Book Review: “The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall” by Chris Dolley

P. G. Wodehouse is one of my favorite authors. I love his witty dialogue, quirky characters, and how messy his storylines get before all the seemingly superfluous information comes into play to give you a satisfying ending. I frequently compare them to murder mysteries: you have to pay attention or you’ll miss out on all the clever nuances of the ending.

So, when I stumbled on a steampunk Jeeves and Wooster inspired murder mystery it was, for me, the work of an instant to download and read it.

It was unbelievably fantastic. Chris Dolley has Wodehouse’s style mimicked to perfection. The steampunk/sci-fi addition of an automaton Jeeves, named Reeves, was ironically funny, because Jeeves seems a superhuman marvel anyway, and in Dolley’s version he kinda is. Bertie Wooster’s look-a-like is a bumbling private detective named Worcester. He went about solving the mystery with the same muddled brilliance as Bertie uses when matchmaking for his pals at the Drones Club. Add to that multiple Hounds of the Baskerville‘s references, plus one large Orangutang and basically, I couldn’t stop laughing.

This book was number three of a series. Thankfully it could easily stand alone, so when I go back and read the others I won’t be confused.

And I will be reading the others.

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Looking Back with Button Eyes

Coraline horrified me as a child. So much, that I purposed never read Neil Gaiman again. Years later, I read Neverwhere and he immediately became one of my favorite authors.

I decided to revisit Coraline this year. I spent my read trying to dissect what it was that upset me as a child. I mean, it’s intentionally creepy. The heroine, Coraline, is a self-proclaimed explorer who finds a hidden door in her old house. It leads to an alternate version of her life, with an “other mother” who has buttons for eyes. The other mother invites Coraline to live in this new world forever. All she must do is allow her other mother to replace her eyes with buttons.

But I remember it being more than the danger and suspense of the plot that unsettled me. The feeling went deeper, into a dark place I feared to explore as a child.

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picture by pointblizzy

She seemed lonely to me, forgotten and ignored. She had no friends her age to play with and the adults dismiss her frequently throughout the story, even when she’s in danger. Her interactions with her father reinforced the story’s atmosphere of abandonment. He always seemed to have his back to Coraline when she spoke to him.

Enter the other mother who is eager to meet all Coraline’s needs, including Coraline’s desire for affection. But the intensity of the interest is unsettling, stalker-like. A silent watching and waiting, that quickly turns dangerous.

“It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold. In the other mother’s button eyes, Coraline knew that she was a possession, nothing more. A tolerated pet, whose behavior was no longer amusing.”
~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Back then, Coraline read like the story of a girl offered the choice of living as outcast or prey. That is what made the book true horror to me. Ghosts fade in the daylight and demons can be exorcized, but if everyone abandons you, then loneliness is always.

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illustration by Chris Riddell

I often describe my childhood as silent. I combated my loneliness by retreating behind the door of my imagination, where I lived my hours in daydreams of closeness and acceptance. I had a whole other family in my mind, whose button-eyed gaze never looked through me. I wasn’t superfluous to them; I was loved.

Coraline disturbed me because I would have traded my eyes for buttons. In some ways, I already had.

During my reread, I paid close attention to how her real parents treated her and saw that they weren’t as neglectful as I’d remembered. There is, however, enough repetition in the text of her father turned away and of her desire for physical touch, that I don’t blame my younger self for picking up on it. It’s difficult to filter out the part of a story that speaks directly into your life. What encourages me most now is how, despite his neglect, she turns to his wisdom to cope with the oncoming darkness.

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illustration by Chris Riddell

Coraline’s story is actually about how bravery comes from fear. Fear is essential to bravery, for without fear, bravery has no purpose. This is a lesson Coraline learned from her father. He helped her choose to face her fears by walking back into the claws of the dark.

“‘Because,’ she said, ‘when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.'”
~ Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Coraline’s parents may have denied her the closeness she needed, but she was still able to learn from them, lessons essential to her survival and maturity. Dysfunctional, even broken, families have something to give.

My childhood will remain silent. But now, in the family I’ve chosen to be part of, I can fight to fill the rooms with love. I know the mistakes of yesterday because I lived them and braved their shadows alone. And as Coraline reminded herself that she was brave many times before she believed it, I will preach the pain of my past to myself again and again until it makes me stronger.

I will be brave. No, I am brave.

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Book Review: “Kell, the Alien” by Darcy Pattison

When I first got my Kindle, I was amazed at how many fantastic books were floating around to download for free. FREE! I went kinda crazy and tried to download all the books, paying little attention to content. I now attempt to be more discerning, but it’s so thrilling to be introduced to a fabulous new author.

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If you pay any attention to my reviews, you’ll notice I tend to read a good deal of Middle Grade. This is just as much because I enjoy light reading, as it is that I am searching for gems to pass on to my children when they’re old enough.

And this one was certainly a gem.

Darcy Pattison’s adorable story is about Kell, a young alien trying to navigate life on Earth after he and his parents become indefinitely stranded here. The characters are super sweet and lovable, and the plot is full of innocent fun. Rich Davis’ excellent illustrations scattered throughout the chapters make the story extra cute.

