My Goodreads Quotes

Allison’s quotes

"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Favorite Books: Number Three-- The Tales of Goldstone Wood, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, a bored princess longed for true romance.  She bided her time until a dashing prince came along, disguised as a jester.  He had fled from his true kingdom because a dragon-- um--

Once upon a slightly more distant time, an incorrigible prince (see jester in first paragraph) befriended a mysterious, veiled girl.  After her father died, he found her a job in his household, but they were interrupted by a dragon, which caused the prince to leave his country to find the ring of a princess (see paragraph one) who also owned a cat, only the cat wasn't really a-- er-- hang on a moment--

Once upon a really long time ago, a cat was travelling through a distant wood, searching for his beloved, but instead he found a maiden trapped in eternal sleep.  She had come from the same kingdom as the paragraph-two prince, but she had left her sister behind, a sister who would go on to sire the kings who eventually led to the prince from paragraph two, who is also the jester from paragraph one--

To aid with your understanding of the overall plot, I made a helpful character-relationship chart outlining a few of the basic characters, who knows whom, what sort of clique they belong to:

Image compiled by Dame Allison.  Yes, I did knight myself for this diagram.  I think the Prince will forgive me.

Take a moment, please, to admire the workmanship in this diagram.  Such exquisite detail, and such small figures!  Alistair is looking lovely in leaf-green, and may I point out the meaning of Jovann's coat?  Rose Red, I must say, was a joy to draw.  I wish I could warn you that it might contain spoilers, but if you can glean information from this, you have a keener mind than I.

My point in all this is that you can't take the middle ground with the Tales of Goldstone Wood, be it in your synopsis or in your appreciation of it.  I could either spend pages or a single sentence summarizing this series.  Taking the lazy-girl's route, I choose to use one sentence:

These books are mad.

The Tales of Goldstone Wood series is stunning.  Although based on myth and folklore, it is utterly unique.  Although massive in size, it is grounded in a handful of familiar characters and has a cozy, personable feel.  I know this might be controversial, but have you seen Tolkien on this list?  There's a reason for that.  (The reason is that he's on my favorite classics list.  But I also like to think this list is too small for both Stengl and Tolkien.)

These books are completely unlike anything else on the market right now.  The novels follow the Knights of the Farthestshore as their adventures span thousands of years, dozens of characters, and hundreds of worlds-- all connected by Goldstone Wood, the Wood Between, the mysterious space between worlds...

Unlike virtually every series ever, the Tales of Goldstone Wood does not have an over-arcing plot arc, besides the general struggle between good and evil, man and immortality.  They don't even continue with a uniform cast of characters or socially-accepted flow of time (although one character in particular has appeared in every novel).

So where do you begin with a series this huge?  Heartless is technically the first book, but I started with Starflower, and that worked just fine for me.  Be warned, though: these books (particularly Veiled Rose and Shadow Hand) are not easy to read.  They will stamp on your affections and reduce you to a little crying heap.  Particularly if, naming no names, you're not the most observant reader, and you didn't catch the change in time streams in Shadow Hand, so a certain scene near the end that we needn't go into the details of threw you into great and wild sorrow, so heart-wrenching that you had to take a shower and have a cry before you could bear to read the epilogue!

Uh.  Right.  You'd never do something that silly.  But I digress.

I first picked up Veiled Rose shortly before my fifteenth birthday.  It was the second book in a series, of course, but nothing confused me, so I read most of it.  Something unsettled me, though-- the promises of something beyond the story, something I needed to understand to fully grasp this book.  It frightened me.  So I put the book away and forgot about it...

... until a few days before my fifteenth birthday, when I desperately needed quality literature to celebrate the occasion.  I remembered the name Starflower from Veiled Rose, so I checked it out.  The special day rolled around, and I spent it lounging in the sun on my trampoline, reading Starflower.

I'm sixteen now.  I've been reading this series for over a year and a half, and it has only grown closer to my heart.  (I even managed to sneak my way into Golden Daughter!)  And as I've read these books, I've gained a deeper appreciation for Anne Elisabeth Stengl, who is not only a gifted author but also a lovely person.

I'm sure many of you have read these books.  And if you haven't, you're in luck; they're available in libraries, so check them out, either in person or online.  You won't regret it.

