My Life This February: In Which College Takes Over My Life

Hello, all! It’s the last Saturday of the month, so here I am as usual with my monthly round-up. February was kind of a crazy month, and looks like it will be for the last four days as well. Here’s what happened to me this month.

I am now well into my fourth semester of college (I’m so far along! How is this even happening?). I can’t remember if I mentioned this last month, but this semester, I am taking Organic Chemistry II, Physics II, Evolutionary Genetics of Plants, and Genetics Lab. I’m enjoying all of those except for physics, which I’m really excited to be done with, but they make my schedule really insane, especially combined with working in the lab. I really enjoy the lab, though; it’s really relaxing to just go for a little while and count rice plants. Speaking of which, I’m planting rice! It’s so cool. I’m also going to start doing experiments and analyses next month, which is really exciting. So the moral of the story is, my research is coming right along, and I love it, but it’s taking up a lot of time.

Which leads me to the state of my writing right now. You know how they say you should write every day in order to be a successful author? Yep, I’m really failing that lately. Yesterday, though, I did add about 400 words to a new scene in Circle of Fire while I was waiting for class to start, so that was a nice little creative escape. I also listen to music that inspires me for my books whenever I can. But I haven’t worked on This Hidden Darkness, the new book I’m outlining, hardly at all, at least not that I can remember. It has been a very busy month.

Well, that’s my short wrap-up for the month! Sorry it was a bit scatterbrained.

How was your month? Are you in school, too? How is your semester going? Have you done much writing this month? Make any progress on your projects? Anybody else out there doing research? Tell me in the comments!

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What I’m Reading: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Good morning! First, a quick note about scheduling. This post was supposed to go up this past Saturday, but I unfortunately got sick and couldn’t finish it in time. Sorry for that little slide in regular scheduling! Now on to the review.

Originally what caught my attention about Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas was the title and the striking cover. Then, since it’s such a popular book, I read a lot of contrasting reviews of it on Goodreads, and Victoria Howell’s review got me even more curious. So I read it last month to decide what I thought of it, and the winner is . . . mixed feelings! Here’s my full review.

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Information for Readers
Genre: Fantasy
Age level: YA–I’d say 16 and up. See notes about content.
Content? Quite a lot: violence, mild swearing, fairly graphic descriptions of dead bodies, and a fair bit of innuendo.
The Story: After a brutal year in forced labor, eighteen-year-old notorious assassin Celaena Sardothien is selected as a competitor for King’s Champion. After each test, contestants are eliminated–and some start dying gruesome deaths in between. Celaena, Crown Prince Dorian Havilliard, and Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall must figure out who (or what) is behind the deaths before she becomes next on the hit list.
This was an interesting and suspenseful storyline with a lot going on. The subplot of the love triangle held my interest as well, though it was a bit stereotypical.
The Characters: There were rather a lot of these, between the contestants (of some of whom it was said “there were five soldiers” or whatever, but still), some of the noble sponsors, a ghost queen, the living king and his minions, a visiting princess, and of course, Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol. It could be a little confusing at times, but I was mostly able to keep track of them. Generally, I liked Nox, Nehemia, and Chaol the best; Chaol was easily my favorite.
A lot of the reviews I read differed in their opinions of Celaena, and on reading this book, I can see why. There’s a lot going on within her character. She’s an assassin who lost her parents at a young age, likes to read and play piano, and is a kick-butt heroine but loves clothes and candy. I guess all the contradictions and complexities made her realistic and multidimensional, but at times, it felt a little forced. I did like the way she grew over the course of the book, from thinking she couldn’t care for anybody at the castle and she’d run away at the first opportunity to walking away from that opportunity because she’d grown to care for Dorian and Chaol. I think that was a nice arc. I guess I liked her, but she wasn’t my favorite lead character ever.
I can say something similar for Dorian, except I liked him less. Upon reflection, I feel like he’s sort of a good-looking scuzzball who happens to be a noble prince. I thought Chaol was the more worthy member of the love triangle.
The Writing: As I mentioned, there was a lot going on in this book. It was all woven together very skilfully and always kept me interested to go to the next page or chapter. The worldbuilding was also good; I liked all the political strife going on between different countries, and the fact that that played into Celaena and her friends’ characters as well; for example, Celaena’s friend Nehemia is the princess of Eyllwe, a recently conquered country, visiting to learn more about her conquerors–supposedly. And Celaena herself is not from Adarlan originally. So generally it was a well-written book.
Overall: I thought this was a pretty good book, and I enjoyed the story but felt iffy about some of the characters. I probably won’t be reading the sequels, just because there are so many other things I’d rather read and only so much time to read them. But overall, pretty good.
What do you think? Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Of the characters? Tell me in the comments!

