience tells him, "You can't let someone innocent go to prison" hence thinking to himself, "I finally realized that I could keep the secret no longer... I know that by keeping silent, I was running the risk that more lives would be ruined. Missy had died because of me... But to save myself, to save an innocent man, to save Miles Ryan from himself, I also knew I would have to sacrifice my sister..." and like any normal nice guy, he confessed to his crime and "... wondered what prison was like... In the movies, prisons were worlds of their own, with their own laws, their own kings and pawns, and gangs... He had no doubt about this: If he ended up there, he would be a pawn... He would not survive in a place like that" and came to the realization that "I should have called then, that night, after I got home. It was wrong. There's no excuse for it, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you and I'm sorry for what I did to Jonah... I didn't know that keeping it inside was worse. It ate away at me... I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat... I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I've never stopped thinking about it. I even bring flowers to Missy's grave..."

And this is the picture of grief, anger and hatred: Missy's death "...haunted Miles for two years..." and when Sarah asked what Miles misses the most about Missy, he said, "I miss having her around... just being there when I got off work, or waking up beside her, or seeing her in the kitchen or out in the yard -- anywhere... there was something special in knowing that she would be there if I needed her." And for the past two years, he "wondered what would happen when I came face-to-face with the guy who did it. And when I found out it was Otis... I wanted to pull the trigger. I wanted to kill him." But it wasn't Otis who killed Missy. Someone entirely different from what he'd imagined the killer to be came forward with his confession and Miles, in his anger, arrested the boy, got into his car and still "hadn't wanted to believe him then, nor did he want to believe him now. Yet... he should have been watching the road. But instead -- ignoring everything but his own anger -- he'd almost driven head-on into another driver... He'd almost killed them all..." With the boy being tended to in the hospital, Miles was thinking, "with a simple call, he could be avenged... But what if on closer inspection, the answer wasn't what he had imagined it would be? What if the killer wasn't a drunk, wasn't an enemy; ... wasn't an act of reckless behavior? What if it was a boy with pimples and baggy pants and dark brown hair, and he was afraid and sorry for what happened and swore it was an accident that couldn't have been avoided? Did it matter then? ... Was he supposed to take the memory of his wife and the misery of the last two years... add his responsibility as a husband and a father and his duty to the law... take that total and subtract a boy's age and fear and obvious sorrow along with his love for Sarah, thus bringing the number back to zero? ... He knew with certainty that it would always matter, and he had to do something about it. In his mind, he didn't have a choice." In the end, Miles confronted the killer by Missy's grave saying, "You bring flowers, but you don't even know who she was, do you? ... If you knew her, you would have been bringing tulips... She used to plant a garden every spring with tulips. Did you know that? ... Did you know she was the first woman I'd ever loved? ... That's all I have left now. Memories. and there will never be any more. You took that from me... from Jonah, too... Did you know that Jonah has had nightmares since she died? That he still cries out for his mother in his sleep? ... Do you know how that makes me feel? ... I spent two years looking for the man who ruined my life. Jonah's life. I lost those two years because it was all I could think about... I wanted to find the person who killed her. I wanted that person to know how much he'd taken away from me that night. And I wanted the man who killed Missy to pay for what he did. You have no idea how much those thoughts consumed me... You killed my wife... I'll never forgive you, and I'll never forget... And I don't want you to even forget all that you took from me. You took away the person that I loved most in the world, you took my son's mother, and you took two years from my life... and make sure you do something with your life, something that doesn't make me regret what I'm doing..." and made the hardest choice he ever had to do his entire life. It was time to let it go. I'd already lost two years of my life, and I couldn't see the point in prolonging it anymore...No matter what happened... Missy wasn't coming back."

I enjoyed this novel very much because Nicholas Sparks has this engaging style that never fails to capture human emotion whether it be grief, anger, love or guilt. A Bend In The Road has a simplicity to it that shines out with life lessons that readers from all walks of life can benefit from not to mention characters that readers can relate to.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

[Book Review] Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Brisingr (The Inheritance Cycle, #3)Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Oaths sworn... loyalties tested... forces collide. It's been only months since Eragon first uttered "brisingr", an ancient language term for fire. Since then, he's not only learned to create magic with words — he's been challenged to his very core. Following the colossal battle against the Empires warriors on the Burning Plains, Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have narrowly escaped with their lives. Still, there is more adventure at hand for the Rider and his dragon, as Eragon finds himself bound by a tangle of promises he may not be able to keep. First is Eragon's oath to his cousin, Roran: to help rescue Roran's beloved from King Galbatorix's clutches. But Eragon owes his loyalty to others, too. The Varden are in desperate need of his talents and strength — as are the elves and dwarves. When unrest claims the rebels and danger strikes from every corner, Eragon must make choices — choices that will take him across the Empire and beyond, choices that may lead to unimagined sacrifice. Eragon is the greatest hope to rid the land of tyranny. Can this once simple farm boy unite the rebel forces and defeat the king?

Part 2: Recommendation

Brisingr, the third installment in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini moves the story closer to the Empire's capital in Uru'baen with just as much action and adventure starting off with Eragon's promise to help Roran rescue his beloved Katrina at Helgrind in Dras-Leona. While waiting for dawn to break, Roran and Eragon get to talk and catch up on the years they've been apart and Roran asks his brother about Arya and Eragon replies with reasons as to why his relationship with Arya is doomed adding, "I cannot in good conscience marry a woman who will age and die while I remain untouched by time; such an experience would be equally cruel for both of us. On top of that, I find the thought of taking one wife after another throughout the long centuries rather depressing" which is quite true in the sense that Riders tend to have longer lives than humans in part due to their close relationship with their dragons.

As dawn breaks, the brothers came out of their hiding places and went to the base of Helgrind where they had a shocking discovery that led to the dark caves and tunnels that comprises Helgrind. Here the brothers and Saphira fought a hard fight with the two Raz'ac and their parents, the Lethrblaka and was finally able to rescue Katrina. After sending Saphira off with Roran and Katrina on her back, Eragon went back inside Helgrind to personally take care of someone's fate.

Meanwhile back at the Varden, Nasuada's leadership is being challenged by Fadawar, who was asking Nasuada for favors she would not grant to be fair to everyone. Not liking this, Fadawar challenged Nasuada to a Trial of the Long Knives wherein the leadership of a tribe or kingdom is at stake and the winner is determined by how many lashes a person can withstand and of course, witnessed by a lot of people. After which, Saphira arrives with Roran and Katrina and relates everything that happened in Helgrind and when Arya found out that Eragon stayed behind, she laced up her boots and raced off in search of Eragon, who was pretending to be an elf and Arya a human when they finally met at a tavern in Eastcroft and together they ran back towards the Varden, encountering Galbatorix's soldiers and spirits along the way.