Come and walk with me in the Wood Between.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts for a chance to win any book from the list!  Entries are capped at one per post.  Earn an additional entry by mentioning that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you; you can do this on multiple posts.  Tomorrow's post will feature a young man of uncertain lineage, a simile-loving princess, and an oracular pig!

One last thing: shout-out to my readers in Canada, Germany, and Venezuela!  Merci, danke, and gracias!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Favorite Books: Number Four-- Lirael, by Garth Nix

Take a moment to struggle over the pronunciation of this one.  LEER-ay-ul?  Lur-AYL?  According to the fantastic audiobooks narrated by Tim Curry, it is pronounced LEER-ee-ul, which is pretty despite making no phonetic sense whatsoever.

I bought this book, knowing nothing about it, in a used book shop one day because I can be quite mad sometimes and do foolish things like that.  Miraculously, though, it turned out well, resulting in this blog post.  Once I bought it, it lived on my shelf for six months before I read it one dreadfully boring Easter Day.

Lirael is technically the middle book of Garth Nix's trilogy, preceded by Sabriel.  I, however, don't care for Sabriel.  I didn't even read it until long after I'd fallen in love with Lirael, which is terrific on its own, provided you follow it immediately with the sequel, Abhorsen (it isn't as good as Lirael but still excellent and named after the hangman from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, which I actually don't like).  In fact, do yourself a favor and don't start Lirael until you have Abhorsen in your hand.

Young, shy Lirael has always been unlike her aunts and cousins.  Although born of the Clayr, a great and noble people, she is an outcast with neither their trademark fair hair nor their astounding gift of telling the future.  After a diverted suicide attempt, her family sends her to work in the Great Library of the Clayr, and there Lirael finds purpose again among the books and secrets.  But when she makes one too many discoveries in the depths of the library, she inadvertently fulfills the Clayr's prophecy of a hero who will defeat the encroaching forces of death.  Forced into adventure and accompanied only by her incorrigible companion, the Disreputable Dog, Lirael's journey will take her far from the only home she has ever known and cause her to question everything she once believed to be true, down to her own identity.

This book could have ridiculous characters, dry writing, and no plot, and I would still tell you to read it for the Great Library of the Clayr and the Abhorsens.  In addition to being a vast depository of written knowledge, the Great Library is also a cold storage for strange creatures.  Along with the Hogwarts library, it is tied for my favorite literary library.  And the Abhorsens fight the restless dead with a series of seven bells, all with different names and abilities.

It is hard to describe why I love Lirael.  No, actually; I lie.  It's quite easy to say why I love it; it is more difficult to narrow this down to a paragraph.  I love it because it is about a shy, insecure librarian who finds a grand purpose.  I love it because it features strange, traditional mythology in interesting new ways, with a whole cast of worthy characters to support it.  And I love it because when Lirael confronts her strange, terrible fears, she gives me the courage to face mine.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite book posts for a chance to win any book from the list!  Entries are capped at one per book.  You can earn an extra entry (per post) if you mention that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you.  As for an obscure, thought-provoking hint... tomorrow's book will also be about talking animals, lady-librarians, and the battle between life and death!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: Golden Daughter, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My copy of Golden Daughter, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, came last Wednesday.  If you live in North Carolina, you'll remember that it was the first cold rain of the year, made more miserable by the fact that I had forgotten my literature teacher's porch didn't have an overhang, so my lovely, furry boots were soaked.  I crept miserably home, determined to curl up somewhere warm with a nice book.  But, luckily, I thought to check my e-mail first.  And there, glowingly, I beheld my ARC.  Eagerly, I began to read.  And so we come to what you have been waiting for: the review.

Masayi Sairu has been a Golden Daughter her whole life, confined in an emperor's palace, where she learned the skills of intrigue, cunning, and, above all, protection.  For as soon as the Golden Mother deems her training complete, Sairu will be married off to a political ally, whom she must protect for the rest of her life.  But arranged marriage holds no appeal for Sairu, and when she sees a chance to escape the traditional role of the Golden Daughters, she takes it.  Her new charge, the beautiful temple girl, Lady Hariawan, is a gifted Dream Walker, capable of exploring worlds far beyond her own.  But an encounter in the Dream left her scarred, both physically and spiritually.  And how can Sairu protect her mistress from enemies in a different world?

