Friday, July 22, 2016

Five Magic Spindles Book Announcement + Giveaway!!

This is sort of a post in two parts.

One, my friend Rachel of Hamlette's Soliloquy is now a published author!

She was 1 of 5 winners to a contest for Sleeping Beauty retellings called Five Magic Spindles, and it's no wonder she won because she wrote a western! Who would ever think to do that other than her?! Which, naturally, I am uber excited to read because I love westerns and I cannot even fathom how a western Sleeping Beauty would be told. So, yay, and congratulations to Rachel. I'm so happy for her!

Support her by buying Five Magic Spindles on Amazon Kindle HERE or a physical paperback HERE!

You can also like her author's Facebook page HERE and don't forget to mark Five Magic Spindles as to-read on your Goodreads account HERE!

Two, she is hosting a giveaway for the book's release! Go HERE for the giveaway!

She's giving away 5 handmade bookmarks that she created for each of the 5 stories. I encourage you to head on over to her blog to participate, but also to give the novella collection a try, especially if you love fairy tales.

And because I'm most excited over her story release, here's a picture of the bookmark she made. Isn't it gorgeous!?

It's always exciting to know someone when they're experiencing something so life-altering. You might not think it life-altering, but to be published is a dream for all writers. Very few attain it via the mainstream method, but here Rachel is, with her story in black and white, having won a writer's contest. That's pretty incredible.

I can guarantee everyone a review of the Five Magic Spindles as soon as I get a chance to read it!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: The Wood's Edge (The Path Finders #1, 2015) by Lori Benton

Fort William Henry, Lake George, New York, 1757

When Reginald Aubrey holds the cooling body of his hour old infant son in his arms he is left with a choice. He can either tell his unconscious wife that their son has died or he can kidnap a boy from a set of newborn twins born within minutes of his own son. The twins' mother is a white woman who had been captured as a small child by a tribe of American Indians and raised Oneida. Her children are half white/half Indian, except that one boy has pale eyes, pale skin, and blonde hair, just like his mother. What Reginald Aubrey decided that day set in motion a chain of events that he could never have anticipated. A stolen son who can hardly look at without feeling shame, a rescued baby girl a few months older than that son who he grows to love more fiercely than the boy who is supposed to be of his own blood, and the desperate vengeance felt by the Oneida family who is missing one of their own, who they call He-is-Taken.

Given enough time, a person's perception of something can change. I started reading The Wood's Edge sometime in the fall last year, but the timing wasn't right. I couldn't focus on the book with any level of credible enjoyment so I did the wisest thing I could do under the circumstances; I sent it back to the library unread and figured I would try again later. Today is later, and fortunately for me, I loved every moment of The Wood's Edge. Having already read Ms. Benton's debut novel, Burning Sky, and her subsequent novel The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn I knew to expect high quality. However, I really didn't think anything could come close to my love for Burning Sky, but The Wood's Edge sneaked in there and stole my heart, not quite topping her debut novel, but coming close.

What is it about Lori Benton's books? Maybe it's that she reads 5 gazillion history books to get the setting right. Or it could just be that she knows all the right thing to do in all the right ways to squeeze her characters just right. She develops her characters, forces the reader to love them, and then puts through the rigorous pain that is daily life. Lies and deceit have consequences. Not everything ends up rosily perfect. And because I, as the reader, fear for these characters that I love by chapter 4, I can't put the book down, even when terror takes hold that something TERRIBLE is going to happen.

Or it could be something as basic as I love American Indian literary characters. When they're done right. Which they are when Lori Benton gets her hands on them. The Oneida Indian family won me over: Good Voice the grieving mother, Stone Thrower the vengeful father, and Two Hawks the lonely twin of William, the stolen son who they named He-is-Taken. I was invested in Good Voice's pain from the very beginning and since Two Hawks is a major player in the story, he won my heart from the time he was a small child. He is both courageous and merciful and learns to put forgiveness ahead of vengeance.

Then of course, there's the cameo appearance of Joseph Tames-His-Horse who I LOVED in Burning Sky. Seriously, I loved him, and so meeting a teenage Tames-His-Horse and seeing his conversion to Christianity and finding out how he came by his Christian name, Joseph, is amazing. I love that she included him in The Wood's Edge, love, love, love it.