Queen Islanzadi made true her promise to send twelve elves, the best of their spellcasters, to help protect Eragon and Saphira and Nasuada galloped off to meet them at the news of their arrival, leaving her guards, the Nighthawks trying to catch up with her wherein which the Nighthawks captain Garven wasn't so pleased with so saying, "Blast it, Lady Nasuada, you shouldn't have left us as you did! ... For the Nighthawks to be effective, we have to be the smartest, toughest, meanest warriors in the land, and people have to believe that we're the smartest, the toughest and the meanest. They have to believe that if they try to stab you or shoot you with a crossbow or use magic against you that we will stop them ... We cannot fight all your enemies, Lady Nasuada, that would take an army. Even Eragon couldn't save you if all who want you dead had the courage to act upon their hatred ... The only way to keep that from happening is to convince the majority of your enemies that they will never get past the Nighthawks ... It does us no good, then, for people to see you riding off without us. No doubt we looked a right bunch of fools back there, frantically trying to catch up. After all, if you do not respect us, Lady, why should anyone else? ... We will gladly die for you if we must. All we ask in return is that you allow us to perform our duties ... We are yours, Lady Nasuada, fully and completely. So please, let the Nighthawks do what they are supposed to do... Let us protect you." 

Upon Eragon's and Arya's return, Eragon was put to the task of removing the curse he unwittingly put on Elva and the child would take no for an answer. She wanted to be free of the curse and though Eragon tried, Elva asked him to stop trying out a new spell "because I don't want any more spells feeding off me. And because I just realized I can ignore them! ... Without the urge to aid everyone who is suffering, I can ignore their troubles, and it doesn't make me sick! I can ignore the man with the amputated leg, I can ignore the woman who just scalded her hand, I can ignore them all, and I feel nor worse for it! It's true, I can't block them perfectly, not yet at least, but oh, what a relief! Silence, blessed silence! No more cuts, scrapes, bruises, or broken bones. No more petty worries of air-headed youths. No more anguish of abandoned wives or cuckolded husbands. No more the thousands of unbearable injuries of an entire war. No more the gut-wrenching panic that precedes the final darkness."

Soon after, Murtagh and Thorn appeared with 300 of Galbatorix's soldiers which would have been an easy battle for the Varden if not for the fact that these soldiers would not die, which caused the Varden to panic and run in fear of these monsters but upon regrouping, they found a way to permanently keep the soldiers laying on the ground in death. After which Eragon marries Katrina and Roran and was sent to Tronjeim to oversee and hopefully speed up the dwarves' process in selecting their new king and to support candidates sympathetic to the Varden while Roran was sent on missions with different captains to overtake and destroy Galbatorix's supply convoys. Upon reaching Tronjeim, Eragon meets Orik's wife, Hvedra and the members of the Clanmeet and was assured by Orik, "If I cannot be king, trust me not to be so blinded by the prospect of power that I cannot recognize when my bid has failed. If that should happen - not that I believe it shall -- then I will, of my own volition, lend my support to one of the other candidates, for I have no more desire than to see a grimstnzborith elected who is hostile to the Varden. And if I should help promote another to the throne, the status and prestige I will place at the service of that clan chief shall of its very nature, include your own, since you are Ingeitum. Will you trust me Eragon? Will you accept me as your grimstborith, as the rest of my hall -- sworn subject do?" to which Eragon replies that he would defer to Orik in matters concerning the Durgrimst Ingeitum, but in all else Orik has no hold over him. During his stay at Tronjeim, Eragon was attacked by dwarves and one of his guards got killed in the skirmish that ensued and Eragon finds himself yet again without a sword. The attack lead to a secret investigation by Orik and his most trusted men and was brought up during the Clanmeet where severe consequences was handed out to the clan chief who was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt without resulting in a clan war as was the intent of the clan chief who perpetuated such treachery.

After all that has been said and done, the clan chiefs finally voted for their new king which was immediately followed by a coronation ceremony and much celebration and as a gift to the new king, Saphira repaired the Isidar Mithrim "... a surge of energy rushed through Saphira ... and she bent and touched the star sapphire with the tip of her snout. The branching cracks within the giant gemstone flared bright as bolts of lightning, and then the scaffolding shattered and fell to the floor, revealing Isidar Mithrim whole and sound again. But not quite the same. The color of the jewel was a deeper, richer shade of red than before, and the innermost petals of the rose were shot through with streaks of dusky gold." After the coronation, Eragon and Saphira flew over to Ellesmera seeking out Oromis and Glaedr and what lies beneath the Menoa tree as Solembum had told him, "When the time comes and you need a weapon, look under the roots of the Menoa tree..." and Eragon discovers something far more important that would free him from the dark shadow of sharing Murtagh's blood and Galbatorix's source of seemingly infinite power. In all the time that Eragon was away from the Varden, Roran was serving under Captain Edric who "had an abrasive personality, and he disciplined his warriors for even the slightest deviation from established practice ... a style of command that undermined a man's morale, as well as discouraged creativity and invention from those underneath" him. In one expedition, Roran was charged with insubordination leaving Nasuada with no choice but to punish such insubordination in such a public way despite the fact of Roran's heroic efforts in saving the lives of his comrades and killing nearly two hundred soldiers by himself. But because Roran is Eragon's cousin, Nasuada can't afford to have him commit insubordination again so she made him in charge of his own command: an even mix of humans and Urgals with the hope "to convince the Varden to accept the presence of the Urgals without further bloodshed, ... to show the Varden that our two races can work together in peaceful pursuit of a common goal ..." to defeat Galbatorix. Brisingr concludes with the Varden advancing towards Feinster simultaneously with the Elves in the middle of a battle in Gil'ead with as much action, drama and tragedy anyone could hope for in a fantasy epic adventure. In Brisingr, Eragon grows in wisdom and compassion when he sends Sloan off to Ellesmera as his punishment for betraying the people of Carvahall and his punishment: he can't contact or see Katrina ever again as long as he lives and knowing that Katrina is happy with Roran. And if Sloan's character changes for the better, his vision will be restored by the elves.

"Eragon thought with mild surprise at finding Sloan gone with his tracks heading north, 'I want him to succeed, because it will mean we may all have a chance to redeem ourselves from our mistakes.'" But the elves haven't seen fit to restore his sight as Glaedr puts it nicely, "The weeping man is broken inside. He cannot see clearly enough for his eyes to be of any use" which is true enough because all this time that Sloan's been in Ellesmera, his mean and cruel disposition still hasn't changed, although there's a slight change but it's not enough to warrant the restoration of his vision.

