Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Immortals Quartet (book series review)

The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce follows Veralidaine Sarrasri (Daine) as she discovers she has wild magic and begins to train under one of Tortall’s greatest mages, Numair Salmalín.

Recently I re-read the Immortals quartet, and I still love them as much as I did when I first read them. Wild Magic was my very first Tamora Pierce book. I remember being in elementary school, where I spent a lot of time in the school library, and Wild Magic was on one of those turning book stands. It caught my eye every time I turned the book stand but it took me a while before I picked it up. I think I was over horses after a long bout of The Saddle Club, so I thought it might be like that. Still, the book kept calling to me and finally I borrowed it and took it home to read.

I adored it! I read through the book so quickly, and then I had to hunt for the next. I took many trips to the public library, hoping to find any Tamora Pierce book I could. Eventually I started buying them! They are now the most precious book collection on my self.

Daine is a character I always wanted to be – she’s smart, bold, a bit shy, and loved animals. She gets to speak to animals and shape-shift into them! When I was younger that was always the super power I’d gravitate towards.

Overall, the series is still a wonderful read. I got through it all in a long weekend and it felt good just to binge read a book series again (it had been a while since I let myself read for pleasure). I am heavily biased though, as they were a series I grew up on, and finding fault with them might be difficult. I do find the first two books to be my favorite, compared to the last two, especially compared to the fourth. I haven’t read the fourth as many times as I’ve read the others. It’s still good, and I found myself enjoying it more this time than I expected to.

I would highly recommend this book to any young adult looking for a good inclusive fantasy series, with strong female leads. Adults will love it too! My mom read the books as I read them when I was younger, and she enjoyed them as much as I did. They are worth checking out if you haven’t read them yet!

Have you read any of Tamora Pierce’s book, which is your favorite?

Favorite Books for Spring

Spring is officially in the air (in some places more than others) and, man, am I ready for it. I’ve slowly been coming around to winter over the years, but there comes a point when you’re ready for fresh air, open windows, short sleeves and leaves on the trees again, y’know? And even though it’s raining and snowing right now in my neck of the woods, I can still get those springy, fresh vibes from some of my favorite rejuvenating novels. There’s nothing really about them that makes them specifically spring-like, but all of them make me energized and happy, and what else is springtime for?

The Ordinary Princess – M. M. Kaye

The ordinary princess book cover


“Along with Wit, Charm, Health, and Courage, Princess Amy of Phantasmorania receives a special fairy christening gift: Ordinariness. Unlike her six beautiful sisters, she has brown hair and freckles, and would rather have adventures than play the harp, embroider tapestries . . . or become a Queen. When her royal parents try to marry her off, Amy runs away and, because she’s so ordinary, easily becomes the fourteenth assistant kitchen maid at a neighboring palace. And there . . . much to everyone’s surprise . . . she meets a prince just as ordinary (and special) as she is!”

This is a short, easy, delightful read. It’s a middle grade book but if you enjoy cute, straightforward, fairy tale stories, you’ll enjoy this. It’s sure to soothe away the harshness of winter!

The Goose Girl – Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl book cover

 

“Anidora-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s incredible stories, and learning the language of the birds. Little knowing how valuable her aunt’s strange knowledge would prove to be when she grew older. From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become a queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must understand her own incredible talents before she can overcome those who wish her harm.”

Maybe there’s just something about fairy tales that lift my spirits? I’m not sure, but pretty much anything Shannon Hale writes will do the trick. I chose The Goose Girl for this post even though it’s not my favorite of Hale’s novels (that honor goes to Princess Academy) because there’s something distinctly nature-loving threaded throughout this story. Perfect light, fresh read for the early thawing months.

The Blue Castle – L. M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle book cover


“Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, The Blue Castle is filled with humour and romance.”

This one’s definitely on the more adult/serious side of things, but is so sweet and inspiring that it’s got to be on the list. I love Valancy’s independence and the way she takes control of her life when she has nothing left to lose. This novel is a perfect way to step into a fresh season and reevaluate. Charming as heck.

Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables book cover

 

“Everyone’s favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins her adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled girl realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a boy instead, she begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over.”