Then you have the Aubrey family with poor Reginald denying himself joy because the guilt of what he's done and the fear of retribution eats away at him every day. Lydia, the girl who was 14-years-old when the reader met her and whose teenage crush on Reginald is endearing, as well as her loyalty to the little infant girl he saved from the massacre at Fort William Henry. One child come by honestly and the other stolen. And dear Anna, who loves her Papa Reginald so very much, but finds her heart tripping over the Indian boy who looks so very like William, who she calls brother. As Anna and Two Hawks grow up together, him visiting her for news of William (because the Oneida family does discover his whereabouts), Two Hawks and Anna find affection that blossoms into love. Now THAT is what I call romantic.

One interesting part of the story is that we don't know William all that well. He's in England for school through much of this book, and when he returns he's a man fully grown with his own ideas about colonial uprisings and rebellions. It's tempting to dislike him because he seems brainwashed by the British, but at the same time his relationship with his father was never solid because of Reginald's guilt over how he obtained William. Being the 1st book in a series, The Wood's Edge does not tie up William's story neatly; that will have to wait for A Flight of Arrows, book 2.

I've been trying to find a good word for my feelings regarding Lori Benton's work, and it isn't easy. Her work is spiritually fulfilling in a way that a lot of Christian fiction lacks. She manages to share the gospel without really quoting the Bible verbatim or being too preachy, yet her conversion scenes are some of the most poignant I've ever read. These are real people coming to know a Savior who is also my Savior. I understand their feelings, their concerns, and the overwhelming joy in their Creator. It's beautiful imagery, and the way Ms. Benton describes it, those conversion scenes are straight out of reality.

Anyway, I think I've rambled on long enough. All of the characters in this book felt realistic; even the ones I didn't fully like, I still understood their perspective. Ms. Benton's prose is still top of the line, flowing with beautiful imagery that just sucks the reader so far into the story it's like you're there. If you haven't read any of Lori Benton's books before, The Wood's Edge is a terrific place to start. Enjoy! ❤

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Jane Eyre Read-Along: Thoughts on Chapters 1-10

I'm a little slow on the uptake with my friend's Jane Eyre read-along, but what else is new! *winks*

Anyway, prepare to be shocked, but this is the first time that I've read Jane Eyre. Not the first time that I've tried to read it, mind, but the first time that I'm actually determined to get all the way through, front to back, without yielding to irritation and tossing it back on the bookshelf.

Irritation, you ask?

Why, yes, because I've never actually liked Mr. Rochester in the novel. I love him (Timothy Dalton and Toby Stephens) in film adaptations, but for some reason he always manages to irk me when he's in print. However, I haven't gotten that far in the novel yet this time around so I'm still hopeful that I'll appreciate and/or understand him better now that I'm older. Maybe my age and the timing just wasn't right before, who knows.

It's sort of funny attempting to read it yet again because I can't tell you how many times I've gotten this far in the novel. It's at least 3 or 4 times, so I know Jane's experience at Gateshead and her time at Lowood rather intimately. Enough to be familiar with the character design of young Jane and her dear little friend, Helen Burns, and enough to intensely dislike, and yet also pity, her aunt Mrs. Reed.

When I say pity, what do I mean?

Individuals like Mrs. Reed lack so much self-awareness. They've intensely deceived themselves into believing a certain thing about themselves and others until it becomes true in their own minds. Her dislike of Jane is born out of a comparison between Jane's introspective nature and the self-absorbed natures of her own children. Instead of facing the deficiencies in her parenting of her little brood, Mrs. Reed instead focuses on Jane, making statements like, "Jane, I don't like cavillers or questioners; besides, there is something truly forbidding in a child taking up her elders in that manner. Be seated somewhere; and until you can speak pleasantly, remain silent." (ch 1)

Mrs. Reed tricked her own mind into thinking Jane was questioning authority, when in fact, all Jane wanted to know was what she had done. The mind is truly a funny thing and when given too much free reign and kept so little in check, terrible circumstances like the raising of little Jane Eyre can occur. I'm sure in her own way, Mrs. Reed even imagined that she had done as her husband requested, taking Jane into her home and making her a part of the family when in fact, Jane was considered even less than a servant for she served no purpose and was of no help.

