My Year in Books: 2013

31 December 2013

Last Thursday we made our semi-traditional Christmas trek to the cinema to see Saving Mr. Banks, a new film based on the tussle between Walt Disney, who wanted the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film, and P. L. Travers, the no-nonsense nanny's cantankerous author who was dead set against it. We had only just been the previous month to see Disney's newest animation, Frozen, but rather than exiting the theater as I had in November (that is, still humming the catchy songs), I was more contemplative. I had had my doubts before coming, but on the whole, it was an excellent viewing experience, and I would just as quickly see it again. 

What impressed me the most was how Saving Mr. Banks captured the ineffable power of words. They capture your heart and mind. They reveal light and beauty in the midst of a darkened world. In the film, Disney states that we "restore order with imagination." I would say it runs deeper than that: books restore order when they reveal the transcendent truth of God as written in His Word. The best books are those that draw their inspiration from the holiest Book. The best words are those that mimic the living Word. For "the Shadow is only a small and passing thing: there is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach."
read in twenty thirteen

This year has been an interesting one for the bookshelf. January through May found me finishing up my sophomore year of high school, including a class in World Literature that ended up being highly enjoyable. Pride and Prejudice, our Christmas break assignment, could hardly be called a task, and if anything, made me love that dearly familiar book all the more. Frankenstein took a bit more patience, but Shelley made up for the grotesque content with her effortless prose; The Metamorphosis was every bit as tedious with none of the former's beauty ("I find little pleasure in Kafka: I would infinitely prefer Austen"). A Tale of Two Cities and The Last of the Mohicans — two very different books drawn under an arching theme through their heart-shattering endings. Between Cora, Uncas, and Sydney Carton, Dickens and Cooper made me weep like no other authors this year. I rushed through the first with a bit more speed than the second, as it was a school assignment, but I don't think that spoiled my pleasure (or is that pain?). 

The last quarter took a more serious turn as we delved into modern literature. The Lark by Jean Anouilh, a play based on the life of Jeanne d'Arc was interesting but not terribly remarkable. The Secret Sharer was dark and disturbing. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a haunting record of life in a Russian gulag based on Solzhenitsyn's own experience, seared itself in my memory. Despite the mature content and bleak subject matter, I'm very glad I read it, as it unashamedly pealed away the layers hiding a dark period in history.

With the freedom summer's leisurely months bring, my reading turned to happier matters. Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Moonblood, all by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, fit the bill perfectly. Being light reading material embedded with deep truth and a rich background in faerie lore, they filled many a warm June or July afternoon. It doesn't fall chronologically, but while we're speaking of Stengl, I really loved Dragonwitch, a darker tale suited to the colder season in which I read it. I have yet to read Starflower, but I hope to have changed that status in a year's time. Around this time, I began slowly working my way through Letters to a Diminished Church, a collection of essays by Dorothy Sayers that I received for my birthday. I finished it in early fall and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a challenging read on all aspects of a faith-based life. Johnny Tremain, another childhood favorite, I re-read with great relish as I used it to teach American history to two little neighbor girls this summer. McCullough's excellent history, 1776, was part of my research for Rifles in the South Field, but I ended up liking it as much as if I had been perusing it for fun. The Grand Sophy, a light and witty romance by Georgette Heyer, was my main August read as I sipped the last ruby drops from summer's glass.

The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne's famous treatise on sin and redemption in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, officially began my American Literature course. The reading process itself was tedious, and the story felt extremely hopeless, but when we all gathered in late August for our first class and discussed the novel, the shades fell from my eyes. Hawthorne's purpose in dwelling on man's fallen nature was to combat the Transcendental optimists of his time who claimed man was inherently good. His characters always fail when they attempt to make their names pure by their own actions, and while it makes for dark literature, his purposeful execution cannot be denied its value. "Young Goodman Brown," a short story of Hawthorne's that we read a little later in the year, fulfills the same objective on a more compact scale.

Autumn was a sluggish time for reading, and most of it came from the annals of American literature. I already mentioned Hawthorne; Thoreau, Emerson, and Melville also joined the ranks as the crumpled leaves died their brilliant deaths. My mind seemed eternally lodged in Concord, Massachusetts, a situation suitable for harvest-time. Irving, Poe, Longfellow, and Bryant added their names to the list, and though Poe was probably my least favorite, I commend him for his mastery of description — the man knew how to send the infamous shivers down one's spine! Huckleberry Finn made for jolly fall break reading, though it had some questionable morality. And between Crane, Bierce, and London, who closed our first semester, I read more about Naturalism than I cared to. I must give Crane his due for his imagery, though, which is breathtaking.

Finally, after trudging through it in chunks all summer and smaller portions through the fall months, I triumphantly finished the final page of The Count of Monte Cristo yesterday afternoon. It was easily the most challenging book of 2013, but in many respects the most rewarding as well. I should be putting up a full review here soon, but in case that takes a while in coming, here are some of my thoughts in the review I posted on Goodreads.

