Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling


Every couple of years, I find myself in the mood once more to read the Harry Potter series. The story never gets old; it’s earned itself a special place in my heart.

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stoneI think people are still drawn to these books because they feel like home. When thousands of people gather to read a story, it creates a sense of belonging which doesn’t fade when we finish the series. I think that’s the reason why Harry Potter will never die.

These books lack the elaborate description to which I am normally drawn, but that is not a weakness. We must take into account factors such as the age of the targeted audience. It surprises me a little that I enjoyed it, being a person who prefers old books with long paragraphs, but I then realize there’s more to a good story than flowery writing. J.K. Rowling is a master at writing action that keeps us turning the page, and I appreciate that, by not over-describing, she gave us room to imagine.

As for the story, I don’t think much description is necessary, however here is a loose overview:

Ten-year-old Harry Potter lives a miserable life with his aunt, uncle and cousin, the Dursleys. This family take pride in being perfectly normal and respectable, unlike Harry, who has nothing in common with them at all. He is not normal; strange things happen when he feels threatened or upset. For example, one time Harry jumped onto the roof of his school, when all he’d wanted was to dive behind a trash can.

The worst of his mishaps comes to pass on his cousin Dudley’s birthday. During a trip to the zoo, Harry Potter finds he can talk to snakes. Then, when his cousin Dudley pushes him, Harry–in a flash of anger–causes the glass case to vanish, setting the python free. Though unable to explain how he did this, Harry is punished for it, locked in his cupboard under the stairs for days.

Just when he is convinced that he will never have any friends, a letter arrives in the mail for him. Uncle Vernon does not let him read it, though apparently he knows who it’s from, because it sends him into a panic. It doesn’t end there: soon dozens of letters begin to arrive, identical to the first. Then hundreds come pouring through the chimney and all the crevices along the windows. These letters can find Harry wherever he happens to be, whether under the stairs or at a hotel.

Driven mad by paranoia, Uncle Vernon moves his family to a desolate island. At last he is certain no one will be able to find them, but he is wrong. While on the island, the clock strikes midnight on Harry’s eleventh birthday–which, of course, the Dursleys haven’t celebrated–but he is about to receive the ultimate gift, that which loyal readers long to receive, even after we’ve grown old.

On his eleventh birthday, Harry Potter meets Hagrid, the gentle giant, who breaks into that island shack and hands him a letter like those Uncle Vernon had been hiding. In the letter, Harry Potter discovers that he is a wizard, a famous one at that. Most of all, he discovers that he has a home away from these unkind people, a place where he will belong.

Though we readers will never receive our letters from Hogwarts, dedicated fans will always feel like witches and wizards. This is the belonging: we might have nothing else in common, but our love for Harry’s story will bring us together for a very long time, perhaps for life.

Have you read the Harry Potter books? What House were you Sorted in? I am a Ravenclaw!

Advertisements

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola


The Belly of Paris is a unique, fast-paced novel about justice, revolution, and hunger. It is the third book in a 20-part series titled Les Rougon-Macqyart. The series examines two branches of a family: the respectable (legitimate) side, and the disreputable (illegitimate.)

The third installment follows Florent Quenu, a French convict who escaped exile in French Guiana after six years of imprisonment due to a false accusation. The novel opens with a scene after his return to Paris; in the scene, his unconscious body is found on a road by a merchant on her way to a marketplace called Les Halles.

61bziDAYLCL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_At once we feel pity for this man who is broken and lost in the world. He spends a great deal of time reminiscing on his horrific escape and the journey back home. Only when he acquires a job and independence does he find his personality, and in it we see how anger has blackened his heart. He wants to revolt against the government.

Quoting a paragraph from the novel, Florent is convinced that “it was his calling to avenge his thinness against this city that had grown fat while those who defended justice starved in exile, he was a self-appointed avenger, and he dreamed of rising up, right in Les Halles, and crushing this regime of drunks and gluttons.”

To understand Florent’s political motives, it is necessary to know about the author. Emile Zola was a major figure in the political liberalization of France. His views led him to become a controversial man, especially after the publication of his political article, J’acusse. The article called for exoneration of the falsely accused army officer Alfred Dreyfus. Following the backlash, Zola was persecuted for libel; he was forced to escape to England to avoid imprisonment.

The oddest thing about The Belly of Paris is its description. Zola can make the gloomiest scenes comical with his descriptions of food. Vegetables, cheese, beef–all are used to set the mood for good times and bad. What a character eats is a major element in describing their personalities–class and wealth are shown by whether they eat fresh sausage and cheese for dinner, or are forced to beg for leftovers.

The beautiful fruits were on display, delicately arranged with the roundness of their cheeks, half-hidden in the baskets like faces of beautiful children, partly concealed by leaves. The peaches were especially beautiful, peaches from Montreuil with clear, soft skin like northern girls’ and yellow sunburned peaches from the Midi, tanned like Provençal women. The apricots lying in moss had the amber glow of sunset shining on dark-haired girls.

