Thursday, November 17, 2011

Circle of Secrets

Sometimes you read a book and that book touches you down to your very core. You say to yourself, this is the kind of book that everyone should read every couple of months to remind themselves of who they are and what is important in life. These books are over-arching and transcendent in their message. You can't read them and walk away with nothing. For me, The Healing Spell, by Kimberly Griffiths Little was one of those books. Understanding that, you can imagine my excitement for Circle of Secrets, released in October of this year.

I'm not one of those people who reads every new book that comes out or watches the NY Times Bestseller list for the hottest books of the year. I don't keep up on trends and I'm usually pretty clueless as to what is popular now. Actually, knowing that a book is popular usually turns me off from it. I'm just not a bandwagon person. I believe a book should stand on its own merits, not on the heightened emotions of teenage girls. Because of this, I tend to read books in a series all at once, rather than a year apart from each other. While The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets aren't exactly a series, they do share a common location and common themes. I found myself in a situation where I was already anticipating the second book, even as I read the last pages of the first book.

I've decided that anticipation does a lot to color your reading experience. An entire year of expectation can really effect the way you read a book. I was surprised, therefore, to find that Circle of Secrets was quite a bit different from both The Healing Spell and my expectations.

It's hard to pin down what exactly I expected out of Circle of Secrets. I think often when we really love a book be expect all the author's books to be just like that one, with slightly different characters and situations just for variety. That's really a silly and unfair expectation. I own The Healing Spell. If I want to read it I can go get it off the shelf and read it. I don't need the author to essentially re-write it so I can read it again. Sometimes we are disappointed to find that a book doesn't meet our expectations, because we as readers refuse to allow that book to stand on it's own merits. We force each book to lean on the foundation of its predecessor.

The truth is, Circle of Secrets is in no way a disappointing book. The story is engaging, the problems are masterfully realistic, the characters touch your heart and make you want to reach in and save them from their pain. It is truly a book that stands on its own merits. Even without the foundation laid by The Healing Spell, Circle of Secrets still forces us to question our own relationships and our ability to understand and forgive. As we read Circle of Secrets we are asked to do more than forgive those who have hurt us, we are forced to look deeper into the complexities of human relationships and understand that person better by understanding the pain that led to their hurtful actions. Shelby Jane learns (as do we) that it's easy to take offense and feel hurt, but it's much more difficult to look past ourselves and understand the pain of others. It's easy to judge another's actions but much more difficult to attempt to understand the reasons behind those actions. It's easy to to find someone's faults when we know nothing of their strengths.

Circle of Secrets was not the book I expected at all. It turned out to be much different and much more than I expected. I certainly did not expect to find a book with such personal application for myself. Reading the story of Shelby and her mother felt like an entire childhood worth of Psychotherapy. I felt like Kimberly Little took all the emotions I never understood about myself and laid them out in the form of Shelby Jane Allemond. I cried through every page of the book and came away feeling like I had been healed.

Circle of Secrets is an amazing book. While focusing on the spooky mystery Shelby is trying to uncover the author very subtly and very carefully works a healing spell on Shelby's family. As we share in Shelby's journey, we as readers find ourselves caught up in the healing spell as well.

Be sure to visit Kimberly Griffiths Little at her website to learn more about her, her books, and her upcoming works!

Friday, September 16, 2011


I had somewhat of a sheltered childhood. I grew up in the mountains of Southern Colorado, with no neighbors, no phones, and no cable. Actually phones and satellite TV entered our home in my early teen years, but the lack of civilization still kept us relatively out of the loop. Sure, I heard my friends talk about Party of Five and Dawson's Creek, but never had the experience of watching them myself in high school. My mom was a pretty firm believer that any tv-show released after 1989 was only about sex and drinking anyway. Instead, I grew up watching I Dream of Jeanie and The Cosby Show.