I came to this story as an adult—and I am so sad I didn’t grow up with Anne Shirley, because she would have changed my life. Luckily, I have this story now, and she’s changing my life anyway. I’m not sure any book could be better for spring when you’re given the chance to see this beautiful world through Anne’s eyes. Her descriptions of Green Gables make me want to move there immediately. I love this book.

Honorable Mention: The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden book cover


“Ten-year-old orphan Mary Lennox comes to live in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors and discovers an invalid cousin and the mysteries of a locked garden.”

This one is an honorable mention only because I haven’t actually read it before. But I’d like to read it this spring, because if it’s anything like the movie it’ll get me right in the season-change mood with all the gardeny, earthy, mysterious and beautiful feelings evoked in its pages. What could be more perfect for spring than a book about a garden coming back to life?

Got any favorite books for springtime? Let me know! And hopefully wherever you are there’s a little more sunshine and warm weather. Maybe we can will it upon ourselves with a bit of spring reading, hm? 

A Handful of Time (book review)

When people ask me what my favorite book was when I was younger, I usually immediately reply with The Phantom Tollbooth or Anne of Green Gables. But every time I pass my bookshelf and see A Handful of Time, I am filled with memories and recall how often I re-read it as a child and even as a young adult. Even now I’d probably pick it up to read again if I wanted a familiar comfort book.

A Handful of Time book cover


Back cover: When Patricia’s mother sends her to her cousins’ cottage for the summer, Patricia doesn’t want to go. She doesn’t know her cousins at all, and she’s never been good at camping or canoeing, let alone making new friends. When she arrives at the cottage, her worst fears come true: her cousin Kelly teases her; Aunt Ginnie and Uncle Doug feel sorry for her. She doesn’t fit in. Then Patricia discovers an old watch hidden under a floorboard. When she winds it, she finds herself taken back in time to the summer when her own mother was twelve.

This novel was first published in 1987 and is for grades 4-8 / ages 9-13. I can’t quite remember at what age I picked it up, but I think I was probably around nine or ten. I don’t even remember where I first read it. I own a copy, which means it was either given to me or I loved it so much I went out and bought my own!

Kit Pearson is Canadian and spent a good deal of her time between Alberta and British Columbia. On her website she states that she started the novel based on her own experiences and time spent at the cabin in the summer. Her own cousins bullied her as much as Patricia’s did. Writing a story about a girl being bullied wasn’t enough, she claims, and I found the way in which she got her inspiration for time travel simply delightful so I shall quote it here:

gold pocketwatch


THEN ONE EVENING MY EYES LIGHTED ON A GOLD POCKET WATCH THAT HAD BEEN LEFT TO ME BY MY GRANDMOTHER. IT HAD BELONGED TO HER FIANCÉ, WHO WAS KILLED IN WORLD WAR I. “AHA!” I THOUGHT. “I’LL TURN THE NOVEL INTO A TIME TRAVEL!” TIME TRAVEL FICTION HAS ALWAYS APPEALED TO ME AND IT WAS A SATISFYING CHALLENGE FIGURING OUT TO GET PATRICIA IN AND OUT OF THE PAST. READERS OFTEN ASK ME IF THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL TO THIS NOVEL. PERHAPS THERE WILL BE, IF THE WATCH GETS FIXED!

Quote taken from: http://www.kitpearson.com/handfuloftime.html

Thoughts on the novel:

My review is biased in that I loved it as a child. No promises that if you pick it up now as an adult it will be just as grand. If you pick it up and you’re twelve years old, then maybe I’ll promise it’s great.

I loved the way that Pearson dealt with time travel, and her imagery of the Canadian cottage country was delightful. Having gone camping a lot as a child, I could easily envision it all. I also loved the characters. I disliked Patricia’s present-day mother so much, as well as her cousins (because they were mean to Patricia, not because they weren’t well written), but the people she meets in the past, and her mother as a preteen, were so interesting and well written. It was a good cast of characters.

The novel left me day dreaming of summers spent out at the lakes, and wishing time-travel really was possible!

Overall, I’d likely recommend this book to anyone in the age range but also to friends or others who I know don’t mind reading novels aimed at a younger audience. In my opinion it’s a good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it, enough to read it time and time again as a child!

