Monthly Archives: July 2013

Finding Fairy Tales in Everyday Life

forest

Once upon a time, I discovered that fairytales are not just stories.

They became not just my book obsession, not just an infatuation with princesses and mythical kingdoms. Fairytales became, for me, a way of life, and a way of thinking. Something that, as a child, came straight from my heart and has, over the years, wound through my entire being, even finding its way into my logical thinking.

I can remember the first time I read a fairytale that transported me completely from this world into another. I can still remember the way it felt as if I had just discovered that magic truly existed. I can remember the smell of the book and the feel of my hands on it, the way the sunlight was coming into my bedroom as I sat cross-legged on my bed, leaning over my book until I developed a horrible crick in my neck … but kept reading anyway.

And I knew I could never be the same again.fairytale

Yet I grew older I experienced troubles and heartbreak, just as everyone does. I became cynical and cautious, and almost lost hold of the fairytale in me. But God gave me a second chance in the form of my own child. I have learned to see things through his eyes. And does he see things!

When he was only two, he pointed out a large chink in our neighbor’s driveway, stooped to carefully examine it, then stated most seriously that he had found a dragon footprint.

I related the above event to my husband, rapturously declaring that our son had the imagination of a genius (well, I’m a mom, so I can say those things …). And of course, while he is no doubt a genius, I think the thing that truly struck me that day (and has struck me countless times since) was how something so astoundingly mundane could become so, well, astounding. And all in the course of two seconds – all because of a handful of words, a different point of view, a tiny drop of imagination and the guileless courage of a two-year-old to see something for what it could be instead of what it in fact was.

It’s not a new concept by any means, looking for inspiration in unexpected places. But even so, it’s one that is all too easy to forget in the hubbub of our daily lives, in the busyness of our work and family schedules and the running to and fro.

Mostly it just takes a conscious will to stop, or at least slow down, and look around you. It doesn’t matter if you live in a bustling city, or a small town, or out in the middle of nowhere. Nothing is off limits. Everything can be fairytale. Is it ugly? Is it boring? Is it broken? Those things make some of the most beautiful fairytales of all.

gnome homeBecause really, when you think about it, aren’t we living out epic tales of our own? A tale called “life” that’s tragic and involved and messy and glorious and heartbreaking and, most of all, full of hope.

Today my son found a “gnome home” in the hollow of a tree as we walked in the woods. That was his fairytale. And my fairytale? Yes, I found one today, too, but not in the tree. It was in the thrill of love I felt watching my son’s brown eyes widen with excitement as he made his own small, but crucial, discovery. And I was transported into his world.

Isn’t that just how fairytales are supposed to make you feel?

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8 Reasons Why Readers and Writers Should Be On Pinterest, and 4 Lists of Awesome Boards to Follow

dragon computerWhen I first discovered Pinterest, I will admit – I was addicted for about two months straight. My husband didn’t know what had happened to me – I rarely came up for air. So many pictures! So many ideas! So many sites, and thoughts, and inspiration! All in one place, too. And I’m an organizer … ooh, I loved organizing my pins into boards, and my boards into groups… Everything was in its place. Just how I like it.

I soon noticed, though, that things in the real world were most definitely NOT in place. The laundry, for instance. And the dishes. I mean, who has TIME for those things, when you are so busy pinning brilliant ideas about them?? I certainly did not.

After I mellowed out a bit, and stopped getting depressed because I didn’t have “the house of my dreams,” and hadn’t followed the “10 steps to a perfectly organized life,” I found another, more inspiring, reason for Pinterest …

It can be a great tool for writing, and an excellent resource for reading.

I began a Pinterest account specifically dedicated to book lovers, readers, and aspiring writers, and the rest is history! I soon discovered there are thousands of others who are just as obsessed with books as I am. (If you want to visit my Pinterest page and see/follow my boards, click here!).