Don't get me wrong, I love the classics, but I recently came across a little piece of the 90s that I feel a little bit sad to have missed out on while it was still current: Roswell. Straight out of the late 90s (and early 2000s, my high school years) complete with denim and faux leather jackets, girls' polo shirts, v-neck sweaters, and featuring music by Dido, the Foo Fighters, Sarah McLachlin, and Relient K (^_^) watching Roswell was a little bit like reliving my adolescence, except with the benefit of being a spectator in the high school drama-ness of it all instead of a participant. Somewhere between the beginning of Season 1 and the end of Season 3, Roswell became one of those guilty pleasures that I wouldn't actually want any of my friends to know about. A hefty dose of drama, 1 part each of adventure and romance for flavor, and enough nostalgia to make it feel cozy, I found myself caught up in Roswell like I haven't been caught up in a show for a long time. Something about it spoke to me, probably due to the fact that it was expressly written to appeal to people like me: children of the 90s with a taste for the supernatural. Suddenly I understood a little more how my parents felt reminiscing about shows from their own era. There's nothing like Roswell around today because Roswell is a product of it's time, and that time has passed. Time has evolved into a new generation of teens and trends and the shows on TV now are designed to speak to them.

And none of that has anything to do with books, right? Did I mention that Roswell was developed from a series of books called Roswell High? The Roswell High series follows the story of three aliens from the 1947 Roswell crash trying to survive as normal teenagers in the late 90s, and the humans who become entangled in the drama after learning their secret. The Roswell High books sort of fall into the same category as Sweet Valley High and Fear Street - cheap, shallow pre-Harry Potter serials written for teens and found in every high school library. If you grew up in the 90s you probably read at least one book from one of these series, probably more. You remember what they are like - somewhat interesting stories, characters that are easy to identify with since they all strongly represent the classic high school stereotypes, some sort of lesson about true friendship. As adults it's easy for us to look back condescendingly on these books and only admit to having read them because our less intelligent friends were doing so, and we didn't want to make them look bad; but deep down we all know we secretly enjoyed them.

So if you find yourself in need of a quick nostalgic trip back to a time when life actually was simpler but every event seemed life ruining, then grab yourself an epub of Roswell High and revel in the feeling of being young and overly dramatic again.


Do it.

It'll only take an hour.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Storytime Bag

I've found that trying to haul two kids, an already full and heavy diaper bag, and a stack of books out of the library is not a pleasant experience. Our library is thoughtful enough to have little bins of grocery bags for people to use. It took me a few visits to realize this though. They keep them by the main checkout kiosks, but if you use the side kiosk (which I usually do) you wouldn't know the helpful bags were there.

Either way, I figured having a cute library bag is always more fun than having a crinkled up Wal Mart bag. For sometime I have been working on these cute little squares which I hope to eventually manage to crochet together in a bag like shape (we'll see how well that goes when the time comes).


 In the meantime, I've designated this Noodles & Co bag as my official library bag.

As you can see, right now it is very full. Today was like one of those golden days at the library, where just the right books seem to jump out at you off the shelf. Of course the bag is mostly full of children's books. The kids love picking out their own books.

This week in the bag:

Baby Animals in the Wild

Biscuit's Walk in the Woods, a touch and feel type book in the popular Biscuit series by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.

Ten Tiny Tickles by Karen Katz

Do Princesses have Best Friends Forever? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, an artistic looking book. At first glance it reminds me a lot of an Eric Carle book.

Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo, recommended by the library as a cute book to teach kids about finding animals in the wild. This is the story of Melvin the turtle and the boy who tries to keep him as a pet.

Fox and Hen Together by Beatrice Rodriguez, a wordless book. I look forward to making up the story with Simeon.

One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde, the 6th (and most recent) book in the Thursday Next series. I am a huge Jasper Fforde fanatic and particularly love the Thursday Next books.

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. The Diana Wynne Jones section of the library was a random find for me. This is apparently the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle (yes Miyazaki's movie was based on Jones' book).
EDIT: House of Many Ways is the third book in the Howl's Moving Castle Series. I guess I'll have to return it and get the second book : /

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nurtured by Love

Nurtured by Love by Shinichi Suzuki, is not what I expected at all.