On the whole, I tried to keep my literary diet varied this year. The list includes a smattering of the classics, romance, drama, suspense, adventure, fantasy, and theology, and while I can't say I liked them all equally (that would be too predictable), it was fun making an acquaintance with the more unfamiliar ones. I wish I had read more books from my personal list, or more bluntly, I wish I had time to read more, but what else can one do but look to the horizon and say with Scarlett O'Hara, "tomorrow is another day"?

to read in twenty fourteen

My Ántonia by Willa Cather (currently enjoying)
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers (just begun)
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (albeit with trepidation)
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo ("I shall conquer this!—I shall!")
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (a good summer break read, and another unconquered tome)
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald ("Fairytales are more than true...")
Several Sutcliff titles (thank you, Jenny)
Orthodoxy and The Ballad of the White Horse by G. K. Chesterton
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Starflower and Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

It's an oft-spoken truth that books mold and change you as Disney and his daughters were molded and changed by Mary Poppins. 2014's twelve months are still untouched, but they'll bear dog-eared pages, underlined words, and scribbled notes soon enough. Our lives are marked by the words we take in: not the number, but the quality. 

What will you read?

Breezes of November

02 December 2013

.
Hello, scribblers all! I trust you each had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. I think it was the lateness of the holiday this year that made the oncoming Christmas season feel a bit rushed, but one cannot argue with a calendar: December is well and truly here. I had planned to get my snippets of November noveling posted at a reasonable time, but better late than never is my motto, so here they are at last. Besides Rifles, I've been working on plotting There Blossoms Red, my next novel that I hope to begin some time in early 2014 (more about that at a later date). The rest of the excerpts are not labeled, either because I don't wish to reveal their identities yet, or I do not know them myself. You can decide on that account. Enjoy!

snippets of a november nature

If he did not rush to the distant battlefields of the Colonies and swiftly turn their towns to rubble, he would be thought the lowest sort of coward. If he didn’t follow after [name omitted] and promise his devotion to the land that had birthed him, no man would ever follow after him again.
Rifles in the South Field

Susannah was nothing like Mae. She was too open and obliging. While Mae was lovely and mysterious, the young plantation mistress was blunt and kind. Her low voice was gentle, but demure, and it never overstepped the bounds of propriety. For these reasons and more, Kenneth soon found her presence unbearably dull.
Rifles in the South Field

The girl stood alone in the shadows, watching after his retreating figure, silently accepting the reality of his answer. Never would she pass words with him again.
Rifles in the South Field

With the plantation's size and slave-number, Susannah was the American equivalent of a manor's lady. She should have been allowed to drink tea brought into the parlor by silent butlers, her cream-white hands hovering moth-like over a snatch of intricate embroidery. The state of the house and grounds was the concern of the servants, not her. And yet, here she was, struggling cheerfully as she hauled buckets of fresh water up to the house, her rosy cheeks the same color as the strands pricking out of her knotted bun. She exuded a spirit of quiet independence in everything she did.
Rifles in the South Field

Send me the season's scent, the thick warmth, the wafting spice, the exotic air that runs through the day until each moment is an hourly gem on the year's necklace. I'll tie it 'round my neck and wear it all my days. Give me the chill that ices over my red heart, the cold that makes the cider steam in the stillness, the frosty silence that draws me closer to you.

Lend me autumn, and I'll bury it in my heart. Give me autumn, and I'll love you until life passes from this world.

The minute the thought came to his head, he realized its truth. He hadn’t thought it of her before. She was too veiled, too mysterious to possess any sort of beauty. But now that he saw her anew, her thick hair falling gently from waves to curls like water over rocks in a riverbed, he thought her lovely.
And she was his.
There Blossoms Red

The decision was her own. She held the lives of so many in her unpracticed hands, and she could barely even speak their tongue. Mercedes was suddenly grateful her mother had been so strict about harsh language long ago, or else a few words not befitting a lady of her station might have slipped out of their own accord.
There Blossoms Red

[She] was dimmed in his presence, her own flushed glory decreased like an orb that catches sight of the sun for the first time and recognizes in the celestial body its own natural superior. She fell into his orbit with all the easiness of breathing.
There Blossoms Red

"Child of the lone dark, you alone know my nature. You alone know the secret of my destruction. Let it fall from no mortal lips; offer it to no mortal ears. You are one set-apart, for you know my fury as no one else can."

A Tuesday Sampling of Twain

05 November 2013

I finished Huckleberry Finn almost a week ago, but I didn't put a review for it up on Goodreads or Literary Lane, so somehow it doesn't feel official. I'm still debating over whether I will review it or not, because each time I try to write something sensible and coherent, I fall into quoting different sections until the post gets ridiculously long. Today I want to share some of my favorite parts from Huck Finn. I've been studying physics for several hours, and my brain is swimming with translational equilibrium, tension, torque, and every other alliterative form of torment that Newton didn't know he was forcing upon poor students almost three hundred years after his death. I could use something a bit more lighthearted, and I thought you might enjoy it as well. These quotes capture everything I loved best about Huck Finn: the protagonist's moral conflict between society's standards and what he knows to be true; Huck and Jim's unlikely friendship on the raft; and Twain's biting satire, which brings both humor and conviction to his unforgettable story.

read and enjoy

I couldn't bear to think about it; and yet, somehow, I couldn't think about nothing else.” 

Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain't that a big enough majority in any town?” 

We catched fish, and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed, only a kind of low chuckle. We had mighty good weather, as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all, that night, nor the next, nor the next.” 

Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.” 

Mary Jane she set at the head of the table, with Susan alongside of her, and said how bad the biscuits was, and how mean the preserves was, and how ornery and tough the fried chickens was—and all that kind of rot, the way women always do for to force out compliments; and the people all knowed everything was tiptop, and said so—said 'How do you get biscuits to brown so nice?' and 'Where, for the land's sake, did you get these amaz'n pickles?' and all that kind of humbug talky-talk, just the way people always does at a supper, you know.” 

I do not wish any reward but to know I have done the right thing.” 

There was some that they called crayons, which one of the daughters which was dead made her own self when she was only fifteen years old. They was different from any pictures I ever see before; blacker, mostly, than is common. . . . These was all nice pictures, I reckon, but I didn't somehow seem to take to them, because if ever I was down a little, they always give me the fan-tods. Everybody was sorry she died . . . but I reckoned, that with her disposition, she was having a better time in the graveyard.

You can't pray a lie — I found that out.”

What do dey stan' for? I's gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid de work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz los', en I didn' k'yer no mo' what become er me en de raf'. En when I wake up en fine you back agin', all safe en soun', de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss' yo' foot I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin' 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed.”

...It would ’a’ been a miserable business to have any unfriendliness on the raft; for what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards the others.” 

All kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out.”

If you tell the truth you do not need a good memory!”

“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”
(author's personal notice)

Book Review: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

29 October 2013

There's something elusively charming about the Regency period that makes it hard to properly portray on paper. Jane Austen made it a diverting entity, but in many regards, its fame starts and ends with her. The Regency novels I've encountered of late, particularly those released by large Christian publishing houses, leave me disinterested only a few pages in. They lack the sparkling vivacity, biting wit, and attractive decorum of the period; the feel for the era escapes their grasp. Georgette Heyer, however, is quite the opposite. Jenny and Abigail first introduced her to me back in August, and as the premise of The Grand Sophy sounded promising, I did my best to obtain a copy posthaste.

After all, "a little Regency romance would set me up forever!"

The Grand Sophy
By Georgette Heyer
*Summary taken from Goodreads.com

When Lady Ombersley agrees to take in her young niece, no one expects Sophy, who sweeps in and immediately takes the ton by storm. Beautiful, gay, impulsive, shockingly direct, Sophy scatters conventions and traditions before her like wisps in a windstorm. But she soon discovers that her aunt's family is in desperate need of her talent for setting everything right: her uncle is of no use at all, the ruthlessly handsome cousin Charles has tyrannical tendencies that are being aggravated by his grim fiancee; lovely cousin Cecelia is smitten with an utterly unsuitable suitor, a poet; cousin Hubert is in dire financial straits; and the younger children are in desperate need of some fun and freedom.

She beccomes the mainstay of her hilariously bedeviled family, as a horsewoman, social leader and above all, an ingenious match-maker. Using her signature unorthodox methods, Sophy set out to solve all of their problems. By the time she's done, she has commandeered Charles's horses, his household, and finally, his heart. Could it be that the Grand Sophy has met her match...?

My Thoughts: This book is just pure fun. It proved the perfect fit for the last few weeks of summer: light, engaging, and vastly entertaining. Sophy and her hilarious antics (which always seem to turn out right in the end) keep the plot in a constant state of anticipation. I was familiar with the setting already, having grown up on Jane Austen, but it was nice to have some fresh material for my brain to enjoy. True, the two authors have very different styles (they're divided by a century and a half, after all), but their characters and their humor make them both worth the reading.

More than anything, my appreciation for Georgette Heyer as a historical writer grew by leaps and bounds with this book. She captures the Regency period with a fluid accuracy that feels neither rushed nor forced. There were no awkward instances where a character would say something glaringly modern, and no general sense of being jarred abruptly back into the twentieth century (Ms. Heyer lived and wrote in the mid-1900s). Rather than making apologies by adapting the eighteenth century language for a more recent tongue, the book opens on the assumption that you are no stranger, but a longtime friend, and forces you into a familiarity with even the most obscure colloquiallisms the age had to offer. For this and many other reasons, The Grand Sophy stands as an excellent example of historical writing done right.

But the best part about this book is truly Sophy herself, who is every bit as grand as the title indicates. Her wit and matchmaking skills are unrivaled, and the way she wrangles each character to suit her various purposes is both diverting and astonishing. Sophy captures the reader's heart from the minute she steps over the Ombersley doorstep, and she doesn't release it until the final page. She's unlike every heroine there ever was or is ever likely to be, and if you want to understand why, you'll simply have to read the book.

(And don't step on the ducklings!)

Pros: A hilariously rip-roaring plot filled with verbal sparring, matchmaking, and several amusing tangles which Sophy takes upon herself to smooth out. The story sweeps along quite briskly, catching you up in the wind and refusing to release you until the end. While Cecelia's relationship with Fawnhope displays that relationships built on outward appearances have no permanent foundation, Charles' engagement to Eugenia Wraxton argues that a man and woman must share more than a common mind if they are to be suitably wedded. Heyer's unique romantic pairings by the novel's end reveal that marriage must be based on both intellect and affection, rather than an excess of one over the other, if it is to stand time's test.

