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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

Have a blessed Easter, dear friends!  May your day be filled with the wonder of Christ's love.

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb...  (John 20).
Photo by L. B. Tettenborn, used with permission.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Double Book Review: The Prince of Fishes + The Bells of Paradise, by Suzannah Rowntree

I know I spend a disproportionate amount of time gushing about author Suzannah Rowntree on this blog, but I seriously like this author.  She combines the technique and refinement of classic writers with the ease and readability of modern ones.

As you may remember, she won Best Character and Best Author in the 2015 Blogger Awards, the latter for her novella, The Prince of Fishes.  I read it as a contest judge, wrote a miniature review, and promised Suzannah a full-length one.

That was last December.  This February, Suzannah contacted me about reviewing an ARC of her new novella, The Bells of Paradise.  I agreed on the spot.  (Suzannah is clearly a wonderful person who still trusts me despite my complete lack of promised book reviews.)

It's March now.  Sorry, Suzannah.  Here are your book reviews.

In Constantinople, the Queen of Cities, poverty-stricken Michael the Fisherman and his wife Eudokia dream of a better life for their family. When Michael catches a fish that is able to grant wishes, he and Eudokia finally get their chance to taste the wealth and power of their wildest dreams. But will their ambition destroy the city and cost them everything they hold dear?

From the first pages, Rowntree paints a gorgeous, vivid portrait of Byzantine life and politics.  I cannot fathom the amount of research Rowntree must have done, because she captures it all: the clothes, the architecture, the poverty, the theology.  Rowntree has a full, decadent style of writing that brought out the decay and charm of Constantinople and the exotic, brutal politics of the time.

Obviously, the plot follows the original fairytale, The Fisherman and his Wife, but Rowntree takes beautiful liberties with it.  She overlays it with the Byzantine debate about the sanctity and correctness of icons.  If you're like me, you have absolutely no idea what this debate is.  Don't worry.  Rowntree's got you covered.  She covers both sides of this debate with grace and equanimity, although I detected a preference for one side.

Easily the best part of the novella for me was the relationship between Michael and Eudokia.  They do not have a peaceful marriage.  Their relationship is a tempest of Michael's opportunity, Eudokia's ambition, and a slew of good intentions that lead to bad decisions.  What makes this couple so rare and effective for me is that neither has an upper hand in the struggle.  I couldn't side with either, because the balance of power was so evenly distributed.  They were kind, vicious, and romantic in equal parts.  I adored their relationship.

A few criticisms necessarily accompany every work.  A few characters, like Michael and Eudokia's daughter slipped through the cracks for me, to the point where I barely registered their presence in the novel.  For every character like that, however, there are another twenty exemplary ones.

If you want a simple read, don't read this.  If you want a straight-up historical romance, don't read this.  But if you want to read about the dusty, forgotten corners of history that are nonetheless powerful and beautiful, then read this novella.

The one thing John the blacksmith loves more than his peaceful, hardworking life in Middleton Dale is the tailor's free-spirited daughter Janet. But unlike John, Janet dreams of adventure beyond the Dale. And when her dreams lead her into Faerie to be captured by a dangerous witch, John realises he must dare the perilous realm of the Lordly Folk to free his bride.

As for The Bells of Paradise, my initial impression was that it has perhaps my favorite title of this year.  It takes its name from the English folk song Down in Yon Forest, whose ethereal view of Heaven colors the whole novella.  I adore English folk music, and I appreciated how many more songs than just the titular one influenced this work.  I have not read The Faerie Queene, which Rowntree cites as an influence, but I recognized many familiar themes and faces from the Child Ballads, particularly Tam Lin.

Rowntree uses her trademark full, rich writing style to particularly good effect here.  With her poetic word choice, she not only mimics the patterns of the songs and poems that influenced her, she also writes something that is beautiful in its own right.  Her language subtly adjusted and captured the change of scenery as the action moved from the human Dale into Faerie.

On the topic of Faerie, Rowntree did a ridiculously good job capturing the wild, other Faerie of English folklore.  She peopled it with strange, half-familiar faces, with just the right blend of Here and There.  The supporting characters especially had a wild grandeur about them that belonged in a border ballad.  It was like drinking a shot of fairytale concentrate.

I feel, however, that as good as the supporting characters are, the main characters, John and Janet, don't do as much for me.  They both read as blank characters to me, existing as passive observers with either honorable or flighty characteristics, respectively.  Part of me understands why Rowntree did this.  Faerie is so rich and otherworldly that I can understand why two less prominent main characters might have accentuated, instead of confused, the action.  But I know Rowntree has a superb gift for characters, and especially for relationships, so I can't help be disappointed.

Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into Faerie, proving, according to the novella's logic, my own madness.  But there you go.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.  Any opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fun News from a Friend

I'm sure you all have seen this already, but Emmarayn Redding released a short story collection today, titled "The Madman of Elkriahl and other Fairytales," and the cover art is by none other than Hannah Williams of the Writer's Window!

Isn't it sooo pretty?  Congratulations to everyone involved in this project!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

March: What I Have Been...

... Doing

It has been sooo busy on the home front.  This is my last semester of high school (huzzah!), so I'm trying to wrap up all my classes and have a fun senior year.  I was accepted to the college of my choice, UNC Chapel Hill, so that's a weight off my shoulders.  I've also been taking community college classes, which will transfer to UNC, so I'm starting as a freshman with twenty-eight credit hours.  I cannot tell you.  How.  Happy.  This.  Makes me.

