Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn: A Review

Prompt #29 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list is a book about or set on Halloween. I had a hard time finding a book I wanted to read for this, especially considering my self-imposed requirement of women authors. I eventually remembered there was a book in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborn set on Halloween. My son has become a fan of these books, and we’ve collected nearly the entire set. So I borrowed Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve from my son’s bookshelf.

This series of stories takes Jack and his younger sister, Annie, on a variety of exciting adventures around the world and throughout time. They travel via a magic tree house that comes to rest in the tallest oak in the small wood near their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania.

Typically, the pair are sent out on missions by the witch Morgan le Fay. This book, however, is one of the “Merlin Missions” and the two kids are sent out by the magician Merlin, one of only a few books in this series to take place in an imaginary world. Their assigned task is to restore order to a haunted castle in Camelot.

Jack is his usual hesitant but resourceful self, while Annie, true to form, is quick to run to adventure and trouble. The kids find plenty of both in this story. They also learn what it means to be brave. As well as compassionate.

The Magic Tree House series is great for young, emerging readers. I’ve enjoyed reading these books with my boys. They introduce elements of fantasy and time travel as well as historical and cultural facts from around the world.

I enjoyed this book, though it felt strange reading it for myself and not out loud with my boys. This series is recommended for readers ages 6-9 who are just beginning to read chapter books. They are fun to read and well researched. I definitely recommend this series for new readers looking for adventure around the world.


Unlock the Muse – June 20, 2018

We’re nearing the end of June. Summer officially begins tomorrow. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I live, temperatures are growing uncomfortably warm. But I am from Oregon, and what is uncomfortable to me is time-to-put-the-sweaters-away perfect for someone else.

Your writing prompt for this week is:

Characterization check: Take a central character from your latest story, and jot down attributes, physical features, mannerisms, goals, fears, secrets and any other relevant characteristics. Take this list and compare it to your story, do you spot any places where he or she is acting “out of character”?

Fiction comes from a variety of sources – history, observation, experience, pure imagination. From The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley:

Fiction need not be the least bit autobiographical, or it may be nearly pure autobiography. Nevertheless, the exploration of your own history can be very useful in the search for subject matter for your fiction. Even the most experimental, objective, or distanced story usually has an element of autobiography in it, something analogous to the author’s experience.

Explore your personal history. Write down your memories, experiences, observations. Keep a journal and play around with the ideas, see where they take you.

It’s vocabulary week! I haven’t been especially inspired by a specific word lately. So let’s take a look at a potentially dangerous word:



1. The action of delaying or postponing something.

It also has some fun and interesting synonyms: dithering, stalling, hesitation, vacillation, dilly-dallying, shilly-shallying.

The word procrastination is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare, combining the prefix pro- “forward” with crastinus “of tomorrow” – hence, moving something forward from one day until the next. Here is a fun article on the history of the word procrastination from slate.com.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Middle Grade Weekend – Blanket Forts & Summer Reading

I’m between books at the moment for my 2018 Reading Challenge, and I just picked up a bunch of books at the library I want to read. Middle grade and young adult fiction has become my favorite reading lately, so most of these books fall into this category.

It seems sort of appropriate that as I’m writing this post, I’m sitting in a darkened room just outside the walls of a blanket fort listening to two of my boys snoring away. It’s summer time, I let them stay up past their usual bedtime.

More summer adventures await us tomorrow, as I hope to get a chance to take them to the library to pick out some great books. I’ve signed them up for the summer reading activities with our local library.

In the meantime, I’m binging on middle grade and young adult fiction this weekend. Here’s my list:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (on my list as a childhood classic I’ve never read)
Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn (a book about or set on Halloween)
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (a book set in the decade I was born)
I Survived: The Joplin Tornado, 2011, by Lauren Tarshis (recommended to me by my son)
The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson (one of my favorites authors, and I just have to read it!)
The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (a “staff pick” from the local library for the summer reading challenge)

I may also get in a few pages of one or more of these chapter books I’m reading aloud with my boys:

The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket
The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis
Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty

What are you reading? Do you have any favorite middle grade or young adult books to recommend?

Unlock the Muse – June 13, 2018

School is officially out for the summer. It’s time to be outdoors as much as possible, watch the butterflies flitter about and listen to the bees buzz about the clover. Whether you’re vacationing at home, or out traveling about, don’t forget to take your notebook along!

Here’s the writing prompt for this week:

Write about your journey to the end of the rainbow. What did you find when you got there? Were you happy, sad, disappointed, frightened?

Is there really a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Is it nothing but fool’s gold? What does your journey look like?

I’m still reading through The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley. Here’s an exercise from the chapter titled “History.”

The Day After. Imagine a moment just after some major historical event. Use ordinary people, not the Napoleans or Nancy Reagans. This will demand some research. Don’t be afraid. It may be that these people have no idea what has just happened. The barkeep in a tavern in Philadelphia in 1777 has no idea the Articles of Confederation have just been ratified down the street. He serves the signers with warm beer and a huge suppawn with milk (a whole stewed pumpkin). 800 words.

