Firelight (ReCOVERy Friday)

 ReCOVERy Friday is a meme hosted by Miss Page-Turner's City of Books.  Since I've had the type of week that very much calls for some recovery, I've decided to chime in with this fun artwork based meme.

This is how it works:

  1. Think of a book cover you like (e.g. because of its cover art, model, author, title etc.) Doesn’t matter if it’s an old or new one, you just have to enjoy it!
  2. Create a ReCOVERy Friday post for your blog and post it with the whole wonderful weekend ahead
  3. Maybe add some sentences and explain why you like the cover…
  4. Then add your ReCOVERy Friday post to the link list on Miss Page Turner's site so everyone can enjoy it
  5. Check out other ReCOVERy Friday posts if you like to compare them, chat about them, get inspiration and just have fun! 

The cover I want to spotlight is a book that I just finished reading and will be reviewing next month as part of The Bookish Type's Fall Into Fantasy event.   You'll have to wait to read my thoughts on this novel, but for now take a peek at the cover of Sophie Jordan's Firelight.

As much as I keep telling myself not to be influenced by cover art, I know this one caught my eye in the bookstore long before I really decided I wanted to read it.  I know I've got a weak spot for red headed heroines (let's hear it for the gingers!) and the slitted pupil plus creepy skin thing going on piqued my interest.  If not for this cover, I may not have looked deeper to find out that this book was going to be a different take on dragon mythology that definitely sounded like something I would enjoy.  And, as weird as this may seem, I also really like the font.  It's a small detail, sure, but I like the wispy letters with combined with the sharp hooks, and the dots on the "i"s even look like little flames - definitely adds to the dragon and fire theme.  Does this cover catch your eye?  What do or don't you like about it?

The Juniper Tree (Fairy Tale Fridays)

Welcome back to Fairy Tale Fridays, a weekly meme hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books!

Since last week's story The Old Grave-Stone sounded like a Halloween tale but was actually quite sweet and sentimental, I think the opposite can be said of The Brother's Grimm story The Juniper Tree.  Click on the title to read the story in its entirety, but be warned, this isn't a story for a safe little bed time.  In fact, it's probably not a story to enjoy near meal time either.  To give you a small preview, the tale follows a young child "red as blood and white as snow" whose mother dies with delight at his birth.  In case that's not your limit for a bad beginning, his stepmother decapitates him and shamefully blames it on his younger sister.  Had enough?  I didn't yet get to explaining how he is then cooked into a meal which is eaten by his father, his bones are carried off by his younger sister and buried under a juniper tree, only to have a bird carry his story throughout the land. The bird's song goes:

"My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper-tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!

I suppose you could argue that The Brother's Grimm should have borrowed from Lemony Snicket a more appropriate title for this tale and called it A Series of Unfortunate Events!  If you haven't yet lost your lunch, you'll be pleased to know that the rest of the story is slightly more pleasant and the evil stepmother does get her comeuppance in the end.  I'm still worried about why people would listen to a song about being killed by a mother and eaten by a father and have little other comment than "nice song" and "play it again, birdie".  Even reading the tune, I was more than a little grossed out by it and had little desire to have it repeated.

I'm not sure how fitting this fairy tale is as a bedtime story but the gruesome and macabre fable does seem perfect for a spooky campfire tale this time of year.  I think I even remember a scary story from my childhood about a decapitated girl with a kerchief around her neck holding her head on that probably has it's roots in the opening portion of The Juniper Tree.  Regardless of whether you find the stories of the Grimm Brothers to be delightful or demented, there's no denying the far reaches of their influences.  

Are you familiar with The Juniper Tree or other stories with similar elements?  Do you like creepy, gross-out, spine-chilling tales on Halloween?

Share your thoughts here or link up your own Fairy Tale Friday post on Tif's site!

Shadow Hills

In case there aren't enough reasons that I love book blogging, one more to add to the list is that I love discovering new titles from other book bloggers.   Shadow Hills is a tile that I knew nothing about until Casey over at The Bookish Type brought it to my attention.

 Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus tells the story of L.A. teenager Persephone "Phe" Archer who enrolls in a Massachusetts boarding school after the death of her older sister. Her new home is in the town of Shadow Hills and she soon discovers strange things about the local students - including that they're all descendants of survivors of a plague that hit the town in the 1700's. Of course, even aside from her strange classmates, Phe has enough oddity to deal with due to her ongoing nightmares that seem a little too realistic to ignore.

I love the suspense and the mystery that was drawn into this novel. Hopcus easily could have created another vampire or werewolf story, but instead takes a fresh and original approach to supernatural abilities. She even manages to ground the paranormal aspects of the story in solid science, lending an air of believability to the fantasy elements of the book. The story was well told and the ending is solid - Hopcus could easily write a sequel, but the book lacks nothing as a stand alone work.

