So I read, “The Shining”…

I scare a little too easily to take much of a shine to the horror genre, but in the past months I’ve been experiencing a severe emotional shakeup that reaches back to the roots of my childhood. All the raw and repressed pain and anger I’m dredging up has been attacking me in my sleep, filling my dreams with rejection and abandonment.

You may think it strange that I chose a time such as this spend my leisure reading on things that go bump in the night, but I did it on purpose. I wanted to be frightened by something that I knew wasn’t real for a change. I wanted to be able to wake up from a nightmare, brush the perspiration for my brow and say, “well, good thing spiders can’t mate with pirañas. Even the mutant ones,” then roll over and return to slumber bliss.

It worked, with a slight misfire.

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I started reading Stephen King’s The Shining on Saturday. I was feeling crappy, so it seemed a good day to spend reading and hiding from people in general. By bedtime, I was a long ways through. It was dark out. My bedside light was on. My husband was reading beside me while stealing glances at the MLS game on the television.

I’d love to tell you exactly what was happening in my mind during this particular chapter, the tension and discomfort I was experiencing vicariously through the poor five year old hero, but it contains spoilers (for those of you who’ve read it, I’ll say “shrubbery” with the high pitched sharp intonation of a knight who says “NI!” and say no more). I squirmed a little on the bed. I was developing that uncomfortable feeling I used to have as a child, like something could come up behind me if I didn’t sleep with my back to the wall. My back pressed firmly to the mattress, I continued to read.

Five pages later, I slowly lowered the book and said, “Hey babe?”

My husband looked at me. “Yeah?” he said.

“This book is scary.”

This didn’t seem to surprise him as much as it had me. Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting it to be this intense. “Yeah?” he said again.

Assuming his apparent disinterest was only due to a lack of communication on my part, I expounded on the current situation with the words, “And I’m scared.”

He cracked a smile. “I’m sorry,” he said, with a sort of amused sympathy.

“What if…” I laid the open book on my chest and looked around the room. “What if we had to sleep with the lights on?” My eyes landed on the closet and I swallowed. “Could we do that?”

I looked back at him. He was just smiling at me. “If you like,” he said. He followed my gaze back to the closet. “Do you want me to open the door?”

“NO!” I checked myself, put my back safely against the mattress again and said, “No. Because I won’t be able to see the bit behind the wall there and…I’ll wonder. No. Better to leave it closed.” I looked back at the book. “And the light on.”

I kept reading, hoping that I would finally hit a spot where things leveled out so that I could repose with a little less fret. I gave up eventually, and spent the majority of the night willing my eyes to stay open in the event of…things. When I did finally sleep for a few hours early in the morning, I had two dreams related to the book. They were significantly less horrifying than any of their predecessors in the last few months. So basically, my plan worked. *gives herself pat on the back*

It was an excellent book by the way and I’m super glad I read it. If you’re not into horror as a genre, but you’re into writing fiction, I recommend getting a copy from your local library and just reading the (not very scary) part one. It was a perfect example of a flawless opening. The background information about the family, including flashbacks, were seamlessly worked in with the current action of the plot, so you never felt slogged down by an “information dump” like you find in the beginning of so many novels. Writing peeps should check that out if nothing else.

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Book Review: The God Who Heals by Johann & Christoph Blumhardt

First off, thank you again Plough Publishing for sending me another lovely book! There are few things more pleasing than receiving unexpected packages with free books inside. ❤

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The most recent book they sent me was The God Who Heals, a collection of devotional thoughts from  Johann and Christoph Blumhardt. They were a Lutheran father/son pastor team from 19th century Germany. The book is a collection of their thoughts on topics related to healing and patience through suffering. The book is divided into six sections: Turning to Jesus, Trusting Jesus, God Hears, God Promises to Heal, See What God Can Do, and The Hope That is Ours. Within the sections are short devotional-like thoughts on the topic, nice bite sized readings to chew and meditate on, all opening with a passage from scripture.

It’s a short book, and also sweet in that it is full of encouraging thoughts. The lessons within did not only apply to those who have life threatening or long lasting illnesses, but were applicable to suffering in general and encouraged you to hold fast in faith to Christ no matter what the outward circumstances. Here is a quote from the chapter entitled, “You Are Not Alone”:

If you can’t feel the Savior, than the more believe in him. Those to whom God’s love is nearest are precisely those who don’t see and yet believe (John 20:29). The same is true of those who don’t feel and yet believe. The enemy often wreaks havoc on our feelings; but he can’t touch your faith. The devil cannot own your faith – unless you give in.

~Johann Christoph Blumhardt

Thank you again Plough Publishing for giving me the joy of reading this book.

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If you want to read it yourself, you can get your copy here!