Golden Daughter is unlike any of Stengl's previous novels.  For one thing, it takes place largely in the Near World, and there only in one region-- something Stengl hasn't done since Heartless.  Although the adventures do bleed over into the Wood and the Dream, the characters have less knowledge of it, so it reads quite differently.

That being said, Stengl handled it excellently.  It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time her characters have interacted with a crowded city or travelled across the Near World.  (I am discounting summarized journeys.)  In addition to forging new territory, Stengl shows great restraint as a writer when she refrains from overtly referencing the rest of the series.  A certain, familiar character goes almost the entire novel without being named.

So yes; Golden Daughter is quite different, almost disconnected, from its peers.  And although I am sad not to see more of the familiar Wood, this forces the novel to stand on its own-- and, dear readers, Golden Daughter does just that.

Despite having more unfamiliar characters than I anticipated, I quickly connected with our three heroes: Sairu, Jovann, and Sunan (although I did not pick up on the allegory until deplorably late in the novel).  In fact, I enjoyed all the characters... except Lady Hariawan.  She set me on edge, and I could not fathom her role in the story aside from a focus of the characters' interest; she literally spends most of it comatose, emerging only long enough to make cryptic comments.  Towards the beginning of the novel, I worried that I was meant to sympathize with Lady Hariawan as a heroine of the novel.  I didn't sympathize with her, not at all.  She irritated me by never doing anything, but her non-actions still retained consequence.

As events transpired, I felt more comfortable disliking Lady Hariawan, but even now I can't figure her out.  After five hundred pages, I know precisely nothing about her besides her name.  And because I never understood the motivations behind her actions, I lost interest in them.  Why was she beautiful?  Why was she silent?  Why did she change?  I still don't know.

Yes, it is frustrating.  But remember the ending of Veiled Rose, when it seemed no one could possibly sink any lower?  Or-- dare I mention-- the ending of Shadow Hand, that left me a complete wreck after finishing it?  Although Stengl does not pull her punches, she always, always, delivers a great ending.  Maybe not a happy one.  But certainly never a pointless one.  Although I didn't understand the character of Lady Hariawan, I trust that Stengl has more to say on the topic.  Until then, I can only keep reading.

I am reasonably confident that I will love anything in this series, and Golden Daughter is no exception.  I loved reading it; you should do so, too, at your earliest convenience.  I would recommend that you read at least Veiled Rose, Starflower, and Moonblood first, preferably in that order.  Because the series spans such a vast frame of time, it runs the risk of losing the reader along the way, and I fear that might happen if you read Golden Daughter unprepared.

To recap: Golden Daughter, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, is an excellent addition to the series.  Although quite different from the previous books, it retains her trademark wit, charm, and vision that leaves me speculating what comes next.  I, personally, would love to see Imraldera again.  Because we only get one character's perspective of her in Golden Daughter, I'd like to reconnect with one of my favorite characters, because I suspect that she still has some growing to do.

Reminder: the favorite books series will start up again tomorrow!  In which book do animals talk, lady-librarians have adventures, and death and life clash in battle?  I'll give you a hint... it's not the one you're thinking of.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Favorite Books: Number Five-- The Wheel of Time Series, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Sarah guessed it!  The Wheel of Time Series, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, is at number five on our list.  This was another suggestion from that gem of a librarian, who shrewdly suspected that I liked long books.  Good thing I did, too, because The Wheel of Time is fifteen of them, all in the neighborhood of 500-900 pages of small print, each thick enough to stop a bullet.  By the time the final book rolled around, twenty-two years after the first novel, there were around fifty major characters.  It took so long that, tragically, the original author, Robert Jordan, passed away.  A few months after his death, Tor Books controversially announced that relatively unknown Brandon Sanderson, author of Mistborn and Elantris, would finish the series.

I picked up the first book, The Eye of the World, a year and four months ago and almost didn't read it because it has, perhaps, my least favorite cover in the world.  It is this type of cover that gives fantasy a bad name.  (Tor has since released a newer, prettier cover, but the old ones remain iconic.)  It was one of my first forays into a book of that size, so I settled down to read with hesitation.

