Linus Baker is entirely mundane, but far from ordinary. He is a case worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, monitoring orphanages of magical children to make sure both the children and staff are safe. His life changes when he gets a classified assignment to evaluate an orphanage of six highly unique and possibly dangerous children.
This book was such a joy to read. Great writing, great dialogue, great characters. We get introduced to the six through Linus's eyes, and fall in love with them as he does. I won't spoil you with their descriptions, as I hope you go meet them for yourself. The big lesson is not to judge by a person's file or first impression.
Linus is the best Linus that he can be, as that's all he knows. He doesn't see anything extraordinary about himself, but those around him can see otherwise. I think we all have blindspots, admirable qualities that we don't recognize in ourselves that others must point out for us. I think that's another lesson this book tells, to be open to praise and acceptance and love from others.
Warning: This book made me cry. Because it made me feel. This book was truly a delight and I highly recommend it. I will definitely be checking out TJ Klune's other books.
"I'm just me...." " I don't know how to be anyone but who I already am. This is how I've always been. It's not much, but I do the best I can with what I have."
I want to share the process one of my poems took in editing. "Streaming Stars" was one of the poems I reworked in the Creative Block Busters workshop presented by Lisa Gentile. I'm going to share the original poem, and the thought process behind the transformation it made.
This poem uses the form Bref Double. I think I wrote myself into a corner with the form and don't like the ending.
What does the poem want?
Inspiration - watching meteor shower from mountain top, wanting to catch that moment as I may not experience another; challenge to try a new poetry form.
Senses - feeling the cold, seeing a contrast of light and dark, hearing silence
Tools - Bref Double (rhyme scheme), imagery, repetition of light
Want to catch the moment, so everyone can experience the amazing meteor shower. so beautiful, yet fleeting.
Light and it's rhymes are scattered throughout, like the falling stars, in no immediate pattern. Fleeting existence of beauty. Still has purpose, wishes, sparking imagination. Contrast between light and dark (around my shoulders I wrap the night, making the experience a part of me).
The Bref Double form was a great starting place for me, but I realized it also forced some aspects (such as the final couplet) onto the poem that didn't work for the theme. One of the patterns I noticed was the repetition of words rhyming with "light", not just as end-rhymes, but scattered throughout the poem, like the stars across the sky. I changed "brilliant" to "bright" to enhance that more. The theme the poem wants finally popped out at me as I re-read the first line. It's about making that night a part of me, not just describing the meteor shower. So I moved some lines around and changed the ending to reflect that.
Streaming Stars (revised)
Around my shoulders, I wrap the night
As I perch on the mountaintop,
Shivering in anticipation
For the lightshow premiere.
The first light darts across the sky
Followed by more streaming stars,
So bright until they disappear.
Wishes will be born tonight.
I do not envy the meteor's plight--
A light so quickly burning out--
But in my heart they persevere
In splendid and untamed flight.
The revised poem was included in the Lifelines poetry anthology.
This is our December book for The Enchanted Garden Book Club. Toads and Diamonds is a retelling of a Charles Perrault's tale. This is the first novel length version I have read, and I highly enjoyed it. Rather than taking place in a European setting, this book takes place in a fictionalized India. The two religions central to the story are both fictional but still feel authentic. Tomlinson did a wonderful job bringing the cultures and characters to life. I felt like I could step into their world.
Another refreshing change to to the tale is the family relationship. Like the original, there is a step-family. Diribani lives with her step-mother and step-sister, Tana. Unlike most fairy-tales, they all get along and care for each other. There is no wicked step-family here. The other big change that surprised me was the gifts the sisters got. Both went to the well and encountered the goddess, who listened to their hearts desire. One sister came out speaking flowers and gemstones, the other speaking toads and snakes. Yet both here are blessings, and not curses. They may not always see them that way, and of course other characters react in their own manner, but there is no clear "good sister" "bad sister" here.
Both sisters have their unique trials and tribulations as a result of their gifts, and must learn how to make the best of them. Despite the differences in their individual journeys, there are many echoes between the two that I enjoyed noticing.
The only thing I felt lacking was the end. I would have loved a short epilogue showing what came after. It still felt satisfactory, and I highly recommend this book. For a deeper discussion, check back later this month on our Enchanted Garden blog. In the meantime, come join us in our Facebook group to discuss this book and all things fairytale.
I discovered Rachel Caine through the Chicks Kick Butt anthology. It was a short story featuring her Weather Warden main character. There was a car chase, and unique magic. I was hooked. I got the first Weather Warden book, Ill Wind, from the library, and ended up buying the entire nine book series.