Such is the sad case of poor, mistreated, passionate Jane Eyre while she resides at Gateshead under the iron fist of her aunt.

At least until Mrs. Reed cannot stand the child's present any longer and sends the indignant and infuriated Jane Eyre away to school, but what a school.

Lowood is a terrible place during Jane's first year.

The children are given little nourishment, thin garments in bitter cold, and forced exercise outdoors in the dead of winter. It is not the fault of Miss Temple, the headmistress, who does what she can with the little she is given, but rather the fault of the pious Mr. Brocklehurst who, while being a deadly curmudgeon, is also the unfortunate parish's minister and the benefactor of Lowood school.

Can anyone tell me why so many ministers are portrayed in such an unflattering light?

Surely, in all of England, there was one kindly, compassionate, and Godly minister of the gospel while the great classics were being penned. I must give Miss Charlotte Bronte her due; she is able to pen a most despicable man who, either through design or carelessness, single-handedly permits disease to rampage through Lowood, wiping out a goodly portion of its students in a single season.

And so, alas for poor Helen Burns, the little girl who was a few years older than Jane and who served as a spiritual guide for Jane's bitterly passionate nature. Helen succumbs to consumption (tuberculosis) during this same season, but not before imparting so many jewels of wisdom to young Jane that the nuggets remain make an everlasting impact on Jane's young psyche.

It is with Helen that I must pause, for it is Helen's paragraphs and chapters that have struck me as profoundly important during this particular "re-read" of Jane Eyre's first 10 chapters.

Of Helen, Jane says, "I never tired of Helen Burns; nor ever ceased to cherish for her a sentiment of attachment, as strong, tender, and respectful as any that ever animated my heart." (ch 9) For Helen "was qualified to give those who enjoyed the privilege of her converse a taste of far higher things." (ch 9)

To hear Helen tell of herself, she was a terribly flawed person who could rarely please her teachers and deserved every recrimination and correction that she received, particularly at the hand of Miss Scatcherd, one of the teachers. Helen never held an act of cruelty against the person who performed it. Still a child, Helen's spiritual development is so far advanced as to be that of a 90-year-old woman.

However, Helen still admits to Jane, "I am, as Miss Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things in order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot bear to be subjected to systematic arrangements."(ch 6)

Today we would simply say that Helen's personality type prevented her from being quite as her teachers would like, but Helen would never allow for such an excuse. She confesses and owns her flaws instead of passing them off as an element of something as obscure as a "personality type." Helen is, in her small way, a reminder that personality type should never be an excuse to not embark upon self-improvement.

When Jane rails and rants against the injustices committed against her person by Mrs. Reed, Helen firmly chastises her, saying, "What a singularly deep impression her injustice seems to have made on your heart! No ill usage so brands its record on my feelings . . . Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs." (ch 6)

I won't go into detail, but let me just say the reading of chapter 6 was timely to a situation in my own life. Helen Burns's words impacted my thoughts and actions in a way that nothing else seemed capable of doing. Authenticity glitters in her severity, her gentleness, and her faults.

After Helen's death and the deaths of so many of the other children due to disease from malnutrition and improper clothing, Lowood Institution improves, and Jane settles into her life as a student with renewed vigor. Now that she has comfortable clothing and a full stomach, her studies delight her, which inevitably leads to a mature Jane in chapter 10 who is read and determined to take on the world.

Why the sudden change when she had been a contented teacher for 2 years?

Jane, like many introverts, found comfort in the familiar, particularly the familiar of working side by side with Miss Temple. Only when Miss Temple married a gentleman of her acquaintance and left did Jane begin to chafe at the idea of remaining at Lowood for the rest of her days.

She advertises herself in the local paper as a governess/tutor, and is contacted by a Mrs. Fairfax of Thornfield. One thing lead to another as it usually does, and Jane turns in her notice. The end of chapter sees her reunited with a servant from Gateshead named Bessie who was kind and cruel to her by varying degrees. And now Jane is heading off to parts unknown, ready for a new adventure.

So passes the first 10 chapters of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Should you wish to join in the read-along, please visit Hamlette's blog by clicking on the picture below. At this point, she is 13 chapters into the novel. ❤

Jane Eyre Read-Along

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...