All told, September was a very good reading month! I began it with David Copperfield by Charles Dickens—followed by Child of the Kaites by Beth Wangler, and Agatha by E.B. Dawson—and ended it with Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island, all by L.M. Montgomery. Any time I find myself unable to fit all of the books I read onto the blog post header, I know I've done a lot of reading!
And so, I present to you these six reviews, in a post which will probably be the last of its kind for a while. Life has gotten much busier of late, and as much as I love writing book reviews, (and blogging in general), they're both one thing too many at the moment. I may continue to write the occasional short review on Goodreads, but for now, I'm going to take a break from all blogging. Thank you so much to everyone who has been on this journey with me!
My rating: ★★★★
David Copperfield reads like a fictional autobiography, and from the very beginning, the first-person narrative put me in mind of Great Expectations. I was invested in David from the moment he was born at twelve o’clock on a Friday night, and the suffering of his boyhood did nothing but strengthen it. He could have become hardened and closed himself off from the world, but he didn’t, and I found that to be a refreshing change.
As is usual with Dickens, the characters are vivid and varied, the settings are so life-like I could almost taste the salt air of the seaside, and all the subplots twist together to create a satisfying finale with no loose threads. By the end, the good-hearted but rather young David has matured enough to discipline his heart while still retaining everything that made him such a likeable character to begin with.
There were also a couple very unique things about this book that I would like to mention:
1.) Both a dwarf and an (autistic?) man were portrayed in a positive light.
2.) The girl the protagonist marries is not necessarily the right one.
Many books—old ones, especially—tend to look down on people just because they’re different, so the fact that these two characters even existed, was a pleasant surprise. I have to admit that I winced a little when Miss Mowcher first came on the scene, but she soon showed that bodily defects do not equal mental ones. And Mr. Dick, by contrast, proved that what some would call those same mental “defects,” were not defects at all, and actually enabled him to see the world in a way few others could.
As for the second point, I won’t say much for fear of spoilers, but so often, the first person the protagonist really falls for ends up being Mr. or Miss Right. The fact that this trope was not used was a refreshing twist.
Content comes in the form of childhood abuse, drinking, one passing reference to “lovemaking” in connection with a honeymoon, and a light smattering of language. There’s also a Lydia Bennett-esque elopement (minus the marriage), and the aftermath of such a disastrous decision, in which Lydia is repentant.
David Copperfield is not merely a pointless, wandering chronicle of David’s life—it’s a tale of hasty decisions, and living with them. It’s a journey from innocent child, to impulsive youth, and finally, to a matured man with an understanding of life, and of family. It’s a tale of growing up, and the mistakes we make as human beings. And I think that’s something we can all relate to.
I'm going to college!
To celebrate, I've decided to make three of the Warriors of Aralan books $0.99 for three days! *confetti* Branwen’s Quest, Finding Hope, and Journey to Freedom are books one, four, and seven, respectively, but each of them marks a beginning in the series, and can be read alone without confusion. (Although if you take it into your head to buy the rest of the series, I certainly won't stand in your way.) ;P
Now, for the best part. If you've been wanting to check out the Warriors of Aralan series, now's your chance to get three of them for $0.99 apiece, instead of $2.99. It's pretty much three for the price of one. So go get ‘em!
Branwen's Quest (Warriors of Aralan #1)
When the royal herald came announcing a mandatory Tournament of Warriors, Branwen was the last one to get excited. Sure, she was a good enough archer, but why should she be forced to go to the tournament just because the king said so? She had nothing to prove! Yet when she got there her competitive spirit took over and she succeeded—enough so that she was singled out by the king to take a difficult journey with three others who were as different as night and day from each other. Why? To recover the king and queen's missing crowns. Will they ever be able to overcome their differences and get along to complete their mission, or will they fall prey to an unexpected danger posed from within?
