How the Wren reads // a good gab about things only bookworms will understand  

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I have a blog post all about epic villains in mind, but as soon as I sit down to type it up I inevitably want to chat about books. What is with this, I ask? Why is the Annie-in-the-glass giving me trouble? (if you’ve read Emily of New Moon you’ll understand.)

I’m currently curled up in the coziest corner of our faintly vintage couch and I can feel a gentle breeze from the oscillating fan across the room. Just beyond the archway leading out of the living room I see my Older sister moving about the table as she snips threads, adjusts soft folds of fabric, and busies herself creating a masterpiece of a blouse. The First Younger sister occupies the corner of the couch opposite from me (she’s deep in the world of Magic for Marigold by Montgomery), and the Youngest sister washes dishes–the faint clatter of pots and pans a comfortable background as James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for Peter Pan plays. If I listen hard enough I can only just hear Mum in the room above me, talking on the phone with one of my brothers about strawberries and the dramatics of toddlers and life in general.

Possibly the atmosphere right now isn’t exactly suited to discussions involving death and mayhem and evil genius? Either way I feel the need to have a good bookish chat. Let’s do this, Wrenlings.

(questions borrowed from Schuyler who borrowed them from someone else. Such is life.)

The Curious Wren reading habits

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

The corner of the couch I’m curled up in at the moment. Otherwise I will read on the Older sister’s bed… when she’s not home. If she is home I get special permission lest I’m sent flying out the window in righteous indignation for rumpling her blankets (she really is a darling older sister though. despite her reluctance to take pity on my predicament when I’m short of a good reading spot). 

We used to have a comfy Blue Chair that I would happily get lost in the depths of with a good book, but it aged à la the Velveteen Rabbit so we had to move it to the attic when I was about twelve.

It was a sad time for a young bookworm. 

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Whatever happens to be near me. I try to use bookmarks or bits of silky ribbon as often as possible, but 10 to 1 I forget and end up having to hunt all over the book for my last spot. I do have a delightful habit of finishing Agatha Christie books in one sitting so that dispenses with the necessity of bookmarks altogether. BUT. I never, ever, EVER dog-ear. Not ever

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/ a certain amount of pages?

If I’m called away to help with supper/keep younglings from murdering each other/put away groceries, etc, I’ll stop the instant I’ve reached the end of my sentence. If I’m stopping just because I’m done reading for the moment, I wait until I’m at the end of a chapter. Unless I’m at work and my lunch break ends. Then it’s a mad scramble to fling my book back in the drawer and kick my brain back into busy bee mode. The struggle is real.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?

I devour lunch and books equally at work. At home everybody eats lunch separately and we all always end up reading anyway–my family is strong on the bookworm front (ink flows in our veins). Supper is interesting; if Dad is home we all chat over the meal; if Dad isn’t home we generally agree unanimously to read. It’s a delightful set-up and everybody is pleased. I remember one time the Youngest sister and I both wanted to read The Horse and His Boy during supper, so we just sat next to each other and shared it. Thankfully, we both read at about the same speed–which is very fast in case you were wondering. 

My favorite snack for reading is either apples (Jo March is basically the literary Me) or some other fruit like oranges. Also, chocolate. Because chocolate.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?

Not TV while reading–too much clamour and chaos. Music yes, as long as it isn’t streaming through earbuds, so basically as background noise. I can read and put a baby to sleep. I try not to read and cook because tragedy that way lies–I am infamous in the family for burning things because I got too involved with my book. One of my favorite things to do when I read is walk up and down the beach along the edge of waves where the sand is wet and firm–in a word: glorious.

6. One book at a time or several at once?

One of the middle shelves on our family bookcase is dedicated solely to our family reading stack. Usually there’s about eight books on the stack and half are ones I’m in the middle of. I like to have a main novel and then several on the side. I balance out heavier, deeper tomes with lighter fiction and cozy reads or sometimes a non-fiction book.

Currently I am reading: 

— Beastly Bones (Jackaby, #2).  A Wodehouse novel.  Dreamtreaders. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. I just finished two Agatha Christie’s this week and I have at least six books that I am in the middle of that I’ve put on “hold” because there is only one Annie and she can not read three books simultaneously in one sitting. Alas. 

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere. TAKE OVER THE WORLD, BOOKWORMS. 

Reading outdoors = fantastic. My favorite place to read is on the beach. Second favorite place: by a fireside with a snowstorm howling outside, Christmas music playing, and a mug of peppermint hot chocolate at my elbow. 

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Let’s put it this way, the only time I read out loud is if I’m reading to small humans. Then I do all the voices and accents and occasionally sound effects. Grand fun. 

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

Goodness, no. I like suspense and I don’t like guilt or spoilers.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

Sweet Ring of Sauron, why would anyone intentionally break a book’s spine? I know people do, but WHY. Don’t you feel slightly like a breaker-of-fine-china? *cringes at the thought*

11. Do you write in your books?

In rare moments, I will scribble a thought about the book along the margin in the faintest of pencil scratchings. I underline in non-fiction books and mark with tiny stars. And I black-out swearing with a fine-point pen. Unless it’s something like the Halo books in which case I hand it off to my brother or Mum and let them have at it. Family is so useful. ^_^

What about YOU, Wrenlings? What are some of your reading habits? Do any of mine mirror yours? And what’s one of the most unique places you’ve read in?