I was pretty dubious once Suzuki started using the wolf children story. At this point I was already finding myself on the fence about the theory behind Suzuki's world renowned teaching method. On the one hand, I believe that a person can acquire just about any new skill with diligence, practice, and focus. On the other hand, I believe each of us has certain strengths and weaknesses. Some people are more prone to learning quickly. Some people have a greater inclination for music than others. Some people are better with words and some with pictures. Is this merely a result of our earliest exposures to these things. Is it all a part of our upbringing, but we lack the ability to identify it since were were too young to remember these early experiences?

I found it thought provoking to read these early chapters and reflect on my own beliefs about the nature of personality and the origin of "talent."

Still, when I started reading about the wolf children, I almost gave up and moved on to the next book. At this point, I found my expectations about Suzuki's book to be disappointed. I had expected much more of the details surrounding his Talent Education teaching method -- more of the process, and philosophy and less nonsense about wolf children and repetitions of the same idea over and over. I expected more talk of nurturing and love and less talk about the origin of talent, nightingales, and wolf children.

But I plodded on. I read through the worst of the nonsense. I read through Suzuki's stories of little Koji Toyoda and his growth to adulthood as an exceptional musician. Finally, around page 41, I saw the book begin to change. Suzuki begins to talk much less about his ideas and his pupils, and much more about himself. He tells stories of his life after WW1 and WW2. He tells us about his childhood and the lessons he learned from his father. He talks about his influences: literary, musical, and social. We get to see the development of the man who would develop the Talent Education program, and it is in his development that we see the nurturing principles and the love the makes his education program possible and beneficial.

Shinichi Suzuki was an extraordinay man to lived an extraordinary life. It's true that I probably only agree with about half of what he writes in his book, but it is undeniable that Suzuki had a deep love for mankind and a deep desire to improve the world he saw around him. Professor Clifford Cook, responsible for bringing the Talent Education Method to America, said of Suzuki, "What Suzuki has done for young children earns him a place among the benefactors of mankind" (118). Suzuki saw and lived through some terrible times in his life (both World Wars) but is the extraordinary things that he chose to let define him. It is the wonderful aspects of life that he sought to pass on to the children he taught. "If nations cooperate in raising good children," he said, "perhaps there won't be any war" (118).

"I sincerely hope that readers of this book will realize from all I have said that there is no need for any of us to despair. We were all born with a high potential, and if we try hard we can all become superior human beings and acquire talent and ability.

"If you have really understood my message, you will not put it off until tomorrow, but will put it into action right now, today. And your life will become happier as a result. That this may become true for everyone is my heartfelt dream" (121).

I recommend this book to anyone seeking to use the Talent Education method either in teaching or learning. I feel like my understanding of the principles behind the method helps me better understand the method itself and how to better utilize it in my practices. I would also recommend this book to anyone in a position to educate children: parents, caregivers, teachers. Suzuki hoped to one day see his method adopted as a method for educating children in all subjects, not just music. There are definitely clear advantages to using some of Suzuki's philosophies and methods in teaching children. I was particularly attracted to his method of helping children to think of their education as fun and interesting. I was also touched by Suzuki's great love and patience for children. If we all sought for that kind of love and patience, how much better educators would be be?

 "People today are like gardeners" (120), Suzuki says. Shinichi Suzuki was, above all else, a nurturer. A teacher once told me: If you want to develop a particular attribute, chose someone from history with that attribute, and then read everything you can about that person. Read about their lives, their experiences, their successes and failures, and see how they applied that attribute to their lives. As we study the lives of men like Suzuki, we can learn from their stories and examples and strive to develop greater love and patience within ourselves.

Suzuki, Shinichi. Nurtured by Love. New York: Exposition Press, 1969. Print.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Musical Improvisation for Children

I found this great book after several hours of online scavenging for a good piano introduction program for preschool age children.