It’s urban fantasy, taking place in our world but with elemental magic and djinn. The main character is a Weather Warden, having control over the weather. There is plenty of action, romance, and of course magic.
There is also a spinoff series, Outcast Season, which I own but haven't yet read.
Then you have the Revivalist series, an urban fantasy/thriller/horror. The main character is a funeral director, who becomes a zombie--murdered for finding out her employers are selling a resurrection drug, then resurrected herself--and gets involved in taking down the company responsible for her new condition.
Prince of Shadows
But Rachel Caine also writes for Young Adults. I don't remember who gifted it to me, but I also own Rachel Caine's YA novel Prince of Shadows. This is a stand-alone historical fantasy that retells Romeo and Juliet, but from Benvolio Montague's perspective. Benvolio is a thief, the Prince of Shadows, and has his own romance with a Capulet. It's a unique spin, and very engaging.
The Great Library
Very different still from the other series on this list is The Great Library series. This one is YA alternate history steampunk fantasy. I read these as they came out, and it was so difficult waiting in between books. The premise is that the Great Library of Alexandria was not destroyed, and is now the controlling power for books and knowledge. The main character, Jess Brightwell, comes from a family of book smugglers. There are book burners, and automata, and a blend of alchemy and magic.
Despite her illness, Rachel Caine's latest series is the one that is the most potent for me. Stillhouse Lake follows Gwen Proctor, mother of two and former wife of a serial killer. Her (ex) husband may be in jail, but despite the court's acquittal, there are those that do not believe she could have lived with the man and not known of his deeds, and possibly even been an accomplice. Gwen has had to grow tough fast, to survive the hate, protect her children, and try to live a normal life. But the haters keep tracking her down. This suspense thriller is so heartbreaking and emotional. I am always torn between needing to read more and having to put the book down because the feelings are so strong.
I recently finished book three. The fifth book has been finished and is slated for a 2021 release. I already pre-ordered the book, but only wish Rachel Caine could still be around to see it come out.
Rachel Caine is also the author of the Morganville Vampire books (YA Supernatural) which have been adapted as a web series, and coauthored Dead Air, a thriller serial audio story about a true crime podcaster.
I am glad I haven't yet read everything Rachel Caine wrote, as that means I have more to enjoy and discover. She lives on in her writing.
Have you read anything by Rachel Caine? What book/series has been your favorite?
This month the Healthy Lifestyles group at work is promoting Women's Health. One of the activities to do was a Journey Walk, where you focus on your senses, and then reflect on your state of well-being. Where are you, where do you want to be. This got me thinking back to the Aspects of Wellness.
Wellness isn't simply about your physical health. It's an overall state of well-being and achieving your full potential. Different sources list a different number of aspects/dimensions/categories of wellness, from four up to eight. I like breaking things down into smaller parts, so go with the eight: emotional, physical, intellectual, occupational, financial, social, spiritual, and environmental. This is a good site that goes into depth on each of them.
I decided I want to go through each and do the following for myself:
This is a story about bargains and debts. The threaded elements of Rumpelstiltskin are told thrice over. Spinning Silver follows the intertwined stories of three daughters. All flawed, not traditionally beautiful, and each finding their own strengths throughout the tale. Each has their life bargained away, yet they fight for their values and beliefs, don't give in to the patriarchy, and make their new lives better for it.
The main character is Miryem, a Jew in Lithvas, a fictional country in late medieval Europe. Her father is a money-lender, a traditional occupation for Jews, but he's not very good at it. After a hard winter and mother sick, young Miryem takes it upon herself to go out door to door and collect debts. She soon gains a reputation for turning silver into gold. But there is a fae-like race, the Staryk, who come with winter and are always seeking gold. The winter-king hears of her boast and wants her gifts for his own. He gives her Staryk silver to change into gold.
You can see the heart of the tale is definitely Rumpelstiltskin, but Novik truly makes it unique in the telling. I really enjoyed all the different character viewpoints and aspects. There were also some nice twists in the character motivations of the villains. What starts out as a good vs evil isn't so clear in the end.
I loved the magic elements. There is a strong fire vs ice theme throughout. Fire and ice, silver and gold. There is no name guessing like the original fairy tale, but there is an emphasis on the importance of names.
Spinning Silver started out as a short story, included in The Starlit Wood anthology. I re-read the short story before beginning the novel. The short only follows Miryem, and ends when she fulfills her bargain to the winter-king. The novel introduces more viewpoints, and continues the tale much further. I would definitely recommend just going straight for the novel. The text of the short story is included almost word for word as it is woven in, just expanded on in much more depth.