Zola wanted to write a novel where the city of Paris herself was a character; in this book, he did a fantastic job. With poignant characters and backstories, he plays with readers’ emotions, blurring the line between right and wrong. One day I hope to read all twenty books and see the character of Paris as seen by one of the boldest authors of his time.

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust


kruse_swanns_wayOccasionally we find books so beautifully written that it seems the style, not the plot, keeps us turning pages.

Though translated from its original French, Swann’s Way did not lose its beauty in the process: every sentence reads like a verse from an old, nostalgic poem. As an example:

Meanwhile the scenery of his dream-stage scattered in dust, he opened his eyes, heard for the last time the boom of a wave in the sea, grown very distant. He touched his cheek. It was dry. And yet he could feel the sting of the cold spray, and the taste of salt on his lips.

That’s not to say the plot was dull–I only mean that I was entranced by the scenes, described in such a way that they drifted before me like dreams. Of the plot, I can say it’s unique in its depth, two points of view cleverly blended.

The two points of view seem as though they shouldn’t have anything in common. In Swann’s Way, the first scenes focus on young Marcel, loosely based on the author himself. This fact adds another layer of mystery. We want to get to know the author, and we wonder what traits he shared with his characters.

Marcel, the character, opens the novel with flashbacks to powerful moments in his childhood. It’s a sad, anxiety-ridden childhood; his fears plague him to a point where he cannot sleep if his mother doesn’t go upstairs to give him a kiss good-night. These kisses become ritual, seldom broken except for when the wealthy Charles Swann comes to visit.

Swann is the second main character. He is a wealthy stockbroker, friends with many important figures in Parisian society, and also controversial because of his marriage to a woman named Odette. Their courtship is a mark on his name forever, a favorite topic of Marcel’s grandparents to discuss when he is not around. His passages in the novel follow that tumultuous time.

We see his admiration for Odette become an obsession, then morph into anguish when she doesn’t reciprocate his love. When Odette distances herself from Swann, he begins to hate her as much as he wants her. Though he once thought her beautiful, he now loathes even her appearance. He fantasizes of a life without her, yet sends friends to stalk her and report her daily activities.

This jealousy is a trap for him as well as for Odette. This is where the story ripples like a reflection on water: as a reader, I didn’t like Charles Swann, but couldn’t bring myself to hate him. I knew he would never be happy, and I read many scenes with a grimace.

Swann and Odette eventually marry and have a daughter named Gilberte. Young Marcel falls for Gilberte in a manner similar to Swann’s obsession with Odette; it is here that their two stories become linked in an intriguing parallel.

Proust wrote this book in a way that he managed to manipulate time, much in the way painters mix color blends that tell stories; if we allow ourselves to soak in the sentences, we feel each emotion until the end.

This book may not be for everyone, because it is a rather heavy read, and a long one. It requires great patience–I found that speed-reading would not do, and forced myself to slow down so I could taste each word. If we miss one phrase, the enchantment does not grip us.

It is ideal for readers who like heavier stories, and those who soak in poetic writing. Swann’s Way will leave marks with the characters’ strong conflicts; there are certain scenes in which my heart will lurk forever.

I know I will read this book again one day.

If you would like to read Swann’s Way, it’s available for download here at Gutenberg! Have you already read the book? What are your thoughts on it?

The Autumn Prince Returns


In October of 2015, I released a serial on my blog called The Autumn Prince.

It became more popular than I had anticipated; one reader called it the “highlight of her month,” and I am still humbled by that. The following year it was adapted into a short story for the Crows on Heartstrings anthology, where it shines among dozens of beautiful tales and drawings.

After the release of Crows on Heartstrings, different projects related to my Fallen Faery Tales series distracted me from The Autumn Prince. It managed to slip my mind for a long time, until now.

When the serial finished on Halloween of 2015, the story just wouldn’t get out of my head! I wrote it again as a novel that November because the characters and ideas were still so vivid.

A week ago, a friend encouraged me to find that draft and read it again. I couldn’t believe I had written it! I found myself wanting to know what happens next. So The Autumn Prince is back.

This April I’m working on edits for The Autumn Prince. My plan is to have it shine by the end of the year so I can query it in the winter. For this book, I am going to seek traditional publishing. The Autumn Prince has a different feel from Dissonance and Serenade; it wants to take the different road.

It wants to hit bookstore shelves. It wants to be your autumn read. For that, I need to work on it.

If you enjoyed The Autumn Prince when it was a serial on my blog, I hope you’ll like it all the more as a full-length novel. I’m surprised at how well I did adapting it into a book; it may have been a first draft, but it didn’t make me cringe!

I enjoyed reading it, and being the author, that’s saying something. I hope and pray you will enjoy it too.

Of Ghosts and Old Doorbells


The old doorbell had been silent for over twenty years. After this house was abandoned, people eventually stopped coming to visit, or even to try and sell things. It had been so long, in fact, that the ghosts started to assume it was too rusty to ever make another sound.

Three generations of ghosts dwelled in the old house; they drifted lazily up and down the stairs, reenacted balls in the parlor, had the same conversations that had echoed in the halls for hundreds of years. They spoke of wars long finished and weddings whose couples had long been buried together.

