Top Classics

I took a reading class in high school that allowed us to choose the books we wanted to read. That was when I started to have a new appreciation for the classics. These are my favorites.

  1. The Canterbury Tales: Geoffrey Chaucer

We’re starting real old-school. Even the translation to modern English flows so well. It’s music.

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray: Oscar Wilde

I want to be Oscar Wilde when I grow up. That is all.

  1. Frankenstein: Mary Shelley

Such an important work, for women and for the genre. It’s not just a story about a monster, it asks how we define who is and isn’t a monster.

  1. The Metamorphosis: Franz Kafka

Classical weird fiction. Of course I like it.

  1. Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t just impressive for her time, she’s impressive now. I could do much worse than try to be more like her.

  1. The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway

This story is heartbreakingly real. It doesn’t end with the faithful and hardworking being rewarded. That would be a lie.

  1. Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare

This play gets a lot of crap for the romance being dramatic (it’s a drama). I don’t believe that this is a romance to emulate, and that was never the point. It’s a beautiful tragedy and one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical works.

  1. Anna Karenina: Leo Tolstoy

Let’s all agree that Levin almost ruins this and Tolstoy would have done us all a favor by keeping himself out of his narratives. That said, his writing is perfection, even in translation, and Anna is a wonderfully complex character.

  1. Wuthering Heights: Emily Bronte

This is another book where people object to the toxic relationship between the main characters. But that’s exactly the point. They can’t overcome their selfish and spiteful natures long enough to make it work, and end up suffering for it. I do love a good tragedy.

  1. Dracula: Bram Stoker

I love Mina Murray and will be naming my first-born after her.

Honorable Mentions:

Animal Farm by George Orwell

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The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is about a woman raised by…God? He certainly seems to be all-powerful and all-wrathful. And it’s because of his wrath that someone’s made him disappear. And with his disappearance, Carolyn and her eleven “siblings,” the other children he took for training—each learning one of twelve catalogs that they’re not at liberty to discuss with anyone, even (and maybe especially) each other—have been banished from the library. Now they have to work together to get back inside and find Father, before his rivals take advantage of his absence.

The characters in this book were wonderful. The good guys are also bad and the bad guys are not all bad. It leaves you not really knowing who to root for, which is exactly the kind of story I love. Some parts got a little bro-y and it sometimes devolved into “how much badass stuff can I cram into one backstory,” but I can forgive that because the overall story itself was so compelling. None of it was shocking, but neither was it predictable.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of novels where I’m ready for the ending when it comes. Not that they were boring, but when they ended, I was like, “yup, OK. Got it.” With this book, I never wanted the ending to come, and when it did I found myself absolutely ravenous for more. I honestly don’t have many criticisms for this book. Loved it from start to finish. 4 stars

Guest Post: The Heartsmith

This is a story by my wonderfully talented friend, Serena W. Sorrell. Enjoy!

***

Long, purple shadows slithered along the cracked pavement. The inky ghosts stretched longer and longer until the smog-sputtering steampowered sun set. Pierre, oblivious to the machinations of dusk, rubbed the sand from his weary, red ringed eyes. He had spent a long night sorting through garbage, mountains, bins, and boxes of it. He had scoured the pipe sewers while BiBi, his black pig, trotted tirelessly beside. Tonight would be much the same. So Pierre labored through the dirty work of sorting dust and grime and forgotten memories. By the first light of the mechanical sun Pierre’s efforts were rewarded. Soggy and dripping, and crinkled on the sides, Pierre held a heart that was chipped and cracked. He packaged it up and wrapped it away.

The most grueling and delicate work still waited at his shop. Merely recovering a discarded heart wasn’t enough. No, not at all. And though this one was in terrible shape Pierre had been lucky to find it at all, and BiBi was largely to thank. This particular heart had been given to Lane Two’s Miss Perdue from one Mister Lerrare–and shortly disregarded. Repairing it would take time, but not time alone. Such was the work for a heartsmith. And, for better or worse, business was never long lacking. The city of gears and grease was packed tight with fools who wore their hearts on their sleeves while they strolled in the park. Pierre was constantly busy, and it was taking its toll.