The Wheel of Time turns eternally.  People die and are reborn to a fresh start.  Ages come and go and are long forgotten by the time they come again.  One such age, the Age of Legends, held the world in a time of great peace, prosperity, and knowledge.  But when an experiment with the One Power-- the force that drives the Wheel-- went awry and pierced a hole in the Dark One's prison, mankind needed to remember the forgotten skills of war to face the Shadow.  One man rose to the call of duty-- Lews Therin, alias the Dragon.  Using the male half of the One Power, he managed to patch a seal on the prison.

But the price was high, and he unwittingly tainted the very tool he used to repair it, causing all men who wielded the One Power to go hideously mad.  The curse didn't spare the Dragon; in his insanity, he murdered his entire family before killing himself in grief.  But, despite the loss, the Wheel still turns.  Ages still pass.  The seal on the Dark One's prison holds, but everyone knows it will one day fail, and mankind will face the Shadow in the Last Battle.  The world's only hope-- and its greatest fear-- is that the Wheel will weave Lews Therin back into the Pattern, and the Dragon will be reborn.

In the idyllic countryside of the Two Rivers, Rand al'Thor cares little for ancient prisons and prophecies.  He is a sheepherder, and his troubles-- his whole world, even-- extends no further than the next village over.  Until one day when the forces of the Dark One spill into the Two Rivers, searching for someone-- someone like Rand.  With new knowledge of his past, his two best friends, and a strange new guide, he must flee the Two Rivers to confront his destiny in a journey that spans ages, more vast than he could ever believe.

I would love to tell you that every sentence of this series is pure gold, with nary a dry moment.  But that would be a lie.  As of two months ago, while I struggled through book nine, this series was in the upper twenties of my favorites list.  Although I had enjoyed the first four books, the next six or so... dragged.  Mankind was engaged in an epic struggle against the root of all evil, and a fair portion of it took place in dusty old meetings, where the rulers of powerful nations bickered over whether or not they actually had to fight the Dark One.  This took... according to my calculations... 4,244 pages.  (In paperback.  It was fewer in the hardback editions.  But I'm striving for dramatic emphasis here, not fairness.)

So, yes, the series was low on my list and slipping.  But once I made it through Winter's Heart, the pace picked up again.  And then, at long last, I came to the last three books of the series.  The ones that weren't written by Robert Jordan but, instead, by Brandon Sanderson.

I cannot imagine what a challenge it must have been for young Sanderson.  He had to finish a series that spanned over twenty years, to which a man had dedicated his life, and had constantly debuted as #1 on the bestsellers' lists, often internationally so.  He had to write almost three thousand pages of plots and characters that weren't his own.

But something amazing happened in those pages.  Sanderson had a fresh perspective on the series.  As a fan, he understood what readers didn't like, and why.  And he fixed it.

(Jordan had a tendency to contradict himself when he switched between showing and telling.  He also spent an enormous page count describing women's dresses and how they smoothed their skirts, all while the women acted completely insane in the name of feminine wiles.  But that, dear readers, will have to be another blog post.)

Were the last three books of the series good?  Let me phrase it this way.  I read them all in less than three weeks.  When I finally got my hands on the beautifully-titled A Memory of Light, the final volume, I spent six hours finishing it, during which time I forgot to drink water.  That's right.  These books are so good that they cause me to neglect my basic human needs.  And, if that does not convince you, let me say this: you have not witnessed tears until you have seen me lying on my bedroom floor, clutching A Memory of Light and sobbing my eyes out.

In The Wheel of Time series, you will experience beautiful, joyous light, and its opposite: deep, consuming darkness.  It will introduce you to characters that will stick with you for the rest of your life.  It will be a major time commitment for the next year or so, in the same way that I imagine a small child would be.  And it is, whether you love reading or write your own books, absolutely worth it.

Just remember that I hate the covers, too.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts for a chance to win any book from the list!  Entries are capped at one per post.  You can earn an extra if you mention that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you.  I will interrupt the series on Sunday, September 28, for my review of Anne Elisabeth Stengl's newest book, Golden Daughter.  (You can expect her on the list, too!)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Favorite Books: Number Six-- Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones

I have a confession to make.  I hadn't read Diana Wynne Jones until August 2013.

I know!  It's shameful!  I'd heard about this weird book called Howl's Moving Castle, and though the quirky title appealed to me, I kept putting it off until a friend (*cough cough* Hannah Williams) mentioned that it was worth reading.  So I got the cute, leaf-green copy from the library and accidentally read it in one sitting.