Monthly Recap — May // in which I roadtripped and read a deliciously high (deliciously good) tower of books

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Wrenlings!

let us pretend this recap is not scandalously late, m’kay?

A lot happened last month — which was glorious. I basically turned into a wandering Wren (which was also glorious), and I read stacks and stacks of splendid books, and made new friends and had good times. It was a curious jumble of busy-but-still-restful-and-fun. Love it when that happens.

Curious Wren bloggy Things

— I introduced you all to two characters who are polar opposites from my sci-fi/steampunk series Mingled (said series is currently On Hold). These darling charries give me warm fuzzies.

— of stardust and sea-spray  gave you all a “currently” glimpse of some of life’s happenings as I traveled with the family to our usual holiday spot. I quite love this post.

— I hosted an interview and giveaway with Suzannah Rowntree, the author of Pendragon’s Heir. I’m still head-over-heels with delight for getting to have her here on Curious Wren! Suzannah is just so sweet and talented and I feel honored much. ^_^

— Schuyler guest posts about How To Write Lovable Protagonists. Read it, Writer Humans. So good. 

all things bookish

Ever since I a) started my part-time job in March, and b) started taking writing lessons (more on that later) my TBR stack has been sadly neglected. Hence why nine books read in May feels like a tower to me. Probably the fact that I read 7 of them in a single week also has something to do with it–holidays are wonderful for reading non-stop. Highly recommended, bookworms. *wink*

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(ignore Steal Like An Artist — it’s barging in where it doesn’t belong)

Loved it: JACKABY. It absolutely deserves the all-caps. I want to sleep with this book under my pillow, I love it that much (a book under a pillow, tho? Pain, methinks?). Paper Crowns = every bit as delicious and fairytale-esque as I imagined. I want a blue cat. Also, paper-bending powers. Isle of Swords satisfied my secretly pirate-loving  heart and wouldn’t let me put it down for the entire day. That book owes me hours of my life, people. And I laughed over The Luck of the Bodkins until I couldn’t breathe. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read this book whilst a small human is napping/whilst you are eating. The result won’t be pretty.

Deserves a mention: Murder is Easy. Cleverly clever cleverness. I now know how to murder people. (I KID. I KID. I KID.)

May-Drop-Tome-Off-A-High-Cliff: Elephants Can Remember. Disturbingly disturbing disturbingness.

Gorgeous Cover(s): JACKABY. Paper Crowns. Jeeves in the Offing.

Favorite Charrie(s): JACKABY. All the main peeps in Paper Crowns–having officially fallen for Azrael, I am more than ready for Paper Hearts to be published. *starts hoarding pennies ahead of time*

Currently reading: while on holiday I started Dreamtreaders (be pleased, Youngest Sister!) and Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (this book. so good. O.O) and Dracula (never read this in the dark if you value your sleep and/or peace of mind) and Inkheart (*hugs Dustfinger and Meggie*).

Also, I accumulated a surprisingly large stack of books in one month so I do believe a photo-heavy Book Haul post is due, yes?

“The books in Mo and Meggie’s house were stacked under tables, on chairs, in the corners of the rooms. There where books in the kitchen and books in the lavatory. Books on the TV set and in the closet, small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed Meggie down to breakfast with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay when the weather was bad. And sometimes you fall over them.”

— Inkheart

all things writish

Remember I mentioned that I was taking writing classes? My darling Mum and Dad signed me up for the six-week Writing With Grace course taught by Ann Swindell. Ann is an wise, amazing woman and I’ve learned so much from her–about our stewardship as writers, about voice and edits and dialogue, about owning our call as writers. Some of the lessons cracked me wide open and I sat at my laptop and cried. Every lesson was an encouragement. Now that the course is finished I’m re-watching the recordings and taking more detailed notes, etc. Most of my May writing was for that, and I’ve done some journal writing and vignette writing on the side.

But now that June’s begun I’m going to get back in the swing of things with editing I am Juliette. *is torn between cheering and screeching*

life glimpses

May in a nutshell: crammed with travels, books, people-time, and good things.

Older Sister and I roadtripped for a week and it. was. incredible. Traveling never grows old. Instead the more I do it, the more I want to do it and I feel like this is a vicious cycle, but I LOVE IT anyways. #worldtravelerhere

We stayed at Bed & Breakfasts and made good friends with the sweetest, dearest German couple (I fully intend to visit them someday) and with three lovely women (all related) that we chatted with about books and painting and other nice things (ladies, if you’re reading this, Older Sister and I chat about you often with fondness!).

The roadtrip also included: exploring many bookshops, coffee shops, yarn shops, and an antique store; tramping about quaint side-streets, chatting about everything under the sun, eating far too much Chick-Fil-A, singing along to musical scores, making new friends, falling more in love with the South and the slower pace of life, sitting by a bonfire and listening to our adopted uncle’s childhood stories, laughing uproariously with our adopted aunt and nearly choking on chocolate-covered strawberries, and so much more… I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it was. Give me roadtrips always and forever, amen.

(all the photos except for the bookish ones are courtesy of darling Older sister)

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Family holiday: basically lots of reading + beach bonfires + rock-climbing + rock-hunting + hot chocolate drinking + memories + soaking in the beauty around me.