I really enjoyed the writing style also, and felt that Hopcus did a wonderful job creating deep characters and a vividly detailed setting. Phe is a multi-faceted protagonist and she has a solid narrative voice. Her emotions are realistic and her backstory, complete with mistakes she admits and learns from, was well-developed. Shadow Hills was a great novel and easily stands as one of this year's most unique and intriguing young adult urban fantasy books. 
The more I read blogs and connect with other readers on the web, the more I value hearing about new titles from other people.  With so many new books hitting the market every day it's impossible to keep track of everything that sounds read-worthy.  Who do you usually hear about new releases from?  Bloggers?  Librarians?  Bookstore employees?


Shauna Niequist, author of Cold Tangerines, returns to writing and her signature style of simple but poignant observations on faith in everyday life in her latest book Bittersweet. Subtitled thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way, Niequist does not shy away from discussing her own personal struggles and pain. Her candid honesty and conversational tone connects the reader to her words and her life making her message stronger, clearer, and more profound.

Each of the small chapters works as a stand-alone essay, but they all tie together smoothly. Whether reading one passage at a time or several in one sitting, the book has a smooth pace. Niequist is ultimately quotable, too; and I found myself dog-earring multiple pages knowing that there were several lines I wanted to come back and reflect on at a later time.

The title of the book comes from Niequist's idea that a full life requires both bitterness and sweetness. She says, "When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow." In a later chapter about friendship and the trap of always trying to appear perfect she explains, "We slip into believing that it's better to strive for perfection than to accept and offer one another grace." And among many brilliant thoughts on writing she offers the insight, "Writing wakes me up, lights me on fire, opens my eyes to the things I can never see and feel when I'm hiding under the covers, cowering and consumed with my own failures and fears."

Niequist is not ashamed to share her "failures and fears" with the reader but it is obvious that what she states about writing is true. In the written word she truly does shine, and her words are perfectly chosen and powerful, creating a work to be reread, reflected on, and ruminated over long after the final page is turned.

NaNo Note (1)

Fall is in the air and along with colorful leaves, apple cider, and all things pumpkin, it's time to consider NaNoWriMo.  For those unfamiliar with the strange abbreviation word, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and takes place in November.  The goal is to write approximately 1,667 words every day resulting in a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month.  And I'm participating.  Again.  Am I crazy?  Yeah, probably.  But then I have to stop and ask myself,

How could I say no to this year when they finally decided to include monkeys on the participant badges??? 

This will be my fourth year participating in the competition, and surprisingly, I have three "wins" under my belt from '07, '08, and '09.  (Disclaimer: In NaNoWriMo, "win" is defined as reaching the 50K mark and does not indicate the accomplishment of having composed anything remotely readable.)  Of course, even though I'll be embarking on this crazy journey of fast paced novelling, I don't want anyone to fear that I'll be abandoning my blog.  Granted, Her Book Self is the main reason I almost decided against another year of NaNo, but I found a way to keep this blog flowing while still devoting my writing energy to a crazy novel project.

Most of my posts are scheduled in advance anyway, so I'm pleased to give you a sneak preview of what to expect from this blog next month.  To start with I have two advance reviews to share.  These are books I read and reviewed this summer, but seeing as how both are books that will be released in November, I've held the reviews to post closer to the time when the books will hit the shelves of stores.  I also have two great upcoming author interviews!  If you've seen my author interview index, you'll have a multiple choice of which talented writers will be gracing me with their presence.  And I'm taking part in a very exciting YA book release event called Fall Into Fantasy hosted by one of my favorite book blogs, The Bookish Type.  I'll be reviewing Sophie Jordan's Firelight ...with a special swag giveaway!  Stay tuned for all of that as well as my NaNoWriMo updates (my user name is elbakerone for anyone who wants to follow my daily progress). 

Wishing Everyone a Happy Soon To Be November!

The Old Grave-Stone (Fairy Tale Fridays)

The Old Grave-Stone by Hans Christian Andersen is not a story with which I was familiar, but seeing as how the title evokes a plethora of Halloween images, I happily read through it for this week's edition of Fairy Tale Fridays!  (FTF is a weekly meme hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books.)  The fable is a relatively short one and recounts the story of a house in a provincial town with a large stone in front of it.  The rock has become a fixture of the landscape and children play on it, but the tale goes on to reveal that it is actually a grave marker relocated from an old cemetery.