In other news, I will be Confirmed in the Catholic Church this Easter.  For those of you who don't know, Confirmation is a Catholic Sacrament that is usually considered a coming-of-age.  Because you are baptized into the church as an infant, it's your chance to confirm that, as an adult, you're still part of the church.  You also choose a saint name, which for many Catholics serves as a second middle name and patron saint.  I chose Miriam of Nazareth as my saint name, which is the original Hebrew name for the Virgin Mary.

I also cut off six inches of my hair, which is unbearably exciting.  It's now barely shoulder length.  I would post a picture, but I'm not feeling that ambitious today.

... Reading

I have been enjoying the exquisitely lovely The Bells of Paradise, by Suzannah Rowntree.  I owe her a review for this and The Prince of Fishes (recipient of the 2016 Best Author Blogger Award), but I've been so swamped I haven't gotten around to it yet.  Sorry, Suzannah.  It's coming.  The Bells of Paradise is based on an English folk song, and I'm a folk song addict, so clearly this novella and I were meant to be together.

... Writing

I am a perfectionist by nature.  I hate to start a new project before I have a clear idea of how it will go, so as to minimize the amount of frustration and rewrites.  Which is all very good-- except that if I wait to write something until I feel ready, I will never write it.

I realized that this month when I was hunting through my old notebooks to find the origin of a story I've been stewing on for a while now.  To my shock, I realized it had been two years since I'd had the idea, and I didn't feel any more prepared to write it now than I did then.  So on my 18th birthday, I tossed precaution to the winds and started the first draft of my new novella.  It's titled Gloucester's Eyes, and it's a mash-up of Rapunzel and King Lear... in space!  I love it an unbearable amount.  Writing is so much more fun when I don't worry about the quality of the draft and simply enjoy myself.  The final product is better, too.  Here's a snippet from the very beginning:

When the crew of the HMS Buckingham discovered two thieves in the king’s private kitchenette, they did not arrest them.  They did not attack or secure them.  They did not, in fact, do anything that might legally be construed as a threat.
            Instead, they made them a cup of tea.
            “Tea’s gotten better,” the first thief said affably.
            “Shut up,” said the second, a woman.  She was sweating, hands clenched around the porcelain cup.
            When they finished their tea, the sailors escorted them through the cramped hallways.  The HMS Buckingham did not use solar sails, so most of the space went for fuel.  Very little fuel was left, the first thief noted.  They wouldn’t need it for much longer.  One way or another.
            “I feel sick.”  The second thief pressed a hand to her stomach.
            “You’re just nervous,” he said.
            The average waiting time to see the king was two months.  The thieves and their entourage breezed past the guards to stand before the king of England’s throne.
            He sat impassively, crown glinting in his white hair, fingers steepled, while the guards read the list of offenses.  Trespass.  Theft.  Treason.
            “What,” the king said quietly, when he was through, “happened precisely?”
            “They broke into the royal suite, Your Majesty,” the sailor said.  He was an air chief marshal.  This was far beneath him.  Nervous sweat gleamed on his brow; he did not wipe it away.
            “Did they kill the guard?” the king said dispassionately.
            The air chief marshal winced.  “Er—no, Your Majesty.  They replaced her tea with German craft beer and waited for her to fall asleep.  It was a quality beer,” he offered.  “She won’t have a hangover when she wakes up.”
            “How charming.”  The king’s dry voice could have cut ice.  “And she was unable to distinguish the beer from the tea?”
            The air chief marshal winced, as though he had hoped the king would not think of that.
            “Never mind,” the king sighed.  “Did they raid the safe or leave a trap for our royal person?”
            “Er—no,” the air chief marshal said uncomfortably.  “They—they went to the royal kitchenette.  And ate all the cupcakes thereof.”  Note from the author: I seriously contemplated making this last line the title but eventually decided it didn't match the serious tone of much of the novella.
            “Prima’s positively sick with guilt over it,” the first thief said cheerfully.
            The king cut him with his eyes.  “I suspect she had very little to do with this.  I suspect, George Gloucester, that she is sick from cupcakes, not remorse.  Those were meant to last another full year!”
            “I always say, you never know what will happen tomorrow,” the first thief said.
            “Oh, I know what will happen tomorrow,” the king muttered.  “And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”
            He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Leave them to me, air chief marshal,” he said, and the sailors left.  When they were gone, Lear said, “Cupcakes, George?”
            “Cupcakes, Dad,” George, Duke of Gloucester, said cheerfully.

... Playing

I don't mention it much on this blog, but I play piano and violin.  This month I've been playing the music of Beauty and the Beast, which I got myself for my birthday.  The music is deliciously difficult, and I absolutely love it, despite the fact I've never seen this movie.  I really want to, but Disney only sells the diamond-edition expensive version, and I can think of better ways to spend my money than that.

Here's a video my mom took of me playing.  Can anyone guess the song?  Oh, and you can see my new haircut here, too.  Two birds, one stone.

... Drawing

The Goldstone Wood Fan Art Contest is coming up, and I've been preparing my entries.  If you don't know the series (by Anne Elisabeth Stengl), you should read it, and if you do, you should enter!  My main art skill is calligraphy, so pretty soon I'll break out my pens for this contest.  The due date is March 28, so be sure to enter by then.

And that's what I'm doing this month!  How about you, readers?  What have you been doing?