I have been remiss to not officially announce my book release here! Chiaroscuro is available on Amazon in both print and ebook. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free. You can sign up for my newsletter for the most up to date news.
What is Chiaroscuro?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. It’s a journey through a crumbling world that leaves a gritty taste. It shines light on the edge of awareness where dark magic wars with childish innocence.
These 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. The light is only brighter for the darkness that surrounds it.
House of Salt and Sorrows is a haunting, gothic tale steeped in lore and the sea. This is a retelling of the Grimm tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig does a magnificent job elevating this story. Each of the sisters is given a name, but collectively known as the Thaumus Dozen. The family lives at Highmoor, a manor on the sea. Their life and religion revolves around the sea, and the sea god Pontus. I could hear the sea and smell the salt.
The story begins with their mother and four of the sisters tragically dead. Rumors begin that the Thaumus family is cursed. The point of view of the story is Annaleigh. She is convinced that this latest death was no accident, and seeks to find the truth. She meets a mysterious man not from the islands, and also reunites with an old childhood crush. Tired of years of mourning, the sisters find an escape to dance away their woes.
One part ghost story, one part mystery, one part romance, and all fairy-tale. This was a completely new retelling of a familiar tale, yet manages to still be very recognizable as such. I was thoroughly enchanted and swept away. Craig's descriptions are immersive, the characters come to life, and the mythology seeps through the pages. You can tell she did a lot of world-building, with each region having its own deities and culture. The world felt very alive and that it had a history, it didn't just exist for this story alone.
I highly recommend this one. It felt very Haunting of Bly Manor - both haunting and romantic.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall...
Mirrors have long been considered mysterious objects. This is reflected in our superstitions and literature.
One of the most common superstitions is that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Did you know that there are also ways to reverse the curse? One method is to take the pieces outside and bury them under moonlight. Another way is to turn yourself counter-clockwise three times after breaking the mirror.
Though you don't want to live in a household without mirrors. Mirrors in the home bring good luck, perhaps because they deflect evil. But hanging a mirror too low, cutting off the top of the tallest family member's head, will bring about headaches. And beware an undisturbed mirror falling suddenly, as it portends a family member's death within a year.
A common belief in earlier history was that a mirror contains part of the soul, and that is what looks back at you. There are villains that use mirrors to trap or steal souls. Perhaps that's how the entity in the magic mirror of Snow White got there, only able to share the truth he sees.
Many stories deal with idea that another world exists on the other side of the mirror. In "Through the Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll, Alice steps through a mirror into a surreal other world. The glass extends the vision that would have ended in a wall, doubling the size of a room. Multiple mirrors create an infinite hallway, only blocked by your own reflection. What is it that draws us to the other side?
Magic mirrors can also be used to reflect truth, scry other parts of the world, bring long life, or reflect attacks. An ordinary mirror can be used to distort an image or multiply oneself – a strategy for battle or a trick on a friend.
Harry Potter looks into the Mirror of Erised and sees his heart's greatest desire. Perseus uses a mirrored shield to reflect Medusa's stone gaze back at herself. In the movie Brothers Grimm, the Mirror Queen is young and beautiful only in the reflection of her magic mirror, but is in reality ancient and hideous. When the mirror is broken, she falls apart. In "Testament of the Dragon" by Margaret Weis, Justinian Sterling can only communicate with his Dragon Master through mirrors.
A few other interesting mirror "facts"
What is our fascination with mirrors? Do we see in the mirror the same phenomena as "the grass is greener on the other side"? Is it our own soul looking back, or an alternate world? Or perhaps it is only an illusion.
The June book for our Enchanted Garden Book Club is Towering by Alex Flinn. This is a Young Adult, modern retelling of Rapunzel. The story is told in two perspectives, both first-person present-tense, of the main characters Rachel and Wyatt.
Rachel, 17 years old, has been kept isolated by her Mama, cut off from the world in an old tower. What she knows of the outside world are old memories of her youth and books. The books are all older, classics, so she has no knowledge of the workings of the modern world.
Wyatt is the same age as Rachel. After a tragedy back home, losing his closest friends, he moves out to the country to live with Mrs. Greenwood, mother of his mom's childhood friend. There he comes across a diary of Danielle, Mrs. Greenwood's daughter, who had disappeared seventeen years ago.
Wyatt is able to hear Rachel's singing and finds a way to track the voice and meet her. The two end up saving each other, and solving a mystery of missing people in town.
This book wasn't a must-read for me. I was hoping to enjoy it more. Despite the first-person perspectives, I didn't feel connected to the characters. Some of the writing, especially in the early chapters, was confusing, with thoughts interrupting actions and conversation in odd places. Rachel is of course very naïve, due to her protected nature. I felt the romance was rushed, very much a fated, love at first sight, with no weight behind it. There were magical aspects to the story that didn't really get explained. I had hoped for possibly a connection to the Fae, but that didn't seem to be the case. There is a prophecy with nothing to support it, and no reasons given for Rachel's magical properties.
I have not read any of Alex Flinn's other titles, so cannot say how it compares. This does not seem to connect to the Kendra Chronicles. This met the basic premise of a Rapunzel retelling, but I'm sure there are better ones out there. Do you have any you would recommend?
It's our anniversary! One year ago this month, Elizabeth and I started this venture of Briarbook Lane together. We created this website and our blogs, a virtual home for the two of us to connect with each other and share with the world our passions of fairy-tales, reading, writing, and gaming. Here's a lookback at my own journey this year.
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?
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
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