Musical Improvisation for Children is an amazing book that is really suitable for any age. This book is part of the Creative Ability Development (CAD) series. The philosophy behind CAD is that each person is an artist. We all have creative potential, and the purpose of this series isn't to teach technique or learn theory, but is to help children learn to express their creativity in music. The accompanying CD is filled with beautiful and fun music capable of making anyone feel just a little bit more free to express themselves.

I chose this book because I have a son who is significantly speech and language delayed. Communication, we believe, is the real root of the majority of his frustrations, and therefore, his misbehavior. He also seems to have a real attachment to music. He is always humming or singing to himself. He has a surprising ability to learn the words to songs for someone who has so much trouble with words in general.

CAD and the Musical Improvisation for Children, focus on music and creativity as a form of communication. The book emphasises three basic rules.

  1. There are no mistakes
  2. You must listen (with full attention) while your child plays and then applaud when they are done.
  3. No criticism.
As I read through the few pages of instruction for parents I was excited to provide my son with a means of expresion and communication outside the bounds of his innate limits. I hope the program will help him gain confidents in himself and in his ability to communicate. Most of all I look forward to the opportunities it will give me as a parent to encourage my child and and also spend time with him doing something we both enjoy.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to add a little creativity or artistry to their own life or their child's. The book actually recommends that parents complete the program with their child. I think this is a great tool for young children but could also be beneficial for any age. If anything else, the music is beautiful and enjoyable just to listen to. Perfect music to play to, write to, paint to, or dance to.

Monday, July 25, 2011

100 ways to eat a pancake

I'm not going to lie. I'm really not big on meeting new people and making new friends. Perhaps it's some kind of residual stranger anxiety tracing back to my toddler-hood. Perhaps it relates to my secluded childhood home in the Colorado mountains. Perhaps my first college roommate is right and I simple have an "aura of darkness." Whatever the reason, I don't look forward to social functions or gatherings that don't involve a carefully hand-picked circle of friends.

Unfortunately for me, I recently moved to a new state, leaving that carefully hand-picked circle far behind. Amidst the whir of welcoming picnics with my husbands co-workers, visits from neighbors, and salutations from church members, I found myself in possession of a Friendship Bread starter. It didn't take me long to realize the conflict between Friendship Bread and my reclusive nature. I could clearly visualize my pantry filling up with with bags and bags of batter. I could see my counters strewn with bread pans and spilt milk, my hair dusted with flour.

On the other hand, I thought of knocking on my neighbors' doors, in one hand a neatly wrapped loaf of golden bread, and in the other, a squishy bag of gooey batter. I could see the fake smile hiding the nervousness on my face and the fake smile hiding my neighbor's lack of interest in my offering. This option sounded more unappealing than the first. I was tempted to simply through the starter away and scrap the whole endevour.

Instead, I turned for help to the great and unfailing champion for introverts everywhere: Google; and I quickly found the ultimate solution to my problem: Pancakes. Pancakes are truly amazing things.
  1. My kids eat them
  2. You can eat them for any meal of the day
  3. There are more ways to eat a pancake than one blog post can identify
  4. You can freeze them!
It was settled then. I would finally have a way to easily make more pancakes than my 4 year old could eat in one meal. I would never have to wake up early in the morning to make mountains and mountains of pancakes to satisfy the bottomless pancake receptacles of my children. I would be the Queen of Pancakes.

The problem? I'm not really into that whole fermented yeast flavor that is the inevitable outcome of leaving a  yeast-flour-sugar-milk mixture in your pantry for 10 days. I made up my first batch of pancakes and thought they tasted awful. The kids wouldn't even eat them. In fact they haven't wanted to eat pancakes since!

But the actual friendship bread tasted yummy. Why? The recipe is packed with cinnamon, sugar, vanilla pudding . . .  all kinds of yummy flavors to hide that less appealing "sourdough" taste. So I'm not giving up on the pancakes, I just have to find new and interesting ways to mask their original flavor.

Like I said, the great thing about pancakes is that they are so versatile. You can top them, you can fill them, you can drown them. You can eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack.