I have already downloaded and started another one of Pattison’s stories, and am only waiting to get the next installment of Kell’s series because I can’t decide if I want it in print or e-book.

I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of the first book. The Kindle edition is still free on Amazon, (which you can read on the Kindle app if you don’t have a kindle).

Download it here! And then let me know if you loved it as much as I did.

 

 

Book Review: “Where the Woods Grow Wild” by Nate Philbrick

It doesn’t surprise me that Nate Philbrick is a fan of Lloyd Alexander. I noticed similarities to The Book of Three as soon as I started reading Where the Woods Grow Wild. But the pig keepers and runaway barnyard animals in Philbrick’s tale carried me into another forest for a new adventure I was glad to take.

Nate Philbrick’s YA fantasy novel is the story of Martin and Elodie’s adventure in the dark and fantastic wood that grows across the river from their village. A dangerous wood that most villagers keep at a safe distance. But a terrible accident draws Martin and Elodie closer to its borders until eventually, they find themselves lost in the dark, wild wood.

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Three reasons I loved this book.

First, the characters. There were so many fun and quirky characters that just made me smile. I love having what I call “gentle” reads to help me wind down at night, and even though there were some high energy scenes in this story, the characters made it warm enough to qualify for my night read category. Along with fun and quirky, the story also had some steady, mature characters who elevated the flow of the story with their wisdom.

Second, setting. Philbrick has a great ability to paint a scene, and with a book that takes place in such a fantastic world, it was especially fun to be drawn deep into the forest while the author’s pen hemmed me in with trees.

Third, and most important, themes. I loved how Philbrick’s story included a character with a physical handicap, and how he showed the character’s struggles to cope with the everyday hardships that came along with it. The story talked about supporting one another through suffering, overcoming trials, and honesty in relationships.

I highly suggest scooting over to his website to check out his novels, as well as his fantastic artwork (he designed the cover of his novel himself!). He’s also pretty fun to follow on Twitter.

It’s Autumn Again

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Autumn is the seasonal gala, when nature adorns herself in a flash of warm color before falling asleep under a blanket of winter.

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Ellie and I were both asleep last Autumn. She was too young to see the sunset of falling leaves, and I was too ill to go outside and revel in my favorite season.

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We take walks most days. We see turkey and deer and chipmunks. She points and grunts behind her binkie.

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She loves to be outside, to unearth the acorns half-buried in the driveway. She grabs sticks with leaves attached and shakes them like a wand covered in ribbons and bells.

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I pick up leaves from the cool pavement and dewed grass. I show her the varied colors and shapes. I hand her newts and caterpillars.

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I’m not entirely accustomed to the rural feel of life out here, but I begin to see the draw when I’m standing beneath a canopy of mottled leaves, or marveling at the color and texture in one patch of moss.

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It’s breathtaking.

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all photographs © Rachel Svendsen 2018

A Quick Catch-up and the Coming Revamp

I know I’ve been absentee around here. It’s been super hard to get back into the flow of things while balancing life as a mother.

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She is 13 months old now, walking, and beyond precious. She loves books, and we spend a lot of our day together reading. She also loves to eat, play in the rain, and collect sticks while she’s running barefoot outside.

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I love her tremendously, and though I usually end my days physically and emotionally exhausted, I am so thankful to be watching her grow and learn and smile.

I’ve had little time to devote to writing, hence my lack of posts, but I’ve had plenty of time to keep up with my reading. I’m hoping to sit down in the coming weeks and whip out a bunch of book reviews.

Another thing I’ve been spending time on is planning a total revamp of my blog here. I’m looking for ways to make things more organized and professional.

I want to post more book reviews and possibly find some authors who are willing to let me interview them about their stories and the writing process. I think it would be so much fun to have more connections with other writers, especially since I’ve left school and feel cut off from the writing community. I have some people already in mind, and am really excited for anyone who is willing to join me in this.

So, hopefully, in January I will have everything around here all neat and tidy with a bunch of fun, new content to post.

Learning to balance my free time has been a challenge. I don’t want to miss out on her. My own childhood was so incredibly lonely, and I would hate to give her a similar experience. I do miss writing and blogging, but I know it will come back, it’s her childhood that I can’t put on hold. I won’t believe it was wrong to give her my full attention this past year. I want so badly to be the kind of Mother she needs. ❤

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I wanted to write a song for you…

I wanted to write a song for you
but you are a mystery I’ve watched from a distance
You are the first whispers of sunrise
with all its promise of warmth and constancy

I wanted to write a song for you
but when I closed my eyes I heard
the vow of forever gliding down wet smiling cheeks
the gentle thrum of entwined fingers and private smiles
two melodies tangled into fugue in the chill of winter
a fugue that built into bold unison on midsummer’s eve

I wanted to write a song for you
but you wrote your own
and the sound of it rivaled the splendor of sunrise

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Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Svendsen ❤