We Try to Get Along . . .

. . . but sometimes we just don’t see eye-to-eye. Examples:

  • Pickles
  • Mustard
  • What to do with days off
  • How to organize closets
  • What temperature is “cold”
  • Movies

For the most part, these aren’t issues. We compromise: Logan lets me eat my pickles and mustard as long as I brush my teeth extra-good later. I went hiking on his day off instead of doing laundry. I re-organize his clothes every time I hang things up. He gets me extra blankets.

However. Other things are really too hard. Continue reading

Book Review: Five Enchanted Roses

Oh hello. Betcha forgot I even existed, didn’t you?

You heartless beast.

Since I last wrote . . . I successfully completed another semester of college; toured with my college’s chorale and handbell teams for three weeks altogether; swam in the Atlantic ocean for the first time; re-started my job at Dairy Queen for the summer; had my first gig as a wedding musician for a dear friend; took and passed the CLEP Biology exam; . . . oh, and got engaged. It’s been a very good few months.

But all those things aren’t the reason I’m writing. (Though I bet you’re dying to hear allllllllll about the joys of the biology exam, aren’t you?). I had another of those “Yay-I-want-to-read-this-book-so-I’ll-volunteer-to-be-a-reviewer!”-and-the-review-deadline snuck-up-on-me moments. Actually, the deadline isn’t even for a week or so, but I’ll be busy pretending I’m homeless in the north woods with my family, so all this interwebbing needs to be done tonight. Wait. Camping! That’s what it’s called.

So. On to the review!!!

As you may remember, I had the privilege of being published in the Five Glass Slippers collection last summer, the first in a series of similar fairytale retellings. This year was Five Enchanted Roses--a compilation of “Beauty and the Beast” stories. Ms. Stengl opens the book with a quote from G. K. Chesterton which sums up well the entire anthology (can I use that term in this context?):

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’;
that a thing must be loved before it is loveable.”

The authors (Kaycee Browning, Savannah Jezowski, Jenelle Schmidt, Dorian Tsukioka, and Hayden Wand) included truly did a wonderful job exploring and re-imagining that theme, and I thoroughly enjoyed each story. Five Enchanted Roses took me from a pirate ship, to a semi-haunted castle, to a traditional fairytale country, to a mysterious jungle, and finally . . . to Scotland. A note on each story, and then my thoughts on the book as a whole.

Espirit de la Rose by Kaycee Browning

“Spirited” is a good word for this story and its heroine. Cecilia is just your average privateer’s daughter until she finds herself stuck on a ship full of waterlogged sailors doomed to eternal punishment unless they can find redemption. . . you know, just the usual. Oh, and the captain is dashing. And offers to help her escape. If the Fee will let her . . .

I’m giving this story the “Least Furry Beast” prize, because he wasn’t the typical wolf-like prince. The redemption theme was clear, and the ending–while not quite what I expected or wanted, really–made me eager to hear about Cecilia’s next adventure.

Wither by Savannah Jezowski

I think this was my favorite story in the book–which was surprising, as it included zombies, ghouls, and the like. . . which are normally not my preferred style. However, something about this dark and intriguing fairytale land drew me in. Lilybet (whose name I love, for starters) braves the spooky, deadly Neverway to find the castle of a mysterious beast who has demanded the life of her little sister, and discovers that her ideas of the world weren’t quite accurate. Both the beauty and the beast were endearing, interesting characters, and I look forward to hearing more about them–Mrs. Jezowski promised a sequel in her ending, and After, Book 1 of the Neverway Chronicles, will be released in December.

Also, her dream cast includes Samantha Barks, so props for that.

I’m awarding this story the “My Personal Favorite” award. Good and evil were thoroughly explored, the love story was sweet, and the world of the Neverway was simultaneously unreal and believable.

Stone Curse by Jenelle Schmidt

Firstly, Mrs. Schmidt looks like my friend Rebekah (one of my favorite people on the planet), so obvious bonus points there. Secondly, this was a wonderful story. Of all the novellas in this collection, Stone Curse was set in the most traditional fairytale realm, but the tale itself was far from traditional! It begins at the cursed castle itself: mostly deserted, with only the beast, a few devoted servants, a host of frozen nobles, and the occasional brave (or financially aspirational) lady who visits in an attempt to fall in the love with the princely beast and break the curse, all of whom are unsuccessful, and becoming fewer and fewer as time passes. (Sorry ’bout that run-on sentence.) But. . . why is the Beast even cursed, and where has the Beauty been kidnapped to, and how can everything be righted again? That is the question Karyna sets off to answer, but the answer she finds is quite the opposite of what she had expected.