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(when you have allll the siblings and nieces, etc on a holiday together things can get delightfully crazy and chaotic.)

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all things bright

//clothes that smell of smoke from late-night bonfire-side chats… snuggling my nephew while he sleeps… books that keep you captivated by their pages for hours on end… laughter and singing and long, long games of Guess-What-I’m-Thinking-Of… the 2003 Peter Pan soundtrack… the peace and tranquility of being off-the-grid… red lipstick and frosted lemonade… hummingbirds and how you can watch them for ages without growing bored… Southern folks and southern parties and breakfasts and hospitality and charm… sweet, encouraging words about being a writer… adopted family that threatens to keep you forever… intellectual talks… coworkers who water your plants and miss you whilst you’re gone… the exhilaration of climbing breaker rocks… realizing that you, in fact, have seen very, very little of the world… reality checks and remembering that i am tiny and my tininess in this vast universe is still special and vital, and i laugh in the face of the wind and rain… hot grapefruit… lacy skirts… watching a storm come in… sister heart-to-hearts… inside jokes… the always-when-I-need-it reminder that my Savior never leaves me… stars on a clear, spring night… ice-cream in zoos and becoming friends with a giraffe… when a day is so perfect it makes you cry//

all things fandom

(as always, unabashed fangirling ahead)

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I finally,  finally, watched James Bond!

I’ve been longing to for the last several years, but since there’s just so much to fast-forward (womanizing spy much?) we’ve been putting it off. Well, the last evening of our roadtrip Older sister and I were staying at a B & B that actually had a TV (the others didn’t. which we loved) and she introduced me to Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Skyfall.

EXCUSE ME WHILST I HYPERVENTILATE AND RUN IN EXCITED CIRCLES.

Somehow I had no idea that these were British spies and so the instant I realized–which took awhile because I hear British accents so often–it just got that much more epic. I was taken aback in the best way possible by the depth of the story and the character arcs. James Bond is not just an action film by any means, folks. It makes you think, it makes you question, and it makes you appreciate the importance and value of life even more than you did before. I’ve since seen Spectre and I thought that the love story was beautifully done — so much so that I’m pondering a brief article on it. Maybe.

Also the antagonist in Skyfall  is easily the creepiest and most heartbreaking character I’ve encountered in awhile. I don’t know how I managed to escape having nightmares. 0.0

Oh, and I have a new favorite character. *flails*

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I will probably never stop squealing with excitement every time Q appears on scene. He’s the most precious gingersnap of brilliance and nerdiness.

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And does anyone else think he would make a stellar Doctor in Doctor Who?!!! O.O I want this to happen. Somone say something to somebody.

*aggressively listens to James Bond theme*

around cyberspace

— Paper Fury turns 5 years old which is, obviously, a Very Exciting Thing (EEEEP. CONGRATS CAIT. GO BUY PLUTO WHILE I TAKE OVER JUPITER). Also, Cait ever so graciously explains to non-bookworms (poor souls) how to translate the gibberish we bookworms say. It’s hilarious and spot-on.

— (For the female readers of Curious Wren) Carmel talks 4 Ways To Feel Like A New Woman.

— Here’s a thought-provoking article about why she doesn’t want a female James Bond by Mirriam Neal (I don’t want a female Bond either, please and thank you). Also by Mirri: a chat about psychopathy and spiritual enlightenment. You know. Writer stuff. + Should Christians Write Horror, Part 1 and Part 2.

— please, by all means, check out this site. I don’t agree with everything she says and am quite unthrilled whenever a swear word pops up, but despite all that there is much gold. And her articles are deliciously bite-sized.

looking ahead

— lots of editing this month. I shall start hoarding chocolate at once.

— my 20-something-ish birthday (Woot!)

— I have several blog articles planned I’m excited about! Specifically one talking about villains, and another discussing the importance of friendships in literature. I can’t wait to share them! Also, there might be another giveaway + interview, peeps!

— remember my post about Dead Shot and Laser? I had such, such fun with it, and even though I’m not planning to write Mingled for several years I really want to do the same questions with the rest of the cast. What do you all think?

— lots more reading. So, so many BOOKS. OH YES AND HURRAH. I have Inkspell and Storming and Red Rising and The Crown’s Game and much Wodehouse and Agatha Christie on my TBR tower. It’ll be great.

Alrighty then, Wrenlings! What are you reading currently? Have you any recs for me? GIVE ME THEM ALLLL. Please. And do tell: what are you looking forward to the most this month? And are you editing with me? *scatters chocolate chips to the masses*

(OH. Should I do more Beautiful People questions with the Mingled crew? Yea or nay?)

 

 

 

Chats with Suzannah Rowntree // author interview and giveaway

Authorly Interviews! Aren’t they delightful? 

Suzannah Rowntree is a skilled writer and lovely woman, and I’ve been hoping to host her on Curious Wren for awhile now. Her most recent novel, Pendragon’s Heir, is an absolute favorite of mine, and so in addition to the interview we have a special treat for you all, my precious gingersnaps! 

Which is, A GIVEAWAY. Woot! Majorly excited over here. It’s opened internationally with a winner from Australia or the US receiving a tangible copy. If the winner is from any other country, they’ll receive a Kindle edition. Right ho?
On to the interview!