Finding Hope (Warriors of Aralan #4)
Branwen’s fourteen-year-old daughter Rhoslyn, is intrigued when she comes home one day to find three strangers in the house, arguing with her parents. Who are these men? Two of them appear to be the same age as her father, but one of them is younger—much younger, about her age. He turns out to be Allister, Rhoslyn’s cousin, and he with his father and uncle have come all the way from Norwynnd. Needless to say, Rhoslyn and her best friend Bradyn get off to a bad start with Allister when they find him unusually secretive, and instead of deterring Rhoslyn with his bad attitude, Allister unwittingly encourages her curiosity. She knows he has a secret, and she’d determined to find out what it is. To complicate matters, a dark-skinned man from Calima, Aralan’s closest neighboring country, appears the day after Rhoslyn’s relatives, bringing with him a new religion, and it looks like he’s going to be there a while due to his broken leg. While he’s there he insists on telling others about his faith, and Rhoslyn doesn’t know what to think. Why is her cousin so secretive? Why does this man from Calima think she needs God? And most of all, why have her relatives from Norwynnd come to Linfort now, after all these years?
Journey to Freedom (Warriors of Aralan #7)
Josiah is a prince... albeit one that has just about had it with his hypocritical parents and grandparents, the ruling family of Aralan. Sure, he's not that much different than they are, really—but when they turn down a small country's plea for help in an oncoming war, Josiah is furious. A full one-eighth of his blood comes from that country, and he can't believe his ears when they send the emissaries away without a promise of assistance. So he flees the castle, hires a cook to feed him in his travels, and breathes the free forest air for the first time in his twenty-one years of life. Sleeps on the ground for the first time in his life. And argues—constantly—with the most stubborn cook he's ever met in his life. Emma is not one to take orders quietly, despite coming from the poorest part of Freymont; a stark contrast with her sweet-tempered, eleven-year-old sister named Hadassah. Add in Josiah's crazy hermit uncle, a pair of mischievous identical twins, an unheard-of amount of sass, a war of epic proportions, and a betrayal or two—and you have a Journey to Freedom.
This month, every book I finished was written by an indie author, and that's always a win in my opinion! I read Brett and Rodge by E.B. Dawson, Discerned by Sarah Addison-Fox, and By Ways Unseen, by Daniel Dydek. I enjoyed all of them, so if you're looking for some independent authors to read, look no further!
My rating: ★★★★
Brett fills in the backstory of a character Dawson first introduced in The Traveler. It's a bit of a feels-jerker, (which is always a compliment in my book), and as always with Dawson's writing, concise and to-the-point. It was nice to have Brett's history illuminated, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Lost Empire short stories!
My rating: ★★★
I remembered Rodge as being one of my favorite minor characters from The Traveler—aside from Anissa’s house ;)—so I was excited to dive into this short story and learn more about him.
His history, unfortunately, is one that too many share... an illegitimate child raised by his mother, and a father that isn’t often around. Add to that the fact that he’s brilliant but bored, and he soon gets himself in trouble. I think I would have liked this story a lot more if I had been able to see inside Rodge’s head. Sure, he had a rough start in life, but I wasn’t really able to connect with him in the time given.
It’s still a very good short story, however, and marked by Dawson’s precise, clean-cut writing style. I’m glad to have gotten to know Rodge better!
It seems that lately I've been hearing a whole lot about France, (a side effect of my Les Mis, A Tale of Two Cities, and Scarlet Pimpernel obsession), so I thought that I may as well compile a list of French names for your character-naming pleasure, since I haven't added France to my name list collection yet.
Unfortunately, I can't really say that most of these names are French in origin, since many of them have roots in the Bible, or other parts of Europe, and are therefore simply "Frenchified" versions of more traditionally recognized names—but they are French in usage. For example, Élie is the French form of Elijah.
However, if French names aren't really for you, I've compiled lists of several other ethnicities, encompassing a wide range from Hebrew to Irish.
• Male and Female English Names
• Male and Female Hebrew Names
• Male and Female Irish Names
• Male and Female Norwegian Names
I'll be posting the feminine side of this list in October. Enjoy!
