Unlock the Muse – August 27, 2019

I took my boys shopping for school supplies this past weekend. It’s finally happening. They will return to school in a matter of days. Vacation time must come to an end.

With writing, sometimes you need to take a break, and that’s okay. But it’s equally important to return to writing. If your vacation is coming to an end, make the most of it. Revel in your last moments of freedom and relaxation. Then prepare yourself to return to your routine. Go to bed on time. Set your alarm clock. Wake up, and write.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Imagine you see a coworker in his car, pulling out of your work parking lot. He’s crying. Why?

Can’t imagine your coworker in tears? How about that girl at the coffee shop drive-thru? Or your neighbor’s groundskeeper? What scenario has this person so upset? Create a back story for this person and drop them into a conflict that ends in tears.

Encourage
Vacation time might be over, but there’s always room for play time. Here’s a roll of the Rory’s Story Cubes to help inspire some fun!

StoryCubes15

Happy writing!

Gallow’s Hill, by Charles F. French: A Review

When I saw ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #30, a book featuring an elderly character, I instantly thought of Gallow’s Hill, by Charles F. French. I’ve had this book in my e-library since shortly after it was released, but I hadn’t yet had the chance to read it. This book, second in the series The Investigative Paranormal Society, features a group of men in their 60s who help people in their community with ghostly or demonic problems.

In this book, the members of the Investigative Paranormal Society are approached by a land developer who is interested in acquiring a certain property in order to build a casino. The property has a long history of disaster and misfortune, and there are rumors of paranormal activity. At the same time, one of their members is dealing with a personal crisis from his past that impacts his effectiveness as part of the team.

The characters is this story have depth and history. They feel like real people. I couldn’t help but get caught up with them in their investigations, especially as things took a dangerous turn. The suspense in this book is great.

I read the first book, Maledicus, some time back and though that book wasn’t quite all I’d hoped for, I was intrigued by French’s idea of a group of retired gentlemen who fought ghosts. I knew I would check out the next book, and I’m really glad I did. I enjoyed book two very much. I’m looking forward to the next installment of the Investigative Paranormal Society.

A Soldier’s Duty, by Jean Johnson: A Review

It was not hard to find a book to fit Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #20, a book set in space. I love science fiction, and my shelves are full of books that qualify. I ended up choosing A Soldier’s Duty, by Jean Johnson, book one in the series Theirs Not to Reason Why. Someone in my book club stumbled on this series and presented it to the rest of us as a really fun read. We even made arrangements for the author herself to come to one of our meetings, and so this book jumped to the top of my space book options.

In this series opener, we meet Ia, a precog who is plagued by visions of the future where her home world is devastated. In order to prevent this from coming to pass, Ia enlists in the Terran United Planets military. This first installment encompasses Ia’s enlistment, initial training and her first tour of duty.

There is a lot of world building involved in this first book, and I had some difficulty getting into the story. Still, it is well written, with a great deal of realistic detail, especially in regards Ia’s basic training experiences. I think the bigger payoff will be in the remainder of the series where the story can develop further on this foundational world building.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet Jean Johnson in person and talk with her about her books and her experiences as an author. I look forward to reading the rest of this series and more by Jean Johnson. Besides this military sci-fi novel, I also had the opportunity to check out another of Johnson’s series – a paranormal romance series, the Sons of Destiny. This series is also a lot of fun.

The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #3, a book written by a musician, I chose to read The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket. I chose this book because it was the only one I found on my shelves that fit the category. I started the Series of Unfortunate Events last year, reading the books aloud with my eldest son, and he has been happy to continue it with me.

Book two finds the unhappy Baudelaire orphans in a new home with a new guardian, their Uncle Monty (who isn’t truly their uncle). Uncle Monty is a collector of reptiles, and is delighted to introduce his new charges to his passion. For a while, things seem to be going well for the Baudelaires, especially after the disastrous events of book one. They even begin to think they could be happy here.

However, it isn’t long before their nemesis, Count Olaf arrives on the scene. But he has disguised himself as Uncle Monty’s newly hired assistant, and no one but the children recognize his true identity. And so it falls once more to the children to save themselves.