Our Favorite Re-Reads

Here’s a list from each of us of books we can’t help but pick up to read over and over!

Arielle’s:

  • Ravished by Amanda Quick 
    • Romance/Historical Fiction
  • Alanna the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
  • Darcy’s Passions by Regina Jeffers
    • Romance/Historical Fiction
  • Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
    • Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Adventure
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Taraya’s

  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
  • Wolf Tower by Tanith Lee
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
  • Fire Arrow by Edith Pattou
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
    • Young Adult/Fantasy
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The Phantom Tollbooth (book review)

When people ask me what my favorite book was growing up, hands down I’d say The Phantom Tollbooth. In reality it’s probably tied with Anne of Green Gables. Those were my early loves. Following those, my favorites would be anything by Tamora Pierce and L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series.

Usually, though, I like to talk about The Phantom Tollbooth. I’ve even gone as far as mailing a few copies to people just to encourage them to read it! So, without further ado, let me introduce you to:

The Phantom Tollbooth book cover

The Phantom Tollbooth

By Norton Juster and illustrations by Jules Feiffer
Published: 1961 (Random House)
Ages: 8+

Back cover: For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . .

 

This book shaped the way I see the world and inspired my creativity to grow. My mother, brother and I were constantly quoting it to each other, saying, “Oh don’t jump to conclusions, you’ll have to swim back,” because we all knew that conclusions was an island and the only way to leave it was to swim.


It’s full of wonderful wordplay, and it views the world with such pleasing creativity. It has little illustrations every few pages that attempt to capture the oddity of the world Milo has found himself in. As a child the book is suspenseful and, near the end, a little frightening (at least it was for little me!) as Milo meets some horrible creatures before finding the princesses Rhyme and Reason.


My favorite place in the book then, and still to this day, was the Dictionopolis. I’ve loved words since I was little and I loved Dictionopolis because of how words were described. In Dictionopolis, you can literally eat your words and some words are sweet while others are not.

“OH DEAR, ALL THOSE WORDS AGAIN,” THOUGHT MILO AS HE CLIMBED INTO THE WAGON WITH TOCK AND THE CABINET MEMBERS. “HOW ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE IT MOVE? IT DOESN’T HAVE A—”

“BE VERY QUIET,” ADVISED THE DUKE, “FOR IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING.” AND, SURE ENOUGH, AS SOON AS THEY WERE ALL QUITE STILL, IT BEGAN TO MOVE THROUGH THE STREETS, AND IN A VERY SHORT TIME THEY ARRIVED AT THE ROYAL PALACE.

This book brought me a great deal of pleasure as a child, and then again as an adult – it’s one of my comfort go-to novels. What I didn’t understand as a child was so much fun to discover as an adult. It’s a well-loved book. When first published it received rave reviews and sold in excess past its expectations, and it has since been adapted into a film, opera, play and translated into many languages. The major theme of the book is the importance of learning to love learning. Perhaps it’s the reason I’ve gone on to do so many degrees in school! Maybe it has shaped me more than I realized.

I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s a little cheesy and certainly written for a young audience, but I loved it (and still do)!

phantom_tollbooth_trio_by_gloha-d4n7i9w

A Defense of Twilight

Yes, you read that right.

I’m sure I’m not the first to have written something like this, particularly since it’s well past prime time for Twilight…anything. The wave of wild appreciation for the novels passed long ago, as did the quick-to-follow wave of derision. But it’s something that I think is actually quite important, as a writer and as a human. Important enough to sit down a write a spiel about a decade later. Important enough that I must first give you some of my personal history with Twilight.

Allow me to set the scene:

It is 2006. I am sitting on a charter bus that is swaying its way across the west American desert in the general direction of Anaheim, California, where my high school choir will be singing about 15% of the time and engaging in all manner of (mostly innocent) teenage degeneracy at Disneyland for the other 85%. Sitting beside me is one of my friends with a book in her hands, and she is entirely captivated. The cover art is compellingly simple, a solid design. I’ve seen it before, numerous times and in numerous hands; I ask what the book is about. My friend hands me the book to read the synopsis.