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Hello, Suzannah! I’m delighted to be interviewing you here on Curious Wren! To start off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Hobbies? Tea or coffee? Favorite cozy reads? Ideal writing day? Elves or Knights of the Round Table?

Hello, Annie! It’s such a pleasure to be here!

I don’t hobby much because WRITING IS THE AIR I BREATHE, but occasionally I tear myself away to do something else. I play the French Horn. I knit. I sew. I design covers for my books and fliers or invitations for friends and family. In the past I’ve also done fencing and swing dancing. I love making beautiful things.

Definitely tea: chai, oolong, rooibos or Russian caravan for preference. Mary Stewart is my guilty-pleasure cozy read, but I also love Wodehouse, Trollope, and the odd sentimental vintage romance like Florence L Barclay or Grace S Richmond. Ideal writing day is a quiet house and a long-awaited melodramatic scene. I’m going to pick the Knights, but that’s probably only because they’re my babies and I haven’t read Tolkien for a few years (the Epic LOTR re-read is scheduled for LATER THIS YEAR OH MY OH MYYYYYY).

When did you realize your love for Story? Who or what prompted you to pursue writing seriously?

I began writing my first story as a birthday present for my best friend when I was 12, and when it was done I looked at it, found it unsatisfactory, and began to write it again. I’ve never been able to shake the habit since; but I think the decisive moment came when I finally finished the third draft. I told myself, “That was exhausting, I’m never doing that again” – but ten minutes later I had opened a new Word document and was already typing. That was when I realised I had a serious problem!

My elder brother had already realised several years previously. “You should publish this!” he said after discovering and reading my battered exercise book first draft. I laughed him to scorn. Thankfully, he didn’t take no for an answer. (Although, no, that first story will never see the light).

What was the inspiration behind Pendragon’s Heir? Can you share with us a bit about your journey with this particular tale?

Pendragon’s Heir came to me about eleven years ago. I read Josephine Tey’s wonderful book The Daughter of Time and was suddenly seized with the desire to rehabilitate some other much-maligned character. The tragic love of Guinevere and Lancelot in the King Arthur legends had always frustrated me, and so I wrote the first draft of what would later become Pendragon’s Heir in just six days with the aim of doing for the character of Guinevere what Tey had done for Richard III. Over the following ten years, I worked on second and third drafts intermittently until just three years ago I came to the realisation that I was a good enough writer to finish and publish it. So I went all the way back to the beginning, started again, and you have read the final result.

The thing I learned writing and rewriting the same story almost exclusively for ten years was that stories, like fruitcake, get richer and richer with time. While good characterisation and plotting can help shorten the time you spend working on a story, it’s still a shame to rush a story. You have to let it marinate. You have to spend months or years thinking about it. Lasting art generally isn’t made in five odd minutes of the day.

Are you currently working on a book that you can share about spoiler-free? What genre(s) do you prefer? And do you have a favorite “mode” of writing, e.g. first person, past tense?

For the last twelve months or so since publishing Pendragon’s Heir I’ve been working almost fulltime on another novel, this one a sprawling epic based around the 200-year history of the Crusader States. It’s working–titled Outremer, and it looks at the Crusades from the perspective of the indigenous Syrian Christians and the native-born Frankish nobility. I grew up on western-centric tales like Ivanhoe and Winning His Spurs where everyone was always coming home from the Crusades, but in this story, home means right there in the East. That’s a perspective that has almost never been told, and it’s the one that fired up my imagination.

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Genre is a question that evaded me for years, since I love all sorts of genres and have tried everything from thrillers to space operas. OUTREMER was going to be straight historical fiction until I realised that a few fantasy elements would help me emphasise the themes that I wanted to bring out most. That was the moment I realised that I write historical fantasy.

Most of my stories are written in limited third-person, past tense, sometimes spanning several points of view, since I find it the most natural way to write the stories I want to tell. But I have this fairytale novella series where I get to mess around in a whoooole lot of different genres, and the one I’m working on now is in first-person.

Tell us a bit about your current favorite movies/TV shows/books. Why are they favorites?

The Lord of the Rings is my favourite book–or was the first eight times I read it, ten years ago. It is a work of unusual and incredible beauty, with titanic emotional power and sensitivity. Unlike most secondary-world fantasy, its worldbuilding is meticulous and entirely convincing–in fact, if you want the gold standard of speculative-fiction worldbuilding, this is it. It also draws heavily upon Tolkien’s firm Christian faith. It is the book equivalent of a medieval cathedral: immense, detailed, and absolutely gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Otherwise I have about a squillion other favourite books, but notable authors include Lewis, Buchan, Chesterton, Wodehouse, Spenser, Shakespeare, Austen, and Trollope.

Film seems to me a much lesser medium, and my favourites tend to come and go. I enjoy almost everything Christopher Nolan has ever done, especially the mental challenge and sheer actiony fun of Inception. Another favourite film is The Empire Strikes Back. I can take or leave pretty much all the other Star Wars movies, but this one is a masterpiece of brooding and ominous power culminating in a truly anguished ending. Who doesn’t love it when characters suffer?

If you could have luncheon with several authors of your choice (dead or alive), who would you choose?

GK Chesterton, because he’d be a hilarious conversationalist, and Jane Austen, because she’d be so incredibly down-to-earth. And Tolkien, so I could get his autograph.

What books have made you cry? If none, are there any that almost brought the tears to your eyes?