It astounded me.  It was a hot mess of fairytales, folklore, and good old-fashioned adventure, jam-packed with eccentric characters and the poetry of John Donne.  (I love John Donne!)  I read the interview in the back of the book and learned that, in addition to two sequels, Diana Wynne Jones planned on writing a fourth Howl book.  Excited, I requested both sequels from the library, eager to continue the adventure.

I don't remember when I learned that Mrs. Jones had passed away from cancer two years before.  I must've gone to her Wikipedia page one day to check on the status of the new Howl book and seen that there would be no more books coming...  The Queen of the Fantastic was gone.

Her books gained a special, bittersweet meaning for me.  I finished Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways, and although I was sad to leave Howl, Mrs. Jones had written over fifty books in her life.  I read a few others-- Charmed Life, The Dark Lord of Derkholm-- but none of them captured the whimsicality and sweetness of Howl's Moving Castle.

Then I read Fire and Hemlock.

It is not sweet.  It is not whimsical.  It is hard and tragic and just barely ekes out a happy ending.  And it is, I believe, Mrs. Jones's masterpiece.

Polly Whittacker remembers two different lives.  In one, she had a perfectly ordinary childhood.  But in the other, through a twist of fate she met Tom Lynn, a cellist, who lead her into a world of dangerous secrets.  The stakes grew higher as the goal became murkier-- and then, mysteriously, Polly committed a mistake she can't remember and forgot all about Tom and their adventures.  She grew up with a normal life until, while reading a book of short stories, the memory of Tom resurfaces.  Polly must remember the secrets she knew then to have any hope of saving Tom now-- if she isn't already too late.

I read this last fall, and I distinctly remember sitting on my porch swing, puzzling over the ending, trying to determine if it had been happy or sad.  I was left with a lingering feeling of discontent until, for my birthday, I bought the pretty new copy, with an introduction by Garth Nix (who  may or may not be featured later on this list) and an afterward by Diana Wynne Jones herself, titled "The Heroic Ideal-- A Personal Odyssey."  As I read her detailed explanation of myths, themes, and symbolism, everything became clear, and my love for Fire and Hemlock increased, tempered with admiration.

So do yourself a favor.  Get a copy of Fire and Hemlock, read it, and then-- before forming any opinion!-- read Mrs. Jones's essay, which you can find online.  You'll thank me later.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts to be entered in the favorite books giveaway, where you could win a book of your choice from the list!  Entries capped at one per post.  You can earn an extra by saying that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you.  And now for tomorrow's hint: what series is several million words long, has sold 44 million copies, and was completed by a rookie author after the original's untimely passing?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Favorite Books: Number Seven-- Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

I'm guessing you haven't heard of this one.  Relatively few people have, despite glowing reviews from Naomi Novik, Christopher Paolini, and Entertainment Weekly.  (Kirkus Reviews called it "Head and talons above the rest"!)

I read this book two years ago on the recommendation of a librarian after whom I'm now naming my children.  (Fun fact: Of my top ten, she recommended three, and a few of her suggestions barely missed the list.)  It is a nice, fat, sturdy hardcover that felt good in my hands even before I opened it, and from there only got better.

Humans and dragons enjoy an uneasy peace.  Humans distrust dragons and their ability to disguise themselves as humans, and dragons scorn the human concepts of love, art, and emotions.  As the fortieth anniversary of the peace approaches, a prince of the royal family is murdered in a suspiciously draconic manner, and inter-species tensions flare higher than ever.

None of this should bother Seraphina Dombegh, the title character.  Against her family's wishes, she is a successful musician at a court where women have little respect.  She should have no greater worries than which fanfare to play when the embassy arrives.

But Seraphina has a secret that has haunted her since her birth.  Her mother was a dragon, and half breeds receive more than scales from their draconic parents.  Seraphina has visions of her mother's life, and she is dreadfully afraid that she knows which dragon killed the prince.  As the inevitable conflict approaches, Seraphina must learn how to trust, when to sacrifice, and what it means to be human-- and dragon.