The shadows deepened to fresh spilled indigo as the sun clinked below the grimy skyline. Pierre watched the belching light vanish with BiBi at his side. His only constant companion and, some said, the reason Pierre remained unwed in the prime of his youth. She pressed her pink snout to his trouser leg, an encouraging remark from a pig. He smiled and BiBi grunted in glee. It was no fault of BiBi’s that Pierre remained alone. He had chosen his solace–had chosen the safety. Being a heartsmith, he saw where giving your heart to another inevitably led. Caring too much about any old thing could fracture a heart, make it hurt, make it sting. For some the loss of money and youth broke their hearts; for others it was that the stars were too few, or hardships too many.

Pierre had better uses for his heart, although questionable. But for Pierre BiBi and his craft were enough. What need was a heart? Pierre returned to his shop on Eighth Avenue; he heated the furnace that had gone cold during the night; he cleared scraps from the tables and benches; and carefully, so carefully, unwrapped Mister Lerrare’s broken heart. With the magnifying loupe over his eyes Pierre assessed the damage wrought. Most of it was surface, dings and scratches; but what he’s taken for a crease on the side was a collapse over a missing piece of the heart. Pierre made a soft mould to better inspect how much had been taken. It didn’t look good. BiBi pressed her nose to his knee just as the door chimes jangled announcing a customer. Mister Lerrare shuffled inside looking hopeless, sullen, and ashen.

“Ah, Mister Lerrare. Hello.” Pierre dropped a handkerchief over the man’s junky heart.

“Hello, heartsmith. Any luck with last night’s search?” Mister Lerrare sighed with great melancholy, “I–by myself–searched the parks and riversides where Caroline and I sometimes took walks. But to no avail.”

Pierre’s eyebrows pinched. “I haven’t found it yet, but I’m sure I will. After all, sir, that’s why you’ve come to me. Best heartsmith ever there was, in this city of gears or the next. Guaranteed service.”

Mister Lerrare said nothing. No smile. No frown. His eyes were blank and stared at nothing at all. Pierre’s guarantee garnered not even a blink. Mister Lerrare had become wispish and light, like he’d been half erased. Pierre cast his eyes away from Lerrare’s. His own heart ached for the poor man who had so carelessly entrusted himself to someone’s clumsy care. Pierre kept Lerrare’s heart hidden under the rag. He’d fix it up new, but only in private. Mister Lerrare tipped his hat to Pierre mechanically and made a promise to come visit the next morning.

Alone once again, Pierre locked his shop’s door. There was work to be done and repairs to be made–and a price to be paid. Pierre’s methods were secret, unknown to all but his pig. Little BiBi, black as an inkwell, knew how the heartsmith repaired the broken and battered hearts of the city. And, though she disapproved, BiBi said nothing–most of all because she was a pig, but her greatest hope of all was for Pierre to find a new way to mend the pain of others.

The hot furnace bellowed. Pierre poured liquid metal from a crucible into the mould. The metal replacement would make the heart whole. All other heartsmiths used brass, gears, and steam to mend the endless supply of broken hearts. It worked well enough. But a mechanical heart could not beat on its own, could not feel quite as deep, could not love near so well. Just because it was whole did not make it full. Pierre loosed the pebble sized filling, measured it with calipers and a steady hand, opened his chest, and carved a piece of his heart away with practiced precision. Over a gentle flame he binded it to Lerrare’s. He hammered out the dents and sanded away the rough edges until it was smooth and shining. Sweat dripped down his neck. The work had been hard–it always was. The missing part of his heart beat far away, like an echo; and from tomorrow it would beat inside Mister Lerrare. No master had taught him. Pierre still had plenty of heart to give. He lived only for work so any lack of love went unnoticed. Over the years he rarely used his own heart; but Lerrare’s sad, soulful brown eyes had encouraged Pierre. He wanted to see his customer smile.