Twilight back cover synposis


I wasn’t particularly interested, then. It sounded “girly” and at this time in my life I took great pride in not being “girly,” which is a whole separate topic for another day. And, setting my disappointing aversion to stereotypically female things aside, I tended to prefer older and more fantastical settings in my novels. So a year or two passed before I thought of the Twilight books again.

Somehow my family acquired copies of the first few books and brought them on a family trip to Yellowstone. My mom, brother, and I each read all of the available books within that 4-5 day trip while my dad, presumably, wondered what the big deal was. (I think he tried to read them and gave up after the first couple of pages. Haha.) I was as drawn into the books as everyone else seemed to have been, as much as my friend on the bus had been that day in 2006. Suddenly I was part of their popularity, buying the final books the day they were released and discussing the story and characters with my friends.

And then…the backlash. Suddenly the books were a stain on literacy. Few would admit to ever having liked them. The grammar was ripped apart, the questionable ethics of Edward and Bella’s relationship were illuminated and decried, the interpretation of vampires became an offense to mythology, and those brave enough to stand by their beloved book series were mocked as stupid teenagers or horny house wives. And I admit—I joined in. Not in mocking people for liking something (that’s rude, guys), but I did make fun of the novels. I saw the poor grammar, the purposefully bland character of Bella, the stalker-but-it’s-okay-because-she-likes-it character of Edward, and I acquired the same harsh contempt for the books that so many around me adopted.

Gif reads We're kind of the freaks of the vampire world!


But here’s the thing: I recently read the books again, knowing that they’re not my genre, that the grammar was pretty shoddy, that the romance was dubious and controversial, and that my opinion of the book was probably the most unforgiving of any book I’d ever read. And I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked—again! All that other stuff didn’t matter. And that’s when I realized that for as much hate as Stephanie Meyer got for these books she’d tapped into something that created a phenomenon, and there was something there that would teach me about writing.

This book has a relatable main character.

Gif reads I never felt normal. Because I'm not normal, I don't want to be.


So many women enjoyed reading this book because Bella is, shall we say, versatile. She has very few defining personality traits, which is often pointed out as a flaw of the book (and I would agree.) But she does have several very understandable interests and motivations. She wants to be seen as something special—so do most of us. She would make great sacrifices for love—so would many of us. Many times Bella feels underqualified for her situation—too normal, too ordinary.  I don’t know about you, but that feels very familiar.

If you are a writer, I wouldn’t recommend doing this the “Bella” way. Good characters feel like fully finished people, with their own interests and quirks and faults that make them unique. But Stephanie Meyer did a good enough job with the other stuff—the external things that we can all understand and relate to—that it was wildly successful anyway. That’s pretty impressive, when you think about it.

It got people to read. 

Gif of girl holding up a book


This really needs no explanation. Twilight was one of the most successful book series of all time, and it brought hundreds of previous non-readers into the world of words and imagination. I think that’s worth something, don’t you?

The mockery of Twilight fans and their interests is frequently rooted in sexism. 

Gif reads I'm just crazy!


Yeah…here’s where my feminist side struts on out to present my unsolicited hot take. But honestly, the interests of teenage girls and stay-at-home moms are constantly, constantly made fun of by anyone who doesn’t fall into these categories, and often by people who do (like younger me). Music, hobbies, fashion and—of course—books that women latch onto are widely considered to be silly or frivolous or any manner of unflattering adjectives. A series as wildly popular as Twilight was would never have received the extreme and near-immediate backlash that it did if it weren’t so popular among female audiences. Isn’t that sad? I’m not saying that if you made fun of this book or its readers that you are definitely sexist, but it is a thing and worth considering. This series got people to read and made those oft-mocked readers feel special and interesting as they stepped into Bella’s shoes. Maybe that’s not really super cool to make fun of, in the end.

This whole rant/essay isn’t here to change anyone’s opinion about the books. They’re definitely not for everyone, and you don’t have to think they’re good. But if you’re someone who, like me, used to wonder why so many people loved this “trash”…well, as they say, sometimes these things are more treasure than we think. Perhaps it’s better to wonder what we can learn from it instead.

Happy reading, friends!