Seraphina has what many fantasy novels lack: realism.  She did extraordinary research for this novel, from court etiquette to the music of the Renaissance to-- you guessed it-- dragons.  She writes:

"If dragons could take human shape, just how far would the transformation go?  Would their internal organs be human as well?  They would have a different set of senses, surely.  As apex predators, dragons in their natural state would have excellent eyesight and a keen sense of smell.  Would they find those senses frustratingly muted while in human form?  Conversely, would human skin seem extra sensitive compared to their usual scaly hides?  Would their clothes itch?  As fire-breathers, dragons wouldn't have much sense of taste; they'd burn their taste buds right off.  So what would it be like, then, to taste something sweet for the first time?

"From tactile feeling, it was a short hop to emotional feeling.  Reptiles and apex predators tend not to be very social, and dragons are both.  In their natural state they might not have emotions beyond the relatively straightforward fight-or-flight  response, which in humans might manifest as anger or fear.  The softer emotions-- love, empathy, sorrow-- are surely a messy mammalian characteristic that helps us bond with our young and to facilitate social groups.  When these reptilian apex predators assumed human form and their brains started to process such emotions, what sort of shock would they experience?"

She uses science to write about dragons.  Her books-- from the characters down to the plot and world-building-- are terrifically detailed and, above all, realistic.  Hartman earned her spot at number seven on my list with her debut novel, and if you can't tell from my overuse of italics, I am a huge fan.

And that's why I'm scared.  Because Seraphina, for all that I love it, took Hartman nine years to write, and the sequel is coming out next March, only three years after Seraphina.  Hartman describes her writing process in some detail, and I find myself doubting that she can have it ready that quickly.  I can only assume that Random House, her publisher, is rushing her; shortly before the sequel's predicted release in March 2014, they pushed it back a whole year.

Yes, I'm worried.  But whatever Hartman writes next (hopefully) year can't change my appreciation for her spectacular debut novel, which, although somewhat open-ended, can stand satisfyingly on its own.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts to be entered in the favorite books giveaway!  Entries capped at one per post.  The winner will receive any book of their choice from the favorites list.  And as for tomorrow: what's modern and ancient, based on no less than three myths, and written by the Queen of the Fantastic herself?  I'll give you a hint... Clara Diane Thompson has been compared to this author.

One last extra: If you mention that Hannah from the Writer's Window sent you, you can get an additional entry!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Favorite Books-- Number Eight: The Harry Potter Series, by J. K. Rowling

I'm not going to attempt to summarize this.  I don't need to.  If you've been alive in the past seventeen years, you know about the Harry Potter series.  In some ways, it's like a natural disaster.  You can remember exactly where you were when you first learned about it.

From my earliest years, I knew there was something special about this Harry kid.  I remember seeing a cardboard cutout of Dumbledore in my private school's library to celebrate the release of The Half-Blood Prince.  Even my mom read the books, and Mom never read anything that wasn't a classic!  I'd seen a handful of the movies with my friends and thought they were just swell, but... well... reading?  Do I have to?

Apparently, I did.  In 2007 (I would've been nine at the time), with the release of the final book, my dear, wise mother, who knew I liked fantasy before I did, decided that my big sister and I had to read the series.  This was easier said than done; because of the seventh book's wild success, everyone and his brother had requested the books from the library, and we didn't own any copies.  So I waited patiently, because I very much doubted I would like these books.

I am so very glad that nine-year-old Allison was wrong.  At last our copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone arrived at the library.  It was a first edition copy: one of the squat, lumpy paperbacks with squished type, hardly the sort of thing I had much patience reading.  But Mom insisted, so big sister and I started reading, switching off each time we finished a chapter.

Through those crisp yellow pages, a new world opened before me: a world of beauty and fear, loss and new love.  And, above all, magic.  Kids only a few years older than myself learned strange new powers and had adventures.  Despite their young age-- and I've always been very conscious of that-- they fought in the great battle against evil, and they won.  They did what adults couldn't do.  A handful of ordinary kids, just like me, saved the world.

Even as my big sister lost interest, I tore through those tales of innocent adventure.  They spoke to something mysterious in my heart that I had never known before.  And I remember those long, slow days of the summer after my eleventh birthday, when I anxiously checked the mailbox, waiting to see the telltale words in angled handwriting, that great call to adventure: Miss A. Ruvidich, The Pale Pink Bedroom, The Countryside, North Carolina.  And I remember how it broke my heart when that letter never came.