This tale gets the “My Favorite Love Story” prize. Read it and you’ll see why. (Especially if you’re familiar with my own love story.) (That could be referring to either my imaginary one, What Eyes Can See, or my real-life one. They have some similarities.)

Rosara and the Jungle King by Dorian Tsukioka

Of all the tales in the collection, this story is least like the “Beauty and the Beast” I’ve always known. However, it’s still the same tale at its heart. Rosara is the daughter of a jungle chieftain whose principle goal at the beginning of the story is simply to aviod becoming the town’s drunk’s third wife. (I don’t think he was particularly drunk, actually, but I can’t think of the word I want.) Things change rather drastically when a talking jaguar suddenly befriends her.

This novella wins the “Most Unique Setting” award. (Yes, even unique-er than the pirate ship. And that’s saying something.) Also, Mrs. Tsukioka is from Missouri, so yay for that.

The Wulver’s Rose by Hayden Wand

I loved this tale so much. Set in ancient Scotland, this story has an evil witch and an enchanted castle, but it also has some good old Scottish Protestantism, wild moors, bankrupt barons, and self-sacrificing maidens. (Ok, so the last two really should be singular. I just wanted the list to be matchy. Sorry.) It wasn’t spooky; it wasn’t mysterious; it wasn’t particularly surprising, even, but it came together as a sweet, simple tale of love and faith.

This story will get the “Most Endearing Beauty” prize. I liked all the beauty characters. . . but Bonnie’s sweetness was, well, the sweetest.

In Summary

Now that this has officially taken an hour longer than allotted–I have a camping trip tomorrow to pack for, after all!–I’m going to be rather quick about the summary. I’ll give this collection 4/5 stars: its a unique, wholesome, imaginative, fun little book which I would pick up again for a light afternoon read. I’m holding back the 5th star because I like reserving that for those really special books–the ones that entertain, teach, and become friends.

So. Go. Pick up one for yourself and debate my opinions. And then go write your own fairytale and be part of next summer’s Five Magic Spindles. I’ve got a pretty good idea for that, myself-but it’s a mystery story and I don’t know if I’m quite skilled enough to write that. Also, I have a bachelor’s degree to finish and a wedding to plan and that sort of takes precedence right now. Someday I’ll do some more writing. Maybe someday I’ll write down my real-life love story in all its sappy glory. But not now.

Now I’m going to go pack for a wild camping trip.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (and other things)

Dearest Interwebs;

Congratulations! You are again being treated to one of those “Betsy just doesn’t feel like editing before publishing” posts, which I know you absolutely adore because they make you feel better about your rationality.

Anyhow, I’m writing this en route back to Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. Thanksgiving break was delightful–with the obvious exception of the persistently terrifying cave crickets, which fortunately didn’t consume too much of my soul this trip–and now it’s back for the final two-and-a-half-week rush. This first week I’m affectionately referring to as “Death Week,” and the second I’ll term “Lesser Death Week.” This week includes the Christmas concert at the far end–for which I am a chorale member, Jubilate member, orchestra member, piano accompanist, prelude-player, and student conductor, because I make poor life choices sometimes–and the music theory final project at the near end–for which I keep staring at a partially-written piece of music blankly, muttering things like “rounded binary” and “leading tone resolution” and “passing 6-4 progression” and “dominant of the dominant” fruitlessly, hoping that such highbrow musical terms will inspire me. (So far, they haven’t much.)

“Now Betsy,” I hear you sweetly interjecting. “If this week is actually as deadly as you make out and you’re not just exaggerating again, why in the name of Sweet Bojangle’s aren’t you working on these things?”

While I appreciate your kindness (and your masterful use of idioms), this has a rather simple answer: a while back I volunteered to be an influencer reader for Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s lastest work, Golden Daughter, which I as to have done by November 30th. Which is, coincidentally, today! Why didn’t I review it over break? Because I was too busy taking naps. Worth it.