The next morning, before Pierre had poured his coffee, Mister Lerrare stood waiting and wasting outside in the rain. He had scuffled through town all night once more. He had searched each shadow and dump for his throwaway heart. His eyes were red and his chin stubbled. He had not slept and looked practically dead. Rain dripped off his coat, down his cheeks like fresh tears, and on to the workshop floor. He looked to Pierre without a flicker of hope. Something inside Pierre tugged and pulled. He pushed away the feeling. Business hours had begun.

“Mister Lerrare,” Pierre tried to sound cheerful, “you’ll be relieved to know I have found your lost heart and repaired it brand new.”

The news brought Mister Lerrare back to life. Pierre showed him the beating heart, whole and filled. A weak smile danced across Lerrare’s pallid lips. After a few minutes and with the heartsmith’s hard work the heart returned to its home. Color flooded Lerrare’s cheeks. He smiled and laughed. His heart had returned, undamaged and clean, with only the smallest piece of Pierre’s hidden within. Mister Lerrare shook Pierre’s sooty hand with such enthusiasm both men laughed. BiBi trotted in circles and squealed with delight.

“Excellent work! I feel a new man!” Remarked the handsome Mister Lerrare.

“Good to hear and happy to help. Take care of it now. Rest it a week or two; and remember hearts are fragile. They should be treated with care.”

Pierre could not admonish the man too much. His twinkling, brown eyes were so happy, ready to live life and love every drop. Mister Lerrare paid his account with a grin on his face spread just for Pierre.

He shook the heartsmith’s hand, “Thank you, Pierre. Truly.”

“Just doing my work, Mister Lerrare,” Pierre dropped his smog-colored gaze feeling suddenly shy.

“That simply won’t do. You’ve saved my heart, man. We are friends. Call me Hugo.”

Pierre had never been asked to call anyone anything. It was awkward. Something inside lurched. Still he smiled, ever courteous to his clients. Besides, Pierre would never see the man again. Once he smithed a heart new it never broke again.

“Farewell, Hugo.”

Hugo took to the streets with jaunty, light steps. No shadow of gloom stirred in his wake. No clue that only that morning he’d been a wraith. Pierre watched the man disappear, tipping his hat at strangers to make them smile. Pierre watched until Hugo was long out of sight. He had more hearts to repair, but none of them so broken as Mister Lerrare’s had been. For the rest of the day Pierre hammered and pittered, repaired hearts by the pile. In a city so large and a world so uncaring there was always a surplus of broken hearts.

 

Pierre’s business remained as steady as ever in the weeks following. Months passed and still business was constant and ever lucrative. If Pierre lingered on the state of hearts in the mechanical city for too long he found melancholy seeping into his hands and poisoning his work. If not for BiBi’s constant love by his side Pierre knew he’d have lost belief in the precarious emotion so many seemed to chase. Love was dangerous. Love was blind. Love came with claws and fangs. And all to often love was a one way transaction. Pierre would not be so foolish as to succumb to love’s cruelties. BiBi’s love was enough for him. Pierre snuffed out the furnace after another long day of wearying work, the comfort of his bed calling him like a siren, when the doorbells chimed. Beleaguered, Pierre turned. A stooping shamble of a man stood slumped over his own weight like gravity itself meant to pull him into the ground. Brown eyes met Pierre’s steel gray. Hugo was ten times worse than before. A gasp escaped the unaware Pierre as he rushed to his friend’s side. BiBi trotted along at his heels.

“Hugo, what happened? Has something gone wrong? My repairs should have lasted.”

“No,” Hugo’s shoulders slumped in defeat, “I did something very dumb.”

“Oh.” Pierre knew by the listless lack of joy in those drowning brown eyes.