The story proceeds with an old-man recalling some details of the lives of the man and woman - Preben and Martha Schwane - whose graves the stone was on.  Sadly, the repeated sentiment is, "Forgotten! Ah, yes, everything will be forgotten!" but in the midst of this, the very act of talking about the lives of the Schwanes passes their story on to younger generations.  At the end of the story, a young boy who has been listening to the old man hears the following words in his heart:

“Preserve carefully the seed that has been entrusted to thee, that it may grow and thrive. Guard it well. Through thee, my child, shall the obliterated inscription on the old, weather-beaten grave-stone go forth to future generations in clear, golden characters. The old pair shall again wander through the streets arm-in-arm, or sit with their fresh, healthy cheeks on the bench under the lime-tree, and smile and nod at rich and poor. The seed of this hour shall ripen in the course of years into a beautiful poem. The beautiful and the good are never forgotten, they live always in story or in song.” 

This is a beautiful way to end the story as it brings the hopeful and beautiful to light the sadness of  forgotten life.  It extols the virtue of oral traditions as the way to honor and remember those that have come before us.  I love the line, "they live always in story or in song."  Interestingly, this ending brought to mind a trip I took in high school to Salem, Massachusetts.  One of our stops was the church and graveyard that was the site and burial ground of many people involved with the Salem Witch Trials.  I remember how several of the crooked, dilapidated grave markers had barely legible inscriptions, and yet because of the history passed down - and likely because of Arthur Miller's The Crucible - family names such as Williams, Corey, and Proctor had a much greater significance to our group of travelers seeing them hundreds of years after they were inscribed. 

What are your thoughts on this story?  Have you ever traced a family genealogy or a lineage of a historical figure through tombstones?  Have you ever shared stories of friends or relatives no longer living with a younger generation?

I'd love to hear your comments here or feel free to create your own post and join in the fun of Fairy Tale Fridays by linking up over at Tif Talks Books!

Author Interview - Helen Smith

If you read my review of Alison Wonderland - or even better if you read the book itself - there will be no surprise as to how excited I am to host an interview with the novel's smart, funny, and wildly imaginative author, Helen Smith!

*applause, applause*

Thank you so much for joining me, Helen!  How did you get started as an author? What writers or works would you say have inspired or influenced you?

I loved reading so much when I was a child that I knew from about the age of eight that I wanted to be a writer when I was older. I had a plan to live an interesting life and travel the world and then settle down and start writing when I was thirty, when I had something to say. I started on Alison Wonderland when I was about 29, which was a sneaky way of getting an extra year to play with before staring my career in earnest. Before that I’d had a short play broadcast on the radio. It won an award – and the prize was the chance to watch the play being produced, and being paid a professional writer’s fee when it was broadcast. I suppose that was really the start of my start career but by then I was determined to write my first novel and didn’t want to be distracted from my goal of getting it finished and getting it published, so even though they asked me to come up with other ideas for radio plays, I didn’t pursue it. It seems crazy now. I’m old enough to know that you don’t have to do one thing at a time, and you need more than one project on the go if you want to be sure of succeeding.

Favourite writers include Graham Greene, Henry Green, Evelyn Waugh, Peter Carey, Paul Auster, Muriel Spark, Chuck Palaniuk. And imagine being as prolific and as widely-read as Agatha Christie! She was my childhood hero, though I haven’t read any of her books for many years. I try not to be influenced by anyone; I try to write in a way that will strike the reader as original and inventive.
Alison Wonderland is filled with quirky humor, do people generally consider you a funny person or do you save your laugh out loud moments for your work?

Thank you! People usually find me funny in person but it’s a sardonic kind of quick-fire humor that relies on getting laughs by commenting on situations as they happen, and often succeeds because I’m building on or responding to jokes made by other people – a kind of bantering ‘pub humor’ that wouldn’t translate to the page. I do like trying to make a story funny when I’m telling it but I can never remember jokes. My written humor is quite subtle and dry. I do a lot of paring down in the writing process.
Taron and Alison (the two lead females) are very different and yet their friendship is pretty strong proving that opposites really can attract. Which character do you connect more with? Do you think you would be friends with one or both of them?
Alison is a version of me – though a less insightful and more grumpy version. Naturally I don’t have any of her failings! Taron is an entirely imagined character, with some of the attributes I’d want from a best friend: she wakes up Alison from her mundane existence and starts her off on various adventures, some of them ill-advised – but none of them any less than interesting. She’s intriguing and irritating and sometimes right when you think she must be wrong about something. I’d be friends with both of them – I’m sure we’d have fun on a night out.
Are any of the random news stories that Alison and Jeff discuss based on fact? If not, how did you come up with them?

Most of the news stories are true. As I was writing, I collected newspaper clippings of stories that intrigued me and seemed relevant to the plot; I wanted to seed them through the novel so that some of the events in the book – while clearly implausible, and created for dramatic effect – would nevertheless seem to have some kind of basis in truth; there would be echoes of the real world in them. I made some of them up, but I hoped it wouldn’t be clear what was real and what was not.
Your novel mentions a few new genetic creations, most notably, the sheep-pig or "shig". If you could combine two animals in real life, what new species would you create?