So, how does Pinterest help the reader and/or writer, you ask? Well, here are some of the ways I have found it useful:

1.  Inspiration. I like to surf pins, especially of fantasy and fairytale imagery, to get inspiration for stories I want to write, or to better visualize the one I am currently writing.underwater castle
2.  Quotes. Yeah, they’re all over Pinterest, but if you get choosy about who you follow, you can filter out the corny, melodramatic, and pointless ones! I especially like to follow boards with quotes from my favorite authors or books, and I love quotes about reading and writing as well. Try following a board of quotes that is honed in to something specific you like (i.e. fantasy, humor, dogs, forgiveness – you name it!).
3.  Recommendations and reviews. There are boards dedicated entirely to book recommendations and book reviews, and many of these boards are split into genre (Romance, Historical, Biography, etc.) or age-group (middle grade, young adult, etc.), which makes it even easier to navigate to the specific ones you would like to follow.
4.  Writing prompts. Ideas to file away for future use.
5.  Literary media. Follow your favorite authors’ or publishers’ boards (or someone else’s boards about those authors!) to get updates on interviews, blog posts, giveaways, upcoming book releases, and contests.
6.  Eye candy. Yep, you heard me. Some people call it “book porn,” although that’s a bit much for me. It comes to the same thing, though … people who simply love pictures of books, libraries, cozy reading nooks, and everything else bookish. Sometimes, when I’m not drooling, I actually get some great ideas from these pictures when it comes to organization and/or display (and believe me, with upwards of 3,000 books in my house, I need those tips!).
7.  Geekery. Find nifty accessories, clothing, gadgets, and other paraphanalia made specifically with book lovers in mind. This one is just plain fun. Quotation cufflinks, anyone?  literary cufflinks
8.  Articles and posts. This one sounds kind of boring, I realize, but if you are a writer and, like me, don’t have time every day to read posts from the 30+ writing blogs you follow … what could be easier than just pinning them to a board to save for a lazy Sunday afternoon?

So, with these excellent reasons in mind, I set myself a fun assignment and researched some of my personal favorite boards so I could list them for you to check out. If you are a reader, a writer, a book reviewer, a lover of fantasy and fairytale imagery, or all of these things – you won’t want to miss these! Just be sure you don’t drown in all the bookish goodness!

Boards for Readers
Read Aloud Book Recommendations for Children
Teen Book Recommendations
Our Book Reviews
Night Owl Reviews
Fantasy Book Reviews
Author Interviews
Book Trailers

Boards for Writers
Sharing Writing Tips
Writing Prompts
Your Writer Platform
Getting Help With Your Writing
Business of Writing: Publishing and More
Quotes: Writing

Boards for Fairytale & Fantasy Lovers
Once Upon A Time …
Tales
The Wee People
Fairy Dust
Mystery and Mischief
Other World
Mystical
Makin’ Magic

Boards for Bibliophiles
The Library
Book Art and Display
Book Gear
Literary Humor
Beyond Books~Shops and Stores
Reading Nooks

If you are on Pinterest already, in a reading or writing capacity, what are some of the ways in which you have found it useful? I’d love to hear. It may just inspire me to add one, or two … or maybe ten more boards to my own profile!

4 Characteristics of an Epic Book

booksHave you ever read a book, and for some indescribable reason you simply could not feel a connection with it?  Perhaps you’re a person who can put a book like that right back on the shelf without a problem, or drop it in the library’s return slot and never think about it again, if you begin reading it and realize it’s not for you.  But not me.

In the past, when I came upon a book like this – one I could not get into at all – I put myself through torture, made myself finish the book even if it bored me to tears.  Now that I have finished my third decade of life, I realize I simply don’t have the time to do that, and I finally admitted to myself that I just don’t like it, either.  Who says I have to finish every book I start?  What a freeing feeling!  Why did I ever think differently?

The problem is I am always left with a sense of …. well, something being wrong.  Maybe it’s a need for closure.  Not in the sense of needing to know how the story ends, necessarily, but rather in needing to understand why I couldn’t connect with it to begin with.  I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, and this has created a keener sense of a story’s mechanics, an author’s style, than I might have ever been aware of otherwise.

