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.

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. LeGuin: A Review

For ATY’s 2019 Reading Challenge prompt #40, a book you stumbled upon, I chose to read The Tombs of Atuan. I frequently browse the used book sections of thrift stores, and I ran across this book in one of those. I knew it was one I wanted to read, so I picked it up, despite not having the first book of the Earthsea series. I have since read that book – A Wizard of Earthsea – last year, making this a very natural choice for this prompt.

In this story, we meet Tenar, a young girl taken at the age of five to be trained as the next First Priestess to the Nameless Ones. In preparation for this new role, she is stripped of everything, including her name. She becomes Arha, The Eaten One. The bulk of the story is learning who Arha is and what her world is like. As she grows up in this Place where she serves as Priestess, she is trained by the Priestesses of the Twin Gods and of the Godking.

And then a stranger arrives and turns Arha’s world upside down. She is no longer sure of what is right or real. She is confronted with her own belief system, forced to face everything she has been taught.

I love LeGuin’s writing style. It is beautiful, and flows so smoothly, you don’t mind the time it takes to get anywhere. LeGuin tells Tenar’s story with such subtlety, you can’t help but get a sense of the deeper political story that underlies what’s immediately clear. Tenar herself is kept in ignorance, but through the action and the words left unsaid, the reader can’t help but feel the dangers that surround her.

A 1972 Newbery Honor book, The Tombs of Atuan has received much recognition. LeGuin’s Earthsea books might be her best known series. It is well worth reading, and I am looking forward to “stumbling upon” the rest of the series, a bit more deliberately, most likely.

Unlock the Muse – August 6, 2019

I’m on vacation this week. From the day job. Other things, like parenting and writing, don’t offer vacation time. As in all things, taking a break can be beneficial. Especially after reaching a milestone, or completing a large task – such as Camp NaNoWriMo. A short break can recharge and rejuvenate your creative energies. Just don’t forget to bring that renewed energy back to the writing project.

Inspire
Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Switch writing tools: Can’t come up with anything while sitting in front of the computer? Grab a pen and paper. Use a tape recorder (do they still make those?). Scribble random phrases on Post-it notes or napkins. Use anything that makes writing easier.

In other words, take a vacation from your writing routine. Break it up and try something fresh.

Encourage
It’s a new month, and Unlock the Muse is going on vacation. So to speak. Vacation is a break. It means relaxation and fun. And so, for the month of August, we’re going to the beach, we’re going to play, relax, read a book.

Take some time out this month to play and daydream. Take a mini-vacation, if you will, from the writing project. For myself, this means I’m planning to do a lot of reading. I’m behind on my reading challenge, so I plan to read a lot of books. But it also means I’ll be reading through my growing collection of notes on the novel in progress and attempting to bring some semblance of order to all of it.

What will you do to change things up this month?

Happy writing!

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley: A Review

The 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge, prompt #2, is a book that makes me feel nostalgic. I pondered my choice for this one for a little bit, but soon settled on The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. As a young girl I read many of Farley’s books, including this one. I remember loving it very much. This time, I got to read it aloud with my nine-year old son, which only added to the nostalgia factor.

In this story, a boy, Alec Ramsey, is on his way home to New York from India. I still can hardly believe the idea of a boy his age traveling along like this, but it was a different time. Along the way, a horse, black as midnight, is brought on board, and Alec is fascinated.

Before the ship can reach its destination, there is a massive storm and the ship goes down. In the chaos of evacuation, Alec remembers the horse which has been abandoned, still tied into his stall. Alec manages to cut the horse loose, but in the process is swept overboard. He latches on to the ropes still attached to the horse, and together they make it to a deserted island.

Much of the book details the time spent on the island, Alec’s efforts to survive and to save the horse – which he dubs the Black – as well. Eventually the two are rescued and the second half of the story tells of Alec and the Black’s adventures in New York.

Set in the early 1940s, it might feel dated to some, but Farley captures the excitement of the time very well, drawing no doubt from personal experience to create an intensely believable atmosphere. Also, having recently read the story of Seabiscuit, I enjoyed this aspect of the story even more.

I loved this book all over again. And loved even more my son’s response to it. It was a magical time we shared together, and definitely made me feel nostalgic!

Second Star, by J. M. Sullivan: A Review

For the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #15, a retelling of a classic, I chose to read Second Star, by J. M. Sullivan. I first encountered J. M. Sullivan on Twitter when she was getting ready to release her first book, Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles. The retelling prompt this year coincided nicely with the release of her second book – her sci-fi rendition of the classic Peter Pan story.

In this book, Wendy Darling is a new recruit in the Londonierre Brigade. The first part of the book focuses on Darling’s training and rapid rise through the ranks. An exceptional candidate, she has been recruited earlier than most. As a result, she isn’t well liked by her peers. Darling is soon befriended by two other recruits who, like her, are a little on the outside of the popular crowd. These three quickly become inseparable.

Meanwhile, a certain Captain James Hooke has been marooned on an alien planet along with his crew, which includes ship’s mechanic, Peter Pan. This planet has odd time flow issues, and it turns out a distress call from the planet is finally intercepted by the Brigade a hundred years later. Wendy Darling, now ready to graduate from the academy, is assigned a ship and a crew and given the assignment to locate and rescue Hooke and his crew.

What ensues is a wildly fun look at this classic story through a sci-fi lens. Sullivan has wonderfully re-imagined this story in unexpected ways, complete with a tiny AI version of Tinkerbell. I loved this book! I look forward to more by J. M. Sullivan.