Ooh! Have you read The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges? He comes up with all sorts of crazy animals in that; it’s worth dipping into if you haven’t already read it. But, to answer your question, I think a pig and a dog would be nice – two intelligent animals combined to make one furry, intelligent one. Delightful! But some kind of combination to replicate a mermaid would be interesting, as would a dog with wings – or any trainable domestic pet with wings: a cat with wings would be great, too. A calbertross, perhaps.
As an author in the UK, is it ever difficult to market/advertise your work in the US? Any chance that a book tour in the states is in your future?

At the moment, my promotions have been limited to mentioning the book in the appropriate threads on forums such as Mobile Reads, Kindle Boards and the Amazon forums – and taking part in discussions about other people’s books there, too. I have done some giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing as well as my blog, and I have been lucky enough to have my book reviewed or featured on blogs like yours (thank you!) and mentioned on sites like the Frugal ereader and Daily Cheapreads.

Fortunately, I’m about to sign with a new publisher who will take over all the marketing of my books on my behalf – and do a professional job of it, too! I hope this means that I will have a chance to do a book tour in the US.
You write children's books as well as novels for adults. Do you prefer one genre over the other? How do you decide what your next work will be?

I had always thought that I would settle down and write children’s books when I reached retirement age. However I was commissioned to write two children’s history books a few years ago, and I took the chance to try my hand at writing for 8-12 year olds – and enjoyed it very much. At the moment I’m concentrating on writing novels for adults, and writing for the stage.

I decide what the next work will be based on what I want to say about something that’s important to me. Though my books and plays are comedies, there is usually some serious intent behind them. You’re not supposed to start with the theme, you’re supposed to start with the characters or the plot. Starting with the theme is my dirty secret.
What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new novel and I have just been commissioned to adapt a novel by a famous author for the stage. I’m really excited about it. I haven’t signed all the paperwork yet so I can’t tell you the name of the novel but I hope the play will be produced next year, in 2011.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I have a blog: I talk about whatever comes into my head. I love to have visitors. Please join me.
Thanks again, Helen!  Check out Alison Wonderland, Being Light, or any of Helen Smith's other works over at her website or Amazon!

Alison Wonderland

It's a rare occasion when I pick a book to read based on cover or title alone, but I was definitely first drawn to Helen Smith's novel for it's clever title - Alison Wonderland - and it was these opening lines that really made me want to read it:

"My name's Alison Temple and I used to have this line when people asked me if I'm married.  I'd say 'I'm waiting for Mr. Wonderland and when I find him I'll get married. Until then I'm staying single.'  The kind of people who need to know whether or not you're married don't see the humor in a joke like that."
So begins the story, and the off-beat amusement continues through the entie novel.
 Alison Temple is a detective who works under the name Alison Wonderland - giving this quirky novel its charming name. Far from a traditional mystery, the story is almost more a comedy of errors and coincidences, with a splash of magical realism mixed it. A wonderful cast of fresh, unique and expertly drawn characters drive the slightly disjointed plot and Helen Smith's humorous descriptions - painting the most ordinary of situations in a creative light - provide a great flare of color to the text.

I probably would have enjoyed this book more if Alison's character had been a little less rough around the edges. With careless drug use and somewhat ambivalent feelings for Jeff, the neighbor who is in love with her; I had a hard time relating to her as the protagonist. However, I was drawn into her story and found myself caring a lot about the secondary characters in the book.

Even though I wasn't blown away by this novel, I was really impressed with Helen Smith's writing. She artfully captures simplicity in complex words and has a remarkable talent for humorous observation. Although Alison Wonderland was not my favorite, I will likely read more of Smith's work.
I've already had some interesting discussion with Helen Smith about this book.  I won't disclose the question I asked - as it spoils a key plot point in the book - but her reply was really interesting.  Even though, at first, I wanted something in the book to be different, I came to see that Ms. Smith really did choose the better outcome. 

Have you ever read a book and wanted something in the plot to be different?  On second look, did you ever decide that the author's way really was better than yours?

And stay tuned this week for my interview with Helen Smith!


Creativity amped up on a double shot of espresso might just chip the surface of describing Gail Carriger's novel Soulless, the first in her steampunk romance series The Parasol Protectorate. The story begins with Miss Alexia Tarabotti, who, the reader discovers, has a father who is  - shamefully - both Italian and dead.

Carriger's alternate Victorian England is populated with vampires, werewolves and ghosts - all of which mingle properly in high society. The creation of these supernatural beings is explained as caused by an excess of soul; and the converse, having no soul, results in a being such as Miss Tarabotti - a "preternatural" with the remarkable ability to neutralize the powers of supernaturals.