Lately this happened to me.  And instead of just dealing with the uncomfortable feeling the book gave me, despite the fact that I actually quite enjoyed parts of it, I decided to sit myself down and figure out exactly what I felt was missing.  I soon realized if you want to know what’s missing from a recipe, you have to know the recipe to begin with.  So, I decided to write down my “requirements” for a great book.

Don’t get me wrong.  If a book doesn’t have one or two of these characteristics it doesn’t mean I won’t read it.  Because books don’t follow rules.  Sometimes there is a mysterious x-factor that keeps me turning pages, surprising even myself.  So – the list is not a strict one; but it did, in the end, help me realize what was “missing” from the book I had been reading [sigh of relief!].

My list is not genre or age-specific, since these characteristics span all types of fiction books.  Here goes:

  1. A compelling plot.  No matter how great your prose is, or how handy you are with turning a unique phrase, your book simply won’t stand without an intriguing storyline that keeps the reader wanting more.  This is not an argument for fast-paced, action-packed scenes – not a bit.  It just means that the plot simply needs to be interesting.  It needs to take me somewhere unexpected and exciting.
  2. A protagonist who is human.  But you like heroes who happen to be dragons, you say?  Okay.  I still say your dragon needs to be human.  The protagonist needs to have relatable struggles, whether internal or external, that draw me in and form an emotional connection.  Because, let’s be honest, if I can’t relate to the hero, I’m not gonna care what happens to him, even if the author kills him off.  If I have the capability of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Eh,” when something horrible happens to the hero … the author is doing something wrong (and yes, I have done this before).quill.and.ink
  3. A journey.  Whether the characters stay in one place, or even in one room, for the entirety of the book, a journey needs to take place.  A journey of understanding, of love, of coming to terms with self or others, of forgiveness, of strength or acceptance … the list could go on and on; take your pick.  And if the journey happens to be an actual physical journey – well, that’s fine, too.  But my favorite books, I’ve noticed, usually incorporate the physical and emotional journeys together, intertwining them in such delicious ways that you can barely discern the difference between them (The Lord of the Rings, anyone??).
  4. Good writing.  I’m not talking about good grammar here, and I’m not even talking about writing that “flows.”  I mean writing that is unique to the author.  Writing that shows me this author has a voice and knows how to use it.  This is a hard one to describe, really, because it’s more of a feeling than anything specific you can pin down when reading a book.  But if you are a reader, you know what I mean.  And this one is also very open to preference.  Believe me, some authors have a definitive voice … and I just don’t happen to like their voice.  But it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it.  And when I come across a book with the three former characteristics, and find that the author is just one darn good storyteller on top of everything … well, those are the books that find homes on the shelves in my house.

But that’s just me.  I’m curious to know … what makes (or doesn’t make, for that matter) a great book for YOU?

The Food of Fantasies (Part 3)

peter rabbit“Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.” Juliet Blackwell

Are you ready for the third and final fairytale food post? I’ve split the group of recommendations into two – the first group is for the kiddos, the second is for us older ones. These were so fun, just let me say. You don’t even have to be a cook (and I’m not!) to get some prime enjoyment out of these books. The illustrations, the accompanying stories and rhymes, and even the names of the recipes themselves are enough to keep you turning the pages, though you may have no intention at all of stepping a toe into your kitchen!

Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the “food” posts if you haven’t already.

A list for the little kiddos:

1. Teddy Bears’ Picnic Cookbook (Abigail Darling)
2. The Boxcar Children Cookbook (Diane Blain)wind in the willows3
3. Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook (Georgeanne Brennan)    winnie the pooh picnic
4. Winnie-the-Pooh Teatime Cookbook
5. Winnie-the-Pooh Picnic Cookbook
6. The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook (Kate Macdonald)
7. Cooking with Anne of Green Gables (Sullivan Entertainment)
8. Peter Rabbit’s Natural Foods Cookbook (Arnold Dobrin)
9. The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook (Arabella Boxer)
10. The Secret Garden Cookbook (Amy Cotler)
11. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes (Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl)
12. The Beatrix Potter Country Cookery Book (Margaret Lane)
13. Book Cooks: 26 Recipes from A-Z Inspired by Favorite Children’s Books (Cheryl Apgar)

gameofthrones1narnia1

And now a list for the big kids!
1. Wookiee Cookies: A Star Wars Cookbook (Robin Davis)
2. A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook (Chelsea Monroe-Cassel)
3. The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook (Alan Kistler)
4. The Official Narnia Cookbook (Douglas Gresham)
5. The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook (Dinah Bucholz)
6. Regional Cooking from Middle Earth: Recipes of the Third Age (Emerald Took)
7. The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (Dinah Bucholz)
8. The Book Club Cook Book (Judy Gelman)
9. The Book Lover’s Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature (Shaunda Kennedy Wenger)