Edible Biochemistry: The Health Benefits of Chocolate

Hello, everyone! It’s the second Saturday of the month, time for a short science post. Since Valentine’s Day is coming up on Tuesday, and chocolate is a popular gift (and who doesn’t like getting it?), I thought I’d talk a bit about some biochemistry of chocolate’s health benefits. There’s a bit of organic chemistry involved here, so bear with me.

Chocolate, even dark chocolate, which is 35-85% cocoa, is a very complex substance. Like any plant-based substance, it is “choc” full of different complex organic compounds. These include polyphenols, which are just compounds with multiple benzene rings.

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This is benzene. Each corner is a carbon with two hydrogens attached. It’s not as scary as it looks. 🙂
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This is catechin, found in chocolate. Again, each corner is a carbon. Don’t worry about the details of the structure, but do note the two benzene rings–this is what makes it a polyphenol.

 

Yay for chemistry class! Now back to chocolate. Some polyphenols found in chocolate, similar to the catechin molecule shown above, have antioxidant properties. You’ve probably heard this already; a lot of healthy foods, including blueberries as well as dark chocolate, are advertised as having antioxidants.

But what is an antioxidant? What do they do, and how is that beneficial to human health? Well, antioxidants are simply molecules that scavenge free radicals. This begs another question: what is a free radical? Free radicals, like the methyl radical below, are just chemical species that have an unpaired electron. They are highly reactive and go around stealing hydrogen atoms from other molecules, including (one of my favorites) DNA. So the punch line is that free radicals can be damaging to important biomolecules like DNA, and have thus been implicated in cancer, aging, and other human health issues.

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The methyl radical.

You can see how antioxidants, like those found in chocolate, can be beneficial to human health by removing free radicals from the body’s cells and reducing radical-induced DNA damage. So, yes, chocolate really is good for you. (Of course, it can still contain copious amounts of sugar, so the key, as with everything, is in moderation.) What a great gift for Valentine’s Day or any time!

What do you think? Do you like chocolate? Have you heard about antioxidants but wondered what they do? Tell me in the comments!

Story Starters #6: Starlighter

Blood match. The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy.

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Hello, all! It’s the first Saturday of the month (February already!), so as is routine, I am analyzing the first paragraph of a book. Today, I have selected Starlighter by Bryan Davis, which I was delighted to get for Christmas (look for my review next month!). And without further ado, let’s analyze!

  • Blood match. The first sentence of a story always has to hook the reader (you can learn more on this blog), and in this case, it’s done perfectly. It gives us some idea of what’s going on while enticing us to learn more. It’s also a thought, so we know we’re starting with a character right from the get-go, which is not always the case. It leads right into the next sentence.
  • The words echoed in Jason’s mind as he stood at his corner of the tourney ring and gripped the hilt of his sword. Ah, here’s our point-of-view character. Just from this sentence, we can glean a bit about Jason: he’s a warrior of some sort, a swordsman, and the cadence of the words indicates his excitement; he’s probably young. (Given that this is a YA book, we’d probably already know that, but we can pick it up from the sentence, too.) We also learn about our setting and situation from this sentence: Jason is at a tourney, right in the ring, as a competitor, so this world has at least some medieval elements. If we like medieval fantasy, as I do, this encourages us to read on.
  • Like a beating drum, the announcer must have repeated that phrase a hundred times, as if the potential for bloodletting might whip the crowd into a frenzy. Here we learn more about the situation. This must be a pretty important, well-publicized tourney, if there’s a crowd. And “potential for bloodletting” raises the stakes for Jason; what if he gets hurt? It heightens interest for the reader. Finally, as with the previous sentence, we can get some of Jason’s excitement (and nerves) from this; the simile of a beating drum mirrors how Jason’s heart is probably beating faster in this situation. This wraps up the first paragraph with a quick, neat hook, character and setting introductions, and high stakes, making it a great enticement to read the rest of the book.

That’s it for me today! I’ll be back next Saturday with a science post.

What do you think? Did you notice something else about these three sentences that I didn’t cover? Have you read Starlighter? Tell me in the comments!