Soulless was a delightful mix of Victorian romance and science-fiction steampunk, peppered with creatures from the horror genre. I really enjoyed the world that Carriger created and found Alexia to be a refreshingly smart, strong, and spunky heroine. Her innate ability to negate the powers of vampires and werewolves gives her a degree of fearlessness, and she is no more reluctant to whack a supernatural with her parasol than she is to speak her mind on science and philosophy. This novel was a fun and entertaining read, and I look forward to encountering Alexia again in future books.

The Little Mermaid (Fairy Tale Fridays)

Hans Christian Andersen, what did you do to my beloved Disney classic?!? 

Okay.  Deep breaths.  Before everyone starts angrily clicking the "Leave A Comment" button... I *know* that the 1836 story of The Little Mermaid predates the 1989 movie, but the movie, it's soundtrack, and associated bedsheets were an integral part of my childhood.  I haven't seen the movie in a few years but I can still sing every lyric of "Part of Your World" and its reprise from memory without batting an eye.  I was familiar with the original story, in that I knew the fairy tale didn't have a happy wedding with a rainbow ending, but I didn't realize just how cruel and violent HCA's writing of the story actually was, until I revisited the story for this week's edition of Fairy Tale Fridays.  (FTF is a weekly meme hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books). 

To their credit, I will say that the Great Mouse Company did do several things right in adapting this fairy tale to film.  Much of the beginning of the story was accurately translated to the movie - the sea king resides in an underwater palace; the mermaid in the story is the youngest of several sisters and has the most beautiful voice among them; she is captivated by thoughts of the surface world and fascinated by a marble statue of a human; she saves a prince from drowning and trades her voice to the sea witch for the chance to become human.  In the scene of the tale where the mermaid is talking with the sea witch, their conversation is as follows,

“But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what is left for me?”

“Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes; surely with these you can enchain a man’s heart. Well, have you lost your courage? Put out your little tongue that I may cut it off as my payment; then you shall have the powerful draught.”

On reading this my mind instantly jumped to the parallel scene in the movie which takes place in the song, "Poor Unfortunate Souls".  From memory it goes,

"But without my voice, how will I-"

"You'll have your looks!  Your pretty face!  And don't underestimate the importance of body language - hah!  The men up there don't like a lot of jabber.  They think a girl who gossips is a bore.  On land it's much preferred for ladies not to say a word.  It's she who holds her tongue who gets her man!"

Granted, there's no cutting out of tongues in the kid's movie, but I like how this scene and the persuasiveness of the sea witch was preserved.  But in the original story there's an extra sacrifice that the mermaid makes.  The witch tells her that in order to have legs and walk as a human, "at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives". 
Ugh.  It was difficult enough in the movie to watch the poor girl give up her family and life at the chance of true love, but to add agonizing pain to that bargain sort of makes me wish she looked elsewhere for a boyfriend.  Of course, adding to the flip side of the bargain in Anderson's telling is "that the young prince may fall in love with you, and that you may have an immortal soul."  So it becomes legs and a chance at a soul, versus goodbye to family, no voice, and major pain.

She chooses the former.  I could argue that there's a moral in the benefit to taking a risk in this choice, but things do not end well for the mermaid.  The prince (you have no idea how much I want to call him Eric, but he is nameless in the tale) takes a fancy to the mysterious maiden with no voice, but he does not fall in love with her and ends up marrying another.  As much as I want to say there is a wacky battle in which seagulls, sea lions, a fish and a crab help the mermaid stop the wedding, that's not how things go.  

The prince goes through with the wedding which should be a death sentence for the now-human-mermaid.  Under the terms of the curse, she should become sea foam.  And yet, her sisters make their own bargain with the sea witch and in exchange for their hair, if their youngest sibling will cut out the prince's heart, she can become a mermaid again.  It doesn't seem to be too bad a deal to kill off the guy who wronged her and caused her a boatload of pain, but the mermaid's heart is too good and she can't kill the prince.  Instead she flings herself into the sea to accept her life as foam.

And yet, Anderson doesn't end the story there.  The mermaid instead becomes an air spirit, a mystical being with the chance at the eternal life and gaining the soul that the mermaid sought by hoping to marrying the prince.  Interestingly, the air spirits that she joins tell her,

“After three hundred years, thus shall we float into the kingdom of heaven,” said she. “And we may even get there sooner,” whispered one of her companions. “Unseen we can enter the houses of men, where there are children, and for every day on which we find a good child, who is the joy of his parents and deserves their love, our time of probation is shortened. The child does not know, when we fly through the room, that we smile with joy at his good conduct, for we can count one year less of our three hundred years. But when we see a naughty or a wicked child, we shed tears of sorrow, and for every tear a day is added to our time of trial!”