Roran's statement, "A man rarely knows the day and hour when he will die ... what will happen will happen, and I won't waste the time I have above ground worrying. Misfortune always comes to those who wait. The trick is to find happiness in the brief gaps between disasters" makes one realize that we should always strive to look for the positive in everything no matter how hard it may seem. And Roran's life is anything but a continuous cycle of hardship not only physical but spiritual as well when he thought to himself, "Must I slaughter entire fields of men in order to regain what the empire stole from me? ... And if I do, how could I return to Palancar Valley and live in peace when my soul was stained black with the blood of hundreds? ... I kill for my love. I kill for my love of Katrina, and for my love of Eragon and everyone from Carvahall, and also for my love of the Varden, and my love of this land of ours. For my love, I will wade through an ocean of blood, even if it destroys me" and such deep love is further demonstrated when he was sentenced to fifty lashes for his insubordination, "'How can I possibly withstand another twenty lashes?' Then he thought of Katrina and their unborn child, and the thought gave him strength" and the same thought spurred him to great acts of heroism the latest was defeating nearly two hundred soldiers by himself in order to save his family, his friends, his comrades. And Nasuada's leadership continues to grow in leaps and bounds as she work tirelessly to keep the Varden united, heading toward their goal of overthrowing Galbatorix and putting a stop to his reign of terror and oppression.

"Eragon allowed himself a secret smile at how well Nasuada played upon their emotions, inspiring confidence, loyalty and high spirits in spite of a reality that was far less optimistic than she portrayed it. She did not lie to them -- to his knowledge, she did not lie, not even when dealing with the Council of Elders or other of her political rivals. What she did was report the truths that best supported her position and her arguments. In that regard, he thought she was like the elves... it was obvious to Eragon that however much the people respected Orrin, they did not love him as they loved Nasuada, nor could he fire their imagination as Nasuada fired it. The smooth-faced king was gifted with a superior intellect. But his personality was too rarefied, too eccentric, and too subdued for him to be a receptacle for the desperate hopes of the humans that opposed Galbatorix" thus in Eragon's point of view, makes Nasuada the perfect candidate to replace Galbatorix in Uru'baen to unite the whole of Alagaesia like she did the Varden. Although sometimes, for she is merely human, Nasuada thinks she made a mistake in accepting the Urgals into the Varden, Saphira's wisdom says otherwise, "You cannot help but be human ... Yet you do not have to be bound by what those around you believe. You can grow beyond the limits of your race if you have the will. If the events of the past can teach us anything, it is that the kings and queens and other leaders who have brought the races closer together are the ones who have accomplished the greatest good in Alagaesia. It is strife and anger we must guard against, not closer relations with those who were once our foes. Remember your distrust of the Urgals, for they have well earned it, but also remember that once dwarves and dragons love one another no more than humans and Urgals. And once dragons fought against the elves and would have driven their race extinct if we could have. Once those things were true, but no more, because people like you had the courage to set aside past hatreds and forge bonds of friendship where, previously, none existed" which also echoes the sentiments of Garzhvog, "It does no good, then, to dwell upon past wrongs. If we cannot overlook what each of our races has done, there will never be peace between humans and the Urgralgra."

 In the past two books in the Inheritance Cycle, readers have wondered what would happen if Eragon successfully reverses his curse on Elva and now that he did, and Elva's take on this new freedom saying, "I will never be like ordinary people. If I must be different, then let me keep that which sets me apart. As long as I can control this power, as it seems I now can, I have no objection to carrying this burden, for it shall be by my choice and not forced upon me by your magic, Eragon. Ha! From now on, I shall answer to no one and no thing. If I help anyone, it will be because I want to. If I serve the Varden, it will be because my conscience tells me I should and not because you ask me to, Nasuada, or because I'll throw up if I don't. I will do as I please, and woe unto those who oppose me, for I know all their fears and shall not hesitate to play upon them in order to fulfill my wishes" makes one think that reversing the spell only made things worse. It seems Eragon unleashed a monster in the form of a child without compassion nor conscience, making Angela, the herbalist, right when she said, "Now I'm going to have to spend the next ten years teaching Elva how to behave! That's not what I had in mind for the next decade!" Truly this is not going to be a task anyone in their right minds would be looking forward to doing considering how Elva is hell bent on doing what she wishes to do. In Tronjeim, Orik succeeded Hrothgar as grimstborithn (clan chief) of Durgrimst Ingeitum and one would think he hungers for power since he too aspires to be dwarf king but he puts everyone straight when he explains to Eragon, "A dwarf king or queen is always at the mercy of the clans, no matter how strong a ruler they may be, just as the grimstborithn are at the mercy of the families of their clan" and when Eragon questions whether he can surely win the throne, Orik replies, "If I cannot be king, trust me not to be so blinded by the prospect of power that I cannot recognize when my bid has failed. If that should happen -- not that I believe it shall -- then I will, of my own volition, lend my support to one of the other candidates, for I have no more desire than to see a grimstborithn elected who is hostile to the Varden" proving not only that he does not hunger for power but merely wants to see the Varden's goal of overthrowing Galbatorix become a reality, with which clan chief Iorunn said quite so eloquently, "... the most important issue we must decide is whether to commit ourselves to the Varden's campaign against the Empire. If theirs were merely a war between rival clans, it would not matter to me which side won, and I certainly would not consider sacrificing our warriors for the benefit of outlanders. However this is not the case. Far from it. If Galbatorix emerges triumphant from this war, not even the Beor Mountains will protect us from his wrath. If our realm is to survive, we must see Galbatorix overthrown. Moreover, it strikes me that hiding in caves and tunnels while others decide the fate of Alagaesia is unbecoming for a race as old and as powerful as ours. When the chronicles of this age are written, shall they say we fought alongside the humans and the elves, as the heroes of old, or that we sat cowering in our halls like frightened peasants while a battle raged outside our doors?"