Anyhow, without further delay, on to the review.

golden daughter[That picture looks like I’m posting it with a terrible resolution, but I’m hoping it’s my screen.]

Golden Daughter

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

As, I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pretty big fan of Ms. Stengl’s “Tales of Goldstone Wood” series. (Should that title be underlined? Italicized? Quotation-marked? Left alone?) Anyhow, that series–I like it. Golden Daughter was an absolutely fabulous addition, staying true to the series while still introducing something completely new.

One of the “new” things Golden Daughter introduces is the setting; while Heartless began in a fairly traditionally-flavored European-esque fairytale scene, Ms. Stengl hasn’t limited herself to that in following books. This particular book explores the Empire of Noorhitam, previously mentioned mostly in passing. (Well, I can’t say that for certain: the novella Goddess Tithe, so I hear, goes along with this work, but as I have yet to acquire Goddess Tithe, my knowledge is rather limited.) Noorhitam has a distinctly Asain flavor. Do you know how much fun it is to read fairytales that aren’t European-based? It’s not only fun, but it helps to keep the series fresh and unique.

While it’s different in its cultural setting, however, Golden Daughter ties in quite beautifully with the rest of the series. It’s rather incredible to me, actually, how Ms. Stengl can take a theme from one book and make it into a whole ‘nother story… Honestly, most of the connections fly completely over my head. One of the main characters, Sunan, appears as a rather insignificant (I thought) ship captain all the way back in book two, Veiled Rose…but I wouldn’t have remembered that if someone else hadn’t pointed it out. And all the references to the “goldstone” and the night of moonblood and the temple of Ay-Ibunda and Una’s ring…details which I wouldn’t have connected somehow come together. Actually, reading Golden Daughter made me want more to re-read all the other Goldstone Woods books, because I am completely sure I would catch a lot more subtleties now. Someday when music theory isn’t calling. Until then, if someone else cares to make some sort of index or glossary or timeline or something, that would be fantastic.

There’s a lot more I could say–about the characters (I loved Sairu, and Eanrin’s back, being chased by a fluffy lion dog names Rice Cake, no less!), about the plot (Mysterious? Check. Complicated? Check. Engaging? Check.), about the development of Ms. Stengl’s writing (I found Golden Daughter to be adult-ier than the beginning novels, if that makes sense…not that the others were juvenile…you know what I mean…I hope), about the length (deliciously long!!)–but this is already getting pretty lengthy.  A few random thoughts, and then the summary:

  • I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this book. While you technically could–each book is written in a fairly stand-alone style–I still think Heartless is the best starting point.
  • As I mentioned, I found this book “adultier,” even a little bit darker at a point or two. Ms. Stengl has always been good at writing realistically, dealing with both the good and the bad, both the beautiful and the blighted, but it’s getting deeper. Not uncomfortably so, but so nonetheless. Evil exists, and she doesn’t shy away from portraying that.
  • I wasn’t as crazy about the allegory in this book as I was in some of the others. Heartless was a fairly straightforward Gospel allegory, and the subsequent books have delved into other themes. Golden Daughter has a Joseph theme, which , to my great chagrin, I didn’t pick up on until it was pointed out to me. I did, however, notice a fairly strong Revelation likeness, which I just wasn’t quite as comfortable with…probably because Revelation is already pretty debated about, and allegorizing an already-debated book just sits wrong on my dispensational upbringing, you know? However, I don’t think expounding on eschatology was Ms. Stengl’s purpose here.

In summary, I really liked Golden Daughter (though Starflower still has the most feels for me). One of my favorite things about the series is Ms. Stengl’s ability to create realistic characters is non-realistic settings. While I don’t expect to ever go dream walking, witness an attack on the Lady Moon, or discover a temple made of voices, I can see myself in the characters that did. They had weaknesses and temptations and failures like me, and sometimes they had strengths and victories like me, and that is what I love about these stories. Without departing from her previous books, Ms. Stengl has created an epic that’s fresh and surprising and ancient and familiar and believably unbelievable and heartbreaking and joyously glad. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Now. Music theory time!!

xoxoxoxoxoxo (just in case I don’t make it),
Betsy

disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Anon, Sir, Anon Cover Reveal!