“I thought it’d be different this time, Pierre. He was such a fun gent. We’d been chums since our long ago schooldays. Perhaps I knew him too well. Or he me. Whatever it was it has ended.”

“I see.”

“If I may hire your services again, Pierre. You’re the finest heartsmith ever was and I’ll never find better.”

“Hugo, I–”

“No fear! I have the heart right here. He was kind enough to return it.”

It was a start and at least no late night searches. Pierre nodded; Hugo took out a cloth bundle and opened each fold. Pierre stared at the holes riddled through the heart like cavities in a tooth. It could be repaired but it would take time–and more heart. Hugo waited in silence for the prognosis. His tragic gaze fixated upon Pierre.

“I can fix it.”

“Oh, thank you!”

“It will take me a week.”

“So long?”

“I’m afraid it’s quite bad.”

Hugo nodded, “Yes, I loved him,” a tear dripped from his chin.

Pierre gathered the heart with the utmost of care and ushered Hugo out the door. Hugo, in turn, promised to come again in seven nights. With the door closed and curtains down Pierre turned back to the broken heart. Dings and dents were one thing but swiss cheese hearts were quite another. Pierre would work his craft until it turned to magic. He’d begin right away. The fire was woken with the breath of the bellows. Pierre mixed copper and gold with a bit of his blood; the bond would need to be stronger this time. Pierre would harvest his own to make this one more resilient. He opened his chest ready to begin the transaction.

BiBi pawed at his foot, a glum look in her eye. With his eyes winced shut to ignore BiBi’s pleas Pierre began to chizzle off bits of his heart. The damage on Hugo’s was extensive. Pierre whispered to his work; he begged it to accept the pieces of his hard heart; he asked the broken heart to be whole once again. Pierre couldn’t bear to see his friend’s heart break ever again.

The shop stayed closed the next two days while Pierre toiled without rest. On the fourth day he finished. The heart was good. The cracks weren’t too noticeable. It would hold sturdy. Pierre slept the next three days and woke with a start to Hugo tapping on the door. Pierre presented the re-repaired heart and re-replaced it inside Hugo’s broad chest. It beat and thumped as good as before. A miracle! Hugo lifted Pierre in the air with a hug. He paid Pierre double for all of the trouble and promised, pinky promised, to be more careful and to steer clear from falling in love.

But not three weeks passed before Hugo shuffled in through the door. He collapsed, sobbing and wailing, onto Pierre’s workbench. Pierre couldn’t make out a word. Only that it hurt more than ever before . . . and that Hugo was doomed to never be loved. Hugo gave his heart to any who asked and never asked in return. He let people use his heart until it broke. Pierre grimaced at the torture love had wrought on his dear friend. Hugo upturned a jute sack and the pieces dropped with a thud to the table. This was beyond bad. There was hardly anything left, barely a scrap. Pierre would have to create it from scratch. Pierre only repaired hearts; he had never tried to make own of his own. The thought frightened him, but he looked to Hugo–the man who had become more than just dear. It made up his mind.

“A month. Not a day sooner.”

“Can it even be mended? Pierre, just look at the pieces.”

“I can do it, I’m certain. It’s a heart only in name but I’ll give it shape too.”

“Pierre . . .” Hugo’s hollow eyes brimmed full with tears, and inside of his chest the remnants of Pierre’s heart churned at the sight. “Thank you, Pierre. A month then.”

Pierre nodded and squeezed Hugo’s icy hand tight. Could the man truly survive with no heart for thirty-one days? Pierre had to hurry but he could not cut corners. He’d make Hugo’s heart more beautiful than ever. He helped Hugo to stand and walked him to the shop door; he kissed Hugo’s forehead and told him not to fret, and above all to get lots of rest. The door closed and the sweltering workshop felt cold. Pierre looked at Hugo’s broken heart scattered like dice thrown to gamble. He rubbed his closed eyes with a thumb and a finger. There was work to be done, but it wouldn’t be pleasant. BiBi knew, too, and did not approve. She told Pierre so by ramming her head against his leg. He took notice and looked upon his sole companion with tears in his eyes.