As for briefly stopping by Ellesmera, Eragon was seeking answers to questions that would help him and Saphira defeat Thorn and Murtagh and ultimately Galbatorix himself, he sought the help of Oromis and Glaedr and asked to be taught how to summon spirits to which Oromis had the wisdom to say, "Sorcery is not like other magics, Eragon; by it, you attempt to force incredibly powerful and hostile beings to obey your commands, beings who devote every moment of their captivity to finding a flaw in their bonds so that they can turn on you and subjugate you in revenge. Throughout history, never has there been a Shade who was also a Rider, and of all the horros that have stalked this fair land, such an abomination would easily be the worst, worse even than Galbatorix. Please choose another subject, Eragon: one less perilous for you and our cause" to which Eragon asked he be given his true name and again, Oromis in his wisdom replies, "Yes, I believe I could. But I will not. A true name can be of great importance magically, but it is not a spell in and of itself, and so it is exempt from my promise. If your desire is to better understand yourself, Eragon, then seek to discover your true name on your own. If I gave it to you, you might profit thereof, but you would do so without the wisdom you would otherwise acquire during the journey to find your true name. A person must earn enlightenment, Eragon. It is not handed down to you by others, regardless of how revered they be." So Eragon learns instead to magically transport objects with Oromis' last words in his ears before they parted ways, "You now have the hands of a warrior, Eragon. Take care they do not become the hands of a man who revels in the carnage of war" to which Eragon later proves, as they were flying towards Feinster, when he said, "Sometimes I wish I enjoyed fighting as much as you do. Then this would be so much easier" but then Saphira in her wisdom, replied, "If you did, the entire world would cower before our feet, including Galbatorix. No, it is good you do not share my love of blood. We balance each other out, Eragon ... Apart we are incomplete, but together we are whole." Rhunon, the elf who made the Rider's swords has sworn off forging another weapon saying, "Why should I loose another soul-reaver upon the world?" since the weapon she made for the Rider's was used for ill will and destruction and Eragon persuaded her with this argument, "Because if you did, you could help put an end to Galbatorix's reign. Would not it be fitting if I killed him with a blade you forged when it was with your swords he and the Forsworn slew so many dragons and Riders? You hate how they have used your weapons. How better to balance the scales, then, than by forging the instrument of Galbatorix's doom?" which is the best and sweetest revenge Rhunon could ever have if Eragon's argument comes to pass and thus Rhunon's cunning and wit emerges as she was able to find a way around her oath and not break such a solemn promise, "I am glad I was able to help the Riders this once more. Go, Shadeslayer, Go Brightscales. Return to the Varden, and may your enemies flee with fear when they see the sword you now wield."

The greatest and most humbling part of Brisingr was when Oromis and Glaedr decided to entrust his heart of hearts (Glaedr's eldunari) to Eragon and Saphira for safekeeping, "For many reasons, I am sure. if you hold my heart, you shall be able to communicate with Oromis and me -- no matter how far apart we may be -- and I shall be able to aid you with my strength whenever you are in difficulty. And if Oromis and I should fall in battle, our knowledge and experience, and also my strength, shall still be at your disposal. Long have I pondered this choice, and I am confident it is the right one ... I do not wish to be parted from Oromis, but whatever happens, I shall continue to do what I can to topple Galbatorix from his throne. That is our only goal, and not even death shall deter us from pursuing it. The idea of losing Saphira horrifies you, Eragon, and rightly so. However, Oromis and I have had centuries to reconcile ourselves with the fact that such a parting is inevitable. No matter how careful we are, if we live long enough, eventually one of us will die. It is not a happy thought, but it is the truth. Such is the way of the world." The bond between dragon and Rider is clearly evident when "... Glaedr felt Zar'roc slash Oromis from shoulder to hip. Glaedr howled ... as Oromis had howled when Glaedr lost his leg. An inexorable force gathered inside of Glaedr's belly. Without pausing to consider whether it was possible, he pushed Thorn and Murtagh away with a blast of magic, sending them flying like windblown leaves ... and dove toward Gil'ead ..." and Eragon understood "what it's like to lose your Rider or your dragon" and how Galbatorix went insane from losing his dragon.

In this third book, Paolini once again captures the imagination of his reader although there was a section in the book that was a little bit slow for my taste (one that I think the book would be better off without it), overall, my experience with Brisingr is highly enjoyable that I am looking forward to the next book and hopefully, Paolini doesn't decide (at the last minute) to prolong the series by adding a fifth book to conclude the Inheritance Cycle as most writers of this genre enjoy doing. I personally don't want a never-ending story and reading about the same battle storyline and the same characters can get old quite fast.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

[Book Review] Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle, #2)Eldest by Christopher Paolini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Darkness falls…despair abounds…evil reigns…Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the mighty forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesmera, land of the elves, for further training in the skills of the Dragon Rider. Ages 12+.

Darkness falls…despair abounds…evil reigns…

Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the mighty forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesmera, land of the elves, for further training in the skills of the Dragon Rider: magic and swordsmanship. Soon he is on the journey of a lifetime, his eyes open to awe-inspring new places and people, his days filled with fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and nothing is what it seems. Before long, Eragon doesn't know whom he can trust.

Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle–one that might put Eragon in even graver danger.

Will the king's dark hand strangle all resistance? Eragon may not escape with even his life. . . .

Part 2: Recommendation

Eldest, sequel to Eragon, the second book from the Inheritance Cycle from Christopher Paolini proved to be just as highly exciting if not more so than Eragon.

Eldest opens with Ajihad’s death and the kidnapping of the Twins and Murtagh to conclude the battle with the Urgals in Farthen Dur. It’s a great victory for the Varden though tinged with grief and sadness over the loss of their great leader, Ajihad, who “appeared more calm and tranquil than he ever did in life, as if death had recognized his greatness and honored him by removing all traces of his worldly cares.” With the burial ceremony underway, the Varden’s Council of Elders appointed Nasuada, Ajihad’s young daughter, thinking that she can be easily manipulated into doing their bidding and asks Eragon to pledge his fealty to the Council in the hopes of gaining control over the Dragon Rider, making their position more powerful than it currently is. But the young girl proved to be more wise and strong when she spoke with Eragon regarding her appointment, assuring him that Ajihad’s “work will not go unfinished, even if it takes me to the grave… all of Ajihad’s plans, all his strategies and goals, they are mine now. I will not fail him by being weak.”

With all the political agendas within the Varden, Eragon surprises everyone by pledging his fealty not to the Council of Elders but to someone he deems more worthy of such loyalty. Afterwards, Eragon, Saphira, Arya and Orik leaves Farthen Dur for Tarnag, another Dwarf city where Eragon was met with open hostility so much so that they were forced to continue on with their journey towards the Elf city of Ellesmera to complete his Rider training. It is during this leg of the journey when “a tingle of awe and joy shuddered along Eragon’s spine. This was where he belonged, as a Rider. Of all the things in Alagaesia, he had been lucky enough to be joined with this. The wonder of it brought tears to his eyes and a smile of wild exultation that dispelled all his doubts and fears in a surge of pure emotion.” But with the scar the Shade, Durza, left on Eragon’s back, his training especially when doing strenuous exercises triggers the pain which he refers to as the Obliterator “because when you’re in pain, nothing else can exist. Not thought. Not emotion. Only the desire to escape the pain. When it’s strong enough, the Obliterator strips us of everything that makes us who we are, until we’re reduced to creatures less than animals, creatures with a single desire and goal: escape” and when he asked Oromis about why he must endure such torture from the pain in his back when elves can use magic to give him the skill he needs to shape his body like they do trees and plants, Oromis answered, “you would not understand how you got the body you had, your own abilities, nor how to maintain them. No shortcuts exist for the path you walk, Eragon.”