I enjoy Lemony Snicket as the narrator of these books. He uses sarcasm, dark humor and a sense of the ridiculous to tell his stories. He often breaks into the story with a side note about his own woes, or to define a word or phrase. While this particular episode has not been my favorite so far, I have continued with the series, and I’m still having fun. If you enjoy a bit of dark humor, this series could be for you.

Unlock the Muse – August 20, 2019

Summer vacations are coming to an end across the U.S. Soon, children will be returning to school, to routine. Before you settle back into your usual writing routine, give yourself one last hoorah. Do something unusual with your writing.

Also, take some time out to go shopping! Back to school sales are a great time to stock up on all kinds of writing supplies. Pens, binders, printer paper, a new desk chair! Give yourself permission to splurge a little, on something. Even if it’s only those super adorable Star Wars push pins. It is, after all, still vacation!

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Take the last bad story you wrote and attempt to edit it into something worth reading.

That story you wrote yesterday, or last year, or whenever, that just didn’t come out the way you wanted it to, take another look at it. Rewrite, edit, reshape the story into what you want it to be.

Encourage
va·ca·tion
/vāˈkāSH(ə)n,vəˈkāSH(ə)n/

noun
1. An extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.

From the late 14c, the word vacation – meaning “freedom from obligations, leisure, release (from some activity or obligation)” – comes from the Old French vacacion “vacancy, vacant position” and directly from the Latin vacationem (nominative vacatio) “leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service.”

The use of the word in English meaning a “state of being unoccupied” or “formal suspension of activity, time in which there is an intermission of usual employment,” dates back to the early 15c. As the U.S. equivalent of the British holiday has been in use since approximately 1878.
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Enchantée, by Gita Trelease: A Review

I struggled to find a book for ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #10, a book featuring an historical figure. There were few books that I already own that would qualify, and fewer still that interested me enough to add them to my list for 2019. Somewhere along the way, I encountered the book, Enchantée, by Gita Trelease and was drawn in by the premise. When I learned Marie Antoinette, of French Revolution fame, is featured in this book, I decided to give it a go.

Enchantée takes place in 1789 Paris, but an alternate Paris where magic is real. It is the story of Camille as she struggles to survive in a pre-revolution Paris. Orphaned when small pox took both her parents, it falls to Camille to care for her younger sister while struggling to protect herself from an older brother who has turned to drink and gambling. Magic is her only hope. With it, she can turn ordinary metal objects into coins with which to purchase food and other necessary supplies.

A series of events lead her to a more desperate situation where she is forced to turn to a darker magic her mother had forbidden her to use. Camille is soon drawn into a world of plotting and intrigue that she is ill prepared for.

Trelease has written a fantastic story and placed it within an intriguing location at a dangerous time in history. She’s filled this world with compelling characters, each with their own goals, desires, struggles and triumphs. There is a perfect balance of magic, intrigue and romance contained in this story. I was thoroughly charmed by this book, swept off to a magical Paris from the very first page. Quickly drawn in by the girls’ desperate situation and hooked by the romance, I finished this book in only a few days.

This is Trelease’s debut novel. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, magic, intrigue and romance. I look forward to what comes next for this author.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See: A Review

For ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #49, a book written by a Far East Asian author or set in a Far East Asian country, I chose to read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. I don’t remember how this book first came to my attention, but the premise intrigued me and I added it to my list. I’m glad I finally made it a priority and read it.

Set in nineteenth century China, this book tells the story of Lily. Lily is fortunate to draw the attention of a well-connected family from a nearby village, and she is matched with a daughter of that family in a traditional female relationship known as laotong, or “old sames.”

Written as a sort of memoir, the book opens with Lily at the age of 80. From this vantage, she looks back over her life and the choices she made, both good and bad. She begins with her earliest memories as a young girl, the arranging of her elder sister’s marriage, her own installation into the women’s chamber. This memoir style lends to the story a personal feel to this period of China’s history that was both deeply entrenched in tradition and on the verge of huge change.