“I know, BiBi. But what else can I do? He loves too much and receives none in return. He gives them his all and it leaves his heart empty, battered, and bruised. I can’t bear to see him so. I can’t bear to see his heart hurt. BiBi, my sweet, please understand.”

BiBi understood. Pierre opened his chest. He took out his heart, every last piece. It took hours of sweat; it took ounces of blood; it took toil of fire and steel, magic and curses to coax the broken slivers of Hugo’s heart into Pierre’s. And all the while in the silent workshop no sound was heard but a black pig’s tears hitting the floor. And so it continued, day after day, night after night. Pierre barely slept as he made a heart for the person he liked best. Pierre and BiBi both knew that this was the final repair. There’d be no more heartsmith after the first and only re-re-repair. At least his final work would also be the greatest, a beautiful heart prefilled with all of Pierre’s love.

On the thirty-first day Hugo knocked at the door. Pierre did his best to remember how to smile. He tried to recall the feelings he’d had and act perfectly normal. He presented the heart, his masterpiece of art and love. Hugo gasped at its perfection. The heart nestled snug in his chest, a perfect fit. Hugo praised the craftsmanship with a warm hug and soft kiss to the cheek. Pierre had forgotten his real smile, lost it with the last bit of his heart. He was tired but he smiled still. Hugo paid Pierre and turned to the door. He stopped. Hugo turned and looked at Pierre.

“Pierre.”

“Yes, Hugo?”

“No speech?”

“Only that love has a high cost. The least of all pain.”

“Too true, my dearest friend. I have learned my lesson.” He laughed, but his happy brown eyes moved nothing inside Pierre. “If ever I give my heart to someone again it will only be to a real love.”

“Yes, do that.”

Pierre said his final farewell to Hugo Lerrare and closed the door.

 

A veil had been draped over Pierre’s world. Everything was muffled as he shuffled about his workshop. He packed away boxes and labeled his life. Box after box, tools and more tools, all of it he’d never use again for a heartless man could never mend hearts.He would have to leave the steam city, its broken hearts, and Hugo Lerrare. He would move somewhere very far where hearts did not break or need to be mended. BiBi didn’t want to leave their home where Pierre’s heart would stay. She tried her best to send all the love a pig could toward Pierre. Only BiBi’s warm love kept Pierre moving, without BiBi he would have been gathering dust.

Incessant, loud knocking made Pierre take pause from wrapping his bellows in old newspaper. The handle shook and rattled as someone outside jerked on the door. Taking his time, Pierre settled the bellows next to the tongs in a crate. BiBi nudged him, and pushed him, and loved him with all of her heart. At last Pierre saw his black pig, always loyal and beside him. The irate door came into focus too; he turned the key for what seemed an eternity. Not even a second had the lock been unlocked when Hugo burst through the frame. His face was red, tears streamed down his cheeks; his curls were a wild nest; he panted for air and heaved for each breath.

“Pierre! I just heard you’re closing up shop!”

“Yes.”

“That’s all? Just yes?”

“Yes.”

“Surely there are more who could use your knowhow, your skill, your craft. Pierre, you can’t go! You simply can’t leave me!” Hugo held onto Pierre’s shoulders and stared deep in his storm gray eyes. “Oh, Pierre . . . what have you done?”

“I have fixed the last heart I will fix. I can repair no more without one of my own.”

Hugo clutched his hands to his chest. He felt the two hearts inside, beating as one. Not once had he noticed how much had been given. Hugo had never asked Pierre for his heart. Pierre had gave silently, and gave, and gave. Hugo cupped Pierre’s cold face in his hands and kissed him with warm lips. Hugo opened his chest and then opened Pierre’s. He removed the perfect heart and at last heard the unspoken love, afraid to be hurt. Pierre’s fears. The pain that came from a broken heart. Pierre had seen so many broken he had vowed never to love even as he gave pieces of his heart away, without a word or a hint.