I can't really comment on the accuracy of the Jewish community, as my main knowledge is from Fiddlers on the Roof. The book doesn't go into a lot of depth on their religion/culture.
If you don't like first person point of view, or are easily confused by multiple point of view characters, then this book isn't for you. There are the three main characters, and a couple of side characters, that get viewpoints, and all in first person. It could definitely be disconcerting to some. I did find that I could identify who's head we were in within a few lines. Each character voice was different enough and quite well written.
Though this is marketed for adults, I believe the content is also appropriate for young adults. It is a longer book, 466 pages, so that may turn off some. The plot never dragged, it held my attention the whole way and was hard to put down. I definitely recommend this not just for fans of Rumpelstiltskin, but for any who enjoy a satisfying fantasy with strong female lead characters.
"...magic that came only when you made some larger version of yourself with words and promises, and then stepped inside and somehow grew to fill it."
If you're interested in discussing this or future titles with us, come join the Enchanted Garden Book Club group on Facebook.
The Inner Child
Meet My Inner Child
My two year old is wearing a pink frilly dress, blonde hair up in pigtails. But that doesn't stop her from getting dirty, or stripping down to a diaper (or less) for true freedom. She's already a night owl, staying up late to play with her toys, telling stories about her Little People.
She is scared of dark places, like under the porch. Her older brothers' friends are so big and make her nervous. [Just like the big publishers.]
My writing is best when I strip down the conventions, stop listening to outside forces. My inner two year old puts on the charm when she gets attention, such as from a good response to my writing. She loves to know others are entertained.
She hides from the darkness, the unknown, of the blank page. She has a hard time moving forward without all the corners being lit. Which explains why I outline, plot, and brainstorm before putting anything down on paper.
She doesn't have many tantrums. Rather, she is more likely to hide. If someone doesn't like her (or her writing), or she feels ignored (which happened too often in a big family) she gets hurt and hides in a corner or cupboard. It takes a lot of coaxing to get her back out again.
My passion is fantasy. My inner two year old loves to create different worlds, and bring fantastic creatures into our own. One of my childhood "imaginary friends" was a unicorn, and I think that unicorn has been inspiring me ever since.
Seeking that which is Lost
I sit cross-legged on oaken floor
Deviating slightly from my all-fantasy book reviews to talk about this light Science Fiction Romance. The Taylorsville Library (where I work) partners with the Taylorsville Senior Center for Senior Book Club. We would meet at the senior center once a month, and I assisted librarian Elizabeth Weaver in running the book club. Our last meeting was in March, right before everything shut down for Covid. April's book was to be Crosstalk by Connie Willis. It was my book pick for the year, and my turn to lead discussion, and we had hoped that we would still be able to discuss the book, if just postponed. At this point in time, however, I do not foresee us getting back to meetings this year. Or at least not to discuss April's book. So, as I still love this book, and took the time to create discussion questions (as none existed), I am sharing my thoughts here instead.
I highly enjoyed Crosstalk. We got it as a summer reading reward from the library. My first time through the story, Jeff (my husband) read it aloud. I was thoroughly engaged by the story and characters. The story takes place in a near alternate future, where there is a medical procedure that opens up the brains pathways to allow two people to feel each other's emotions. Our protagonist, Briddey Flannigan, gets the procedure with her new boyfriend, Trenth Worth. But instead of connecting with Trent, Briddey connects with someone else.
I read through the book a second time in preparation for book club, and enjoyed it as much, if not more, than the first time. I was able to really see all the clues that led up to the twists. Connie Willis does a great job creating characters that feel real, and you really get into Briddey's head. The romance isn't the central plot, but does play a major role. The ending is satisfying. I definitely recommend this for anyone who wants a light science fiction read.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
This is a blog interview I did for Margaret Fieland, a fellow member of poetry group Poetic Muselings, after the launch of my debut poetry book back in 2014. I have updated the "Where can you buy the book" and "Where can readers find you", but left the rest the same. Insight compiling the poetry collection, my writing processes, and that time of my life.
You are the author of a new book of poetry, Chiaroscuro. Can you tell us a little about the book?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. Poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds.
What was your experience of putting the collection together? How difficult/not did you find the organizing?
The collection slowly came together over eight years. Back in 2008, I took a course at the Muse Online Writers Conference called “How to Turn Your Poetry Into a Saleable Chapbook.” I had a lot of poems in my portfolio and wanted to create a cohesive collection.