It is during his training that Eragon learns from Oromis, an elf Rider, the most important mental tool a person can possess is the “ability to reason analytically” as it can overcome any lack of wisdom when applied properly.” Further pointing out that “too many problems in this world are caused by men with noble dispositions and clouded minds” keeping in mind that “no one thinks of himself as a villain, and few make decisions they think are wrong” and that magic is not only the “manipulation of energy through the use of the ancient language,” it is also the “art of thinking, not strength of language” which “relies on having a disciplined intellect.”

With Eragon’s training progress both in magic and swordsmanship, Oromis cautions the young lad to “never grow overconfident… Never grow arrogant, for then you will be careless and your enemies will exploit your weakness” which he took to heart. He also learned to hunt and kill with magic which made him realize the truth behind the words of Rhunon, the elf smith, “when you can have anything you want by uttering a few words, the goal matters not, only the journey to it” by experiencing it for himself when he hunted rabbits for dinner using magic and suddenly it was meaningless to him despite the fact that he love to hunt simply because the thrill of the hunt is gone when one uses magic. Part of his training is meditating in the middle of the forest and it was when Eragon was about to take his first bite of the rabbits when “his thoughts turned unbidden to his meditations. He remembered his excursions into the minds of birds and squirrels and mice, how full of energy they felt and how vigorously they fought for the right to exist in the face of danger. Gripped by revulsion, Eragon thrust the meat away, as appalled by the fact that he had killed rabbits as if he had murdered two people” and thus he realized why elves don’t eat meat and resolves never to eat meat again but Saphira remains proud by saying, “I refuse to be ashamed about how I must sustain myself. Everything has its place in the world. Even a rabbit knows that.”

The pain on Eragon’s back continues to torture him from time to time and it was during the Agaeti Blodhren, a Blood-oath Celebration observed by the Elves and Dragons that Eragon receives the most wonderful gift from the Dragons which gave hope to Elves and Dwarves that finally they have a fighting chance to defeat Galbatorix once and for all. But his training has to be cut short for Eragon was needed back in Surda, where Nasuada relocated the Varden, to fight Galbatorix’s troops alongside the Varden. And in that battle, Eragon discovers a shocking secret that could ruin everything that he believed in and worked hard for.

Meanwhile, back in Carvahall, a very bitter and confused Roran whose fury was roused by the fact “that Eragon had left Garrow unburied and fled Palancar Valley abandoning his responsibilities to gallop off with the old storyteller on some harebrained journey” vowed to avenge his father’s death by searching for the Ra’zac and then search for Eragon for some answers. But it seems that he need not seek out the Ra’zac because they came back along with a troop of Galbatorix’s soldiers to take him into custody as per the king’s orders. But since Roran nor the villagers would want to give him up, both Ra’zac and soldiers attacked the villagers which in turn left them no choice but to fight back or forfeit their lives and freedom. Knowing that they’re as good as dead if they stayed, the villagers followed Roran with all that they can carry and escaped to the Spine towards Surda in the hopes of seeking out the Varden for protection against Galbatorix. Their first stop was in Narda where they discovered Roran and Eragon are most wanted by the empire, making escape and purchasing supplies more difficult. It was in Teirm that Roran managed to secure an audience with Jeod who turned out to be more than able to assist Roran in their escape and enlightens him as to Eragon’s whereabouts. Jeod and his wife, with Roran and the rest of Carvahall, escapes to Surda on Galbatorix’s Dragon Wing ship, burning “everything flammable between Teirm and the ocean.” Jeod observed, “This will harm a great many innocent people… we did what we had to. Just don’t ask me to take pleasure in the suffering we’ve caused to ensure our own safety” and not only were the soldiers alerted, the Ra’zac came flying out to attack and retrieve the ship but because of the great distance between ship and land and bright daylight, Baldor had a clear shot with his arrow and though the Ra’zac were at the extreme edge of a longbow’s range, “Baldor’s aim was true. His arrow struck the flying creature on the right flank, and the beast gave a scream of pain so great that the glass on the deck was shattered and the stones on the shore were riven in shards” giving the Ra’zac no choice but to retreat. The villagers were ecstatic with joy over their victory but Roran said, “This was no victory… because now the empire knows exactly where we are” which proved to be prophetic because not soon afterwards, the empire sent out sloops to overtake the Dragon Wing and capture the people on board and the only way to escape them is to go through the Boar’s Eye, a huge whirlpool which was proven to be deadly as no ship has ever escaped the eye unscathed and lived to tell the tale. It’s their only option with the sloops gaining on them so with perfect timing and rhythm, the captain managed to get them out and safely into Surda where Roran finally meets Eragon and Saphira.

While Eragon’s plot is about laying down the foundations for an epic fantasy, Eldest focuses on character development even as it introduces new characters and twists into the adventurous life of cousins Eragon and Roran. There isn’t much background information on new Varden leader Nasuada in Eragon, but as the story progresses in Eldest, despite being young and inexperienced, she continues to prove the strength of her will and wisdom by selling magically produced lace and though Trianna the sorceress believed it to be ridiculous to fund a war with lace, Nasuada’s ingenuity proved otherwise because mass and magically produced lace will be cheaper thus “women who otherwise could never afford to own lace will leap at the chance to buy ours. Every farmer’s wife who longs to appear richer than she is will want it. Even wealthy merchants and nobles will give us their gold because our lace will be finer than any thrown or stitched by human hands” therefore Galbatorix’s own people will provide the funds needed for the Varden to survive and wage war. King Orrin’s objections to funding a war with lace is more on the superficial because he thinks it’s not respectable and “what bard would compose an epic about our deeds and write about lace?” which Nasuada counters by saying, “we do not fight in order to have epics written in our praise” and since this answer will not be acceptable to the weaver’s guild who lost a substantial amount on the sale of their hand-stitched laces, Nasuada offers, “The Varden would be more than willing to offer you a loan in return for the kindness you’ve shown us… at a suitable rate of interest of course” which proves that she’s no fool either for lending money interest free even for a friend and ally.

