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!

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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.

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.