Cons: Sophy and Certain Other Characters are known to exclaim "Good God!" in moments of great stress or strain. "Damn" also shows up several times. I didn't find the latter as offensive, as it was true to the period, but it's worth noting for the sake of younger readers. Some of the more minor characters also tend towards flat personalities at times, but it does serve to highlight Sophy and Charles' dynamic natures.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 14+

A Bit o' Reading For the Day:
“I promise you, Charlbury, you shall come out of it with a whole skin—well, no, perhaps not quite that, but very nearly!” — The Grand Sophy

Owling About

25 October 2013

You haven't seen much of me around Literary Lane of late, I'm afraid. The truth is, I took a short hiatus so as to focus on studying for the PSAT (so happy to have that out of the way!) and general getting-back-into-scholarly-habits (still working on that one . . .). My reading has been eclectic, as usual: Huckleberry Finn for my American literature course, Dragonwitch for fun, and The Count of Monte Cristo, at which I've been plugging all summer and still have a good three hundred pages to go (why are the French such verbose creatures?). We also threw my sisters a rather large party for their respective October birthdays, and between shopping, planning, and working, my time was stretched thin. The party had a Roaring Twenties theme, which means our attire included significantly more feathers and pearls than usual, and all around, it was quite a splendid affair.

With November creeping up on us, my thoughts have turned rather predictably to NaNoWriMo. No season inspires me to pick up my pen like autumn with all its spice and flame tangling in every breeze. I cannot think of passing by such a month without casting my pen into the fray, but that seems to be the best decision at present. NaNoWriMo will not help me in my goal to finish Rifles in the South Field by year's end; on the contrary, it would probably hurt it. I hardly need say that I don't work well under stress. Every year when November rolls around, the blood tingles in my veins to go full steam ahead on whatever project I'm currently working. Breaking that habit is hard, especially since Bree will be venturing out on her own this time. But when I was planning my schedule in August, I resolved that the wisest decision would be to pull back and not overcommit, no matter the urge to do so come autumn. I'm infamous for joining too many projects, overwhelming myself, and leaving various tasks incomplete as a result. When the month of noveling arrives, though I won't be NaNoing myself, I'll still be standing by the sidelines, cheering each of you further up and further in.

that part where the post title makes sense:

Whenever his daughter Louisa was locked away in her room, either reading or scribbling, Bronson Alcott would say she was "owling about." And that's what I'll be doing this November: stretching my mind through reading, writing, and deeper thinking. Specifically speaking, that will mean

Staying diligent. School continues ever on, down from the institution where it began, but I've made my peace with this semester's workload, and I don't think we'll be butting heads any longer. If I can only manage to keep Spanish and French verb conjugations from tangling together, all will be well.

Writing regularly. Rifles will not be abandoned or dreaded — as it is so apt to be when left to collect dust — but attacked with much prayer, tea, and steady persistance. "For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee."

Reading authors new and old. Sutcliff will soon join the ranks of authors to occupy my mental shelves, as the library copy of Eagle of the Ninth constantly reminds me from its place on my desk. I'm nearly finished with Sayers' Letters to a Diminished Church and I'm already excited to finally dive into The Mind of the Maker. My to-read list runs about a mile and a half, which is no surprise. Thankfully, our library is more than up to the challenge.

Keeping Literary Lane stocked on fresh material. Rather than focusing on NaNo and leaving my blog to various guest posts, I've resolved to post with better regularity. Several new book reviews, writing snippets, and general updates on life can all be expected in the coming month.

Life will move onward, decidedly more inky and apple-scented than usual, but all the lovelier because of it.

Goddess Tithe Cover Reveal!

23 September 2013

I'm pleased as punch, as the old saying goes, to be participating in today's cover reveal for Anne Elisabeth Stengl's first Goldstone Wood novella, Goddess Tithe! This newest tale from Stengl, the first  in her series to feature illustrations and to be published by Rooglewood Press, will stand as an in-between story before Shadow Hand's big release in Spring 2013. The book picks up in the middle of Veiled Rose and follows young Munny, a cabin boy onboard the Kulap Kanya. Read the description below and see if it does not pique your interest! As an added bonus, Anne Elisabeth has also shared about her adventures designing the cover, the story behind the illustrations, a sneak peak of Chapter 1, and a giveaway! That's more than enough to tide us over until November, is it not?

the story

The Vengeful Goddess Demands Her Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya's only hope to return safely home.

Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in clown's garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at nothing to claim her tithe.

Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has become his friend?

Due to release November 12, 2013.

the cover

I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (www.phatpuppyart.com), whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.

The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.