Pardon the fangirling, but The Lord of the Rings almost never fails to tear me up. I don’t usually cry in a book, but years ago Paul Gallico’s Jennie reduced me to a quivering, blubbering mess, and not in a good way.

What are four books you think everyone should read? Why?

Well, obviously, The Lord of the Rings, because you need to experience the splendour and nobility of great Christian art. Douglas Wilson and Douglas Jones’s Angels in the Architecture, so you can begin to appreciate the medieval vision that inspired it. Paradise Restored by David Chilton because the things I learned in that book still wake me up every morning with a smile on my face. Um, and Francis Nigel Lee’s Central Significance of Culture, because it presents a staggering vision for Christian art.

You will notice that three of these are non-fiction books that help set a tremendous cultural vision. This is not because I think fiction is unimportant. After all, I’ve dedicated my life to it. But after reading these books you ought to be able both to get more out of both the art you consume and to put more into the art you make.

What kinds of stories and characters delight you the most?

I love characters that are flawed in their goodness, or sympathetic in their villainy; the former because they can inspire you to overcome those sins, and the latter because they can cause you to see the villainy in your own heart. I love the quality of nobility that comes with the patient endurance of great suffering. And I cannot do without hope for the future. If a book has all these things, I’m sure to like it.

Share with us a few beautiful words/quotes that give you a happy, glowy feeling.

In no particular order:

The pallid cuckoo

Sent up in frail

Microtones

His tiny scale

 

On the cold air.

What joy I found

Mounting that tiny

Stair of sound.

– James McAuley, “Late Winter”

 

Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys

garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.

*

In Paradise they look no more awry;

and though they make anew, they make no lie.

Be sure they still will make, not being dead,

and poets shall have flames upon their head,

and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:

there each shall choose forever from the All.

– JRR Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”

Remember that all worlds draw to an end, and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.

– CS Lewis, “The Last Battle”

How does your Christian faith affect your purpose as a writer?

In so many ways that I do not know how I would be a writer without it. I make art to glorify God and tell anew His mighty works in history and salvation (Psalm 145:10-12). I make art reverently, begging the Holy Spirit for inspiration (Exodus 32:2-3) and submitting it to the counsel of those older and wiser than myself (Proverbs 15:22). I make art because I believe God gave us the raw materials in creation and that both the dominion mandate and the Great Commission means using those raw materials to construct a glorious Christian culture that will one day cover the earth (Daniel 2:44). I make art seriously, with every fibre of my being awake and straining for perfection, because I believe that the work of my hands will pass through a testing (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), and will, if found worthy, be brought into the New Jerusalem with the glory and honour of the nations (Revelation 21:24).

What would you say characterizes your writing style?

Stylistically, I like adapting myself to the needs of the story. Imitation comes naturally to me, and I use it to give the setting a more authentic flavour: so that in Pendragon’s Heir I mimicked the rhythm and diction of Thomas Malory, and in The Bells of Paradise that of Shakespeare. I have an unhealthy dependence upon semicolons, and a sly love of alliteration. I delight in distilling striking images into striking words. And I’m grateful to have learned the importance of being painfully sharp and specific with my words, which is the only way to paint a very vivid and unfamiliar setting, so clearly you can almost see and smell it.

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If you could have a good, long face-to-face talk with one of your characters, whom would you choose and why?

LOL, none of them! Why would I do that? I have enough trouble coming up with things for them to say to each other. XP

Do you have any unique writer quirks or strange habits?

Perhaps the most scandalous thing I can say is that I don’t! I am a very boring kind of writer. I don’t struggle with writer’s block, I don’t look at Pinterest for inspiration, I don’t find that my characters have a will of their own, and I don’t listen to music while I write. Maybe that’s because I’m also a musician, but I find it too distracting, and it uses up parts of my mind I need for hearing the rhythms and cadences of my words.

Sometimes I compose poetry in the shower?

As a writer, in those moments of discouragement when you feel like your writing deserves to be burned (and the ashes buried six feet under), how do you keep going forward?

Ohhh yep. I do feel this way from time to time. Usually, I remember that Pendragon’s Heir turned out OK, and that gives me a lot of confidence. I have to admit that sometimes I read someone else’s turkey and come away with the serene assurance that I can do way better. Most powerful of all, I go back to what inspired me to write the story, and get excited all over again by the wonderful potential it has to be great–if I’ll only keep going through the hard bits.

Few of us who’ve read Pendragon’s Heir have been able to resist the charm of the knight Perceval, and I know he’s special to you also. Might we be gifted a glimpse into your thought process and method–as it were–for coaxing his character into what you wanted it to be?

Haha! Good old Perceval. I’m actually really pleased everyone loves him as much as I do. The most important thing to say about him is that I based him off the original knight from the legends, who is already a terrific character–I think of him as the unsocialised homeschooler par excellence: someone with very few inhibitions and an utterly unashamed zest for life.

At the same time, I knew he was the love interest and I didn’t want to produce a character that had been voodoo-dolled all out of resemblance to actual real men, so while writing him I always tried to ask myself how my brothers would act in his circumstances. As I went on, I mixed in some other aspects of other young men I knew in real life: which actually gave me the courage to make him as chivalrous and romantic as he is (as well as the sense to make him arrogant and overconfident).