This part of the story to me is almost like the alternate ending on a DVD.  It's the bedtime story moral giving children one more reason to behave.  The reader or listener is never told what happened to the prince and his new bride or the fate of the mermaid's sisters who sacrificed of themselves to have her back.  It's not quite a happy or satisfying ending, but it does seem to conclude with an admonishment of "be good, sleep well".

What do you think of Andersen's version of The Little Mermaid?  (Click the title to read an online version of the complete tale.)  Any thoughts on the Disney film?  Share a comment here or post your own blog and join in the Fairy Tale Fridays fun over at Tif Talks Books!    Next week's story: The Old Grave-Stone.

"A Hunger of the Mind"

"We have a hunger of the mind which asks for knowledge of all around us, and the more we gain, the more is our desire; the more we see, the more we are capable of seeing."
~Maria Mitchell

This quote isn't particularly bookish, but I read it the other day and it really stood out to me.  I suppose it relates to reading in that reading is usually how I feed the "hunger of the mind", and it is never satiated.  The more I read, the more I want to read.  The more I learn about something, the more I want to learn about something.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  Ever been there?

Garden Spells

Call me crazy, but I've always loved magic.  I'm fascinated by slight of hand illusionists, and as a scientist, I'll be the first to find something utterly inexplicable and throw up my hands with a sigh saying, "must be magic".  Now, don't worry - I have a solid grip on fact and fiction, but I suppose I find life a little more entertaining if I can believe in magic.  I think this is why I'm so enamored with author Sarah Addison Allen.  Much like Joanne Harris (in Chocolat and The Girl with No Shadow), Allen takes on the genre of magical realism and tells an everyday story of life and love but infuses it with the whimsy of magic.  As much as I adore high fantasy - with wizards, dragons, and elves - I almost enjoy these blendings of bringing mystical elements into everday life even more.

Sarah Addison Allen weaves a delightful and enchanting story in her novel Garden Spells. In the town of Bascom, North Carolina, the Waverley family has always been a little extraordinary: from Claire who connects to the magical properties of the flowers and herbs she cooks into her catering business, to her cousin Evanelle who has a compulsion of giving gifts before the recipients know they need them, and not to mention the apple tree in the yard bearing prophetic fruit. Claire's younger sister Sydney never wanted to be associated with the odd family magic, but when she returns to Bascom with her daughter, she realizes that home and the magic of family might just be what she needs after life on the run.

I was truly captivated by this novel. After falling in love with The Sugar Queen earlier this year, I sat down to read a chapter or two of Garden Spells and finished the book before the day was over. Sarah Addison Allen is a wonderful storyteller and handles magical realism perfectly. She creates a dazzling story with realistic characters and relationships, adding just enough fantasy to make readers believe that maybe in a small North Carolina town, magic really does exist.
And of course, this book got me thinking about which magical ability I would most like to have.  Claire is the caterer who can influence emotions through the dishes she serves; Sydney is a stylist who can give any person the perfect haircut; Evanelle gives people items before they know they need them; Bay knows where things and people belong.  I think I would most like Claire's talent since I do enjoy cooking, I'm not much of a gardener, but I'd love to be able to creat some of the meals she created. (But I'd also love to know a Sydney since I don't cut or style my crazy mane as often as I should!)  How about you?

(And in case any SAA fans missed it, here's my review of The Sugar Queen from July.)

Choose A Book For Me!

I have a new poll set up on the left sidebar listing some of the classics I've never read but have downloaded for my Kindle.  I'm currently reading Emma, but when I finish, I will read whatever book title gets the most votes!  Here's your chance to tell me what to read!

Most of the titles are ones that were recommended by others in the past, but feel free to vote "Other" and leave a comment here with your favorite classic work!  Voting will be open for as long as it takes me to finish Emma and you may vote for more than one work at a time!

Thanks for helping me chisel away at Mount TBR!

The Invisible One and The Rough-Faced Girl (Fairy Tale Fridays)

This week's story for Fairy Tale Fridays (a meme hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books) is The Invisible One and The Rough-Faced Girl, a Native American tale passed down through oral tradition (click the title to read the story).

As a side tangent, I have to say that I've always loved studying Native American spirituality.  One of my favorite authors as a young adult was Canadian writer Charles de Lint, as many of his books fuse fantasy with Native American stories and legends.  I don't want to hold any sort of "noble savage" stereotypes, but I really respect that fact that the stories represent cultures with a greater reverence and connection to the natural world.  I'm also fascinated by oral traditions and I love how storytelling can be so valued by a culture and tales can be passed from generation to generation through repeated telling and memorization. 