You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!


the illustrations

There are eight full-page illustrations in Goddess Tithe featuring various characters and events from the story. This is the first one in the book. I decided to share it with all of you since it depicts my young hero, Munny the cabin boy, under the watchful eye of his mentor, the old sailor Tu Pich. Munny is on his first voyage, and he is determined to learn all there is to know about a life at sea as quickly as possible. Thus we see him utterly intent upon the knot he is learning to tie. Tu Pich is old enough to know that no sailor will ever learn all there is to know about the sea. Thus he looks on, grave, caring, and perhaps a little sad. He might be looking upon his own younger self of many years ago, fumbling through the hundreds of difficult knots his fingers must learn to tie with unconscious ease.
I enjoyed creating all the illustrations for Goddess Tithe, but this one was my favorite. I love the contrasts of light and dark, the contrasts of young and old . . . youthful intensity versus the perspective of age.

an excerpt

“And what do you make of him yourself?”
Munny dared glance his captain’s way and was relieved when his eyes met only a stern and rigid back. “I’m not sure, Captain,” he said. “I think he’s afraid. But not of . . .”
“Not of the goddess?” the Captain finished for him. And with these words he turned upon Munny, his eyes so full of secrets it was nearly overwhelming. Munny froze, his fingers just touching but not daring to take up a small teapot of fragile work.
The Captain looked at him, studying his small frame up and down. “No,” he said, “I believe you are right. Leonard the Clown does not fear Risafeth. I believe he is unaware of his near peril at her will, suffering as he does under a peril nearer still.”
 Munny made neither answer nor any move.
“We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly, won’t we, Munny?” the Captain said. But he did not speak as though he expected an answer, so again Munny offered none. “We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly and there let him choose his own dark future.”
“I hope—” Munny began.
But he was interrupted by a sudden commotion on deck. First a rising murmur of voices, then many shouts, inarticulate in cacophony. But a pounding at the cabin door accompanied Sur Agung’s voice bellowing, “Captain, you’d best come see this!”
The Captain’s eyes widened a moment and still did not break gaze with Munny’s. “We’ll keep him safe,” he repeated. Then he turned and was gone, leaving the door open.

Munny put down the pot he held and scurried after. The deck was alive with hands, even those who were off watch, crawling up from the hatches and crowding the rails on the port side. They parted way for the Captain to pass through, but when Munny tried to follow, they closed in again, blocking him as solidly as a brick wall.
“Look! Look!” Munny heard voices crying.
“It’s a sign!”
“She’s warning us!”
“It’s a sign, I tell you!”
Fearing he knew not what, Munny ran for the center mast and climbed partway up, using the handholds and footholds with unconscious confidence. Soon he was high enough to see over the heads of the gathered crew, out into the blue waters of the ocean. And he saw them.
 They were water birds. Big white albatrosses, smaller seagulls, heavy cormorants, even deep-throated pelicans and sleek, black-faced terns. These and many more, hundreds of them, none of which should be seen this far out to sea.
They were all dead. Floating in a great mass.
Munny clung to the mast, pressing his cheek against its wood. The shouts of the frightened sailors below faded away, drowned out by the desolation of that sight. Death, reeking death, a sad flotilla upon the waves.
“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Munny looked down to where Leonard clung to the mast just beneath him, staring wide-eyed out at the waves. “How could this have happened? Were they sick? Caught in a sudden gale? Are they tangled in fishing nets?”
There was no fear in his voice. Not like in the voices of the sailors. He did not understand. He did not realize. It wasn’t his fault, Munny told himself.
But it was.

the giveaway

Anne Elisabeth is offering two (2) proof copies of Goddess Tithe as prizes! Enter your name in the Rafflecopter below for the chance to win one for yourself.


the author

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and Starflower was voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.

A Splintered Fragment

13 September 2013

we have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. 
j.r.r. tolkien

I don't know where the summer went. They tell me it disappeared back of the north wind for a time, and I'm still deciding whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I love autumn, but my sentimental side hates to see anything leave. Autumn means cozy sweaters and boots at long last, mugs of steaming tea clenched in cold fingers, and windy azure afternoons spent buried beneath piles of books and apples, but with summer flees the majority of my leisure hours. Ah, well, c'est la vie.

life

School and work and the occasional nine hour drive to visit my grandmother (actually, that only happened once) have consumed my time. I dream of the theoretically lazy summer days, but between teaching American history, dancing, and working, they never really arrived. I suppose that's a good thing; as my father always used to say when we were very small, "Remember, people in the real world don't get whole summers and their birthdays off from work!" I haven't felt like a child for nearly a decade, but it seems like all the stereotypical milestones of adulthood — driver's license, paying job, college searching — have come crashing down upon me at once. I don't like crashing. I like when one things falls gently and orderly after another, like the pearls slipping off a string that Anne Shirley once mentioned.

reading

Slowly but surely, I've been adjusting to my school schedule, and that means more time for fun reading. At least, think it's fun. My literature choices may be a bit eclectic for some. I finished The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer on that aforementioned nine hour drive (official review coming shortly), and poor Bree had to ask me to stop quoting at her since she didn't want the story ruined. (She's reading it now, by the by, and she couldn't get past the first page without laughing and quoting at least three times each.) I always said I'd never read a romance (contrary to popular opinion, Jane Austen's novels are satirical comedies of manners), but as The Grand Sophy is so much more than your typical romantic comedy, I feel somewhat gratified. Both Abigail and Jenny had wholeheartedly recommended it, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Truly, it's a rip-roaring novel filled to the brim with witty banter, unforgettable characters, ridiculous entanglements, and more than a dosing of matchmaking gone right. You must read it for yourselves, but I wouldn't recommend drinking tea at the same time, as the results aren't pretty.