“Pierre, show me how to halve this heart. I don’t know how a heartsmith works and so you must guide me. Come teach me Pierre and then you may pack.”

“It’s simple.” With a shaking hand Hugo did as he was instructed. “You make a cut here and a small twist there,” Pierre was cold and clinical, all his warmth gone. “Now pull just so–and there,” he still had words for Pierre. “You have two halves.”

Hugo locked half in his chest and, ever so gently, placed the mate in Pierre’s. The heart  filled Pierre up–not just the pieces of his own heart returned, but Hugo’s love consumed him. Pierre gasped as he stumbled and tripped. He grabbed the edge of the table and pulled himself to his feet.

“I love you, Pierre. More than anyone else. Real and lasting love.”

“It’s so much I can scarcely breathe.”

“Yes.”

“I gave you my heart, every last bit.”

“Yes.”

“All because I loved you. I loved your honesty and idiocy. I loved how you love with everything you have. I can feel how much I love you again.”

Pierre embraced Hugo and nestled his head against Hugo’s shoulder. Hugo held Pierre tight and pressed his lips to Pierre’s brow. Their chests beat in sync with one another. And there was never a sweeter kiss than their first, except the one after, and the one after that. Soon Pierre discovered that a heartsmith in love need not sacrifice anything at all to mend a broken heart. He needs only to remind the heart how to love with a few encouraging words–and a mallet for the extra tough dents. Thus Hugo worked in the city of grease smothered gears under the steampowered sun and forever beside him were Hugo Lerrare and BiBi the pig.

 

Check out Serena’s website for even more amazing stories.

https://serenawsorrell.com/

Tropes I Love

Question from Facebook: What tropes do you love?

The truth is, I feel pretty neutral about most tropes. The important thing, as in all aspects of writing, is execution. Any old trope can be new if the writer approaches it from a unique angle. That said, there are a few tropes that I love (a couple of which have been getting a lot of bad press recently).

  • The “cantina scene”: The one where our heroes go to a rowdy bar filled with diverse ne’er-do-wells to either drink their troubles away or find a rough-around-the-edges expert for their quest.
  • Love triangles: So long as one person in the triangle isn’t obviously worthless *cough*Peeta.* Love is hard. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect someone to know right away who they want to Happily-Ever-After with.
  • Fairytale/myth/legend retellings: Love these things.
  • Escaping just in the nick of time: Because evacuating in an orderly fashion is boring.
  • Handsome/beautiful villains: Villainy is sexy. It just is.

In the Dark Progress

Over two years ago, I decided to try my hand at the National Novel Writing Month in order to write my first ever novel. I had started one before that, but after extensive outlining, my interest fell off during the actual writing stage. I suppose it didn’t help that I started grad school shortly thereafter. While it’s still a project I plan on getting back to someday, I wanted to do something completely new to get me out of my grad school funk. Thus the ambitious goal of participating in NaNoWriMo while simultaneously getting my masters in translation. This would later prove to be extraordinarily unwise (I may or may not have failed my final exams a month later). It did, however, lead to me completing the novel, after a fashion.

Now, the decision to attempt to write an entire novel in one month was one I made on a whim and very much at the last minute. A week before November 1st, the official start date, I went through my list of about 50 ideas that I’ve been adding to for years and selected around 8 almost completely at random. This novel I would write was never really intended for public consumption. It was intended to give me the excuse to do something I actually enjoyed during a time when nothing I was working on fit the bill.

As such, I assembled my 8 somewhat disparate ideas and stared at them until I had a thread that I believed would connect them. I chose one idea as the beginning and one as the ending. The story then became about getting from the start to the end while traveling through all the other ideas in between. The end result is something like Gulliver’s Travels meets the Wizard of Oz meets spider-sharks rampaging through the underworld.