Falling in Love with Pooh

My mother has always claimed to be a bookworm from her youth, but sometimes I wonder10572249_10153375877852963_645569118810842334_o how it can be possible. The only childhood book she’s told me she loved was Charlotte’s Web. She once told me she read Flowers in the Attic, I know she used to read Nicholas Sparks, and she has this horror story she sometimes tells me about possibly throwing away some first edition Dickens novels because she couldn’t read Great Expectations due to the use of old English *cocks head in confusion, then shudders and hugs the nearest book*.

Along with these coflicting anti-booklover traits, for we all know a true book lover NEVER throws away a book, I can’t recall her shedding much light onto my reading 51Pr1yvjS9L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_pathway. Once she’d recommended Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, I’m fairly certain it was school librarians and my Grandmother who did the rest, hooking me on Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and even poor Mister Dickens *shudders again and kisses the nearest book*. My mother read to us a lot growing up, but the books I remember were Hank the Cowdog, Bible story picture books, and What Would Jesus Do?. Never the classics like Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, or even Charlottes Web. Mind you, we saw all the movies, but never read the books.

About three years ago, I started picking up children’s books on my own. It was just last year that I read A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh for the first time. It was so much better than I’d anticipated. I thought it would just be a collection of sweet stories about a mismatched group of stuffed animals living in the Hundred Acre Wood, like the Disney movies I’d watched as a child, and never imagined how witty and hilarious they’d be. Even my husband was surprised when I began to read passages to him, and we ended by reading the last three chapters aloud together.
776407I just got the second book The House at Pooh Corner from the library and love it as much as the first. Some of the humor is almost reminiscent of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s a sample passage, where Piglet is imagining a conversation he’d have with a Heffalump.

HEFFALUMP (gloatingly): “Ho-ho !”
PIGLET (carelessly): “Tra-la-la, tra-la-la”
HEFFALUMP (surprised, and not quite sure of himself)“Ho-ho !”
PIGLET 
(more carelessly still): “Tiddle-um-tum, tiddle-um-tum.”
HEFFALUMP (beginning to say Ho-ho then turning it awkwardly into a cough): “H’r’m! What’s all this?”
PIGLET (surprised): “Hullo! This is a trap I’ve made, and I’m waiting for a Heffalump to fall into it.”
HEFFALUMP (greatly disappointed): “Oh?” (after a long silence) “Are you sure?”
PIGLET: “Yes.”
HEFFALUMP: “Oh!” (nervously) “I – I thought it was a trap I’d made to catch Piglets.”
PIGLET (surprised): “Oh, no!”
HEFFALUMP: “Oh!” (apologetically) “I – I must have got it wrong then.”
PIGLET: “I’m afraid so.” (politely) “I’m sorry.” (He goes on humming.)
HEFFALUMP: “Well – well – I – well. I suppose I’d better be getting back?
PIGLET (looking up carelessly): “Must you? Well, if you see Christopher Robin anywhere, you might tell him I want him.”
HEFFALUMP (eager to please): “Certainly! Certainly!” (he hurries off.)
POOH (who wasn’t going to be there, but we find we can’t do without him): “Oh, Piglet, how very brave and clever you are!”

The entire chapter had me giggling aloud, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to get the rest. Honestly, I don’t care what your age is, these books are a treat that you should not deny yourself. Along with the humor, he has a gift for making poignant moments of tenderness that warm your heart.

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Every writer has authors they idolize and dreams of what they could one day become. One of my dreams is to be able to write like that. To be able to make people laugh, smile, and cry all at once. Yeah, yeah that would be fantastic. ❤

Text ©Rachel Svendsen 2016
Quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

Book Review: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls

I have been working my way through a reading list on Buzzfeed called, 35 Books You Need to Read in Your Twenties. Many of them were books that I had never read, by authors I’d never heard of. Most people get this kind of forced exposure in school, but since the only English class I took in college was a short story class, I haven’t been made to read much since the 12th grade.

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One of the many treasures I found was a book called “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls.

It’s about the life of Lily Casey Smith, Jeanette’s grandmother. It’s really nonfiction, but Jeanette calls it “a true life novel,” reason being that many of the facts were word of mouth and unverifiable, along with the added dialogue. It did not read like historical fiction. To me it was a mix of novel and memoir. I loved it. Lily was an amazing woman. She was born in 1901, in a time when women were mostly wives and mothers. Watching her look squarely in the eye of society’s expectations and spending her life fighting to find out what she was meant to be, was intensely inspirational. She broke stereotypes and learned to fly planes, break horses, and even sold moonshine during the Prohibition to help keep her family fed.

Here’s one of favorite quotes from the book, hopefully to whet your appetite. It takes place after she and her husband lose everything and end up becoming caretakers of a backwoods ranch. This is her first trip to the outhouse.

A distinctly malodorous aroma arose from the hole, and for a moment I missed my snazzy mail-order toilet with the shiny white porcelain bowl, the mahogany lid, and the nifty pull-chain flush. As I sat down, though, I realized that you can get so used to certain luxuries that you start to think they’re necessities, but when you have to forgo them, you come to see that you don’t need them after all. There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things — though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart — and at the ranch, I could see we’d have pretty much everything we’d need but precious little else.”