This book is so emotionally moving and compelling. As I read it, I was horrified, amused, devastated. I found this look into Chinese culture fascinating. Though I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the way women and girls were treated – especially the graphic description of the foot binding process. Still, I was impressed by the strong relationships women had with each other

This book is amazing. I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about it. It took some time to get into the flow. But once I did, I was thoroughly engaged. I highly recommend this book.

Unlock the Muse – August 13, 2019

My week of vacation flew by way too fast, and I am back at the day job. I did a lot of reading, but not much else. Still, I visited a lot of amazing places. Such as Brandon Sanderson’s re-imagined Atlanta made out of salt, Rick Riordan’s Sea of Monsters, the bizarrely funny world of Shel Silverstein’s poetry and most recently, I’ve been swept off to Gita Trelease’s magical Paris of 1789.

Whether your vacation takes you to real life locales, or you wander off into the realms of the imagination, make the most of it. Let it drive your own spirit of adventure so that you can return to your own projects with renewed creativity and enthusiasm.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Have a cup of coffee when you write another 100 words.

Don’t drink coffee? Substitute tea, or hot chocolate. Have a glass of wine, if that’s your thing. The point is, write first. Reach that small goal. Then relax and reward yourself. It’s your own private mini-vacation in a cup.

Encourage
And so, today, let me leave you with this thought about vacations:

vacation quote 2

Happy writing!

The Borrowers, by Mary Norton: A Review

The 2019 ATY Reading Challenge includes four prompts inspired by the wedding rhyme “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” For the “borrowed” prompt, I chose to read The Borrowers, by Mary Norton.

The Borrowers is the story of Arrietty Clock, part of a family of tiny people who live in the floors and walls of the Big House. Arrietty’s father, Pod, is a Borrower, meaning that he makes forays into the house above them where the “human beans” live, and “borrows” small objects and foodstuffs for their own use. This is a dangerous occupation, for it must be undertaken without being seen.

Arrietty is young and very curious about the world above, a place she has never been allowed to go herself. She lives with her mother and father below the floors and must obey the rules to prevent discovery. Once there were other Borrowers who lived there with them, but they have since emigrated to another location when their daughter came up missing after the humans brought a cat into the house.

Arrietty is finally allowed to accompany her father on a borrowing expedition and there encounters The Boy, an unexpected guest of the elderly women who live in the House. Arrietty and The Boy eventually strike up a friendship of sorts, but this ultimately leads to trouble for both of them.

This is a delightfully fun book, and I enjoyed it a great deal. It is part of a series, followed by four more books after this one. The Borrowers holds up well on its own, however, and I don’t know that I will pursue the rest of the books.

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt: A Review

I chose to read The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt for the 2019 ATY Reading Challenge, prompt #5, a book written or inspired by Shakespeare. I’m not sure if the book was inspired by Shakespeare exactly, but the main character in the story is inspired by Shakespeare, so I decided it would do. Besides, I already owned a copy and it’s on the Newbery Honors list, the Shakespeare connection merely provided a place to insert it into this year’s reading list.

The Wednesday Wars is a young adult historical fiction novel featuring Holling Hoodhood. Entering the seventh grade in a school where most students are either Catholic or Jewish, Holling is a Presbyterian. This means that every Wednesday the Catholic and Jewish students each go to their respective churches for religious classes. Holling has no such class to attend, and must therefore remain alone in class with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Holling is convinced Mrs. Baker hates him for this.

Holling is first set to work cleaning chalkboard erasers for Mrs. Baker, and then for other teachers as well, to keep him busy on Wednesday afternoons. Then, Mrs. Baker gives him the assignment to read some of Shakespeare’s plays. Reluctant at first, Holling comes to find he actually enjoys the plays.

Set during the 1967-68 school year in suburban Long Island, the Vietnam War overshadows the story. The story also includes historical events, such as the shootings of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. All of these events, along with the anti-war counterculture that existed at the time, influence and drive the story forward.

Schmidt has presented this story through the first person perspective of Holling, giving him an engaging voice that is easy to relate to. The book is both funny and very moving at times. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this story, and would recommend it to anyone.