Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: Five Magic Spindles

Goodreads // Amazon


When Rooglewood Press published a collection of Cinderella retellings a few years ago, Five Glass Slippers, I snatched it up. To my delight, the creative spins on a tale that's been told hundreds of times blew me away.


And when the next collection of Beauty and the Beast retellings, Five Enchanted Roses, came out, I was even more delighted! It was clear that all these writers deserved to win the contests Rooglewood was hosting; these were talented, creative individuals, all with their own distinctive approach.


Well, I'm happy to report that the third collection, Five Magic Spindles, is just as wonderful as its predecessors! In fact, it might be the most unique set of retellings yet.




The Man on the Buckskin Horse // Rachel Kovaciny


When I first heard that one of the stories was a Western, I was . . . well, skeptical. I don't read Western books or watch Western movies all that often. I'm a fantasy nerd at heart!


But within the first chapter, Rachel Kovaciny had me hooked with her dry humor and the no-nonsense midwife Emma Thornberry. I didn't think it was possible to plunk Sleeping Beauty into a log cabin, toss in a farmer and a gunslinger, and come out with anything remotely like the original fairy tale. But she did it!

"The closer I get to fifty, the rarer sensible folks become."


Favorite Things:
  • Emma. She's practical and blunt and hilarious. Why don't we have more books from middle-aged perspectives?
  • Snark!
  • Palmer, the swoon-worthy gunman, has a deep backstory packed into just a few pages.
  • I felt like all the characters had a history--their own stories, their relationships with each other, everything.
  • It was such fun picking out all the Sleeping Beauty elements in this wildly different setting. I won't spoil anything for you, but it was definitely creative!
  • The heartwarming ending.


Not-so-favorite Things:
  • I must have missed a detail, because I thought Palmer was about 20 years older than he actually was, right up until the end. Oops.


I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and flew right through it. 4.5 stars!




Guardian of Our Beauty // Kathryn McConaughy



I remember when Anne Elisabeth Stengl (the lovely author who runs Rooglewood) shared a collection of first lines from a bunch of writers entering the Five Magic Spindles contests. And I still remember how Kathryn McConaughy's first line about a king drowning in daughters jumped out at me. That same amusing, old fairy tale style is all over her story!


This is possibly the most exotic tale of the collection. Despite being written in a slightly more distant manner, I was fully immersed in the Middle Eastern-inspired setting and its almost mythological flavor.


Palli did not know how she could save anyone. But if all she had to was sleep--well, she could do that! She slept every night. When her other small sisters wondered why Palli went so willingly to bed, Palli only blinked at them and said, "It is good practice."


Favorite Things:
  • Palli, the Sleeping Beauty character, was so sweet and altruistic.
  • All the cool creatures! They were what gave the story a mythical slant. At first, they seemed random, but I should've known better--they all became important later on.
  • The setting. It felt like there was a whole world to explore.
  • Political happenings that were realistic, not ideal, but still not dry at all.
  • Neriya, the prince: oh my goodness, he's a sweetheart too! So brave and endearing.
  • The God Who Answers. I shan't say more. It's best to read it for yourself.


Not-so-favorite Things:
  • At times, like when I thought the inclusion of the creatures was random, it felt like the story meandered. But in the end, it did tie together, so this isn't completely a negative!


This was another pleasant surprise! A solid 4 stars.




The Ghost of Briardale // Grace Mullins



I think I was most excited by this middle story when I first read the blurb. I mean, it takes place in an insane asylum! Forgive me, but I have an odd fascination with both crazy characters--both the creepy psychopathic kind and the lovable/gruff/off the rocker kind.


And while there wasn't a lot of those kinds of craziness going on, the delightfully convoluted plot was more than enough to keep me engaged! There's a ghost, a dwarf who can't turn invisible, a miniature prince turned human-sized, a Slavering Swamp Beast, and buckets of enchantment. There's gloomy dungeons, locked towers, and a courtyard full of statues. Doesn't that sound fun?


Never before in his life had Franz wished this much to throttle anyone, but there were important reasons why he couldn't. First, she was a girl, and he would never hit a girl even if she were as annoying as this translucent green creature.