I am now on a quest to find 100 different ways to eat a pancake.

#1 of course will always be good old fashioned Pancakes with butter and syrup. It's classic, it's yummy, and comfortable. It's hard to beat this option (unless you are eating Amish Friendship Pancakes -  then it's somewhat sad and yucky).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Darklight & Tempestuous

In Leslie Livingstong's Darklight, the first sequel in the Wondrous Strange series, we finally get to spend some time in the world of Faerie, childhood home of Sonny Flannery and birthplace of Faerie princess Kelley Winslow.

Kelley tries to get back to her ordinary life as a rising theater actress in New York, but finds it difficult to concentrate on becoming Juliet when Mahb keeps appearing in her dressing room mirror, and her Romeo (Sonny) is off in the Faerie world hunting down the last of the Wild Hunt. Somehow, Kelley continues to find herself in Central Park and in trouble, but now Sonny isn't around to protect her. Instead, Kelley finds herself forming an unlikely friendship Fennris, the most ruthless among the Janus guard. After a frightening attack by a vengeful Leprechaun, Kelley and Fenn are hurled into the Faerie world, and right into Sonny's lap. All Sonny wants to do is protect Kelley and get her home safely. Unfortunately the only way he can do that is to entrust her to Fennris' care. The Wild Hunt, angry Leprechauns, and Mahb's continuous meddling become the least of their worries when they find out that Auberon is deathly ill, and someone is trying to wake the sinister Green Magic that created the portals to the Otherworld in the first place.

Livingston's characters are unique and distinct, and it was fun getting to know some of the other characters in Darklight. It was particularly enjoyable to get to know the character of Fennris, the noble, humorous protector hiding beneath the ruthless Janus guard exterior. Like so many of her other characters, it's nearly impossible not to like Fennris, and by the end of the series, he's one you don't want to let go.

Otherwise, I found Darklight to be somewhat less enjoyable that the other two books in the series. Sonny is too willing to trust Mahb, too quick to be jealous of Fenn, too quick to blame and be angry with Kelley. Likewise, Kelley is pouty and dramatic, and together they are immature and angsty. For teen books, I was surprised at the maturity of the characters in Wondrous Strange. Darklight unfortunately slips some and reminds us that we actually are reading a Teen Fantasy novel.

Tempestous picks up the drama somewhat, but also picks up some depth and makes for a more enjoyable read than Darklight.

At the end of Darklight, Kelley knows that the only way they can be safe is if she and Sonny aren't together. She has to make him leave her and the only way she can think of to do that is to lie to him, something that everyone knows Faerie don't do. Kelley isn't sure if it's because of the charm that she wears to suppress her power, or because she's lived ignorant of the Faerie world for so long, but for some reason Kelley does have the ability to lie. And she lies to Sonny. "I don't love Sonny Flannery," she says, "I just want him to go."

So Sonny does go. He doesn't belong in the Faerie world, where frivolous Fae toy with the emotions of others. He doesn't belong in the human world, a place foreign to him. He feels like he doesn't belong anywhere, until he meets Neerya, the sweet, fun-loving water sprite who leads him to the underground refuge for Lost Fae. His welcome by the Fae is hesitant and Sonny learns that the Janus have suddenly started hunting the Lost Fae, rather than simply keeping peace in Central Park. Sonny, knowing Auberon's state of ill health, assures the Fae (and later Maddox) that the Janus are not acting on Auberon's orders and that he has had no part in their actions for some time. Sonny finds himself making a new home with the Fae as he earns both their friendship and their trust.

His short-lived peace ends when the Janus guard find and attack the underground sanctuary. Sonny finds the division in their loyalties and convinces those who do not want to kill the Fae that the orders do not come from Auberon. He learns that whoever has been controlling the Janus have also been giving orders to the Leprechauns and deadly Glaistigs. When Kelley gets involved in the battle, Sonny struggles between his feelings of love for her and his painful feelings of betrayal. Kelley admits that she lied to Sonny and explains that her charm allows her to lie just as it suppresses her Faerie power. They don't have much time to solve their relationship problems, because they have to stop the Janus guard, find out whose after the Green Magic and keep them from unleashing it on New York, return the Faerie royalty to full health, and face the Wild Hunt for a second time.