Now to get back to that long-abandoned Count of Monte Cristo.

writing

Rifles in the South Field needs to be finished. I tremble at the thought of cracking open that document after over a month of ignoring it. More to the point, I tremble at even admitting that here, but blogging, while not soul-baring, should always be truthful. I have all the ideas in my head, but actually sitting down and typing them out intimidates me, so I frequently push it to the proverbial back-burner. I need to work on that. Goodness gracious, more self-improvement. I'll start to sound like something of a Transcendentalist if I'm not careful.

As regards other projects, I've been scribbling notes and gaining inspiration at every corner, but all the while trying to keep it moderately supressed for a time. My goal is to have my next novel fleshed out and outlined by the time I've finished Rifles, but that doesn't allow for editing, of course, so there will be some overlapping here and there. I'm trying not to think about NaNoWriMo at this point, and yet all the while it knocks on the back of my brain. I'm still not sure whether I'll join this year: please await further developments on that front.

"By diligence and patience, the mouse bit in two the cable."

Every Breath We Drew Was Hallelujah

06 September 2013

Back when I answered Meghan's questionnaire, I mentioned that I'm very picky with my writing music. I can't write without it, as my pen tends to grow dry without a tune to jog it along every now and again, but the majority of it has to be instrumental, or else I struggle with focusing on the task at hand. Words in my head and words in my ears do not mesh well together. But even though I don't listen to a lot of lyrical music while I'm writing, music still remains a heavy influence over all the stories in my head. One line in a song can spark an idea that, in time, becomes a suitable plot. I thought it would be interesting to share a few of these songs, lyrical or otherwise, that tie with my characters. As a little caveat, I have seen this idea floating around the blogosphere from time to time, but I can't recall who first started it, so I'll only say that it did not originate with me, and leave it at that.

violet bradshaw

I could hardly write such a post without mentioning the first of my characters to ever see the light of day. Even as I grow in my writing and am able to recognize the errors I made in my earlier attempts, I will always have a warm hollow in my heart for Vi and the rest of the Bradshaw family. "Worn" by Tenth Avenue North reminds me so much of Violet, particularly near the end of Violets Are Blue. She reaches a point where she grows tired of fighting, tired of weeping, tired of all emotion. She is simply worn and doesn't know how to remedy that.

let me see redemption win
let me know the struggle ends
that you can mend a heart
that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
from the ashes of a broken life
and all that’s dead inside can be reborn
'cause I’m worn

susannah dixon

As the main character of Rifles in the South Field, she gets two songs. The first is "Song For the Broken" by Barlow Girl (an odd choice, I know), which has elements in it that resonate with Susannah. That steadfast, hardworking, stoic attitude is very much a part of her and something she struggles to shed in part throughout the course of the book.

(oh why does it take so much?)
to bring me to my knees,
(oh why does it take so much?)
pain for me to see,
(if strength is only found when)
I am on my knees,
(why is it so hard)
to show that I am weak?

The second song is "Paradise" by Coldplay, which has more to do with Susannah's early years than anything else. The sense of childlike faith and dreams that pervades the song corresponds perfectly with her personality as a young girl.

when she was just a girl
she expected the world
but it flew away from her reach
and the bullets catch in her teeth

life goes on, it gets so heavy
the wheel breaks the butterfly
every tear a waterfall
in the night, the stormy night, she'd close her eyes
in the night, the stormy night, away she'd fly . . .

kenneth hughes

There's something about "Some Nights" by Fun* (the clean version, that is) that fits Kenneth perfectly. It can make for depressing listening when taken in large doses and doesn't fall along the lines of my usual music preferences, but it's a remarkable echo of my British infantryman's heart. He didn't choose his battle, and when called to defend his land, he struggles to rationalize shedding his blood for a cause in which he puts no faith.

but I still wake up, I still see your ghost 
oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for 
what do I stand for? what do I stand for? 
most nights, I don't know... 

mercédès

Mercédès has lived in my head since the spring, but she's only been the subject of a few hastily scribbled scenes and a secret Pinterest board since, as she and her world are not quite ready to see the light of day. In time I will reveal some, but for now, I enjoy holding her story very close to my heart. The significance of Sara Groves' "Painting Pictures of Egypt" rings so true for Merche that it can cause a subtle ache to rise in my throat if I listen to the song too closely. As I mentioned a several weeks ago, Mercédès is a stranger in a strange land, learning about and adjusting to customs that could not be farther from her own.

the past is so tangible
I know it by heart
familiar things are never easy 
to discard
I was dying for some freedom
but now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the promise
and the things I know

I've been painting pictures of egypt
leaving out what it lacks
the future feels so hard
and I want to go back
but the places that used to fit me
cannot hold the things I've learned
those roads were closed off to me
while my back was turned

stephen & agnes randolph

You haven't met them yet, save for a picture of Agnes in one of my three (!) posts in August, but I could hardly resist leaving this husband and wife out of the mix. Their relationship has a distinctly unique nature, and I can't wait to explore and develop it further after I finish Rifles in the South Field. "Dancing in the Minefields" by Andrew Peterson, a favorite of mine already, was and continues to be a source of inspiration.

'cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
so there's nothing left to fear
and I'll walk with you through the shadowlands
'til the shadows disappear

giles

Again, someone I haven't officially introduced on Literary Lane. Giles hails from a novel that won't be written for at least two more years, but inspiration is a fickle creature, and I've learned to snatch him up when I can. "A Place Only You Can Go" by Needtobreathe matches him perfectly. He's a simple character and a man of few words, but his love runs as deep as anyone else.

take my notions and words to heart
this is the cry of a man
I can't bring you fortune or noble life
but I'll love you all I can

oh, I know this song won't do
enough to prove my love to you
in my heart you'll always know
there is a place only you can go

rowen

Rowen's theme, "For the Love of a Princess" from the Braveheart* soundtrack, remains the only movie track I've included in this post. I meant for the focus to be on music with lyrics that coincide with or inspire my characters, but Rowen can be such a shadow of a girl sometimes that only an instrumental piece will suffice. The haunting and lonesome melody reminds me so much of her.


What songs define your characters?

*I can't recommend any other songs by this band, having not heard any more myself, but I would definitely advise listening to their music with caution. I also have not seen Braveheart, but I love the soundtrack, as I'm sure you know full well.

Book Review: Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

03 September 2013

Writing book reviews, like writing books, grows harder still with each review I write. Every time I sit down to share my thoughts on my most recent read, my brain shuts down and refuses to offer up a single intelligent statement. Maybe it's a good thing, then, that most of my book reviews remain drafts for a month or two after I finish the book itself, as that keeps me from out and out gushing. I've found that the best way to write up a review is to leave the book for a time until you're able to adequately cover its most valuable aspects, while Goodreads is better suited to the squealing and gushing that naturally follow the completion of an excellent story.

In other words, I've had this post in my drafts folder for over two months, and I'm decidedly unapologetic.

Moonblood
By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
*Summary taken from Goodreads.com

Desperate to regain the trust of his kingdom, Prince Lionheart reluctantly banishes his faithful servant and only friend, Rose Red. Now she is lost in the hidden realm of Arpiar, held captive by her evil goblin father, King Vahe. 

Vowing to redeem himself, Lionheart plunges into the mysterious Goldstone Wood, seeking Rose Red. In strange other worlds, Lionheart must face a lyrical yet lethal tiger, a fallen unicorn, and a goblin horde on his quest to rescue the girl he betrayed. 

With the Night of Moonblood fast approaching, when King Vahe seeks to wake the Dragon's sleeping children, Lionheart must discover whether or not his heart contains courage before it's too late for Rose Red . . . and all those he loves.

My Thoughts: As those of you who have read my reviews for Heartless and Veiled Rose are aware, I have a pet interest in Lionheart, alias Leonard the Lightning Tongue. After two books of watching him struggle and fail, I rejoiced at the chance to see him redeemed. True, the beginning of Moonblood didn't encourage me much — banishing the only faithful friend you've ever had isn't the most conventional way of turning your life around — but he soon realizes the ghastly mistake he's made. Before long, the former prince is valiantly journeying through Goldstone Wood with skeptical Eanrin by his side, bent on retrieving his dear friend and subsequently scrubbing the stain from his name once and for all. But can he manage to fulfill such an impossible task in the few days left to his disposal?

The quality of Anne Elisabeth's writing improves drastically with each story. I enjoyed Moonblood even more than Veiled Rose and Heartless, and I have no doubt the books that follow in her series will be better still. This brings to the surface one of the elements in Stengl's writing that I so appreciate — she's never afraid to keep improving her craft, even though there was little at fault from book one. She maintains her original style, a charming mix of ancient fairytales, modern expressions, and Christian allegory, and yet with each book I grow, as Alice would have it, curiouser and curiouser to read more of her tales. She truly is a gifted wordcrafter.

Pros: The allegory within Moonblood is expertly woven, and the fantasy is at it's prime. Each layer runs deeper and deeper in much the same manner as King Vahe's veils until you're completely entangled. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and even stayed up past 3 A.M. at one point for the purpose of having some of my curiosity satisfied.

Cons: Violence is a darker, albeit necessary, aspect of this book. I did not find it excessive, but between it and the one or two instances of strong language, I would not recommend Moonblood for younger readers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 12+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
“I'll never tell you to stop loving. You see, I believe in hopeless love. Oh yes. I believe in it with all my heart, though you may discount the heart of an old nanny like me. For real love brings pain. Real love means sacrifices and hurts and all the thousand shocks of life. But it also means beauty, true beauty.” — Moonblood

The Newest Inkling

27 August 2013

Friends and fellow wordsmiths, please join me in welcoming Meghan Gorecki to the ranks of author-bloggers! She's newly unveiled her lovely blog, Every Good Word, and as a means of getting acquainted, has opened up the floor with a tag of her own creation. I've decided to join in and highly recommend that you do the same. In addition to this questionnaire, Meghan has a giveaway, several guest posts, and lots of other exciting things in the works at Every Good Word that you won't want to miss. Do take the time to stop by!