Dearest friends of the blogosphere;

The loveliest of mornings to you! Actually, it’s nighttime when I’m writing this, because I’m actually being organized for once and scheduling this post, because mornings are difficult and I streamline them as much as possible. So I hope it’s a lovely morning, at least. I’ll probably end up drinking tea or something like that, unless I accidentally set my alarm for PM again… not my best morning. Hopefully this one is better.

Anyhow.

I’m fairly thrilled today, because today is the cover reveal for the lovely Rachel Heffington’s newest book, Anon, Sir, Anon! I was first privileged to “meet” Miss Heffington as one of my fellow Five Glass Slipper Sisters. I absolutely loved her writing style in The Windy Side of Care, so I feel pretty confident that Anon, Sir, Anon will be quite fabulous. Plus, the word “anon” is in the title TWO TIMES and that’s a pretty cool word. But you don’t even know what it’s about yet. So here ya go.

Continue reading

I Don’t Have Homework Yet…

…so I wrote the first “chapter” of my “thrilling” new story which is as of yet slightly untitled. Any resemblance to actual names or places are strictly coincidental, etc. etc.

Chapter 1: In Which Smithers and Libby Are Lost

The fog. It was incredible, thicker and darker than she had ever experienced before. Normally, Libby would have reveled in the mysterious atmosphere, but today, she was frightened silly. It was annoying, quite annoying, her tendency to irrationally over-react. Later, when the situation was all over, she would realize that she was never in any danger. Later, she would scorn herself for her foolish fears. But for now, all she could do was shiver, folding her arms more tightly around herself, forcing her feet to keep plodding up the hill.

The hill felt never-ending this morning. Libby’s backpack dug into her shoulders, causing her to bend under its weight. The fog worsened the further she climbed; the air grew chillier, the light became more obscured. By now, she could only see a few steps in front of her, and her overactive imagination kicked in. Perhaps she had missed the music building altogether? Perhaps she was wandering lost? She stopped and looked around. To her right, she still saw the handrail along the sidewalk, the trees on the other side dimly outlined. She made herself take a deep, calming breath. She couldn’t be lost. The only place this sidewalk led was up to Cherry Hall, the music building. She was simply groggy from the early morning and disoriented from the fog. She resumed her heavy plod. Continue reading

In Lieu of Chocolate

How do you even spell “lieu”? Is that right? Spellcheck, help me out. Ok, spellcheck isn’t underlining “lieu” but it is underlining “spellcheck” three times, as well as “ok,” as well as the misspelled “underlinding” that I just corrected. Therefore I’m assuming “lieu” is indeed correct, and I am proceeding from the title on to the actual post.

Just kidding. I’m not assuming anything. Hold for a moment while I go double-check that word.

Yeah, it’s right. Now we can proceed.

Actually, I don’t really have a lot to proceed with. I’m in mourning right now. I want chocolate to sooth my grief. However, as it isn’t readily available, and as it isn’t exactly healthy to drown one’s sorrow with food, I’m blogging instead.

“Awwwww, Betsy!” I hear you solicit with deep concern. “Why so down? Is your cucumber crop poor this year? Did you break your wrist, setting you months behind in your journey toward your senior recital? Did your sewing machine give up the ghost?”

Firstly, I thank you deeply for your angst on my behalf. Rest assured that the cucumber crop was remarkably fruitful this year (my diligent mother has a kitchen full of freshly processed pickles of the bread-and-butter variety as we speak–err, type?); both of my wrists are in fine form, enabling me to plod on toward the not-so-far-off senior recital; and my sewing machine, last I checked, still purrs quite merrily.

No, no. My sorrows spring from quite another source. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Word Changers” by Ashlee Willis

So awhile ago (embarrassingly long ago, to be exactly exact), I volunteered to read and review Ashlee Willis‘ newest book, The Word Changers. I actually read it very quickly…but when I volunteered, I conveniently forgot how hard it is for me to review things, and thus I have been slowly trying to figure out what to say about it since. Emphasis on the “slowly.” (Sorry, Ashlee.)