To summarize the story, it is the tale of a young girl who is abused by her relatives and more or less shunned by her village, yet turns out to be the only potential bride who can see the mysterious Invisible One.  With echoes of Cinderella and Beauty and The Beast, I really liked this story of hidden beauty and finding a heart of gold in someone that others overlooked.  I was a little shocked by the cruelty displayed in the story by the sisters to the Rough-Skin girl, but I was glad that at least one of them showed some mercy.  I also really enjoyed the moral about the value of truth telling in when the Rough-Skin girl met the Invisible One's sister.

There was a very interesting level of mystique surrounding the Invisible One also.  Not only did I find myself asking, why is he invisible?  I though it was a creative twist that when the Rough-Skin girl is finally able to see him, she reveals, "His shoulder strap a rainbow" and "His bowstring is...the Milky Way."  This could be interpreted just as a fantastical detail or perhaps, the Invisible One is actually intended to be a God figure of some sort.  I could also interpret the story to mean that on seeing him, the Rough-Skin girl has actually died and her further transformation, becoming the Invisible One's bride, is a metaphor for the afterlife.

That's me waxing philosophical, because I like the theory, but it doesn't really fit with the final line of the story:

"And so they were married. And from then on, Oochigeaskw had a new name: the Lovely One. Like her husband, she too had kept herself hidden, waiting for the right person to find her, and now that she had that person's love, she was hidden no more."
So I would say then that the moral revealed here is the transforming power of love.  I think the note about her name changing is rather profound as well.  In reading from the Mi'kmaw Culture website, there is a direct connection between names and spirituality.  About Spirit Names, the site says:
"According to the teachings, we each have a spirit name from the moment our spirit first comes into existence, and the name follows us from life to life, and back into the spirit world afterwards. For this reason, we are not 'given' a spirit name by someone, we can only be reminded of the name we already carry. It is possible, however, that a person's spirit name will be added to, depending on the roles and experiences that are given to that person."
With this in mind, I would speculate that in this story, The Lovely One is probably the girl's original Spirit Name, where as Oochigeaskw (Rough Skin Girl) is the name that those around her gave to her after she was burned.  Maybe the oldest sister was even jealous of the youngest girl's loveliness and thus set out to disfigure her.  The Invisible One and the love he was able to show her, restored her true Spirit Name as it restored her hidden beauty.

What are your thoughts on this legend?  Do you see something in the tale that I missed or do you think my interpretations hit the mark? Leave your thoughts below and check out Tif's post about this story as well.  Got more to say?  Link up with your own blog post celebrating Fairy Tale Fridays!  Thanks again to Tif for hosting this meme and picking such a unique and interesting story.  Next week's fairy tale: The Little Mermaid (And I'll try not to break out singing "Under da Sea"!)


I'm sure after my rave review and giveaway of The Hunger Games, there's nothing too startling about me also reviewing Mockingjay. Although nothing in my review is particularly spoiler-ish, if you have not yet read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, you may want to bypass reading this post. Close your eyes briefly and scroll down;to read something else I posted this week, or just come back tomorrow for something different. If you have read Collins's series, or if you're one of those who has no desire to read the books and just wants to know what all the fuss is about, read on:

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins might just be the most eagerly anticipated book of 2010, and as it brings to close the Hunger Games saga, it surprisingly lives up to the great expectations cast before it. Katniss Everdeen, Panem's ultimate survivor finds herself unwittingly cast as the people's hero - the symbol of the revolution that will destroy the Capitol's tenuous hold over the Districts. Still torn romantically between Peeta, her fellow survivor, and Gale, her childhood best friend; Katniss must face the reality that all of them have changed from the children they once were, and none of them are guaranteed to survive the current war. Dealing with her own battle scars, both physical and emotional, Katniss walks the precipice between the need for survival and her thirst for revenge. Where once she killed only to live, now she looks to destroy those who ruined her life and turned her into their Mockingjay.

Collins crafts another highly suspenseful and emotional novel in this conclusion to her bestselling trilogy. Maintaining the gritty violence prevalent in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Mockingjay takes an even darker tone, as Katniss has fully shed the sliver of innocence that made her so charming as the heroine of Book One. At first, I was displeased with her transformation, but Collins takes the step toward believability by altering the protagonist and allowing her to grow up. The maturity in her character acts as the new thread connecting Katniss to readers, and Collins assures that with every turn of the page, fans are carried along on the emotional roller coaster.