The second reason was that he was helplessly strapped, so, even if she'd been some sort of brute, the only harmful thing he could do was glare.


Favorite Things
  • Franz. Dear, dear Franz! He's exactly the kind of unlikely hero that I love to cheer for! As a banker's clerk wrongly committed to the asylum, he tries so very hard to be the True Hero everyone is looking for. He's not strong enough to slay a dragon, he's never saved anyone, and the only thing he has going for him is a big heart.
  • While Franz was the kind of hero I love to cheer for, Mara was the kind of antagonist I love to hate.
  • Roselee, the green ghost, was adorable.
  • The fairies were trapped in the forms of a squirrel, a chicken, and a lizard. (Yep. You read that right.)
  • Lots of banter.
  • All the magic! It was so layered and complex, with each chapter revealing more and more of the enchantment. I was kept guessing the whole time.
  • A certain subplot I won't name was really sweet.
  • A satisfying ending.


Not-so-favorite Things
  • Not much to say here, except for the very minor disappointment of not including crazy people in the way I expected.


All in all, this was a complete pleasure to read. Props to Grace Mullins for her twisty plot and lovable characters! 5 stars!




Spindle Cursed // Michelle Pennington



Before I knew that all these stories were actually amazing, the presence of a good ol' high fantasy amongst the less-traditional genres was a relief. Spindle Cursed guaranteed at least one story I'd love. And, though all the other stories proved to be far better than I foresaw, I was right about this one--I did love it! It follows the original tale a bit more closely than all the others, but still stands apart in its fleshed-out storyworld and vibrant characters.


The story primarily follows Prince Edmond, a rather dashing, serious, down-to-earth character who completely stole my heart. But all the others were fantastic too! Aaaand this is the only story to include an honest-to-goodness dragon. Instant brownie points right there.


"Martin, I am a fool," Edmond called.

Reining in his horse, Martin turned his craggy face to look back in surprise. As Edmond drew even with him, Martin inquired, "Would Your Highness wish me to agree with you or disagree?"


Favorite Things:
  • DRAGON.
  • Classic fantasy settings that popped off the page rather than settle into dusty clich├ęs.
  • Lona, the fairy who looks after the sleeping princess, lives alone in the thorn-riddled castle and has gone utterly mad. It's wonderful.
  • The rapport between Edmond and Martin reminded me of Sage and Mott from The False Prince at times.
  • Lady Rhoswen is another one of those love-to-hate-them villains!
  • A neat twist on the sleeping curse.
  • Arabella was noble and good-hearted and all around a likeable princess.
  • I absolutely loved how Michelle Pennington dealt with the romance. There was still the magical kiss, but it required a genuine relationship to develop first. It was done really well!


Not-so-favorite Things:
  • At times, some of the action scenes seemed to take a step outside the character's head and became less immersive.


This was a fantastic addition to the collection! It kept a more traditional fairy tale slant, which I loved. 4.5 stars.




Out of the Tomb // Ashley Stangl



Sci-fi is something I haven't read much of either (although there's more of it in my reading diet than there is Westerns), so I wasn't completely sure what to expect. I needn't have worried, because Out of the Tomb was superb! Ashley Stangl thrust me right into a teeming new world full of flora, fauna, and gadgetry I'd never heard of, yet made me feel right at home.


But it was the raw, relatable characters that won me over completely. Tanza, though an alien girl, was a rough-around-the-edges protagonist who wormed her way right into my heart. And her tale flipped Sleeping Beauty upside down, because this time, it's a prince who gets woken!


She turned her back on the spindle and rifled through the boxes of antique medical tools, falling into a quiet rhythm as she searched for anything of value. Most people found tombs eerie, but Tanza luxuriated in the peace.

A man's voice, deep and smooth, flowed through the silence. "I beg your pardon, but are you robbing me?"