Now it’s your turn to cook up some whimsical, fantastical recipes on your own! Here is a list of links to some fun and interesting things to make.  Comment below with your own ideas or links to more recipes!

Marilla’s Plum Pudding (Anne of Green Gables)
Star Wars recipes (including Wookiee Pies, Ice Cream Clones, and Death Star Popcorn Balls)
Buzz-Worthy Bee Cupcakes and Hive (Winnie the Pooh)
The Boxcar Children Beef Stew RecipeThree-Finger Hobb’s Breakfast (A Game of Thrones)
Licorice Wands (Harry Potter)
Tea with Mr. Tumnus (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Beatrix Potter’s Recipe for Gingerbread (Peter Rabbit)
Bag End Apple Bread (The Lord of the Rings)

harry potter

Book Review: The Thirteenth Princess (by Diane Zahler)

The Twelve Dancing Princess
The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler is a book I recommend to any lover of fairytales. It is a retelling of the classic story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. This has been one of my favorite fairytales for some years, although I’m also aware it’s not necessarily one of the best known ones. But if you’re like me, you love discovering those little gems that are not so mainstream – not so faddish – and all the more charming for it.

Zahler tells the story in first person, from the viewpoint of the heretofore unknown thirteenth princess – the youngest sister of the famous twelve princesses. Her father the king, bitter after the successive birth of twelve girls, banishes Zita, his thirteenth child, who is not the son he was hoping for. She is sent to live among the servants of the castle, not aware she is even the daughter of the king, sister to the beautiful princesses, until she is 12, which is when the story begins.6295173

Zita has personality, she has depth, she has fears and longings – everything a heroine should have, in fact. Eventually, she finds she possesses bravery as well, which comes in handy as she follows her sisters into a deep and strong enchantment cast over them by a mysterious magic. She, her friend Breckin, his handsome older brother Milek (who just happens to have an eye for the oldest princess), and the friendly witch Babette, all embark together on a quest to disenchant the princesses, whose nightly forays into the world of magic are wearing them thin and even threatening their lives.

Zahler keeps all the old enchantment of the classic tale in her retelling while adding her own voice to the story, with a couple of thrilling twists – one heartbreaking, the other joyous. She reaches deeper into her main characters’ personalities than many middle grade and young adult books I have read of late, and on that basis alone I would recommend this book.

Head to the library and check it out – then let me know what you think! I dare you to dislike this one!

The Food of Fantasies (Part 2)

So, here I am again, cooking up a storm of fairytale recipe reviews! I decided, as I said in my last post, to do the fantasy cookbooks first. There were some that, sadly, I could not review, because unfortunately even the local library doesn’t have every book in creation! But I’ve reviewed the ones I could find and am also listing some of the fun ones I researched. If you have read or cooked from any of these (or any that you don’t see listed!), please let me know what you thought.FTcookbook3

1. The Fairy Tale Cookbook
By Carol MacGregor
This book is perfect for any classic fairytale lover who also happens to like to cook. That includes children, as there are many recipes that are fairly simple within it. Each recipe starts with a short version of the fairytale. A couple of the stories I had never heard of before, and the teasers have now caused me to add them to my library list for my next visit. One of these was the Chinese tale “The Shady Tree,” and another was “A Story, A Story,” about an African Spider Man named Ananse. Don’t get me wrong –all the classics are there as well. You can make Cinderella’s wedding cake (with orange and lemon frosting – yum!), the Wicked Queen’s poisoned baked apples, the awakening celebration feast from Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb’s bread and butter pudding, and even, if you’re in a healthy mood, the Goats Gruff meadow salad. Altogether a creative and varied list of 25 recipes, from meals and sides, to snacks and sweets, complete with illustrations on almost every page (albeit black and white).