What was your first-ever piece of writing?

A horrid thing scribbled on copy paper about a man named Sir Carnivore, his daughter Pauline, her suitor Ferdinand, and many other odd characters. It was called Knights and Ladies, and the four-page sequel (a hefty accomplishment for me at age eight) was even worse. Both were published in brief installments in our personal edition of The Pickwick Portfolio.

How old were you when you first began writing?

I've journaled from age six, written snatches of poetry and drama since age eight, and began my first novel, then-titled The Story of Rose, around age eleven. 

Name two writing goals. One short term & one long term. 

My short term goal is to finish Rifles in the South Field and segue into editing before the year is out. As for long term, I'd like to expand my outlines for my future works, begin writing them, and see Rifles eventually published.

Do you write fiction or non-fiction? 

My writing is often inspired by real-life events, but it is, for all intents and purposes, fictional.

Bouncing off of question 4, what's your favorite genre to write in? 

Historical fiction. History's annals have taught me of warfare and siege, fierce pride in one's homeland and people, heroes and traitors, all-encompassing love and bitter hate, martyrs, peasants, and kings . . . and that's enough to keep me going for years.

One writing lesson you've learned since 2013 began. 

Good writing has less to do with lightning bolts of inspiration and more to do with steady diligence.

Favorite author, off the top of your head!

I'm going to steal Bree's answer and say C.S. Lewis. Hearing my father read The Magician's Nephew aloud with my younger brother each morning has been reminding me of just how much I love his work. Lewis dwells in the beautiful, unspeakable, eternal things, and reading his writing feels like coming home.

"My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great."

Three current favorite books.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, which is positively hilarious; The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis, for the reasons mentioned above; and Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers, which is so rich it must be taken in small bites in order to be properly appreciated.

Biggest influence on your writing (person).

Undoubtedly my father, who is a gifted writer in his own right, though he pens mostly nonfiction. We're cut from the same cloth in nearly every way, we love discussing history and theology, and we're normally up reading later than anyone else in the house. He has been both my greatest encourager and my harshest critic, and I wouldn't be where I am today without his guidance.

What's your go-to writing music? 

Film scores. Braveheart (haven't seen the film, and thus cannot recommend it), The Young Victoria, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Little Women are my usual choices, but I also love the James Horner station on Pandora, which pulls up some obscure, but inspiring pieces.

List three to five writing quirks of yours! Little habits, must-haves as you write, etc.

1. When I'm writing during the day, I have to be dressed nicely with my hair fixed and my makeup applied, or else I find it harder to be productive.
2. I'm picky about music — I can't write without it, but it has to be instrumental, or it distracts me.
3. Even though I've tried to write early in the morning, I end up getting most of my writing done in the evening when my other work is completed.
4. I don't write well in notebooks. Flashes of inspiration get scribbled down, but I save my full scenes for my Word document.
5. Deadlines and I don't mix. If I know I have to finish something by a certain date, I tend to dig my heels in and stubbornly refuse to go further. I blame it on all the red in my hair.

What, in three sentences or less, does your writing mean to you?

Learning about all the quirks and habits of human nature on a grander scale. Studying man's inherent flaws and God's infinite wisdom and grace with my pen as the brush and a blank document as the canvas. Satisfaction in painting a replica of the world God created out of nothing.

I tag anyone who shudders at the thought of sharing their earliest excerpts. 

God Has Given You One Face

17 August 2013


. . . and you make yourself another.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

I've always held that busy, grey, school-filled days are best suited to fun blog posts. If we're to go about pointing fingers, Mirriam started it with her dream cast for a book she'd recently read. Jenny and Bree continued it, only they used their own characters. And though it's taken me some time to compile the pictures (Blogger never will learn to cooperate), I've decided to cast my lot with the rest and join in. Many of these individuals haven't been officially introduced up to this point, simply because their respective books are only in the planning stages, and I'm afraid this is all you're going to get until I'm ready to unveil. All the same, I thought you'd enjoy getting a peek at the people that frequent my mind.

Note: Many of these photos come from films and/or television programs which I have not seen. For that reason, I cannot recommend the sources themselves. I've included the pictures only because they are close depictions of my own characters.

Also, I've included a few horses in the mix, since they are most certainly characters.

Susannah Dixon (quite close — Susannah's a little younger at Rifles' beginning).
Kenneth Hughes.
The late Elizabeth Dixon.
Artemis, the moon-white mare.
Excalibur.
Count.
Eva Hughes.
Malcolm Noyes. He's a pretty decent chap.
Violet Bradshaw.
Lillian Prescott, looking more melancholy than is usually her wont.
Anna Bradshaw.
Grace Bradshaw.
Mercédès. She's a stranger in a strange land.

Antón de Rojas, the red warrior. Let all who cross him beware. 
Agnes Randolph.
Giles.
Rowan.

How do you picture your characters?
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