Favorite Things:
  • Tanza is bacon-flipping SMART. She robs high-tech tombs for a living and definitely knows how to look after herself.
  • Prince Auren is absolutely adorable. So confused and old-fashioned and struggling to understand the ways of a world one hundred years ahead of him.
  • The concept of virtue names was genius, and it made me love Auren and Tanza even more. I won't explain it, because that's something else you need to read for yourself!
  • Maybe it was just the genre, but somehow I got a few Lunar Chronicles vibes . . .
  • There's so much culture, history, and worldbuilding jam-packed into this novella, and all without resorting to too much telling.
  • Hovercars!
  • Plot twist!
  • The Moon-Cross Festival scene was my favorite thing ever. So precious!


Not-so-favorite Things:
  • Nothing to report here, unless you count my severe distaste for Keffer, Tanza's low-life boss.


I think, surprisingly, this might have been my favorite story in the collection! The ending nearly made me cry, which is difficult to do in less than a hundred pages. I would gladly follow these characters into more adventures. 5 stars!


Overall



A rollicking Western. A world of priests, princes, and flying cats. A castle woven in complex enchantments. A prince brave enough to face a dragon. A sci-fi adventure. Five completely different stories that somehow all paid homage to the original Sleeping Beauty we know and love.


This is a strong collection indeed! Just like the two books before it, there's bound to be something in it for everyone; yet you may be pleasantly surprised by stories you didn't even expect to like. I'm giving Five Magic Spindles a smashing FIVE STARS. This is one book I'll be eager to return to in the future!


If you've read Five Magic Spindles, which was your favorite story? If you haven't, tell me which ones looks most promising! (And then get thee to Amazon and go buy it!)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

What I'm Looking & Listening For

"Give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in." (1 Thessalonians 5:18a)



Can I be completely honest with you? Canadian Thanksgiving is coming on Monday, and while I am relieved and grateful for a long weekend . . . today I'm not feeling it. Holidays are supposed to bring warm fuzzy feelings, but sometimes we're just too tired or frazzled or upset or sad to get in the spirit.


I'm not all of those things, although I've had a busy couple of weeks with frustratingly long hours of homework. My creative soul feels stifled. My to-do list doesn't seem to be getting any shorter.


But that's just it--thankfulness is not about feelings. In this social media age where all we see are the highlight reels of people's lives, it's easy to think everyone else is so much happier than we are. Yet neither life nor emotions are static; they're constantly changing like the seasons. And the truth is that if I can find reasons to complain, I can find at least as many reasons to rejoice.


To remind myself, here's a brief list. (Perhaps it will remind you, too, of the good things in life.)


***
[Pinterest]

I have a wonderful, fun, supportive family who loves me.

I have friends checking in on me and praying for me.

I get to walk to school each day, enjoying the crisp air of autumn mornings.

I can still make money at my job despite going to school full-time.

There's a stack of good books on my desk almost two feet high, all waiting to be read.

I've been in college only six weeks, and already I understand how to make an income statement, what factors change supply and demand, how to write memos, how to calculate equivalent payments of compound interest, all kinds of things that Microsoft Word can do, and how business is all about creating value for customers.

I have an amazing church that makes every Sunday morning feel like coming home.

I'm healthy.

I have opportunities every day to laugh.

Great movies are a thing.

So is good music, such as:
Reckless Love by Cory Asbury (a long one, but so, so good)
Deeper by SVRCINA (thanks to Katie Grace for introducing me to this singer)
Clap Your Hands by Owl City (it's about golf? but it's really fun)
Something in the Water by Tim Neufeld (this cover never fails to make me happy)
I Need Thee Every Hour by Anthem Lights (their entire Hymns album is so peaceful)

I haven't run out of things to write about, and after a week of no writing, Snow White is waiting for me to pen the next part of her adventure.

I get to connect with faraway friends through the internet and snail mail.

The sun rises.

Seeing the full moon shining over the harvested fields makes me want to shut my car headlights off and stare for a while.

Watercolor pencils are magical.

So is pumpkin pie.

Dreams aren't out of reach--I'm on my way, and you know, the days of small beginnings are actually exciting when I stop and climb to a new vantage point.

It's sweater weather.

Tea. (What else needs to be said about that?)

The blue jays have returned.

Asking customers at work what their plans are for Thanksgiving transforms mediocre small talk into real conversations and real smiles.

Journaling late at night when my brain is tired and filters are down is relaxing.