Though I disagreed with Kelley's decision to lie to Sonny, I was touched by the pain she suffered on his account. The mature way to handle such problems is honestly, but Kelley chose to sacrifice her own happiness to protect someone she loved. What Kelley didn't take into account is that she had no business or right sacrifice someone else's happiness (Sonny's). After she admits her lie to Sonny, he remains hard.

       "When it's all over, I'm going back to the Otherworld, Kelley. Alone."

Kelley, unfortunately, still doesn't explain the truth to Sonny. She merely tells him that she did what she did for a good reason, and that he has to trust her. But she has lost Sonny's trust. She has done everything possible to not earn his trust.

"I just don't know if I can ever actually trust you again."
"Because I lied to you."
"Because you can lie to me . . . . How in hell will I ever know when you're telling the truth?"

The interchange is interesting. Sonny has lived his entire life among the Fae, who don't lie. He has been raised to trust blindly his entire life. He has always lived secure in the fact that he may not like the behavior of the Fae and he may disdain their shallowness, but at least he believes he can trust them. Suddenly, faced with Kelley's ability to lie, Sonny doesn't know how to trust. How can he devote himself to someone who has so much potential to hurt him.

"It's called being Human," Kelley tells him. "No one ever knows! Somethings you just have to take on faith and believe in at the risk of getting hurt."

Throughout Tempestous Livingston brings out what it means to be human. As humans we make stupid mistakes. We hurt each other. We lie to each other. We take it upon ourselves to decide what is best for others. Sometimes when we try our hardest to be good and do what is right, we end up hurting others and we feel like everything we do turns out wrong. But we keep trying and so we keep changing, hopefully getting a little better each time we've fallen down.

The vision Kelley sees of Manhattan reclaimed by nature is beautiful. It is paradise. And to Kelley, it is terrifying.

She understood something in that moment. As pristine as [the Faerie] kingdom was, it was stagnant. Stale. Without the unpredictability of mortals, without their foibles and strangeness and odd, surprising strengths, the Fair Folk grew bored with their unending perfection . . . . Kelley had a vivid mental picture of what [this] 'wish for humanity' would result in . . . . Human innovation . . . wiped out--buried forever beneath a thick pall of unbroken beauty.

Mankind as meant to strive. Mankind was meant to struggle and face hardship caused by our own mistakes. Goethe writes, "For man must strive, and striving he must err." This is the only way to grow. this is the only way to progress. We aren't meant to live in Eden, "having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good for they knew no sin."

Kelley and Sonny remind us of what it means to be human, of why we are here on this earth. In Darklight they make some pretty serious (stupid) mistakes. But in Tempestuous, they seek out redemption. They find ways to improve, to grow, and to become better. They learn to live better, to love better, and to trust more. Very importantly, they learn to forgive.

"Forgiveness, huh? she said softly. "That was pretty smart thinking."
Sonny nodded. "Sometimes people who do very stupid things--things like telling lies--deserve that."
Kelley blinked at the wetness on her lashes. "I--"
That was a very stupid thing you did, Kelley."
Sonny's lips crushed against hers, and his arms wrapped her in a fierce embrace. He didn't know if the tears on his cheeks were his or Kelley's. It didn't matter. She threw her arms around his neck and melted into him, and he knew that she would never let go of him again.


Livingston, Leslie. Darklight. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Livingston, Leslie. Tempestuous. New York: Harper Collins, 2011.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust: Part 1. London: Penguin, 1949.

Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi: 2:23

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fairies and Shadowhunters

Two books. Two first-time authors. Two heroines living in NYC with a secret magical past to reveal.