2. The Storybook Cookbook
By Carol MacGregor
An additional 22 recipes for the enjoyer of children’s classic stories, written by the same author, and in the same style as The Fairy Tale Cookbook (above). This cookbook features such recipes as The Swiss Family Robinson’s Lobster Bisque, Tom Sawyer’s Fried Fish, Captain Hook’s Poison Cake, Pinocchio’s Pannikin Poached Egg, and Heidi’s Toasted Cheese Sandwiches.

3. Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers and Eaters
Stories by Jane Yolen, recipes by Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Jane Yolen has retold these stories in her own words – a story told to get you in the mood for each recipe that follows. Also, as an FTcookbookextra bonus, the pages are delightfully (and in full color!) illustrated. Since I’m kind of a trivia geek, one of my favorite things about this one was the columns of facts along the side of each recipe. For instance, did you know that, in France, French Toast is called “pain perdu,” or “lost bread” because the bread is smothered or lost under many other ingredients? I’m betting you didn’t. Well, there’s dozens of them throughout the book, and I love ‘em. You will too. The recipes themselves are fairly simple, and the fairy tales are greatly varied. There are some of the ones we all know, but there are some that are a little less common as well, and even one or two I didn’t recognize, fairytale fan that I am. Some examples of the recipes found in this book are as follows: Brer Rabbit’s Carrot Soup, The Little Mermaid’s Seaweed Stuffed Shells (I made this one for supper tonight – yum!!), Little Red Riding Hood’s Picnic Basket of Goodies, Diamonds and Toads French Toast, and many others; 20 stories to be exact, with correlating recipes.

4. Mermaid Cookbook
By Barbara Beery
This delightful little cookbook is not based on any work of literature in particular, but as it was inspired by and named for a fairytale This yummy treat didn't last long!creature, I thought it merited mention! It’s a cookbook you will find in the juvenile section of your library, if that’s where you’re looking, so the recipes are not complicated, and I’ll tell you right now, they are all sweet or snack-ish! Extra yum. I promptly made a Sea Foam Float for my 6-year-old, and he liked it so much he then made one, all by himself, for his Dad (he’s so sweet!). Mermaid Bay Baked Bananas, Lemonade Lagoon Coolers, Water Fairy ice Pops, Rainbow Fish Fudge, Sea Turtle Cookies, and Hidden Treasure Cupcakes are among the few mouthwatering recipes you’ll find in this book. I just happened across this one while I was researching some other books, and I’m so glad I did. If you don’t hear from me for a while, though, it will be because I am recuperating from sugar shock …

5. Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon
By Jules Bass
As with the Mermaid Cookbook, this one is not based on any individual fantasy book or fairytale. It is, however, hosted by a charming FTcookbook5dragon named Herb, and a slew of his dragon-friends, of whom there are very many bright and active illustrations throughout the entire cookbook. I like the variety this cookbook gives for children (like my own) who are vegetarians, whether by choice, or (like my own!) just happen to hate meat! Herb the Dragon “narrates” the cookbook as it goes along, giving fun excerpts about why each recipe came about and who he is cooking it for. Gives it such a great personal touch for children (ok, for me as well …). The 22 recipes include, to name a few, Rosie Rose’s Rosemary Pan Bread, Party Pasta for a Herd of Dragons, The King’s Favorite Veggie-Burger, Herb’s Original Rainbow Pizza (in which Herb claims for himself the honor of inventing pizza in the first place!), and the Cookie-Dragon’s Chocolate Chippers.

6. The Mother Goose Cookbook: Rhymes and Recipes for the Very Young
By Marianna Mayer
Illustrations galore, all of them adorable, a rhyme on every other page that corresponds with the recipe that follows. Pretty delightful cookbook, overall. My son enjoyed looking at it before we even had a chance to make anything from it! From Humpty Dumpty’s Dilly Egg Sandwich, to the Queen of Heart’s Fruit Tart, to Peter Piper’s Best-Ever Pickle Recipe, you’ll love all 14 of these recipes, whether you are very young or very … ahem, not young.