God is there. Quietly faithful. The same today as He was yesterday. The same as He will be tomorrow.

***

Sometimes we need to stop, breathe, and consciously think of all the things we have to be grateful for. And to be completely honest with you again--after writing this list, I feel a lot lighter. Happy Thanksgiving!


What are you thankful for today?


[Pinterest]

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Subplots & Storylines - September 2017


And all at once, summer collapsed into fall. -Oscar Wilde


That about sums it up. September was beautiful and crazy and challenging and good. School (and the ensuing homework) has swallowed up much of my time. I'm doing better in my Financial Accounting class than I thought I would, Math is a challenge, and both Business Communication and Intro to Canadian Business are still my favorite classes. Everything else is a bit meh, but I know I'm learning useful skills. Still, I'm glad that after laying a foundation this year, I'll get to choose a more interesting course load next year.


Anyway, many of you are up to your ears in schoolwork as well, and probably don't want to hear any more on that subject! So let's move on.


In between classes, I've been enjoying the beauty of autumn. My cousin got married, my parents celebrated their wedding anniversary, and . . .


I went to a Skillet concert with my brother! (For those who may not know, Skillet is a Christian rock band.) Now, truth be told, I'm not much of a concert-goer. In fact, this was only the second real concert I've ever been to. So I felt like a shocked little old lady when the volume skyrocketed and rattled my eardrums. My ears were still ringing the next day, haha! But once the two opening acts--which involved much more screaming and much less intelligibility than I prefer--were over, I loved seeing Skillet perform. They're kind of amazing. I've had Comatose playing in my head for weeks since then. If you're looking for story inspiration, a ton of their songs are great for that!


Here it is--the blurry, sat-in-the-top-balcony proof that I was there!

Screen Subplots



finished Once Upon a Time Season 2 // started Once Upon a Time season 3


If you guys get tired of seeing OUAT mentioned in every. single. S&S post, I wouldn't blame you! But I'm still watching/re-watching it, so you're going to keep hearing about it. Currently enjoying Neverland and lots of friction between characters!


started The Flash season 3


Oh my gracious goodness, I love this show. I've only seen a couple episodes, but I'm excited to see where it goes! Much heart-wrenching-ness has already happened.




Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2


So this was really wild and fun! Not quite as good as the first one, and it took a while for the plot to get moving, but it was still entertaining. (I could've done without the crude jokes, though.) But BABY GROOT. HE IS THE REASON I WATCHED THIS MOVIE.


The whole crew, really, is awesome together. They fight and call each other names and hold grudges, but in the end, they do love each other and stick up for one another. I loved how they played on the "typical North American family drama" you see in a lot of movies, yet it was in an intergalactic, superhero context.


Other things I liked: Rocket is terrible at winking. Drax is as guileless as ever. Baby Groot is the best thing to grace the silver screen. Yondu is grouchy and awesome. ("I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!") Gamora has sister issues. Star Lord has daddy issues. Okay, pretty much everyone has issues.


How dorky can Peter Parker get, you ask? (I can relate, though, because
I have definitely waved to people who aren't waving to me.)


Spider-Man (2002) (rewatch)


Yes, the old one. Yes, the cringey-but-still-adorkable one. This was the first time all of my siblings have watched a superhero movie together. I remember loving this one years ago, but now I just laugh at all the cheesiness! (Sorry, Maguire, but Garfield and Holland are my favorites.)


Page Subplots



This was the month of Sleeping Beauty retellings! Which sounds like I read a pile of them, but in actuality, it was only two books.




Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer


I was really looking forward to reading this one, especially because I've got my Spidey sense tuned into the fairy-tale retelling market (wink wink, The Brightest Thread) . . . but sadly, it didn't quite live up to my expectations.


One of my main problems with it was small, yet it affected everything: the tense. Spindle Fire was written in third-person present tense. Like this:


Aurora is startled from fitful sleep by a loud rustling of feathers . . . and a voice. "Evening, caged bird," it says.