I looked over my poems, and sorted them into themes. I found a lot of them were on the darker side: death, pain, abuse. It hadn't really dawned on me until then how much I use poetry to deal with the darkness.
With encouragement, I went ahead with the dark theme. Chose my title, Chiaroscuro. My initial tag line was: Exploring the darkness, bringing the monsters of death and abuse into the light.
That first time, I printed off all the poems that matched that theme. I sat on the floor and shifted poems around until it felt right. Wasn't much reasoning for any of it other than gut.
The process became much easier once I got Scrivener. In that program, you can drag individual items in the sidebar to reorder them, and view them as individual items or as the whole collection. I also tagged everything with more specific themes – fantasy, war, relationships, doubt, death. With that visual I was able to first group by theme, then shift them around to best tell a story.
The collection starts out darker, with a world falling apart. Then slowly becomes more focused – nature, people, self. As we approach the end, it shifts more into the light. One poem that never changed location in all my revisions was the end poem: "Ash and Water." That last line, "And I turn from death to embrace life" really summarizes the entire book.
Are any of the poems written specifically for the book?
What was initially planned as a 25 poem chapbook, later expanded to a book length collection to enter into a local writing competition. Most of the additional poems were older ones which I revisited and revised, but I did write new ones with the theme in mind. Most notably: "Dark Days," "Danse Macabre," and "Ghost of Childhood".
How did you decide which poems to include and which ones to leave out?
These are themes I find myself revisiting often in my poetry, so I didn't have to search hard to find enough to fill a book. There were a few poems that I wrote later and added to fill it out more.
I chose most of my poems for their ability to tell a story. Those felt like they had more impact than ones that simply asked questions or explored a topic.
Another big help was my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. They helped me identify my stronger poems.
What's your favorite poem from the book? Would you mind sharing it with us?
Ooh, this is a tough question. Three really come to mind for different reasons.
"The Sun Sets" is really the center of the collection. It's one I wrote back in high school, the oldest of my poems to make it in the book.
"Concrete Forest" is more a mixture of the dark theme and the other topic I write a lot about: fantasy. It's about a fairy in today's modern world.
The third poem is much shorter than both of those, and is the one I will share with you. I love the sound of this one, and never tire of reading it aloud.
You did a lot of research before you decided where to submit your collection. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I did searches on Duotrope and Writers Digest, making a list of all the poetry book publishers I could find. I made a chart in Excel and went through each website to get stats on book length, theme preferences, payment, format. I made a list of what I most wanted in a publisher:
SynergEbooks was one of my top choices, but their submissions were closed when I began submitting. When their submission window opened again, I still hadn't gotten a publisher so I sent them my query and sample poems, and they loved it. Lesson learned: don't be afraid to aim for your top picks. You can't hit a target you don't shoot for.
You write fantasy as well as poetry. Do you have a preference?
They satisfy me in different ways. A great thing about poetry is that I can write one in a single day. The feeling of finishing a project is very gratifying. Poetry also focuses more on the moment, and allows me to play with language. Fantasy delights me in other ways: I can create new worlds, explore magic systems, and really delve into a story in a way that poetry cannot.
How do you balance your writing time between fiction and poetry?
Sometimes I try to keep them in two separate boxes, a poet in one moment and a fiction writer in another. But they are both a part of me, and they definitely bleed into each other. I've written poems and songs for my novels, and I tell a lot of stories with my poetry.
That being said, most of the year I'm more a fiction writer than a poet. Poetry tends to come in waves. I can go a year without writing a poem, and then write forty in one month. It's much more reliant on inspiration than my fiction.
You have a young son. How do you find the time to write?
Since I don't have a day job, I try to get my writing done while my son is in school. Summer has always been a challenge. This year, I've scheduled an hour every day that is "alone time". He also earns two hours of solo video game time each day. That gives me three hours that I can use for myself – either recharging or writing.
What are you working on now?
I have a hard time focusing on just one project. I actually have five novels in progress. The two I'm (mostly) focusing on are:
The Minotaur Staff: A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis.
Race to 100 Deaths: Traditional fantasy. Three elven diplomats are captured by a human baron that wants war. He forces them into a contest - a race to 100 deaths.
Where can readers find your book?
Chiaroscuro is available on Kindle, for purchase or to borrow for free through Kindle Unlimited.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Blog: http://marywjensen.blogspot.com (old blog)
Group blog: http://poetic-muselings.net
Any last words?
We are all unique. We each have a story to tell: through our blogs, poetry, fiction, film, art, or other mediums. We can all contribute to the world. When we stop contributing, we do the world a disservice.
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.