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.
1 a : good name or public esteem : reputation
b : a showing of usually merited respect : recognition : pay honor to our founder
2 : privilege: had the honor of joining the captain for dinner
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, honor can be defined as a good name, the act of showing respect, or simply a privilege—a privilege to serve, or to be in the presence of someone greater than oneself.
If you’ve seen my blog post My Writing Testimony, you’ll know that I haven’t always honored God with my writing. For a long time I was in denial—I didn’t think that God could possibly use me—which is of course complete and utter nonsense. God can do whatever He wants. Still, I was a little selfish. I wanted to hang on to the gift He’d given me a little bit longer, and write the stories that I wanted to write. Besides, adding my faith into an already personal thing scared me.
What I didn’t know then was the fact that God has given us our gifts for a reason, and that reason is always to serve Him. He’s the author and finisher of our faith, and as such He always has and always will be the best storyteller in the universe. On the day that Jesus rose from the grave He gave us the biggest plot twist in the history of plot twists. Because of that, I want my pen to mirror whatever poor reflection of His glory that it can.
I have to apologize for the late post. I should've planned ahead a bit better, but as it was, the alignment of holidays really did my blogging schedule in. (No one would have taken it seriously if I posted it yesterday, anyway.) :P As usual, March brought its share of awesome reads my way. Love's Labour's Won and Discover are both short stories available for free through their authors' respective newsletters, Les Misérables was a beautiful but soul-crushing experience that quickly became one of my new favorites, and Gathering Blue was a re-read as I begin to revisit one amazing series.
Love's Labour's Won
Kyle Robert Shultz
My rating: ★★★★
One of the best things about anything Shultz writes is the wonderful sense of humor, and Love’s Labour’s Won is no exception. It stares sickly-sweet love tropes straight in the face, and while making subtle fun of them, Cordelia delivered a truth bomb during the climax that pulled it all together beautifully. (Cordelia, by the way, is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy heroines ever.) xD In short, Love’s Labour’s Won delivered the characteristic Beaumont and Beasley goodness we’ve all come to know and love.
My rating: ★★★★
Well that was adorable. I’m a sucker for sweet love stories, and this one delivered, let me tell you. *dies of cuteness* It tells the story of how Maggie and Ethan met—two characters that will be familiar if you’ve read any of the other Allegiance books. Stories like these are so refreshing in a world where lust gets labeled love so often. Ethan loves Maggie for who she is, and Maggie loves Ethan for who he is, end of story. I also liked getting to know a little more about Ethan’s past! I already knew some of Maggie’s, but this short story colored in Ethan’s character a little more vividly.
All in all, Discover is a quick read, a sweet read, and a worthy addition to the world introduced with the rest of the Allegiance series. ^_^
While deciding on the topic for my next blog post, I realized that it had been quite a while since I did one for writing prompts. We writers are always looking for ideas, so I thought I'd add a fifth installation to the ongoing series. After all, there's nothing like a good writing prompt to spark the imagination!
The following prompts are a little wacky, a little weird, and a few even turn cliches on their heads. They also cross several potential genres. Enjoy!
Writing Prompt #2
“I am small but mighty.”
“Yeah okay, mmm-hmm. I’d be more inclined to believe that if you hadn’t just run from the toaster.”
February was another awesome reading month! I finished The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, as well as The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo, Dissemble by Sarah Addison-Fox, and read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for #AuthorBookClub on Twitter. As usual, it was a pleasant mix of the old with the new. If you haven't checked out any of these authors yet, do! Twain and Dickens have stood the test of time for their wit, while Allison and Sarah are bringing new life to the independent writing scene.
The Pickwick Papers
My rating: ★★★
[Minor spoilers ahead.]
In all honesty, this is a hard book both to rate, and to review! It had some truly wonderful moments, but it also had a lot of slow and “meh” moments too. (Although even the “meh” was carried off with characteristic Dickens wit, which made even that not seem too terrible.)
Being that this is my first experience with the work of a much younger Dickens, I was impressed with how closely it resembled his later writings, albeit with more humor and more rambling with less point. The beginning of The Pickwick Papers sort of reminded me of A Tale of Two Cities, since it was a bunch of seemingly random scenes thrown together, but unlike A Tale of Two Cities, most of them remained just that… random. (Although it’s important to take into consideration the fact that this was serialized in a newspaper, and therefore reading it all at once is an entirely different experience than that had by the original readers.)
The latter half of the book was better thought-out, however, and was altogether more satisfying, and there was even a point at about the three-quarters mark that I thought I’d have to rate it four stars instead of three if it kept up its wonderfulness to the end. Unfortunately, it didn’t. [Here come the minor spoilers!] The part I’m speaking of was when Mr. Pickwick found himself landed in a Debtor’s Prison. Charles Dickens knew something about this subject, since his father was arrested and sent to one when he was 12, and it shows in the heart put into those chapters. They were the most serious in the entire book, and beautiful in a horrible and sad kind of way.