I don't mind present tense at all--I'll admit that past is my favorite, but I often forget about the tense when the story sweeps me away. Problem is, pretty much all of the present tense books I've read are also first person. Third-person present just felt . . . odd. Lurching. At times, it read more like a long synopsis than the kind of narrative I'm used to. There were a handful of truly beautiful moments and snippets of enchanting prose. But then I would feel jerked out of the story again by the way it was written, or by some out-of-place modernism. Obviously, not everyone will feel that way! It could very well just be me who didn't like that aspect!


But on to the story itself. This is a Sleeping Beauty retelling in which Aurora has a half sister, and both of them are missing senses that were tithed to fairies. Aurora is mute and has no sense of touch; Isabel is blind. So alternating between their viewpoints was very intriguing! And reading about a strong sister relationship is so, so refreshing in YA.


The romantic relationships were pretty good. I kind of feel like Isbe (a.k.a. Isabel) got over something a tad too quickly, but I love a certain prince that gets involved later. And Heath and Aurora were sweet together.


Oh, that brings me to another thing! Aurora winds up in a dream realm . . . except I couldn't quite figure out if it was a dream realm? It seemed more like a real kingdom trapped by an enchanted wall, and it was even on the map at the front of the book. I'm a little fuzzy on those details. Despite my confusion, it was a chilling setting with some lovely little illogical things you'd expect from a dream.


I will credit the author for making the world feel incredibly real! Despite experiencing half of the book through a blind girl, I do feel like I was right there on the wintry seacoast of Deluce and the green meadows of Aubin. Loved that.


This is turning into a long ramble of random things I liked and didn't like, but here's one more: the fairies were quite interesting. It's hard to like any of them, since most fall somewhere between selfish and downright evil. But they were quite fascinating. (Caution: one fairy, who takes people's sense of touch, lives a very loose lifestyle. Her flagrant ways are referenced several times, and a scene or two takes place in her brothel-like house, thankfully from blind Isbe's point of view.)


Anyway, I should wrap this up. Books that give me conflicted feelings are the hardest to review! Three stars.




Five Magic Spindles by Rachel Kovaciny, Kathryn McConaughy, Grace Mullins, Michelle Pennington, and Ashley Stangl


I plan to post a full review on this in the near future, so I won't say anything now except that this was a positively delightful collection! Five stars.


Writing Subplots



Wonder of wonders, I actually managed to write during the college life! Here's a peek into what happened on my side of the computer screen:


  • I brainstormed my Snow White novella for Rooglewood's Five Poisoned Apples contest.*
  • I plotted Snow White. Briefly. There are holes. But there's also a basic framework in place, so hooray, I know what I'm doing. (Not really.)
  • And I wrote close to 8,000 words of Snow White! Almost halfway!
*The deadline is December 31st, 2017. All you incredible writers out there who are even considering entering: there's still time! For one of these contests, I wrote my entry in a month. Not advisable, but still possible.


The novella still has no title, and the plot is a skeleton I'm joining together bone by bone. But I can tell you that it's a Nordic-inspired fantasy setting, it may or may not take place in the same world as The Brightest Thread, and winter is coming. There's creepy mirror magic, hunting, and BFFs that won't admit they love each other. Oh yes, and everything you know about Snow White actually happened in the past.


On another note, beta feedback on The Brightest Thread is trickling in (you readers are amazing!), and I'm excited to see where the novel is working and where it needs some tune-ups. Getting fresh eyes on a story is so helpful, guys. I polished that novel as best as I knew how, but now I'm starting to know more--so there's additional work to be done. And that's exciting, because it means TBT will improve!


I suppose it's almost worth mentioning school papers I've been writing in the meantime. Besides practicing writing memos, business emails, and informational reports, I actually got to write a letter from the perspective of a young Titanic survivor. That exercise nearly brought tears to my eyes.


[Pinterest]

Onward to October



Life moves in seasons, much like the earth spins, and I'm learning to be content where I am. This month was harder in that regard, as school pulled me away from so many of the things I love. (And many of my monthly goals for September remain unfinished.) But I have to remember that I'm in college to equip myself to do the things I love better. And I'm thankful for family and friends and God who all love me through my frazzled moments and remind me that seasons do change.


What sort of adventures have YOU been on this autumn? Are you back in school? Writing something new? And obviously the most pressing question: what are your thoughts on third-person present tense?!