Category Archives: books

Book Review: The Littlest Christmas Kitten

christmaskittenA sweet little Christmas story for kids of about age two through six. The story itself is simple and straightforward, and I like that it incorporates the true Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. We most definitely need more kids’ Christmas books that speak of what Christmas is truly all about, or that are centered around Jesus and His love for us, as opposed to the worldly Christmas view that centers around Santa Claus. The only thing I wasn’t overly crazy about were the illustrations. I am a bit picky about illustration style, especially after having read so many children’s books in the past few years (I have a 7-year-old), and the type of artwork in this book simply isn’t a style that I gravitate toward. It is very 2-dimensional and unrealistic, with the use of a very small amount of colors. My son is a fan of all different types of illustration styles, however, and he liked the illustrations in this book, although the story itself was a bit simplistic for him now that he’s at a higher reading level. All in all, The Littlest Christmas Kitten is a great story that I would recommend for any Christian family at Christmas time, or any time during the year!

(I received a free copy of this book from BookCrash in exchange for an honest review).

My Book Cover Reveal

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My book, THE WORD CHANGERS, will be published in June of this year. Woo hoo! It was a long journey to get here. I started this young adult fantasy more than three years ago. Life cropped up, I stopped writing for about two years, and didn’t finish the book until December of 2012. In August of 2013 THE WORD CHANGERS was accepted for publication, and mere days after I had a “yes” from the publisher, I heard from an agent offering to represent me (the agent of my dreams, I might add!).  A little backwards from the norm, I know – but believe me, I couldn’t have cared less! I had a publisher and an agent within a matter of days – it was almost too much to take in!

So I entered the world of contracts and edits and deadlines and giving feedback on cover art that, in truth, I didn’t really have much of a say in anyway. And in June, I hope to hold a copy of my own book in my own two hands – a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl!  Also, incidentally, I hope many people in June are holding copies of my book in their own two hands!  😉

Until then, there are other exciting things to talk about. Like the cover reveal, which the fantasy author Anne Elisabeth Stengl has very kindly offered to host for me on her own blog. It will be bright and early tomorrow morning (Wednesday, February 19), so if you can, head over and visit Anne Elisabeth’s blog.

There’s more!

You can also enter a giveaway for a promised, signed copy of THE WORD CHANGERS on Anne Elisabeth’s site as well (“promised” because I won’t be able to send it to the winner until it releases in June!).

I have started an author blog as well, on which I will still be talking about fantasy and book-related things if you are interested, with the occasional update on my own book and special events. I’ve also got a description of THE WORD CHANGERS on my author blog, which Anne Elisabeth will also be posting along with the cover tomorrow.

Mermaid Tales: Recommended Reading

To follow up yesterday’s rather fishy post, I thought I’d list some great mermaid reads!  You should be able to find most of these at your public library, so dig in!  (My personal favorite is Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli!).

1.) Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of “The Little Mermaid” (Debbie Viguie)mermaid book4

2.) Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale (Carolyn Turgeon)

3.) The Forbidden Sea (Sheila A. Nielson)

4.) The Vicious Deep (Zoraida Cordova)

5.) Lies Beneath (Anne Greenwood Brown)

6.) Lost Voices trilogy (Sarah Porter)

7.) The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen)

8.) The Syrena Legacy series (Anna Banks)

9.) To Catch a Mermaid (Suzanne Selfors)

mermaid book110.) Mermaid Tales from Around the World (Mary Pope Osborne)

11.) A Treasury of Mermaids: Mermaid Tales from Around the World (Shirley Climo)

12.) Daughters of the Sea trilogy (Kathryn Lasky)

13.) Ingo series (Helen Dunmore)

14.) Sirena (Donna Jo Napoli)

15.) Rising (Holly Kelly)

16.) The Secret of the Emerald Sea (Heather Matthews)

17.) Water trilogy (Kara Dalkey)

18.) Antara (Marilena Mexi)

Top Fairy Tales and Retellings from 2013

So many great fairy tales, fairy tale retellings, and fantasy books from 2013 … and too little time to read them! Heading into 2014 I am certain there will be many more to add to my list. I’ve included several here which, according to Goodreads, were some of the top reads for the year. Have you read any on the list – or maybe all of them?! Which were your favorites?