Let’s take a look this week at the comma. Here is rule #3 of Strunk and White’s Elementary Rules of Usage:

Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. This rule is difficult to apply; it is frequently hard to decide whether a single word, such as however, or a brief phrase is or is not parenthetic. If the interruption to the flow of the sentence is but slight, the commas may be safely omitted. But whether the interruption is slight or considerable, never omit one comma and leave the other.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Next week is word of the month! Got a word with an interesting story you’d like to see profiled?

The Mortal Instruments Series, by Cassandra Clare: A Review

I started reading the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare as part of last year’s reading challenge. It was one of 26 series I started or continued as part of my Year of the Series. I read the first two books, but didn’t manage to read the whole series last year. For my 2018 Reading Challenge, I managed to work in the final four books of this series as the next book in a series I started (City of Glass), a book I borrowed (City of Lost Souls), a past Goodreads Choice Awards winner (City of Fallen Angels) and a book being read by a stranger in a public place (City of Heavenly Fire).

These six books are lumped together into a single series titled The Mortal Instruments. I think they could have easily been broken into two separate, but related, trilogies. The first three books have one story line and one enemy, all tied together by a hunt for the three objects known as the Mortal Instruments. The final three books follow a different story line with a different enemy, and the title objects have little relevance.

I like how the later books reveal more of the other characters, especially Simon, Alec and Maia, rather than focusing on the two main players, Clary and Jace. This is a fun young adult adventure/romance series filled with angels and demons, vampires, werewolves and more. There are magical runes and magical swords. Overall, it moves quickly and despite their large size, doesn’t take too long to read. But it isn’t perfect.

The biggest issue I have with these stories is all the romantic and sexual drama – the on-again, off-again, will they or won’t they drama. The characters in these books are sixteen and seventeen years old. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good romantic story. And I’m not so naive to think that kids this age aren’t engaging in sexual behavior. But it felt excessive. To the point that I wanted to skip over all those parts. I could have skipped a lot of pages.

Clare also blithely makes use of a social double standard that has existed for far too long. The double standard that says it is not only acceptable, but expected that a sixteen year old boy has had sex, but his sixteen year old girlfriend has not. This feels annoyingly sexist to me.

Still, if you’re looking for a good fun urban fantasy, this series won’t disappoint. Will I read more by Clare? Probably.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker: A Review

My pick for a book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist for the 2018 Reading Challenge was The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. I chose this book off a Goodreads list when I went looking for books that meet this prompt.

The Color Purple is an American classic. It graces any number of “must read” lists, including the recently released Great American Read list hosted by PBS. It is both a beloved book and a controversial one, having also spent time on banned book lists since its publication.

This book is written in the epistolary style which I discovered earlier this year, I don’t particularly care for. But I think it works well for this story. To begin, the main character, Celie, is writing her story in letters addressed to God. She later shifts to writing her letters to her sister, Nettie.

In this book, Walker addresses a number of themes such as race and sexuality. Set in the pre-civil rights south, these often manifest in violent ways. I was particularly interested in the parts written from the perspective of Celie’s sister, Nettie, letters written from her experience as a black missionary in Africa.

Full of violence and abuse, it isn’t exactly an easy story to read, but it is well written. Given its status as a classic, I wanted to like this book more than I did. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t completely wowed by it. It might be one I’d appreciate more on a second read. It is definitely worth it, however, if you haven’t read it yet.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein – A Review

For a book about a problem facing society today on the 2018 Reading Challenge, I chose to read This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. If caring for the planet we all live on isn’t a problem facing our society, than I don’t know what it is.

If you’re not already bothered by climate issues, this book will make you uncomfortable in some way. It doesn’t matter which side of the climate change issue you find yourself on. Either you will be turned off by Klein’s politics, or pricked by your own contributions to the climate issue.

Klein spent five years researching and writing this book. The message she portrays is timely and necessary. I don’t know enough about the subject to say that her ideas are the best approach, and they certainly aren’t the only ideas being tossed around about climate change. I will say, however, this book is well worth the read. I think we all need to learn all we can about global climate issues and the effect our actions have on the earth.

I chose to experience this book through audio, narrated by Ellen Archer. Ms. Archer did a great job reading this sometimes technically difficult book. She speaks clearly and confidently, making the subject easy to listen to.

However, I find it was not the best choice for me personally to experience this book in audio format. I think I would have benefited more from a print book. I can’t refer back to the table of contents, or refer to the bibliography and resources. There are no visuals – charts, figures or photos – to accompany the words. To be fair, I don’t know that those are included in the print book.

Overall, I think this book is well researched and well written. I can’t say that I agree with all of Klein’s politics, and much of what she says is truly frightening. But she makes a thoughtful argument for the planet, and I think we can all agree that planet Earth is our home. We don’t have another one if we destroy this one.