What have been a few of your most special moments and experiences as a published writer, and as a writer in general? I’d love to hear about them!

By far the thing I love the most is getting to spend all day, every day, doing a job I love better than anything else in the world. My writing doesn’t bring in much more than pocket money at the moment, true, so my parents supply my day-to-day needs. As a “stay-at-home” (ha!) daughter, I’m so very, very blessed to have like-minded parents who have as much of a vision for my writing as I do. In fact, my parents deserve so much of the credit for everything I have done: I owe them my education, my vision for Christian culture, and the time and tools I need to produce all these stories.

Other neat things. Getting to send a copy of Pendragon’s Heir to CS Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham. Being told by a well-known Inklings scholar that I had written “a masterpiece.” And reading people’s reviews of my book, with a singing heart because I am finally getting to share my stories with other people–and they are coming away refreshed, encouraged, and moved.

Why don’t we end with a fun question? What fictional worlds do you most wish to visit and why?

Hee, that is a fun question. Narnia, Perelandra, and Middle Earth are absolutely the top of my list. Narnia because I would have so much fun dancing with the dryads at the feasts or swashbuckling around in chainmail armour. And Perelandra because it sounds absolutely heavenly – an unfallen planet? Fruits that give you an transcendant experience of innocent pleasure? Yes please! And Middle Earth, because it would be wonderful to explore the Elvish cities.

(Aww, wasn’t that delightful, y’all? Suzannah is such a sweetheart and I will never recover from the gloriousness that is her books. *happy sigh* Don’t forget to enter the giveaway, humans! This is a book you don’t want to miss, I promise. ^_^)

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When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at Vintage Novels and is the author of fiction and non-fiction including Pendragon’s Heir, a retelling of Arthurian legend, and the Fairy Tales Retold novella series.

 

Lost Lake House, by Elisabeth Grace Foley // New Release

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(this is easily my favorite cover of 2016 thus far.)

Summary

The Twelve Dancing Princesses meets the heady glamor and danger of the Jazz Age

All Dorothy Perkins wants is to have a good time. She’s wild about dancing, and can’t understand or accept her father’s strictness in forbidding it. Night after night she sneaks out to the Lost Lake House, a glamorous island nightclub rumored to be the front for more than just music and dancing…in spite of an increasingly uneasy feeling that she may be getting into something more than she can handle.

Marshall Kendrick knows the truth behind the Lost Lake House—and bitterly hates his job there. But fear and obligation have him trapped. When a twist of circumstances throws Dorothy and Marshall together one night, it may offer them both a chance at escaping the tangled web of fear and deceit each has woven…if only they are brave enough to take it.

Novella, approximately 26,000 words.

My Thoughts

I don’t even know where to start with all the reasons why this book made me flail excitedly like a deranged penguin.

Let’s take it one at a time, shall we?

1). The writing has such vividry. It’s awash with vintage-movie glamour and lovely description and unexpected snappy bits of conversation that I loved. This is only the second novella of Foley’s that I’ve read, but I can safely say that she knows how to create the right atmosphere in a book and it’s wonderful.

And did I mention the descrip?

“On cloudy nights like this the lake and sky and island all melted into a uniform invisible black, so the blazing golden windows of the Lost Lake House seemed suspended in the middle of the lake like a floating fairy palace.”

2). You know a book is good when you have only two (extended) scenes where the main characters are actually together and you approve of them as a couple instantly. Dorothy and Marshall hit the perfect balance of a realistic friendship and attraction between two young people. The level of blunt honesty and bringing-out-the-best-in-each-other and chivalry and banter makes me happy. And how adorable and squee-worthy was it when Marshall gave Dorothy his sweater so she wouldn’t catch her death of cold?

3). Father/Daughter relationships in stories are my favorite. This particular one twisted my emotions every which way and I loved it so. *rewards Story with chocolate chips*

4). Dorothy is, hands down, one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered in awhile. She is girlish and worries about things like shoes and friends and is so reminiscent of my own sixteen-year-old self more than four years ago. I remember clearly that frantic feeling of “I must taste life now” and being afraid that it would end up just leaving me behind without having properly participated in it. Her mad, unquenchable longing for something she loves (dancing) resonated with me deeply. As did her emotions halfway through the book of feeling trapped in a vicious cycle and not having the courage to break out of it. That hit me hard because, in essence, she was caught in both an addiction (which I would liken her desperate hunger for dancing to) and her own web of fear and lies. I’ve been in that position before as a sixteen-year-old girl and the memories Lost Lake House awoke were unsettling, but I know it helped me connect with the story and especially with Dorothy on a deeper level than I had before. It’s what made Dorothy’s choice and the book’s ending even more moving and beautiful to me than I anticipated. (Actually, I would go so far as to say that if you know someone who struggled/struggles with an addiction of some sort this book is one they should read.)

Lost Lake House is not shallow by any means, neither is it oppressively heavy. Rather it tells its story in a simply, beguiling way that makes an impact without ever going unnervingly dark. The book tugged me in with its magical essence and glamour, slowly wound me up into a state of unease and discomfort as the secrets behind Lost Lake House are revealed and Dorothy begins to feel her trapped position, and then the apprehension and anticipation (plus my sympathy for the poor girl) kept me glued to the plages until the world began to turn right-side up again and I reached The End with a lump on my throat and the best feeling of contentment only a bookworm can understand.