Reviewing…stink it, it’s hard. It reminds me of my freshman year of college when I wrote a paper on the interpretations of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I found at least five interpretations, and by the time I had researched all of them I was so confused that I just wrote a paper summarizing them all. My Mom proofread it and commented, “Well, it’s fine grammatically…but there’s no conclusion.” Also the paper I did on the identity of Melchizedek: no conclusion, just a summary of all the theories. (Yes, I go to Bible school. How’d you guess?)

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Betsy. You are not currently writing a review of The Word Changers. You are telling us boring stories about papers you wrote. The papers were also possibly boring. Please stahp.” My dear readers, be not so quick to judge. I’m merely using an illustrative anecdote to explain my hesitancy to review this book. I love learning about different interpretations of Scripture. I don’t always love taking a side on which one is right. I love to read. Offering my own analysis of what I’ve read? Not so much. I mean, what if I’m–heaven forbid–wrong?!

I know, I know. This is just a review. There is no right or wrong. Still. I struggle with a tendency to shy away from anything that remotely resembles failure. What if I say something and then change my mind later? What if other people don’t agree with my opinions? Isn’t that basically failing?

Maybe I should see someone for this whole fear-of-failure thing. My Dad’s a counselor, so it should be pretty easy to book an appointment.

But I digress. On to the review.

word changersThe Amazon description:

A PLACE WHERE WORDS CAN CHANGE ENTIRE WORLDS 
________________
Escaping from the turmoil of a broken family, fifteen-year-old Posy finds herself at her usual haunt … the library. This time, though, when she chooses an unfamiliar book from the shelf, she does not devour its words and pages as she usually does.
Its words devour her.
Posy is pulled into the pages of a fairy tale, even mistaken for one of its characters. But all is far from perfect in this story’s Kingdom. Characters are whispering of rebellion against both their Plot and the cruel king who has seized control of it. And Posy must find a lost princess whose role in the story is crucial, before her own story comes to a horrible end …
With the proud and haughty Prince Kyran as a reluctant companion, Posy ventures past the Borders of the Plot, into the depths of the gloomy and treacherous Wild Land forest that lies beyond. Secrets are buried there. Dark mysteries and shadowy creatures, dangerous and deadly.
Yet the deadliest danger of all is the one that Posy carries within herself.
Soon it is clear that finding the lost princess is the least of Posy’s concerns. The Author of the book must be found. His Plot must be put to rights again, his characters reminded of who they were first written to be. Only then will the True Story be written, both for Posy, and for the tale she has now become a part of.
Courage and forgiveness are needed for Posy to find her way home again. But bitterness and shadows haunt her every step of the way…

My review:

I’m going to rate The Word Changers 4 out of 5 stars. It was an enjoyable, fun story, with a good allegory. The premise was lovely: getting stuck inside a book! What bookworm hasn’t dreamt of that before? The characters had real flaws, and evidenced real growth. Good and evil were clearly delineated. The allegory was obvious enough to be understandable, yet deep enough to be thought-provoking. Overall, I  enjoyed the read.

I’m not giving it a full 5 stars, however, because of the romance. It was fine in that it was clean, but it was so…fast. Plus, Posy’s pretty young. And as an ever-oldening single gal, sometimes it’s just difficult to believe in love stories that happen that fast, that young. Call me bitter. It just felt a tiny bit unrealistic. And its resolution…well, I’m still not completely sure if I liked it or not. I think it was good. I’m not going to give any spoilers, so you’ll have to go read it to figure out what I’m talking about. Another minor critique I had is that it was slightly difficult discerning what Posy’s real life was like, since nearly the entire book was set in her non-real, within-a-book life.

While it didn’t quite make it to my tippy-top favorites list, The Word Changers was a good read, and I’ll be on the lookout for more from Ashlee. If you’re wanting a thoughtful and fun Christian fantasy for your summer bookshelf, The Word Changers is probably right for you! But don’t take my word for it…go grab one on Amazon and tell me what you think!

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Phew. [wipes brow] That’s just so difficult.

“Betsy,” I hear you saying. “That wasn’t that hard. Wimp.” Hey, this blog is a strict no-name-calling zone. Except on the designated days. Next Tuesday is one. Call me anything you like then.

Shoot, it’s late. I’m going to bed.