Arya the elf is such a mystery that makes one wonder what she’s really all about when she vehemently objected, “I will not return to the land of my ancestors on the back of a donkey” which sounds rather arrogant as if riding a donkey is such a dishonor to her person.

Eragon’s development from being an innocent, carefree lad to being a fine swordsman and magician is a delightful experience and while we already know that he’s attracted to Arya from when he first saw her in a dream, he finally realizes what it feels like to be in love when Eragon’s and Arya’s gaze met and he felt “something lurched within him. He flushed without knowing why, feeling a sudden connection with her, a sense that she understood him better than anyone other than Saphira. His reaction confused him. For no one had affected him in that manner before” and like all men when first confronted with love, they try to escape from it hence “Eragon welcomed the chance to escape the cramped deck of the raft, where he felt awkward and unsettled with Arya so near.” And feeling “numb, Eragon sat upon a rotting log and buried his face in his hands, weeping that his affection for Arya was doomed to remain unrequited, and weeping that he had driven her further away” when he finally got the courage to tell Arya how he feels and gets turned down just pulls at our heartstrings, wanting to comfort him and tell him that it’s going to be okay. Eragon’s training not only improved his skills in magic and swordsmanship, it also granted him wisdom when confronted with the question of him resisting the order of things that animals are meant to be prey, he replies, “because we can better ourselves. Should we give in to our impulses to hurt or kill any who anger us, to take whatever we want from those who are weaker, and, in general, to disregard the feelings of others? We are made imperfect and must guard against our flaws lest they destroy us. As Oromis said, why should we cause unnecessary suffering?”

And the star-crossed lovers in Roran and Katrina is just as filled with heartache and uncertainty because Roran had nothing to offer Katrina, not even a roof over their heads and Katrina, being disowned by her over-protective father claimed she won’t even get her mother’s inheritance and it was so good of Elain and Horst to take Roran and Katrina into their home and in the place of Katrina’s parents, she sat Roran down and talked to him regarding his real intentions towards Katrina since Sloan disowned and denied Katrina her mother’s inheritance and life, being difficult enough without the added hardship of having no money or resources, Elain asks Roran, “will you care for her without grudge or resentment?” and Roran replies, “yes” which shows how much Roran loves Katrina despite the problems thrown their way. And because of the attacks on Carvahall, he no longer was a farmer or a smith, but a warrior intent on saving and keeping the ones he love safe from harm.

Oromis’ patience and wisdom in Eragon’s training pays off when Eragon finally managed to “attain a state of inner peace so profound that, during that time, he ceased to exist as an individual” that he was so attuned to the forest and its inhabitants that Oromis only then taught him how to draw energy from other sources and have him try it for himself and Eragon felt a “wave of death roll through the smaller creatures Eragon was in contact with. A line of ants keeled over motionless. A baby mouse gasped and entered the void as it lost the strength to keep its heart beating. Countless plants withered and crumbled and became inert as dust.” All these horrible deaths Oromis deemed necessary for Eragon to understand the terrible price of using energy from other sources and Eragon had to experience it for himself for “mere words cannot convey the feeling of having those whose minds you share die” which further taught Eragon the value of life even for the smallest of creatures when he would have thought nothing of it in the past.

Again, Paolini’s descriptive narratives brings his characters and their stories to life so much that you can see clearly how everything is, how the characters feel without sacrificing mystery, adventure and surprising twists that would leave his readers gasping and wanting for more.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

[Book Review] Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)Eragon by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

One boy...
One dragon...
A world of adventure.

When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself.

Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and tge advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds.

Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands.

Part 2: Recommendation

With so much buzz surrounding this new and young author, Christopher Paolini, and his Inheritance books, I was curious as to how good this teenager could write. Having read a few books on the fantasy genre, I somehow already had an idea that I’m in for an adventure. What type of adventure? I know not – yet.

Eragon is a story about a young boy named Eragon, who lives on the outskirts of Carvahall and hunts in the Spine, a “range of untamed mountains that extended up and down the land of Alagaesia” where “strange tales and men often came from those mountains, usually boding ill.” It is believed that Eragon is the only one who has gone in and out of the Spine unharmed and lived.

It is during one of his hunting trips when he comes upon a blue stone which he tried to sell to traders for money so he could buy meat for his family: Uncle Garrow and cousin Roran, whom he live with. But no one would buy the stone after learning he found it in the Spine and so he kept the stone in his bedroom. Unbeknownst to him, this smooth, blue stone will drastically change his life.

In the middle of the night, a few hours after hearing the story of the legendary Dragon Riders, a squeak came out of the blue stone that woke Eragon. It was rocking so violently that it cracked and out came a dragon. So it wasn’t a blue stone after all but a dragon egg. How to take care of dragons, Eragon had no idea but his old friend, Brom does so to find out more about dragons, he goes to Carvahall and visits with Brom and comes home to his dragon and names her Saphira.

The tragedy of Garrow’s death by the powerful hands of two strangers instigates the changes and threats to Eragon’s life as he pursues the Ra’zac – non-human creatures “who are stronger than any man and can jump incredible heights, but they cannot use magic” – to avenge his uncle’s death. With the guidance, training and wisdom of Brom, Eragon learned how to defend himself with Zar’roc, a sword from a fallen Rider, with fists and with magic.

From Carvahall to Gil’ead through the Hadarac Desert to the Beor Mountains, dragon, rider and Brom travelled together, their journey filled with peril, grief, discovery, survival, faith and courage. Will Eragon prove himself worthy enough to be a Dragon Rider?

Paolini’s fast-paced narrative and vivid descriptions made Eragon an exciting, enjoyable read filled with interesting characters and imagination.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

[Essay] How To Make A Shy, Introverted Person Talk

Just a few hours ago, someone was asking me advice on what to do with his girlfriend who’s so shy and quiet, he’s running out of topics to talk to her about and he’s beginning to think and feel that his girlfriend is playing a game and he has no idea what the rules are and her usual response of either “Nothing” or “I don’t know” is beginning to get on his nerves. He definitely loves her but the effort of conversing with her is too much for him and he’s wondering if he should just move on or if there is a way to draw her out and get her to talk?

Well, my take on this is maybe it’s not really being shy as you both obviously know each other for quite some time now. She’s probably more introverted than shy and the topics you open for discussion is not exactly her idea of a conversation. Here are a few tips on breaking dead air:

Know where their interest lies.
To successfully draw a shy or introverted person into a conversation, you must first learn what their interests are before sharing your own. The trick to getting the information you want out of introverted people without making them run away is by the clothes they wear, the gadgets they have (if any) and by listening to their comments. I’m sure they’d be dropping insightful words here and there and the clue lies in those barely whispered words. Another trick to getting to know their interests is through emails and chats. Most introverted people I know, including yours truly, have more to say when either writing or typing than when talking. So send out that email or try chatting online instead of calling. You might be surprised at how long their replies are.