Quite predictably, I didn’t come anywhere close to finishing it during that month. What I didn’t expect was that I’d fall in love with the story and want to continue it after November ended. Still, due to the aforementioned failures that probably didn’t actually have much to do with the time I spent writing, I was forced to put those plans on hold while I finished school.

And miracle of miracles, I did end up graduating. Six months after I began my novel, I was free to return to it. A lot of it was a tedious slog as I learned how to write story elements I had never attempted before. But while I am well practiced at quitting when things get hard, I kept at it and eventually finished!

It was a hot mess.

But I learned that most first drafts are. So I edited. I submitted chapters to critique groups (both online and in-person) for over a year. And little by little, it started to look like something I’d actually want to read.

In the middle of February, I sent the final draft to a professional editor. It was crazy expensive. But I felt like I had gone as far as I was capable without professional help (and anyone who knows me can tell you I need professional help ;)).

The editor returned her feedback at the beginning of March. Cue the renewed self-doubt and general existential depression. I know it’s an editors job to point out shortcomings, and I am very appreciative of her work (and consequently agree with every one of her suggestions), but I was kind of hoping, way deep down, that she would just tell me it was already perfect. Instead, she confirmed that I’m still making rookie mistakes and have quite a lot to learn about writing. All in all, this was a very good learning opportunity.

I’ll do another round of editing based on her feedback, but I think that after more than two years of working on this project, it may be time to shelve it and move on to a different project that I can write properly from the beginning instead of trying to go back and fix it after the fact.

And that’s where I’m at.

Top Books from My Childhood

These are the top ten books that made my childhood (elementary and junior high school)

  1. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Who wouldn’t want to be best friends with a dragon? And flying has got to be the most primal human dream. I would leave this world for Pern in a heartbeat.

  1. The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

These books taught me to be a badass and I’ve never looked back. We should all be lionesses.

  1. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

For everyone suffering from Disney princesses, Cimorene is the cure. Also, lots and lots of dragons. What’s not to like?

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

This book blew my mind. I remember liking the sequel, too, but this first one was magic. I saw the Ghibli version years later, but it suffers from the same rambling storytelling that all Miyazaki movies do. Do yourself a favor and read this if you haven’t.

  1. The Darkangel Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce

This is another trilogy where the first and third book do the heavy lifting. The third broke my little junior high heart. This may have been the first book I read that made me look up and long to leave Earth for what lies beyond.

  1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Meg Murry is a hero we can all aspire to be. She’s far from perfect, but she still saves the day without any convenient powers. Would be her any day. If you’ve never read the subsequent books in the quintet, give them a try. A Wind in the Door is another one of my all time favorites.

  1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

In the fashion of most trilogies, the first and third book far eclipse the second. But this whole world is utterly brilliant. Again, skip the movie.

  1. Sabriel by Garth Nix

This is the book that I’ve reread more than any other. As far as I’m concerned, it’s held up every time. It’s beautifully dark and hands down the most unique portrayal of death I’ve seen in fiction. The books that follow don’t nearly rise to the level of the first, unfortunately.

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Every kid needs magic. This is where I got my fix.

  1. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

I fell in love with Christopher Chant the moment I opened the book and have been in love with him ever since. This book ruined me and I will never recover.

Choosing just ten was agony. Honorable mention goes to The Chronicles of Prydain (The Black Cauldron) by Alexander Lloyd (this is another one that is much better than the movie), Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (I was running around my neighborhood peeking into windows and climbing onto roofs for months after I read this; it’s a miracle I’m not in jail), The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (let’s just pretend the movie never happened), The Giver by Lois Lowry, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (this book inspired me to write a very bad book of poetry that has fortunately disappeared), and The Cay by Theodore Taylor.