7. Pease Porridge Hot: A Mother Goose Cookbook
8. The Little Witch’s Black Magic Cookbook (Linda Glovach)
9. The 4Fairy Delights (Tina Marie Mayr)
10. What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank: A Fantasy Lover’s Food Guide (Krista D. Ball)
11. Fairytale Food (Lucie Cash)

So, here we come to the books that I could not find. And just let me say …. Urrrgghh! A couple of these looked sooo good, too. I feel that I am fairly safe in recommending all of them on their appeal just from researching them and peeking into a couple of them on Amazon.

My son and I have had a pretty good time testing the couple of recipes we decided on, and I’m certain we will test a couple more before our pile of books gets returned to the library. Next week I’ll post the final cookbook reviews, and yes – I’m planning on posting a regular book review as well! Please comment with any ideas, links, sites or books you have knowledge of that celebrate the food in the books we all love!

The Food of Fantasies (Part 1)

“You’re a wizard,” I snapped. “Can’t you just use magic to make your own food?”
“Ah, yes,” he retorted. “Because mud pies are so very delicious and the wind fills empty stomachs quite nicely.” — Alexandra Bracken (Brightly Woven)

fairytalefood4

Whether it’s a steaming pot of stone soup on the village square, Anne pouring you some raspberry cordial (or is it currant wine?!) on the front porch of Green Gables, a mug of butterbeer with your friends around a table at the Hog’s Head, or a very delicious-looking red apple handed to you by a old woman peddling on a forest road – let’s just admit it, we want to taste these things. After all, our minds are tasting the stories they come from, we see the places and people in our imaginations – why shouldn’t we take it a step forward and bridge the gap, make part of the story palpable and real and … delicious? What is it about these foods that draw us in and remain in our minds long after the story we have read is put back on the shelf, if not our desire to crawl into the stories themselves?

As I research cookbooks based on famous books and fairy tales, I have come across many different recipes and even series. It’s amazing how inspired readers can become, all because of the food or drinks they read about in a favorite book. And even more amazing is the sheer volume of these types of cookbooks there are to choose from, once you start to look. There are dishes that existed before the books were written, and have been made famous by being featured in a book. And then there are the dishes that the authors have created solely for the purpose of their story (some of which prove most definitely that the authors should stick to writing, and not cooking!). Either way, and however delectable (or occasionally disgusting) these dishes turn out to be, we, the addictive, obsessive readers, are most definitely going to try them.

fairytalefood6I’m no cook myself, and I won’t be attempting to come up with my own special version of green eggs and ham anytime soon (my husband would shudder to imagine such a thing put into my hands) – but I’m not adverse to trying the recipes invented by others. I couldn’t decide whether to focus on fairytale and fantasy cookbooks (since, after all, that’s what I’m blogging about), but I got so excited when I visited the library and saw all the options out there, that I’ve decided to go a bit wider. Over the next week or two I will do brief reviews of the books and sites I come across, and even hope to post reports of how it goes in the kitchen when I (gulp!) try some of these recipes out. My 6-year-old has kindly volunteered to help me, and is, as I write this, on my bed pouring over stacks of cookbooks, looking very much like a miniature, somewhat harassed editor.

So stay tuned for my next blog post, later this week, of the fairytale cookbook reviews (I’ve decided to begin with the fairytale genre and proceed outward from there for the following reviews). And in the meantime, check out some of the following links and sites for some super-fun recipes to try!

RECIPES:
Elven Lembas Bread (The Lord of the Rings)fairytalefood
Raspberry Cordial (Anne of Green Gables)
Cauldron Cakes and Butterbeer (Harry Potter)
Turkish Delight (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Mr. McGregor’s Winter Garden Vegetable Pies (Peter Rabbit)
Miniature Castle Cakes

SITES:
Book Eats
Paper/Plates
Kat Cooks the Books
Inn at the Crossroads
Fictional Food

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