Lost Lake House was satisfying, folks. I can’t wait to read it again, and this time I will go slowly and savor it like I would a cup of particularly well-brewed mint tea.

*I received a free ARC from the author in exchange for a honest review

Books I Long to Dig into this Spring // Top Ten Tuesday

It’s beginning to be deliciously warm in my corner of the world. Well, I say warm, but in reality it’s like Spring has whisked back the curtains and waltzed out in a blaze of finery. I feel so alive, folkies! Everything is awash with that fresh, clean, wild feel of the world waking up again, and it has affected me unexpectedly. I want to read and read and read… more so than usual that is.

I want to devour ALL THE BOOKS.

I’d been planning on sharing my TBR for this Spring and then, lo and behold, I found it is the prompt for today’s Top Ten Tuesday. Never ignore a coincidence, humans. Unless you’re busy, in which case, always ignore a coincidence. (extra chocolate chips if you know what I just quoted.)

Shall we talk books then?

(from left to right)

Red Rising. Basically I’ve been wild to read it ever since Suzannah Rowntree shared her persuasive review.

Winter. Oh, the irony of having this on a Spring TBR list! I’ve already started it and I can’t wait to find out what happens to Cinder & Co. (Thorne and Cress are the cutest and I will never stop saying that.)

Storm Siren. Gifted to me by the sweet Schuyler, I’ve saving this elemental delicacy of the fantasy genre for my roadtrip in May. It’ll be my first time reading it. EEEP.

Dreamtreaders. My youngest sister is head-over-heels in love with this book and begs me to read it at every opportunity (I’m holding out to see if she’ll resort to bribes. Kidding. Ish). Since Youngest Sister has good taste in books it should be ’mazing.

Jane Eyre. A re-read of this is loooong overdue, methinks.

Illuminae. The villain is an AI, people (I thought of it first. *wail*). Plus, sci-fi… and it just sounds all-around smashing.

Storming. I blame Schuyler for this one too. I read her review and was caught, hook-line-and-sinker. Buy this one, I will.

—  All the Sherlock Holmes of ever. I need to re-acquaint myself with the awesome once more. I miss Holmes and Watson and the fascination of a baffling case and the thrill of the unexpected twists. *hugs all the books*

Unwind. Because DYSTOPIA. MORAL DILEMMAS. LOVABLE CHARACTERS.

Will I be alive after I finish all these or will I be an emotional wreck? We shall see, my friends. We shall see.

What’s on your Spring TBR?

The Bells of Paradise, by Suzannah Rowntree // New release! 

 

(can we all just take a minute to revel in the prettiness of this cover? O.O)

Summary

Only a madman would go into Faerie of his own accord.

The one thing John the blacksmith loves more than his peaceful, hardworking life in Middleton Dale is the tailor’s free-spirited daughter Janet. But unlike John, Janet dreams of adventure beyond the Dale. And when her dreams lead her into Faerie to be captured by a dangerous witch, John realises he must dare the perilous realm of the Lordly Folk to free his bride.
A poignant and profound retelling of the Grimms’ fairytale Jorinda and Joringel, set in the fantastical realms of Elizabethan folklore.

My Thoughts

I know I’ve said this before but Suzannah Rowntree’s writing is like decadent cake. And it only gets better with each book.

Pendragon’s Heir was delicious; The Bells of Paradise made for a delightful treat on an afternoon relaxing, like a sleepy kitten, in a patch of warm sunlight.

First of all, Suzannah Rowntree has a knack of making her fairytale re-writes feel, not so much like retellings, but like original fairytales themselves. The world of Bells is vivid and full and never too involved or overwhelming. I loved every glimpse of Faerie and the sense of otherness and fey just around the corner.

“Here were strange and preposterous marvels: mice the size of goats being sold, saddled, and bridled by little brown men, a lady in a gabled hood carrying a tiny lion like a lap-dog…”

Secondly, the hero of the story is refreshingly unique in that he isn’t some ardent youth off on a quest or a prince bored with his lot in life; instead John is a simple blacksmith, content with his world and his people until events upset the equilibrium of his life. I like that he is a reluctant hero–he would never even consider himself a hero, actually–and his journey throughout the story felt so real and near to my heart, despite the fact that I’m much more similar to Janet’s character. We only spend roughly an hour’s time with John (about as long as it takes to read the novella), but it feels like so much more, and he’s already one of my favorite male protagonists of 2016. The literary world needs more Johns, methinks.

Thirdly, the story of Bells itself is well-worth devouring. Again, it isn’t even that long, but there’s so much depth and richness to it. I love it when a book gives me chills, whether it’s from a character epiphany or a slice of gorgeous description or a bit of skillful plotting. In particular, every now and again a book will give me a fleeting glimpse of Sehnsucht, a tiny glimmering of the world beyond the tapestry, as Montgomery sums up so well:

“It had always seemed to Emily, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside–but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond–only a glimpse–and heard a note of unearthly music.”

 ~ Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery

A book that does that for me is a book I will treasure. The Bells of Paradise actually brought me close to tears from the dance of joy and beauty and fire that I could just barely see beyond the surface of the story. I had a similar experience recently with Golden Daughter and let me tell you, people, it’s not something you forget quickly.