TheMothInTheMirror   TheKingdomOfLittleWounds   RagsAndBones

5.5"X8.5" Post Card Template   Hunter HuntmansStory   Hero

ColdSpell   Beauty   Scarlet

Fairytales … Truer Than Real Life?

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I’m privileged to be writing at a wonderful site this week called Speculative Faith. I’m talking about the deeper meaning of fairytales and fantasies, and why I think they are so effective  in our minds and hearts – more so, many times, than any other type of fiction.

Head on over to read my post, here, and then stay a while and check out some of the other great articles and discussions on Spec Faith.

13 Halloween Reads That Won’t (Completely!) Scare Your Socks Off

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I’ll admit it – I’m not much for horror, or freakishly terrifying tales. I can’t take a lot of gore and violence either. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a well-told tale with mystery, intrigue, adventure, danger and suspense. Who doesn’t?

And during this spooky time of year, I start wanting to break out some of my favorites, from quirky fantasies to suspenseful murders, and everything between.

So I put together a list of books that I recommend for those of you who, like me, would love a book or two to get you in the Halloween mood without completely scaring your socks off!

I chose some new ones and some olds ones. Some popular ones and some lesser-known ones. Some adult ones and some MG/YA ones. Take your pick and enjoy!

  1. The Witches (Roald Dahl)halloweenowl
  2. Reckless (Cornelia Funke)
  3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
  4. The Magician’s Nephew (C.S. Lewis)
  5. On the Night of the Seventh Moon (Victoria Holt)
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
  7. Fablehaven (Brandon Mull)
  8. Hallowe’en Party (Agatha Christie)
  9. Dracula (Bram Stoker)
  10. The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
  11. My Cousin Rachel (Daphne du Maurier)
  12. A Tale Dark and Grim (Adam Gidwitz)
  13. Shadows (Robin McKinley)

Which of your favorites would you add to the list?

I’ll also be posting a flash fiction story (by yours truly!) on Halloween day – so keep your eyes peeled!

Fantastic Beasts … Where DO You Find Them?

fantastic beasts5

 

By now you will have heard plenty of news about J.K. Rowling’s latest project – a movie version of her book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book itself, written by the fictional Newt Scamander, features more than 80 fantastical beasts and beings. Some of them, such as the pixie, the kelpie, the unicorn, the mer-people and the dragon, are well-known to even the most half-hearted fantasy fans. But there are quite a few exceptions. Here are a few fun ones.

 

  1. Puffskein: A sphere of soft ur that is fond of eating leftovers and even the occasional spider. It emits a humming sound when it isfantastic beasts5 contented. Fred and George Weasley modified the Puffskein to make the Pygmy Puff.
  2. Jobberknoll: A speckled blue bird that never utters a peep until the moment before its death. And in that moment, it utters a long scream which consists of every sound it has ever heard – backward. Its feathers are used in Memory Charms and Truth Serums.
  3. Ashwinder: A thin, gray wisp with glowing red eyes that rises from embers to lay its eggs in a dark corner before it dies. It only lives about an hour.
  4. Bowtruckle: A twig-like creature, about the size of a person’s hand, which serves as the guardian for its home tree (which it looks very similar to!). A peaceful being, but can become violent when its tree is threatened.
  5. Chizpurfle: A crab-like, parasitic creature that is attracted to magic. It often attacks magical objects such as wands and cauldrons. When it can find no magic, it will resort to attacking Muggles’ electrical devices and wires.
  6. Glumbumble: This furry flying insect produces a treacle that induces melancholy, which can be used as an antidote to treat hysteria. It nests in dark places and feeds on nettles.
  7. Streeler: A giant snail which changes colors hourly. Streeler venom is one of the few things that can kill a Horklump.
  8. Diricawl: Muggles think of this plump, flightless bird as the extinct dodo bird. But the wizarding world knows it is not extinct – rather, it can disappear and reappear when needed as an escape method. Thus Muggles have not seen it for many years.

Many of the creatures in Rowling’s book (and upcoming movie) are ones she invented herself, although the classic fairytale beasts emerge here and there as well.  If you could create a magical beast, what would it be?

fantastic beasts2

What 10 Books Mean to Me in 10 Words or Less

O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come. – Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley

This week I thought I would simply share with you 10 books (ok, or series…!) from the long list of books that have meant the most to me throughout the past 20+ years of my life. I set myself the challenge of stating how each book affected me in 10 words or less – no simple task!

My words may be a description of the book, or simply the way in which the book changed me – sometimes both.

10. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingwayold man and the sea

An old man’s stubborn heart touched my young one.

 

9. Queenmaker by India Edghill

An age-old tale from an intimate perspective.

 

8. The Bible

God’s heart – the light to my path.jane eyre

 

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A passionate, restless, plain girl, much like myself.

 

6. Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood by Meredith Ann Pierce

A spell of words woven into a deep-earth, epic journey.

wildwood dancing

 

5. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

My childish dreams merged strangely and naturally here.

 

4. The Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken

Quirky, edgy. Wild imagination that opened new worlds.

 

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

My heart’s fairytale with a true secret at center.

 

2. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Proof that the beauty of words could break a heart.

 

1. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

A lesson that “Nothing is yet in its true form.”

 

Ten words … that’s hard!  It leaves much to say on the thoughts and emotions I felt for each of these books. What about you? Which are the books that have made the most impact on you – heart, mind, and soul – through the years? Can you describe one or two of them in 10 words or less? Comment below. I’d love to hear about them!

Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing … and Other Spells

Spells, enchantments, potions, charms, hexes and curses … call them what you will, they make up a huge part of both fantasy fiction and the fantastical characters many of us know and love. And though I believe the true magic lies in a well-written story and in the characters that speak to us and endure, that certainly doesn’t stop me from getting pleasure in seeing the varied ways authors and writers of books and movies have used words to express traditional magic! I hope you enjoy them as well.

The Summoning Charm
Is there anyone within a few years beyond or behind my generation who isn’t at least familiar with this one? Ok, so maybe I’m being a little fanatic. Most Harry Potter fans are. But what else can you expect from someone who instinctively calls out “Accio keys!” while searching frantically through my purse …?! Short and sweet, this one simply means “I summon.”

Accio!

stone table2

Deep Magic
This is the magic law that is etched into the stone table Aslan was killed upon. It is full of power and meaning that, for me and many others, goes far beyond the fictional Narnian chronicles.

If a willing Victim that has committed no treachery is killed in a traitor’s stead, the Stone Table will crack; and even death itself would turn backwards.

Crossroads Uncrossing Spell
Earthy and timeless, these words come from Eileen Holland’s Spells for the Solitary Witch. I don’t know about you, but my somewhat dramatic imagination sees a fey creature, arms outstretched to the skies, crying out this chant.

Guardians of the North, grant me power!
Guardians of the West, send me strength!
Guardians of the South, give me energy!
Guardians of the East, know my spirit!

Fire Spell
In the BBC miniseries, Merlin, our main character – Merlin himself! – works magic in nearly every episode. This is one of many examples that I could give – a spell of fire, which translates literally: “You are air in fire’s heat; defeat the hostile one.”

Lyft sy þe in bǽlwylm ac forhienan se wiðere!

Enter the Three Witches …
The evil of the three witches who set out to destroy Macbeth is palpable in the following lines, which are only a few taken from the much longer spell in the play by Shakespeare.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Love Charm
In April or May, fashion a heart out of willowy rosemary branches. Secure your heart with a yellow ribbon – and for added strength, weave in a piece of your lover’s clothing or a strand of his or her hair. Place the charm in a white envelope, then place the envelope beneath your pillow. When the charm has worked its magic and brought the one you love closer to you, burn the rosemary heart in fire, thinking all the while of the fiery nature of your passion and love. (Taken from The Good Spell Book by Gillian Kemp).

Shield Us From Fire
Eragon spoke these words in the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini. They diverted fire from both him and his dragon Saphira.

Skölir nosu fra brisingr!

Rush, Waters of Bruinen
Arwen turns to her pursuers, the Ring Wraiths, and utters this spell. Anyone who has seen the movie The Fellowship of the Ring remembers the elven tongue … but what do these mysterious words translate to in English? “Waters of the Misty Mountains, hear the word of power. Rush, waters of Bruinen, against the Ring Wraiths.”

Nîn o Chithaeglir lasto beth daer; rimmo nín Bruinen dan in Ulaer!

There are spells of length, one-worded curses, rhyming and metered enchantments, a deceptively simple string of words … an endless variety of ways the words of magic have been portrayed through fiction and beyond. For me, no one of these methods is better than the other – each seems to fit with the story that is woven around it, and is meaningful and effective within its context.

Which are your favorites, from the above list or otherwise?

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?

Nathan Lumbatis

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