Now that I'm a little older and a little wiser, I can see the series more clearly, and I can theorize why I loved it, and why others don't.  Dear, dear Harry Potter is something of a blank slate, lacking a forceful personality.  And I postulate that, because of this, the series isn't about Harry Potter.  It's about the reader.  His lack of a defined personality allows the reader to fill his shoes, and suddenly, they are the special one.  They have been chosen to save all that they hold dear, and you know what?  Somehow, they'll succeed.

Can you see how that changed an uncertain little girl who had just left private school, the only way of life she'd ever known, for a great, vast new uncertainty?  When I first read those books, I was Harry Potter.

I still haven't stopped counting the years.  If that letter had come for me in the sleepy summer after my eleventh birthday, I'd be a sixth year now, studying potions and charms and defense against the dark arts.  Somewhere along the way, I traded those for calculus, psychology, and writing.  And sometimes I wonder if, in the end, it was a worthy trade.

I loved the Harry Potter series because it changed the life of a shy, gawky girl who didn't know where her path led anymore but who still had a great love of adventure and impossibilities.  And I love it still because, when I read it, it reminds me of how little she's changed.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts to be entered in the favorite books giveaway!  Entries are capped at one per post, but feel free to comment more.  As for the hint for tomorrow's book: what do you get when you cross the music of the Renaissance with the scientific observation of dragons?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Favorite Books-- Number Nine: The Queen's Thief Series, by Megan Whalen Turner

Yes, I know.  It's not technically a book; it's a series.  To which I reply: "Pssshhhaw!"

I can't precisely remember why I first decided to read this series.  I have a vague memory of picking up The Queen of Attolia (the old edition, with the creepy hand cover), noticing it was the second in a series, and putting it back on the library shelf.  Some way or the other, I read The Thief, an adventurous story of (as Ghost Wryter points out) an acerbic, gifted thief who is forced to steal the treasure of immortality from the gods' temple.

I had no idea what to make of it.  It was-- funny, certainly, and rather profound if I looked at it the right way and squinted.  It had freaky pacing and was like nothing I'd ever read.  I decided to reserve my opinion and read the next book in the series, The Queen of Attolia.  Then, of course, I had to read The King of Attolia, which might even have been better, and then A Conspiracy of Kings, which I didn't like as much as the others since it wasn't about the titular thief.

To fully explain the genius that is Megan Whalen Turner, I have to explain my mental vision of her.  I picture Mrs. Turner as a hermit who lives in a solitary hut on the edge of an ocean.  She has never read fiction before, but one day while contemplating the shadow of leaves on stone, she had a vision of a likable, quick-witted thief.  She decided to record this vision as a novel, which she mailed to a publisher on a whim.  Because she has never read fiction, her books are completely unlike anything else on the market these days.  She has no idea her books have any following at all-- she's a bit hazy on the fact that they're published-- but, ever so slooowly, she plunks out subsequent novels on her typewriter and mails them to the publisher in between her daily sessions of meditation and yoga.

At least, that's how I explain her brilliance.  In truth, she's a hip, cool lady with kids who lives somewhere in the great Midwest and has probably read fiction before, considering she has an advanced degree in literature.  So I'm at a loss of how she does it, but I try very hard to emulate it.

What can I say about the Queen's Thief series that hasn't been said already?  In truth, very little.  It is one of those rare series that can have you, in the space of a page, laughing your heart out-- then falling into shocked silence.  It is stunning.  And, as libraries begin to shuffle it from children's fiction to young adult, I hope it will gain the popularity it deserves.

So why, you may ask, is it only number nine?  I have no idea.  That's the way the cards fell.  Yes, it probably deserves higher-- but to be fair, everything from here up is pretty much tied for first.  And  since Mrs. Turner has announced that she is writing two sequels, which we can expect, oh, sometime in the next twenty years, I'm savoring rereads until then.

Reminder: Comment on any of the favorite books posts to be entered in the favorite book giveaway!  Entries are capped at one per post, but comment to your heart's content.  : )  Feel free to tell me some of your favorite books!  And as for tomorrow's hint... (consults notebook)... it's about a young boy with an unlikely destiny who, with the help of newfound friends, must defeat the Dark Lord.  (Haha.  I know I'm being mean.  That describes virtually every fantasy book ever.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Favorite Books- Number 10: The Crow, by Alison Croggon

Remember how I said I would post my top ten favorite books?  Well, I discovered something.  That is really hard.  So I've narrowed the criteria to speculative fiction.  (I'll likely do a series for my favorite classical books later on.)  Enjoy!