Pick it up and give it a look, if for no other reason than to learn a little more about life on a pre WWI ranch in the American Southwest.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Quote from “Half Broke Horses” by Jeanette Walls – Simon and Schuster Inc. 2009

Book Review: “Creeping Shadow” by Caroline Peckham

I usually post on Monday, but today is a special Thursday. It is the release date of indie author Caroline Peckham’s YA Fantasy Novel, “Creeping Shadow.”

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Here’s a quick no spoiler synopsis:

Siblings Oliver and May Knight find themselves moving in with a grandfather they’ve never met, after their mother’s strange disappearance. As they look for clues to their mother’s wereabouts, they end up finding that their grandfather is a mage and that Earth is one of seven existing worlds. One night, May is attacked in her sleep. A deadly curse cast over her sends both of them on an adventure into new worlds they didn’t even know existed a few days before.

This book is well imagined and beautifully written. I loved the original and magical settings, from the grandfather’s house to Vale, one of the other seven worlds. This book only took you into three of the worlds, one of being Earth, and I can’t wait to see the other ones. That’s not the only reason I’m dying to read the sequel.

To me, this book was part fantasy and part murder mystery with elements inside reminiscent of “Hunger Games” and “Interworld.” I stayed up late two nights to finish it and when I reached the cliffhanger ending, my first thought was: “Wow, this is one of the best Indie books I’ve ever read!” My second thought was: “I can’t wait to read the next one!” My third thought was: “…crap! This isn’t even being released until December…how long am I going to have to wait for the next one?”

Please Caroline, don’t make us wait too long.

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Get your copy here for amazon US and here for amazon UK! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂

And stop by Caroline’s website to wish her a happy release day! ❤

A Love Letter to “Beloved”

I recently read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” for the first time. I expected to be made uncomfortable, because facing the real life horrors of American slavery should make everyone uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was a tangible reminder of why I love reading and writing as an art form.

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I had previously read about the horrific treatment of black slaves and been sickened by it. I had read before about the desperation of runaways on the underground railroad. I have read about segregation, seen its modern day equivalents, and lamented how long it is taking us to truly love and treat one another as equals. But as far as the past goes, I always kept those things separate. There was slavery in the South and freedom in the North. “Beloved” opened my eyes.

The quote below comes directly from Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. The character speaking is Baby Suggs, a freed slave living among other free blacks in the free state of Ohio. In the face of all that “freedom”, she still says this:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in the grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream out of it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

I read this passage twice before I had to take a break and absorb the meaning of what I had just read. Most of the book took place in Ohio, and still the blacks were only given low level jobs, denied education, made to wait outside the store until the white customers left and forced to walk on the opposite side of the street when white pedestrians passed. This was their reality. They escaped slavery but the self-righteous-anti-slavery northerners still treated them like lesser beings. Essentially, they left worse for bad. I closed this book with my eyes and heart opened a little wider.

This is why I love to read. This is why I love to write. This art form, like many others, is not just about entertainment, it’s about pulling back the curtain to show truth, making people stop to consider their beliefs or actions, leaving behind people with eyes, minds, and hearts opened a little wider.

Thank you Toni Morrison, and not just for prose that smelled like poetry, but for writing something that made me uncomfortable, that made me think, and, ultimately, changed me forever.

Quote from Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” published by Alfred Knopf Publishing in 1987

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

“No One Can Stem the Tide” by Jane Tyson Clement: A Book Review

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I received this book of poetry from Plough Publishing. I had never read anything from Jane Tyson Clement before, but I adore poetry so I was super excited for it to come.

When it arrived I immediately started cooing. Just the size and feel of it was enough to get my bookishness tingling. I love paperbacks, and it’s just a touch smaller than usual which appeals to my desire for poetry to be portable. My favorite places to read poetry are usually outside in the sun.

The content was just as perfect as the presentation.

Clement is an amazing poet. Her flow and rhythms are perfect. Her style varies a little throughout the collection, but quality is always immaculate. Her themes, ranging from Art to love to family and loss were written with insight. She often strays to themes of nature, which makes the idea of reading them outside twice as intoxicating.

To say that I loved this book would be an understatement. I adored it, everything about it. I can’t wait for the sun to find me on the beach, reading her poems about the ocean and sky. When I finished it, I did not move it back to my bookshelf but left it beside my bed, because I know that I will want to read it again soon.

Below is a stanza to tantalize you, in hopes that you will get yourself a copy to bask in it’s fluid perfection.

“The birds that fly
in a shifting pattern
over the sea
with their eyes turned downwards –
what do they find in the shining water?”

Imagine reading that, then turning your eyes upwards to watch the birds fly. Absolutely gorgeous!

Here is the link to purchase a copy! http://www.plough.com/en/ebooks/n/no-one-can-stem-the-tide