I just finished reading City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston. I found them while browsing for new books to read at the library. I had never heard of either one, but plucked them off the shelf, flipped through a few pages, and added to my stack for check out. I didn't know what to expect from either, and based on the covers and titles, didn't expect them to be so similar.

Interestingly, both books use similar terminology to describe the secret magical world within NYC from mortal eyes. Similar situations reveal similar aspects of this world to our heroins. Both girls are willful, independent, red-heads who can see through magic veils referred to as glamour.

 City of Bones is the story of Clary (Clarissa) Fray. While at a party with her friend / childhood sweetheart Simon, Clary sees something she shouldn't be able to see. Three shadowhunters track down a demon at the party and kill him right before Clary's eyes. Clary tries to stop them, thinking the boy they have tied up with wire is just that - an innocent boy tied up with wire. Clary tries to get help to stop what she believes is cold blooded murder, but no one else can see the boy or the three killers. After they finish, they simply disappear, with not a single drop of blood visible as evidence that she isn't going crazy.

After this encounter, Clary's world is turned upside down. When Clary comes home one night to find her mom gone and their apartment in shambles, she must turn to the three shadowhunters - Jace, Alec, and Isabelle -  for help. Shadowhunters, she learns, are members of a super secret organization that use magic and runes to hunt down demons and keep evil beings from wreaking havoc on the mortal world as well as their own hidden homeland, Idris. Clary learns that her mom has been kidnapped by evil rogue shadowhunter Valentine, who'll stop at nothing to find the mortal cup and build a shadow hunter army of his own. Clary faces off against vampires, werewolves, demons, undead, and shadowhunters, while learning shocking secrets about herself and her mother's past.

City of Bones was one of those books that I had a hard time getting into. The teenage dance club with blue haired kids having sex in storage closets (only implied never described), Clary's  I don't need a parent to tell me what to do attitude, and the overall immature feeling of the writing style didn't leave a very positive first impression on me. I wasn't at all surprised to notice that the book was published by Simeon & Schuster, who seem to be the leaders in pumping out shoddily written YA fantasy in the hopes of making profit off any phenomenon they can get their hands on.

I kept reading because a story with a secret organization of demon hunters, vampire / werewolf turf wars, and flying motorcycles certainly has potential. Unfortunately, Cassandra Clare's first attempt at novel writing didn't rise to that potential. Perhaps a few more drafts to her editor would have helped. It certainly would have fixed the typos and perhaps improved the pace of the plot.

Characters, in my opinion, should do more than stand as a means of moving along the plot. Having a great idea for a story plot is all well and good, but it means very little without good strong characters. I've heard that when developing a plot, that plot should stem from the characters, not the other way around. I wasn't sure how I felt about this idea until I read City of Bones. The plot of a book should be the means by which we come to know the character. The problem with City of Bones, is that there is very little sense of character identity. Snobbish, hostile, or secretive characters go out of their way to helpfully provide Clary (and readers) with ample explanations about who they are, what they are doing, and what their motivations are. Clary never has to search for answers herself, they are all dropped right in her lap. Because of this, the characters and narrator all flow together in one voice. We get a lot of very interesting plot, but it means little without characters to back it up.

Wondrous Strange, by comparison, was like eating warm popcorn and snuggling in a soft blanket fresh out of the dryer. Seventeen-year-old Kelley Winslow is a theater school drop-out, pursuing her dreams the hard way in NYC. Kelley wants nothing more than to become a theater actress, and catches her big break when she she goes from stagehand / understudy, to playing Titania in A Midsummer Nights Dream. However, learning her lines becomes the least of her worries after she unwittingly rescues a kelpie horse from drowning in Central Park, only to later find it camped out in her apartment bathtub. Add in a couple chance encounters with changeling Sonny Flannery, and Kelley finds her self thrown into the secrets of the Faerie world. Central Park is really a gateway to the Faerie lands, and Sonny is one of 13 gatekeepers struggling to keep tricky Fae from crossing into the mortal world. Unfortunately Sonny can't keep Kelley out of his mind, and somehow she keeps ending up in Central Park - in danger. It turns out Kelley has a secret Faerie heritage that even she doesn't know about. But someone in the Otherworld does, and that person wants Kelley dead. As the secrets unfold and the danger heightens, Kelley relies on her dreams of being an actress and her growing love for Sonny to remind her of who she is and what she wants as she struggles with the temptations of faerie power and the trickery of faerie politics. 