Adélard – noble; brave; hardy
Adolphe – noble wolf
Aimé – beloved
Alain – little rock; handsome
Aldéric – old; ruler; power
Alexandre – defending men
Amable – lovable
Amand – lovable; worthy of love
Amaury – work; labor; power
Ambroise – immortal
Amédée – love of God
Anatole – sunrise
André – manly
Antonin – ?
Armand – army man
Armel – bear; prince
Aubin – white; bright
Auguste – great; venerable
Aurèle – golden; gilded
Aurélien – golden; gilded
Baptiste – baptist
Basile – king
Bastien – from Sebaste
Benoît – blessed
Bérenger – bear; spear
Blaise – lisping
Brice – speckled
July was another one of those months that I got more reading done than I realized! On the list was I Will Repay and The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, The Janus Elixir and The Hound of Duville by Kyle Robert Shultz, and An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. They were all delightful reads, and just too many to fit them all on the graphic above. :P
The first two are swashbuckling adventures set during the French Revolution, the second two are tales full of Shultz's characteristic humor, and the last was a quiet, old-fashioned tale of love and friendship that I quite enjoyed.
I Will Repay
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
My rating: ★★★★
[There may be some vague spoilers for The Scarlet Pimpernel in the following.]
I Will Repay is North and South meets The Scarlet Pimpernel in all the best ways. It’s a high-stakes adventure set during the French Revolution instead of the Industrial one, with all the aggravating misunderstandings that usually crop up in old-fashioned romances like this. (You know, the kind that makes a book really, really hard to put down.)
Juliette Marny is another strong yet feminine female character reminiscent of Marguerite Blakeney, who (quite frankly), really messed things up from a misguided sense of justice, but was equally ready to do everything in her power to make them right again. I loved her! I think character arcs like that are sorely lacking in today’s stories. So often characters make mistakes and wallow in them, instead of moving forward like a warrior, admitting that they were wrong, and trying to set things right.
Paul Déroulède, on the other hand, is not the swashbuckling type of Hero/Love Interest from The Scarlet Pimpernel. He’s quiet, but fearless, and can always be relied upon to do what’s right. He rose above the degeneracy of his people during the Revolution, and made them feel human again by retaining a human heart himself.
The plot—while not very different from The Scarlet Pimpernel in the main points—felt a lot grittier than its predecessor. Most of the previous book was spent in England, and we only got a very narrow glimpse at France towards the end. The entirety of I Will Repay is spent in France during one of the bloodiest years of the Revolution. I think Orczy did a horribly beautiful job of underscoring the brutality of the time.
As for content, there are various passing references made to sexual immorality and rape (very brief, and not at all explicit), some “demming” on the part of the Pimpernel, (although less than the first book), drinking, and one female character takes accusations of “wantonness” upon herself in order to save the man she loves. (She was completely innocent of such charges.)
In closing, I think it’s fair to say that if you liked The Scarlet Pimpernel, you’ll like I Will Repay. It takes the same formula for glorious adventure and recreates it in an entirely new way. I also appreciated the fact that “true love” was shown to be seeing someone’s faults and loving them anyway, as well as the theme that vengeance belongs to the Lord. It’s a worthy addition to the series!
This post is going to be a departure from my typical writing help-related blog posts, and give all of you lovely people a quick update on where I’m at in the writing process, and what I have planned for the future. I’ve been thinking about doing this post for a while, mainly because I always enjoy author updates, and also because there are a lot of new things on the horizon for the Warriors of Aralan series. Pull up a chair!
Warriors of Aralan #9
[distant sobbing because it still needs a name]
I am the worst at cooking up titles, but I’ll figure one out eventually, never fear. The exciting news is this: I’m probably about two-thirds of the way done editing/rewriting/working out all the kinks, and, (Lord willing), it’ll come out sometime later this year! [confetti]
A Light in the Shadows, and Freedom from the Darkness
I owe everyone a bit of an apology here. Since publication, I’ve never really felt right about either of these books, and I plan to revise them in the near future, then release them again. Originally, they were meant to be one book... and after this revision, they might be. (In the meantime, however, feel free to check out any of the other Warriors of Aralan books.)