The Hearing Trumpet

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington is about a 92-year-old woman who is gifted a hearing trumpet by a close friend. One of the first things she hears through it is her family resolving to send her to an institution for senile women. Marian is not at all senile, but she has no choice but to go. When she arrives, she finds the property outfitted with miniature homes shaped like mushrooms, boots, igloos, and other fantastic shapes. The proprietors force the residents to take part in religious training, all under the winking eye of the portrait of a mysterious abbess hanging in the dining room. Things only get weirder from there. And they get very very weird.

This book is an absolute delight from the first page to the last. I am relatively new to weird fiction, but not only is The Hearing Trumpet an admirable example of the weird, it has an optimism that seems atypical for the genre. Marian experiences a non-stop stream of strange situations and takes them all in stride. And she’s not the only one. All of the characters have strong personalities and embrace their circumstances with positive energy.

The plot barrels along, always adding enough explanation to keep the reader on board, but never explaining away the weird magic of the story. There is not a single dull moment in this book.

I heartily recommend The Hearing Trumpet to any and everyone, even those that are not particular fans of the weird. It is so lovely and there is nothing predictable about the characters, plot, or setting. Everything is whimsical perfection. And best of all, I now have a plan for retirement. 4.5 stars

Replacement Parts

No one was looking, so he tipped the eye into his mouth. It slipped under his teeth until his incisors found purchase and punctured the surface. How odd that so many likened them to peeled grapes. There was really no comparison, Chester thought as warm goo oozed around his tongue. He swallowed and tossed his head. Even after a century, he couldn’t get used to the way they popped like that. He finished off his water, clearing the taste from his mouth.

He blinked three times—nothing. Perhaps another minute. He shifted on the cold bench and smacked his ear. Something would have to be done about that buzzing. But not tonight. He had actually been pretty lucky with ears. Children had great hearing and allowed him to go longer between refreshers.

Ah, there it was. The cloudiness in Chester’s right eye cleared entirely: better than twenty-twenty. But the renewed sharpness of vision left his other eye nearly blind in comparison. And that had been his good one.

He should have taken the pair. But his compassionate heart couldn’t bear to leave the man sightless. How so tender a soul as he had lasted so long in this world, being what he was, Chester had no idea. His kindness would likely be his downfall, someday. For the time being, plenty of people lived perfectly happy lives with one functioning eye. Though Chester didn’t intend to.

He wiped a hand over his trousers. Would it ever be done? Something always seemed to need refreshing. If it wasn’t his tongue, it was his liver. If it wasn’t his liver, it was a bicep. He was always, always eating.

Well. This was the life he had chosen. Granted, he hadn’t known the implications when he chose it, but it was too late for that, now. He breathed deep through his nose and smelled the dirt and leaves of fall. Olfactory glands were still good.

The other eye was the immediate issue. Chester closed his left eye, opened it, closed his right. This was disorienting. Even a man such as he would have trouble pulling off a monocle in this day and age. Besides, that had never been a good look on him.

Chester rose and tugged the wrinkles from his vest. He scanned the park for anyone who might have seen his face. Wednesday was not a busy night, and it was late. Not indecently late, but the children were in bed.

He strode for the south entrance, having come in from the north. The occasional late night jogger crossed his path as he neared the street. He nodded slightly and pressed a finger to his forehead as they passed, a gentlemanly leftover from the simpler time he grew up in. But mostly, he tried to avoid eye contact without looking suspicious. He licked his lips and pulled his hands from his pockets. Looking like you’ve done nothing wrong is tough when you’ve just done something wrong.

Salutations

As I prepare to take my writing more seriously and start sending it out to editors, I figured it was time to make an author website. I don’t know what will come of this, but it’s an exciting step for me and I appreciate anyone willing to take the time to read.

You can expect journal entries, book reviews, original short stories and book excerpts, and maybe even a guest post or two.

Once again, thank you so much for being here! And please bear with me as I attempt to navigate the organized chaos that is the Interwebs.