Wondrous Strange is a fun read, with enough humor, action, and romance to appeal to a wide variety of (female) fantasy readers. It's true that Sonny's great revelation to Kelley about her secret past is very disappointing and anticlimactic; but for the most part, the writing is simple, clean, and consistent, making for an enjoyable and fast read (less than 24 hour read). If you like fantasy and you're looking for a quick, fun read, I highly recommend Wondrous Strange. The main characters are loveable and the story is magical and charming. If an author has done her job well, then you don't want to leave her world and characters when you are finished. I am impressed by Lesley Livingston as a first-time author and hope to see her improve and grow in her craft.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Welcome to the Cafe!


I've had it in my mind for some time that I wanted to start a book blog. I started a personal blog a few months ago, but hadn't found the right inspiration to keep writing on it. I never wanted a blog to be my online journal, for all the world to know my secrets and my shortcomings. I never felt like my day-to-day was something interesting or worthwhile enough to grace the online world with. I needed a blog with a theme and with a purpose - something worth writing about.

It just so happens that I am an avid book lover. I don't just love to read books. I love books. I love the way they look, all perfectly lined up on the shelf, their covers a smooth and even line just a few inches back from the edge. I love the way they smell (except maybe a few used books - you have to be careful with those). I love the way it feels to hold one in my hand as I curl up on the couch, in the bed, or outside on a blanket. Best of all, I love what is inside. I love stories. I love the sound of words flowing together in rythmns and patterns. I love the characters -  their goals, their triumphs, their shortcomings, their delusions. I love the many paths that I travel as I wander through the worlds described on the page. I love the lessons learned, the heartaches felt, the battles fought.

I love the words of Jasper Fforde who wrote,

"Humans like stories. Humans need stories. Stories are good. Stories work. Story clarifies and captures the essence of the human spirit. Story, in all its forms - of life, of love, of knowledge - has traced the upward surge of mankind. And story, you mark my words, will be with the last human to draw breath" (Fforde, 204).

Stories and story telling are a part of who we are, as human beings. Books and their stories help us understand a part of ourselves. As we read about the struggles and subsequent triumphs of characters in a story, we somehow find greater strength to overcome our own challenges. As we read about suffering and tragedy, we find the comfort we need for our own suffering. As we read about love and romance, we value more the loved ones in our own life.

I believe reading a book is a very individual and personal experience. Fforde writes,

"Reading . . . was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work" (Fforde, 52).

I try to avoid saying that a book is "good" or "bad." A book that I love, another person might not enjoy at all. In fact I know this to be true of many of the books that I consider to be my favorites. My reading and enjoyment of a book is based on my own experiences and perceptions of what the author is trying to portray. A person's mood, experience, and expectations all have a lot to do with how they feel about any given book at any given time. I try, as I read, to remember that even though I might not enjoy a book, it is still loved by someone else, and there is always a reason for that enjoyment. There is always something to learn from a book, even if it's only a deeper understanding of your fellow human beings.

That all being said, this is a blog about my own experience and journeys with the books I read. I hope my wandering and ramblings will be of benefit to someone. If you ever wanted to get to know me better, you are likely about to learn more about me than you ever wanted to know. I believe you can learn a lot about a person by learning about their experiences with books.

Enjoy! Please leave comments and tell me what you think. Please try to be considerate of others (and me) in your comments, but don't be afraid to stir up a little debate and discussion either.

Be aware that my posts will range anywhere from simple summary and review to flat out analysis and religious or philosophical pontification. I'll try to include a break in the post before I start off-roading it too far off the paved and easy to follow trail.



Forde, Jasper. Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. New York: Penguin, 2007.