Because Croggon is touchy about sharing her covers (and they're not very good anyway), I have provided a pubic domain picture of an ACTUAL crow for your viewing enjoyment.

Observe that the author spells her first name incorrectly!  If someone can't be trusted to spell a simple name like Allison, how can they ever write a decent book?

Croggon can't, which is why I hate precisely 3/4 of everything I've ever read by her.  I had very low hopes when I picked up "The Crow".  My only consolation was that it was a companion novel to her dreadful series, which meant I didn't have to suffer through the sniveling heroine's inner monologues.  So I began to read, for this was in the long-ago days when I had time to read stuff I didn't like.  After making it through a rather pretentious textual note and pronunciation guide, then a good poem, I got to the story.

After years of searching, Hem, an orphan, has finally found a home and a family-- only to realize they are less easily kept than he imagined.  As the forces of the Dark surround his city, Hem must join in the fight against evil-- but how can a child help?  And how far is he willing to go?  When a mission goes horribly wrong, Hem must disguise as one of the enemy in order to save his friend.  As his journey takes him far from his new home, Hem must come to terms with what he is fighting for-- and whom he is fighting against.

This book is beautiful.  Horribly, painfully beautiful.  Through the eyes of a young boy, the reader is immersed in a dying world as he tries to save the ones he loves.  His journey-- and the reader's-- takes him through marvelous cities, vast wilderness, and into the heart of the resistance against evil itself.  Think that sounds familiar?  Croggon does it brilliantly.  Her powerful, courageous prose and imagery hit like a punch to the gut, and I trust I am not alone in crying at the ending.

So go ahead.  Go to your library's website and request The Crow.  (You don't have to read the rest of the series to enjoy it!)  And while you're waiting, tune back in tomorrow for number nine on my list.  I'll give you a hint: it's one of Hannah Williams favorites, and it's set in pseudo-Byzantium.

Oh, and I forgot to remind you that if you comment on any of the top ten posts, you earn an entry for the favorite-book giveaway.  Entries are capped at one a post.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


When I decided that I wanted to start a blog for reading, writing, and music, I knew it had to have a perfect name.  I went through endless drafts, all too terrible to post here.  Nothing stuck.  I couldn't find the perfect title.

So I forgot all about it and moved on to other projects.  It wasn't until I was reading "The Way of Kings," by Brandon Sanderson, that the idea returned.  You see, in "The Way of Kings," everyone picks a Calling to pursue.  They choose their main interest and hone it to great skill.  Callings are not always straightforward.  One major character shows a brilliant affinity for sketching, but instead of choosing art as her Calling, she chooses natural history, since she studies art in order to understand the world around her.

Upon reading this, I thought, amused, "I could never do that."  I have too many interests!  I am a reader, a writer, a musician, a ballerina.  I couldn't pick one over the other and still be me.

But then I realized that I could.  Because, beneath these interests, there is one talent that ties them together.  My gift, my talent, my Calling is the art of storytelling.

And so this blog was born.  And I am very, very excited to share it with you!  I have several ideas for future posts.  In addition to blog tours and book reviews, I want to do a research series, an interview series, and a guest author series, so that anyone who is interested in blogging can give it a spin.

I'll start off with a countdown of my top 10 favorite books, so you can either agree enthusiastically or cluck your tongues mournfully at my deplorable taste.  And, to kick off the blog, I'm hosting a giveaway!  To earn an entry, all you have to do is comment on a top ten books posts.  You can earn one entry per post, and one lucky participant will win a book of their choice from my top ten list.  Pick an old favorite, or try something new!  I promise they're all worth reading.

And now, since I can't get the About Me gadget working, I'll say something About Me.  My name is Allison Melody Ruvidich, and I am a homeschooled high school junior from Cary, North Carolina.  I am not, as my Google profile picture might indicate, a koala.  When not hacking away at an endless mountain of schoolwork, I love to spend time with my family, go outdoors, read, write, play various instruments with varying degrees of skill, sing, and dance.

So welcome to the Art of Storytelling.  I am very glad to see you here.  : )