A Warriors of Aralan Short Story Collection
[throws more confetti]
I’ve been working on a short story collection to offer for free to all my wonderful newsletter subscribers. It’s not ready yet, but it will have three stories—one that explains why Norwynnd has guard towers, the one that I wrote last Christmas titled His Favorite Rakkaus Story, and one that’s still in the works. All three will be from different eras of Aralan’s history, and I can’t wait to offer it to you guys.
An Expansion to the Warriors of Aralan Series
Last but certainly not least… [drum roll] … I’ve finished writing the Warriors of Aralan series, but I have a couple “side series,” in the works: one that takes place in ancient Aralan, and one that takes place in Eclon, starting about the time of Warriors of Aralan #9. They’ll be short—only two or three books each, but they’ll flesh out the world of Aralan even more. It’s already come so far from the days of Branwen’s Quest, and I can’t believe how much it’s grown. [grabs a tissue for happy book parent tears]
So, folks, there you have it… a peek into the insanity that’s my brain. I don’t have definite dates for any of this yet, but I thought I’d give you a preview of what’s to come for the Warriors of Aralan series.
June's reading brought the completion of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Crowning Heaven by Emily Hayse. The first was a rewarding (if long) read, the second, probably the most piratey book I've ever read, and the third, a familiar high fantasy tale about a young queen who suddenly finds herself leading a war between two countries.
If you like thoughtful books, this month's list is for you!
My rating: ★★★★
Little Dorrit is chock full of everything that makes a Dickens novel a Dickens novel. Witty (albeit lengthy) prose, vivid characters, the intricate plot of his later works, sharp satire, an unflinching portrayal of the lowest rungs of society, and a wry sense of humor. In short, it delivered everything I’ve come to know and love about his writing.
The title character, Little Dorrit, (otherwise known as Amy), is a beautiful example of a strong, morally upright female character that doesn’t come across as a goody-two-shoes. She wasn’t loud, and she showed her fear, but she spent the first twenty or so years of her quiet existence tirelessly waiting on the family that never knew what they had. She was the glue that held them all together. Her father, captive in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison, couldn’t take care of himself—Little Dorrit did. Her brother couldn’t hold down a job, but she never stopped trying to find him new ones. Her sister was loud, impetuous, and ungrateful, but Little Dorrit was the anchor that kept her from drifting too far on the stormy seas of life. She even worked for her living as a seamstress, and never considered it a shameful thing, even if the rest of her family did.
Arthur Clennam, on the other hand, had known a very different upbringing from the Child of the Marshalsea. He grew up in mortal terror of a God that would send small boys to eternal Damnation, with never a mention of the merciful Father of the fatherless, the Friend to the weak, the Healer of hurts. God is a just God, but He is also not willing that any should perish. Mrs. Clennam’s religion missed the latter part. Because of all this, he grew into a saddened and disillusioned man that thought he was beyond all happiness in this life. He had a good heart on the whole, but his mother’s own dark view of the world (and by result Arthur’s), stood in stark contrast to the quiet faith shown by Little Dorrit.
But the two main characters were far from the only well developed ones! It took me quite a while to read this book, but it never took me long to remember a character that has been out of the running for a while, because Dickens always made sure there was something memorable about them. Flora couldn’t finish a single sentence without starting a brand-new thought. Mr. Pancks bore a remarkable resemblance to a steam tugboat. Riguad was always easy to pick out of a crowd because when he smiled, his nose always came down over his mustache, and his mustache always went up under his nose. Dickens gave each and every character some small quirk, which made them unique.
The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because it didn’t quite swallow me up—I cared about the characters, but it was missing that indefinable something that makes a book “unputdownable”—and when a book misses that, and is also really long, it can drag a bit. Stylistically, the book was perfection... I just never fell head-over-heels in love with it. Content includes a smattering of language, drinking, a suicide, and implied domestic abuse, but that’s about it.