Be a good listener.
It is quite irritating to be cut off in the middle of explaining your point and you find the conversation going somewhere completely irrelevant. And being irritated, the introverted person would just sit there quietly and finish their one-sided conversation in their head. Being introverted or not, we should respect and listen to the person who’s talking until they finish whatever it is they wanted to say unless, they’re beginning to sound like a broken record. In that case, we all can gently ease the conversation away from that person’s ranting.

Encourage them to explain their point.
Most often than not, many introverted people, including me, would just answer a question with a simple answer and without further prodding or encouragement, we won’t be explaining the why’s of our answer. So why do we do that? It’s not that we don’t have anything to say, we do have a lot to say it’s just that it’s more tiring for introverted people to talk out loud than think and observe the people around us. It’s like we can only talk for a certain number of words an hour or something. So when introverted people do speak up, encourage them to explain their point of view by asking additional questions like “why do you say/think/believe/feel that/that way/like that?” or by prodding them on with a nod of your head and using encouraging phrases like “and?” or “what happened next?” When asking additional questions refrain from adding your own point of view as it will steer the conversation away from the other person. You can add your own two cents later on when the other person has finished talking.

Sometimes it’s good to let them decide what to talk about.
While it is indeed very hard to start a conversation with introverted people especially when it’s their turn to think of a topic to talk about, sometimes it is good to let them take control of the conversation. But do this only if the introverted person has already warmed up and is already quite talkative around the group. If not, keep conversations under your control with their interests in mind not yours. If you need to share something important that you think is not interesting to the introverted person you’re with, keep it light and simple and steer the conversation back to their field of interests. You’ll see that once we, introverted people, start warming up, we can pretty much talk about everything under the sun with great passion, conviction, and a lot of insight. When that happens, you can sit back, relax and hand the reins over to us.

Play a game: online or otherwise.
While it is very intellectually stimulating to talk to introverted people, we can’t keep talking forever like extroverted people can. We need to recharge our batteries as it is quite draining to talk so profoundly. The solution: play games! There are a variety of online and offline games you both can enjoy like board games, strategy games, arcade games, word games, card games and puzzle games. There are lots of games to choose from so find something that you both can enjoy. If it is chess you’re both good at then so be it. If it’s monopoly or checkers, then do it. The object of playing a game together is to take a breather from talking and to enjoy each other’s company without having to think of what to talk about. During game play however, bear in mind to encourage each other and pay each other compliments whether it be a good move or a bad move. No name calling or cursing even in the spirit of camaraderie. Keep in mind that it’s never a good thing to call your playmate names and cursing them. Doing so will only shut them up and shut you out of their lives.

Introverted people need their comfort zones before they’re able to share themselves. So for people dealing with us, it’s just a matter of us warming up until we get comfortable enough to start and keep the conversation going. Once we get chatty, you know that you’re in for a very enlightening conversation. So in the meantime be encouraging and patient. It will pay off I promise!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

[Essay] More In Love After A Fight

Fights are a normal part in any relationship… especially in any romantic relationship. Fights can also make or break a relationship and they say it’s how you handle conflicts that will save or doom your relationship.

Well, how exactly do you handle conflicts that will definitely save your relationship? Is there a proven strategy to be more in love after fighting with each other?

Never fear… I’ve been in this situation a lot of times with my beau and we end up more and more in love after each and every fight. Read on and enjoy being and feeling more in love after a fight. Works every time!

Usually disagreements come from normal, everyday conversations, comments, or things your partner said or unconsciously do. And usually, you just shrug off the first couple times s/he did or said it but eventually the irritation piles up and now you’re faced with an issue that you can’t shrug off anymore and it’s really bothering you.

The first thing you want to do is to hunt your partner down in any way you can - be it email, text message, or a phone call – to let him/her know how upset you are at your partner, right? STOP! It will only cause more harm than good because with your emotions clouding everything else, when you confront your partner with your issues, you won’t be that clear to them and being surprised like that, your partner won’t be able to respond properly to the issue and earn more anger from you. INSTEAD, when you feel upset at your partner, back up a little bit, do some thinking and think about what exactly is the cause of this anger. You’ve already identified who you’re angry at, so now, identify what they did that ticked you off. You can write it down in short phrases to help you be more organized and on topic when you present the issue to your partner. NEXT, as much as you want to throw breakables over their head for being slow (or for testing your patience), strive to be calm. Believe me, when I say it’s hard to stay calm when you’re fighting, it is hard but it’s doable. Not only is it doable, staying calm is also a relationship saver in the sense that when you are calm, you think more rationally and you don’t say hurtful things you don’t really mean that you’ll later regret having said.

After presenting the issue to your partner, your fight now progresses to the part where you explain your side and how you feel about the issue. Your partner on the other hand, explains their side, tells you how they feel when you’re done with the talking.

Common reaction is to dig up past grievances, drive home your point through their thick skull no matter how many times you have to repeat yourself and name-calling at this point could be so tempting. If you find yourself doing just that, STOP! Digging up past grievances only serves to confuse what the real issue is about and repeating the point over and over that you’re beginning to sound like a broken record will not help at all because it will only irritate your partner and in turn, they will automatically tune you out because they feel that they’ve heard your spiel already and thus all the more forget about the point you’ve been trying to make. And name-calling is not only low but also a sign of immaturity. INSTEAD, focus only on the issue at hand because past grievances are well, left in the past as they are for sure, resolved already and therefore, a close case never to be re-opened again. When opening up the issue, instead of whining and blaming your partner for what they did or did not do, open up the issue by telling your partner how their words or actions makes you feel and ask them what’s on their mind with regards to what you just said. Opening up using the phrase, “Because of what you said or did” would only make matters worse because the accusatory tone associated with the phrase puts your partner’s back up and thus activates the need to defend himself at all cost. Instead, use the phrase – and feel free to use terms of endearment before saying – “I feel” because the endearing and cautious tone you use leaves more room for your partner to be equally calm, and rational, and it activates their need to comfort a distressed loved one. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in a calm manner as to the when, where, how, and why your partner had been feeling distressed. Asking relevant questions in order to understand where your partner is coming from makes them feel respected, important to you, and it shows that you truly are listening and interested to make things right again. When you’re about to lose all patience with your partner during this stage of a fight, instead of name calling, step back, take a couple of deep breaths, and suggest you both continue the discussion after you’ve both calmed down – it could be thirty minutes to an hour, a day, after a calming down session/activity, whatever. Take a walk, a breath of fresh air in your garden or listen to a song, do anything that would help you calm down. If it means writing down everything that just happened so be it as long as it works. Then when you’re both calm enough go back to where you left off and patch things up.