So, if you love fairy tales or delicious writing or humble heroes or even just want a quick read to while away an afternoon, by all means pick up The Bells of Paradise. You will be glad you did, my friends.

*I received a free ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review — Resist // by Emily Ann Putzke

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Synopsis

Munich, Germany 1942—Hans Scholl never intended to get his younger sister involved in an underground resistance. When Sophie Scholl finds out, she insists on joining Hans and his close friends in writing and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets entitled, The White Rose. The young university students call out to the German people, begging them to not allow their consciences to become dormant, but to resist their tyrannical leader and corrupt government. Hans knows the consequences for their actions—execution for committing high treason—but firm in his convictions, he’s prepared to lose his life for a righteous cause. Based on a true story, Hans, Sophie and all the members of The White Rose resistance group will forever inspire and challenge us to do what is right in the midst of overwhelming evil.

My Thoughts

I picked up this book with high hopes and, happily, it did not disappoint. The WWII era is one of my favorite historical periods, I’ve been planning on reading more books with male protagonists, sibling relationships make me happy, and the German resistance is something I know little of but am curious about.

Resist covers all those bases and then some.

It’s a book about war and coming of age and struggling against tyranny and the age-old battle of good and evil. At its heart Resist is the story of a young man who chooses not to take the easy path, who has the courage to act upon what he believes. Hans Scholl has his whole life ahead of him… and his country is crumbling to pieces around him. I love that he doesn’t bury his head in the sand and he doesn’t misuse his sense of patriotism by pretending that his country is so great it could never really become the monster Hitler was creating of it. Instead he takes his frustration, his passion for justice and truth, and channels it into doing everything he can to make a difference. The fact that he really lived and the events of the book actually happened only make it that much more poignant and impactful.

The story is by necessity disturbing and heart-breaking at times, but the darkness is beautifully woven in with simple, happy moments of light—such as when Sophie and Hans eat and exchange sibling-chat after midnight or at the dance scenes or the touching, sweet moment with the Russian family or when his friends gave Hans grief about Gisela. Speaking of which, their relationship made me a happy human. Nothing like falling in love over deep discussions about literature and politics and religion.

And Sophie and Hans melt my heart. I have a wonderful, close relationship with my older brothers too so it was extra special to see how the siblings looked out for each other and protected each other.

Which makes the ending of the book all the more powerful and painful. I honestly couldn’t remember what was going to happen, and reading a few of those last chapters was suspenseful to the point that I was actually feeling nauseous from the sense of dread and impeding peril. Not good for my peace of mind, dearies.

Also, this book is chockfull of stellar quotes, my fellow rabid bookworms. I’m pretty sure I ended up high-lighting about 50% of my Kindle ARC. It’s that good.

“If they allow their dreams to be dormant, I don’t see the point in dreaming at all.”

“Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition…”

“It is my firm belief that every human needs at least one friend in whom he can confide.”

“When, thus, a wave of unrest goes through the land, when ‘it is in the air,’ when many join the cause, then in a great final effort this system can be shaken off. After all, an end in terror is preferable to terror without end.”

“But I am your brother. I have to take care of you… no matter how stubborn you are.”

“He may call me home sooner than I’d wish, but I’d rather die for what is right, true, and just than to live with a dead soul and conscience.”

One of the many reasons Resist left such a deep impression on me is because much of it parallels the direction America is headed right now—so much of it flashes a stark light over all the missteps we’ve taken, the missteps we are considering taking, and the consequences of them. Hans’ frustration and agony of mind over his countrymen turning a blind eye and choosing to do nothing cuts me to the quick because I’ve often felt the same about the apathy and deliberate ignorance of so many Americans.

“Some of us take the easy road, myself included, for why would you risk your safety if you are a decent German citizen who’s minding your own business? You can simply close your eyes to the evil your government is committing and pretend you don’t notice while they strip away every freedom you possess. Perhaps you’ll make it through the war, through the tyrannical government, but at the end of the road, you will be in utter agony. The road that seemed the easiest led to destruction. But perhaps you take the painful road instead, the one that causes you to lie wide awake at night in fear? The one that could cut your life short, but would lead to peace and eternal rest. Would you take it? Would you bear the painful road? As you see, just as Hugo writes, ‘these two roads were contradictory.'”

“If I knew what was happening but gave it no heed, I was voluntarily allowing my people to be devoured by the wolves.”

“If everyone waits until the other man makes a start, the messengers of avenging Nemesis will come steadily closer; then even the last victim will have been cast senselessly into the maw of the insatiable demon.”

The story of Hans and Sophie Scholl demands attention because they were real. They were just two ordinary young people who loved and laughed and studied and wolfed down food at scandalous hours and managed on far too little sleep and got depressed and made mistakes and liked cake. But they were willing to put their lives on the line for what they believed was right, and they persevered even when they were terrified.

They were true heroes and I couldn’t be more thankful that history has remembered them.

May we never forget.

“When this terror is over, are we going to be included with the ones who allowed death to freely reign, or are we going to resist? If we choose the former, then what are we to say when asked ‘What did you do about it?’ We will have no answer. I for one, desire the latter. I want to stand up for life, goodness, morality, and most of all, God.”

*some disturbing scenes because of Hans’ exposure to Holocaust victims. A goodish amount of swearing.

*I received a free ARC in exchange for an honest review