In closing, Little Dorrit tells a story of contrasts. Freedom vs. imprisonment, the rich vs. the poor, the folly of putting faith in appearances, and discovering, (for better or worse), what those appearances hide. Little Dorrit must have been groundbreaking at the time it was written, and even today it’s a breath of fresh air. Just because everyone does it, or “it is what it is,” or even looks right doesn’t mean it is right, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.
Today is a great day. "Why?" you ask. Because I get to present to you one of the best books I've read this year: The Electrical Menagerie, by Mollie E. Reeder. This book is one wild ride from beginning to end, and absolutely impossible to put down! To celebrate its release (which is today!) I've invited over the two main characters and their author for an interview. (But shhh, don't tell Carthage and Huxley about Mollie—they have no idea they're in a book. *wink wink*) After that, you can find my review of The Electrical Menagerie. Trust me, you don't want to miss out on this one!
The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt.
Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively — but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially — but none of the scruples.
To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, The Electrical Menagerie's bid at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians — but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize.
Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide… and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.
1.) Hello, Carthage and Huxley, and welcome! We're excited to have the producers of The Electrical Menagerie here today. Would you mind introducing yourselves?
Huxley: I’m A.Q. Huxley, producer and stage manager. My colleague, Mr. Sylvester Carthage.
Carthage: I’m the illusionist and the engineer — I built everything you see in the show.
Huxley: My wheelhouse is whatever you don’t see in the show. Location permits. Insurance. Credit rating. You know. The glamorous stuff. No autographs, please.
2.) What's it like, producing The Electrical Menagerie?
Carthage: Invigorating… exhausting.
Huxley: An adventure.
Carthage: Aye, the kind of adventure I dreamed about when I was a boy. Traveling the skies aboard a train. New faces and new places every day. Seeing the world.
Huxley: I’ll admit that living aboard the train has taken some adjustment. I grew up on acreage. It feels strange opening my window to nothing but stars. There are days when I miss good old terra firma. But I wouldn’t trade this life.
3.) Carthage, how do you feel about working with Huxley as a business partner? Does he make a good one?
Carthage: Mr. Huxley is… brazen. He does things differently than I would do them. But I confess his audacity is catching. He has a way of talking that I don’t have — I’m glad I don’t have to do all the talking.
4.) Well Huxley, how do you feel about working with Carthage as a business partner? (We have to make things fair and even here, even if there are rumors of contest sabotage going around.)
Huxley: He’s right, we have different ways of doing things. Mr. Carthage is an enigma; I usually have no idea what he’ll do next. Yesterday, he pulled an electrical rabbit out of his hat at the breakfast table. I almost choked on my toast. He laughed about it for half an hour.
5.) To wrap it up, how good do you think your chances are at winning the contest?
Carthage: I will stand onstage at the palace on Celestia. Some part of me has known that forever. With willpower, and ingenuity, The Electrical Menagerie will make it all the way to the end.
Huxley: And he calls me audacious? But he’s right. This contest won’t be easy — look at our competitors! But we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could win. And we aren’t concerned about that so-called “sabotage” you mentioned. I’m sure there’s no grand conspiracy lurking around the corner. This is a talent show. What’s the worst that could happen?
If April was an extremely productive reading month, May was average. I only finished three books, despite the fact that, (or maybe because of), I was also reading Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens the whole time. And so, I bring to you three reviews: one for the Phoenix Fiction Anthology (a collection of short stories by four awesome independent authors), one for Dissociate (the third book in a powerful ongoing series), and one for Where the Woods Grow Wild (Author Book Club's May read, and the first indie book I ever read, and re-read).
The independent author community is strong with this post. If you're looking for recommendations towards that end, look no further.