I can't say that there is any good way for this series to end. The simple fact that Mockingjay represents the final adventure is, in itself, a bit disappointing. And yet, rather than dragging the series out to less enjoyable books, Mockingjay was a satisfying conclusion in every way possible. Rather than fizzling out, The Hunger Games trilogy ends on a high note, and those that followed Katniss every step of the way will be left with a fully resolved ending - until future rereads start the adventures all over again!
So what are your thoughts on Mockingjay?  Was it all you hoped it would be?  Are you sad that it's all over?  Did you remain Team Peeta or Team Gale after finishing the trilogy, or were your loyalties switched around?  Team Katniss, perhaps?  (And if you must know, Gale never got enough page time for me to really connect with him - I was Team Peeta from the very start but I can definitely rally behind the Team Katniss folks.)  It's no surprise to me that these books have the pop culture status that they have gained.  The stories are captivating and the writing is really well done.  I'd like to read more of Collins's work and am really intrigued by her Gregor the Overlander series.  I'm interested to see how she handles a traditional fantasy setting as opposed to her dystopian world of Panem.  If anyone has thoughts or recommendations on those books, I'd love to hear them too!

"Sudden Flash of Poetry"

"To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry."
~ Gaston Bachelard

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of those precious novels that has almost been eclipsed in fame by the movie based on it. I must admit that more than once when picking up this book, I mentally sung to myself, "I'm off to read the wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". And yet, as fond as I am of the classic musical, I somehow went through childhood never having read the original text. Berating myself over this, I eagerly downloaded the novel to my Kindle (for free!) and joyfully read the simple story rather rapidly.

Baum really did create a wonderful fantasy story for children with this book. The prose is straightforward but beautifully descriptive and the adventures are quite numerous for such a short story. I was pleased to find that the movie had done justice to the book, but there were also some rather startling discoveries such as Dorothy's not-so-ruby slippers: the magical, iconic Hollywood footwear were originally written to be silver shoes. The book also covers much more of the various people and places in Oz, including the Winkies and the Quadlings, and another surprise was that the winged monkeys were not entirely evil.

Would these be the world's most expensive shoes if they were silver?
I really enjoyed experiencing this book as an adult, but I'm rather sure I would have loved it even more as a child. Baum's imagination is extensive and I think Dorothy's adventures have a distinctive bedtime story feel to them. The classic characters of the Lion, Tin Woodsman, and Scarecrow, and even the spunky little dog Toto, make this a story about friendship and love as much as about fantasy and fun. Knowing that no matter how far one travels it is good to be safe and at home again, this story seems to end perfectly with the sighing words, "good night".

And The Winner Is... (Hunger Games giveaway)

Congratulations to Ashley, winner of The Hunger Games giveaway! 

On why she was entering the contest Ashley plain and simply stated,
"I have heard so many good things about this book but I haven't read it yet."  
Enjoy the book, Ashley, and I hope you find, as I did, that it really does live up to all of its positive press!  And thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway.  I really wish I had unlimited funds and could buy and send you all a copy of this book.  If you have the chance, check it out from your local library, borrow it from a friend, or make the splurge and purchase it for yourself!  It really is an exciting and interesting book!

Thanks to everyone who joined and followed this blog because of this contest.  I'm thrilled to reach 100 followers in just five months of blogging!  And also, remember that for all giveaways on Her Book Self, I include a reader loyalty bonus in which all regular commenters receive an extra entry!  Keep following, keep commenting, and stay tuned for future giveaways!

The Bremen Town Musicians (Fairy Tale Fridays)

Welcome to my first participation in Fairy Tale Fridays, a meme hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books!  Each week bloggers read a fairy tale and post their thoughts on it, linking back to Tif's post and sharing in what others thought of the story as well.  This week's tale is The Bremen Town Musicians by The Brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) Grimm.  (Click on the title to read the story.)

Though I've read plenty of Grimm's Fairy Tales, this was the first I had heard of The Bremen Town Musicians.  I liked that the "musicians" of the title were animals, each having been cast off or slated for death by their owners and reinventing themselves on a journey to Bremen for musical fame.  I think there's a hardy lesson of utility to be learned here.  Where as the humans in the story think nothing of the old animals, to each other, they have talents and usefulness aplenty.

I also love the moral about teamwork and cooperation.  Each animal plays a part in scaring off the robbers by playing their own role and doing what each one does best.  The rooster does not try to be the cat.  The donkey does not try to take the dog's place.  There is a theme that each is exactly where they belong, and that is why, as a team, they succeed. It's a model that works in a fairy tale but is equally potent in business, friendships, family, and multiple other aspects of everyday life.

What are your thoughts on The Bremen Town Musicians?  Which theme resonates more with you - seeing usefulness in those abandoned by others or each individual using unique talents for the best of a team?  Or perhaps there's another moral or theme that I haven't mentioned?  Leave a comment here or check out Tif's blog and join in Fairy Tale Fridays (FTF) for yourself.  Next week's tale is The Invisible One and The Rough-Faced Girl (A Native American Tale)!