And Sam. Can we just talk about Sam Weller for a minute? He was Mr. Pickwick’s servant for most of the book, but I have officially come to the conclusion that all the best sidekicks are named Sam. He was a young man, but had a good head of rock-solid common sense, and a funny mode of speech that he inherited from his father, full of halfway macabre anecdotes and hilarious sayings. I can’t say that Mr. Pickwick, like Frodo, wouldn’t have got far without Sam, but he was close. Sam’s most shining moment was when he followed Mr. Pickwick to prison and indebted himself so that Mr. Pickwick couldn’t tell him to leave. They were both there by choice, and though Mr. Pickwick was an older man, Sam still had his whole life ahead of him—yet he chose to stay with “the governor.”
The reason I gave it three stars, however, is that it may have been awesome in serialized segments, but all at once it seems a bit fragmented and rambles a lot. Now, obviously, I don’t mind a little rambling, since I usually love Dickens, but rambling without a purpose is annoying. I also have my doubts as to whether anyone knew what the meaning of a non-alcoholic drink was (except for the ladies, who drank tea only to "lay the foundation" for spirits, as Mr. Weller senior put it), since there was a ridiculous amount of drinking in this book, a lot of d--ning, as well as kissing without being married or even engaged, several mentions of unfaithfulness, and a couple awkward scrapes with a man and a woman (one of which lands Mr. Pickwick in the Debtor’s Prison, because he loses in the court and refuses to pay up because he knows he’s innocent.)
On the other hand, however, I will now know what the March girls were thinking of when they decided to make up their own Pickwick Club in Little Women. (I love it when classics recommend other classics, don’t you?) :P It’s a book that leaves you feeling as if you’ve traveled a long way with Mr. Pickwick and Co., and drops you gently off with a satisfying but practical happily-ever-after sort of ending.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! This year I thought I'd jump in among all the romance novels going on sale and offer three non-romancy books for free by way of variety. (Because who doesn't love epic journeys to northern mountains to find freedom and hope any time of the year??)
Thus, I give you Branwen's Quest, Finding Hope, and Journey to Freedom (numbers 1, 4, and 8 in the Warriors of Aralan series, respectively). "Well that's great, I'll just skip all over the series," you grumble. Yes... yes, you will. And that's fine, because each of them is a sort of beginning in the series, and can be read without reading any of the previous ones. They'll only be free for three days though, (February 16th-18th), so have at it! (And when you do read them, be a good egg and leave a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads. They mean the world to indie authors like myself!)
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 #8)
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.
I tend to read a lot of classics, as well as new-and-awesome independent authors, and January has been no exception. Christmas brought some more Jane Austen into my life, which I couldn't resist, and Disowned by Sarah Addison-Fox had been on my radar for a while, so it's safe to say January's reading material was great. If you like books that are quieter and not so action-packed, these might be for you!
My rating: ★★★★
Emma is a very solid four-star read for me. Austen has a way of bringing you right into the world of her characters, and making you care about little, everyday happenings, as well as the bigger, not-so-everyday stuff… like getting married. (I mean ‘cause you know it’s going to happen, being Jane Austen and all.) :P
Previously, I’ve read two other Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. I find them to be a pleasant variation from the typical “save the world,” type things I usually read, and going back in time to the eighteen hundreds is another plus. (I kinda sorta love that time period, *cough*.) The problem with having read two Jane Austen books before, however, is the fact that by round three, they begin to become a little predictable—there always seems to be a Mr. Collins, Wickham, and Darcy, to use Pride and Prejudice terms. (I won’t say more than that for fear of spoilers, but I saw who the main character, Emma, would end up with almost from the very beginning.)
Speaking of Emma, at the start of the book she was quite the “nonsensical girl,” as Mr. Knightley once put it, almost to the point of being irritating. However, by the end she had grown a lot, as a character, and as a person. I thought that it was a refreshing arc, because Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice already had a good head of sense on her shoulders, as did Elinor from Sense and Sensibility, but Emma was more relatable because she wasn’t perfect. (Also, she had declared that she would never marry—an extraordinary thing, given the time period and the fact that she’s in a Jane Austen novel. While I don’t think either extreme of the Marry-or-not-to-Marry spectrum is good—after all, we should be after what God wants in our lives—she wasn’t so bent on upholding that declaration that couldn’t be persuaded otherwise.)
As for the other characters--Mrs. E was infuriating, Mr. Knightley by far my favorite male character, Harriet quiet and sweet, Mr. Woodhouse funny and endearing despite his obsession with health, Mr. and Mrs. Weston just the sort of lovely people you want to associate with, and Miss Bates… holy cow, that woman could talk—just to name a few.
The reason I didn’t give it four stars despite the super-satisfying ending that gave you time to enjoy it before dropping you back into the real world again, was the fact that it did drag a little at times (although that might just be my attention span to blame there), and everyone lived Happily Ever After™. I know it’s Jane Austen, but I felt like the end of Harriet’s subplot was just a little thrown in, so you wouldn’t feel too bad about Emma’s turning out all right in spite of everything.
Those are my only complaints, however. Although Pride and Prejudice still reigns as my favorite Jane Austen novel to date, this one’s a close second, and is definitely worth the read!
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 closer to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!