Phoenix Fiction Anthology
Kyle Robert Shultz, J.E. Purrazzi, E.B. Dawson, Beth Wangler
My rating: ★★★★
Kyle Robert Shultz
First up in the Phoenix Fiction Anthology is a retelling of the minotaur-and-labyrinth myth from Greek mythology. It’s carried off with Shultz’s characteristic sense of humor and imagination, but some of the mythological elements came off a little too strong for me. For example the gods and goddesses were explained to be very much human (if immortal), but their behavior didn’t stray far from their original mythological counterparts. Still, it was a light-hearted beginning to the anthology, and I enjoyed getting inside the head of a minotaur for the first time in my life. xD
Our next stop is a wildly creative take on futuristic Japan. Stealing Life is probably the most intense one out of the four, but I enjoyed it. There’s just something about Purrazzi’s writing that’s like watching a movie in your head, and this short story is no exception. Personally, I found it a little creepy, but in a good way. It centers around people doing things with science that they never should have, and asks serious questions about life and death.
I’d been looking forward to reading this one for a while, and was not disappointed! It’s a dystopian adventure told through multiple POVs, following one man’s journey to the realization that he’s been fighting the wrong war all along. Each of the POV characters were unique, and I found myself chuckling more than once while reading the descriptions of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. (After all, don’t we all know people like that?) And even though the story wrapped up nicely, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing more of Caleb Weiss in the future. :P
The Lake of Living Water
Last up is an imaginative retelling of the Biblical account of the Fall, in a fictional universe. I loved the comfortable form of narration, as if the main character was telling you the story themselves. I think it takes real talent to make a perfect world interesting—and Wangler pulled it off. The synopsis says it’ll leave you feeling hopeful and refreshed, and it does. The Fall was not the end. One day Aia shall repair what was rent.
April was an extremely productive reading month for me. I don't know whether it was my Goodreads challenge saying I was [gasp] one book behind schedule after spending a month on Les Mis, or the fact that some of these are short stories, but at the end of it I had too many reads to fit into one blog graphic. The five on the picture above are only the full-length novels I read. In addition to Messenger, North and South, Son, Little Women, and The Electrical Menagerie, I also read Arbrook Huxley and the Star-Crossed Lovers, and The Lady of Thorns, both of which being short stories, are available for free by signing up for their authors' respective newsletters.
My rating: ★★★★
Odd as it is, I feel like Messenger did a better job of hearkening back to The Giver than Gathering Blue, merely by putting us inside the head of another likeable male protagonist. Matty, (Matt, in the previous book), is almost all grown up now, but beginning to discover something about himself that frightens him. Something that he doesn’t understand—something that could potentially effect great change in his world.
Other than that, Messenger’s plot follows an entirely different trajectory than that of its predecessors. In the previous two books things were bad, and things that seemed good were not really very good at all. There’s a growing sense of unease—a dull horror that things are not what they seem—building up to a better ending. With Messenger, things start out just the way they should. Life is good in the Village. People share, and don’t discriminate between others just because they’re disabled in some way or another. From there, it gradually travels downhill. The mysterious Trade Mart has people trading away their inner selves and becoming selfish, and only receiving silly stuff in return, like velvet-covered furniture, an improved complexion, or an old slot machine that spits out candy. But what can be done about it? Trades are forever. That's where Matty comes in.
Matty is like Jonas in a lot of ways. He’s just beginning to grow up, and realize that there is more to the world than meets the eye. He’s good-hearted, and willing to sacrifice himself for others if necessary. He’s even beginning to experience the stirring of new power within himself, just like Jonas—Jonas could “see beyond,” The Giver could “hear beyond,” and Matty—well, he can fix a frog. (His words, not mine, folks.) He can heal things just by touch. His old friend Kira has the almost supernatural gift for weaving, and Thomas for carving. Matty can heal.
That healing power makes the climax of this book spectacular, and I’ll leave it at that. I noticed that it is a little brief this read-through, but it utterly wrecked me the first time I read it. Prepare yourself for feels—that’s all I have to say. :P
If you liked The Giver, I think you'll like Messenger. As always, Lowry builds the suspense until the very end, and leaves me wanting more.
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!