After all the discussions and debates, you guys are now at the stage where you’re both suggesting solutions to patch things up and make your world all bright and sunny again. But the thing is no two people have the same ideas in resolving issues.

You feel his suggestions are not acceptable and because you feel it’s your partner’s fault for making you feel distressed in the first place, you’re waiting for an apology that would win the grandest apology in the world award. STOP if you’re feeling utterly stubborn like this. Continually disregarding your partner’s suggestions and efforts to resolve the conflict will not only drive you both insane but it will start another fight between the two of you. INSTEAD, listen to what your partner has to say and really think about it if you think you can do what they’re suggesting or you can suggest a few of your own and see what your partner thinks about it. It’s about listening and being heard one after the other not simultaneously. At some point in this stage, you’ll find something to agree on and that you both think will work nicely. In way of apologies, is there really a need for your partner to suffer and beg for forgiveness? Having seen so many TV drama soaps where this is the prevalent theme, let me just remind you that this is real life not TV so keep it simple and keep it real. Won’t you rather have a heartfelt “Honey, I’m sorry… can you ever forgive me?” than your partner, directly quoting a dialogue from a TV or movie scene without meaning a word they uttered? I thought so. Keeping it simple, real and heartfelt increases the feeling of respect, importance and love.

Having solved the issue and forgiving your partner means it’s the end of the fight. But not all people feel the same about the resolved issue. For some, it takes them a minute to completely move on and feel at peace while for others it takes more than a minute to feel the same way. So before you completely wipe off the satisfied grin on your partner’s face (and vice versa) with a snide remark because you still feel wronged, STOP! This will only start another fight and it’s a petty indulgent on your part. INSTEAD, move on by asking each other if there are still any other concerns left to be addressed and if not, declare to each other that the matter as discussed has been resolved and that you both agree on its resolution and you both are on the same page.

Having shared with you my conflict handling strategy, here comes the part that I love the most and sometimes the reason why I’m looking forward to our next couple fight, not solely because of this last part but because I know and I’m confident that we’ll emerge from a fight all the more in love with each other than ever before.

And this is how we do it: first off, thank your partner for listening, talking to you and helping solve the issue with you and not avoiding it by making excuses or denying its existence. Secondly, sending an “I’m sorry” card or note with or without a small token attach goes a long way of increasing that love feeling in your heart. And lastly, lots of hugs and kisses!

If it works for us, it will probably work for you too. Enjoy life!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

[Book Review] Sisters by Danielle Steel

SistersSisters by Danielle Steel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Four sisters, a Manhattan brownstone, and a tumultuous year of loss and courage are at the heart of Danielle Steel's new novel about a remarkable family, a stunning tragedy--and what happens when four very different young women come together under one very lively roof.
Candy-it's the only name she needs--is blazing her way through Paris, New York, and Tokyo as fashion's latest international supermodel. . . .

Her sister Tammy has a job producing the most successful hit show on TV, and a home she loves in L.A.'s Hollywood Hills. . . . In New York, oldest sister Sabrina is an ambitious young lawyer, while Annie is an American artist in Florence, living for her art. . . . On one Fourth of July weekend, as they do every year, the four sisters come home to Connecticut for their family's annual gathering. But before the holiday is over, tragedy strikes and their world is utterly changed.

Suddenly, four sisters who have been fervently pursuing success and their own lives--on opposite sides of the world--reunite to share one New York brownstone, to support each other and their father, and to pick up the pieces while one sister struggles to heal her shattered body and soul. Thus begins an unscripted chapter of their lives, as a bustling house is soon filled with eccentric dogs, laughter, tears, friends, men . . . and the kind of honesty and unconditional love only sisters can provide. But as the four women settle in, they are forced to confront the direction of their respective lives. As the year passes and another July Fourth approaches, a season of grief and change gives way to new beginnings--as a family comes together to share its blessings and a future filled with surprises and, ultimately, hope.

With unerring insight and compassion, Danielle Steel tells a compelling story of four sisters who love and laugh, struggle and triumph . . . and are irrevocably woven into the fabric of each other's lives. Brilliantly blending humor and heartbreak, she delivers a powerful message about the fragility--and the wonder--of life.

Part 2: Recommendation

If you’re not familiar with Danielle Steel’s writing style, you’d look at the cover and read Sisters in a nice red script and four females walking side by side in a straight line across the cover on top of the scrawled title and the first thing that comes to mind is sibling rivalry. Actually, it’s not at all about sibling rivalry. It’s about friendship, loss, courage, and what family means.

Four sisters, four different lives yet closely linked to each other’s. Meet the sisters: Sabrina, the oldest at thirty-four, is a New York based lawyer, followed by Tammy, twenty-nine, a TV producer in L.A., then Annie, twenty-six, an artist living her art in Florence and the youngest, international supermodel, twenty-one year old, Candy.

One would immediately think that having an international supermodel for a sister is enough to cause cat fights but these four amazingly beautiful and talented women dared to think and feel differently. They’re not only sisters who share the same blood they’re also the best of friends. Despite their age and personality differences, they all came together to help a sister until she can manage on her own again. And living again in one roof, after years of living on their own, can be really hard as the sisters will need all their patience, and understanding to make their present living conditions a more harmonious, organized one.

In Sisters, the adage ‘Doing the right thing is not always easy’ pulled Tammy in both directions: to continue working in L.A. or to go to New York and be where your family needs you? The daily struggle Tammy had over this kept her awake most nights out of guilt at not being there for her sisters but family always comes first and Tammy couldn’t have said it any better when she said to her boss, “I came here to resign… and I’ll never have another job I love this much. But I can’t let my family down.”

And some sisters simply have no sense of responsibility but are caring enough to offer, “Do you want me to book you a massage too?” when the stress of moving into a new apartment, taking care of, looking out for and basically being solely responsible for two younger sisters gets a wee bit more overwhelming than anticipated.

And some sisters have a more take charge attitude than the others and “that’s why she doesn’t learn. You give her too much slack,” as Chris, Sabrina’s boyfriend, points out when Candy sailed out of the apartment on move day to party out with friends.

In Sisters, Danielle Steel shows readers that getting involved in any life-changing accident does not mean it’s the end of the world. And in all instances it proved that giving something up means gaining a lot more in return… like finding true love.

So if, after a life-changing event, you think you’re less of a person now as compared to who you were before, pick up this book and think again. You’re still the person you are if not more.

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