In the midst of this nostalgic echo, this perpetual sigh, the doorbell rang. It was really just an old bell situated somewhere by the front door; someone outside rang, and a string caused it to rattle. It wasn’t the loudest sound, and it hadn’t been touched with the greatest strength—the noise it made was indeed feeble—but when that doorbell rang, everything stopped.

The ladies dressed in ballgowns stopped their repetitive gossip to look at the door, wide-eyed. The butler, who had long run out of things to do, stopped mid-pace with his hands clasped behind his back. The scullery maid got to her feet, bouncing; an old greyhound who rested by the chilly fireplace lifted his head, whining.

“Visitors!” cried one of the ladies, fanning herself (in vain, because she could not produce any air with a ghost fan.) “I do miss playing the piano!”

“Stop it, Dinah,” said her companion with a deep, dramatic sigh; “you know as well as I that we cannot touch anything. Not even the door.”

Dinah played with a lock of her long blonde hair; it had come out of her elaborate knot, somehow, over the course of her years being dead. “Then who’s going to answer the door, Annie?”

Her companion, clearly the wiser of the two, shrugged with a regretful smile. “None of us can. We cannot touch anything.”

“But we should be polishing the silver,” said the butler, speaking for the first time in centuries. “Lighting candles. Dusting the curtains!”

“We can do nothing of the sort, Mr Brown.”

The dog whined, putting his head back on the ground, nose twitching as if struggling to hold back real tears.

The doorbell rang again, a bit more loudly this time. The ghosts stared at the bell as it rattled into silence, some hugging themselves, some breathing heavily, all knowing perfectly well that they could do nothing about it; they had no physical hands with which to open the door for them, no real voices with which to greet them or sing happy music.

“Then what did we get from any of this?” asked the maid sadly, sitting back down on the ground and crossing her legs as they listened to gravel crunch—their visitor was walking away, having realized no one was home to answer them.

Annie paused, gazing at the bell as she forced herself to think, really think, for the first time in a while. “It woke us up, Dinah. I think that’s good enough. It woke us up.”

With that, she took a step back and crossed to the other side of the room, where she lifted her chin and stood with her shoulders back.

“And I propose,” she continued, “a change. Shall we spend the next twenty years in this corner, rather than that one?”

Dinah watched Annie with a quaint frown. At last she shrugged, seeing as there was nothing for her to lose anyway; she crossed the room as well, while the baffled Mr Brown watched, himself reluctant to do anything differently from how it had been done a century ago. “I say,” she exclaimed, “it’s sunnier in this corner.”

The dog got up and crossed the room after her, where he sat down at her feet in the exact same position to listen. Annie smiled, taking Dinah’s fan and using it herself—it was her turn, after all.

“Now, then,” she said to her friend, as the other ghosts slowly began to shift position until the next person rang the doorbell, “tell me about your wedding plans.”

3 Reasons Why We Need Dreamers


It’s recently come to my attention that I am too much of a dreamer…and I don’t want to change.

These aren’t the sorts of dreams with a set goal at the end of the tunnel. When your chosen career is storytelling, it’s easy to forget the ‘rules’ and stand out even in your own crowd. For example, if you blog about books and are passionate about classics rather than trending novels, you aren’t going to review books like other readers.

You’re a dreamer. You’re different. You’re facing a challenge similar to mine.

I’ve been told multiple times to “wake up,” which implies there’s no place in the world for dreamers like me to splash some color here and there. I’m not growing out of this – I’ll always be a child at heart. And recently, I’ve decided to embrace it.

I’m not apologizing anymore for being a dreamer, and here are three reasons why you shouldn’t, either–three reasons why the world needs people who don’t conform to the standards of what is ‘right.’

We need dreamers because growing up can be toxic. It’s important to be more mature, of course, and learn to handle things in a manner befitting of your age–but when this proper behavior puts out the light of enchantment, the world becomes a dim place.

People want to be reminded of the freedom of childhood. Even when it seems you’re being mocked because you’re different, trust me, your fresh outlook on the world is helping someone now far more than you think.

We need dreamers to break the rules. Already in the world of blogging we see dreamers and creatives making a comeback, showing that it’s acceptable–if not necessary–to break the rules for success. And I might add that, with the Internet, we are free to be ourselves, unconventional though we may be.

We need dreamers to make art. Where language is a barrier, art will get the message across. A picture can mean the same thing to two people who have nothing in common–or it might mean something completely different! Without dreamers and the artists to create pieces that speak universally, what would our world look like?

Of course, not all dreamers are the same. Not everyone who makes art will be engrossed by tales of faeries, obsessed with glitter and small animals (like me, heh heh.) The point of this post is that it’s fine to be different, and you shouldn’t allow people to bring you down or prevent you from expressing yourself

You might be a more organized dreamer than I am. You might specialize in painting while I write novels. You might love pop music while I prefer indie–you might find enchantment in black and white, while lately I’m obsessed with pastels.

It’s okay. Be yourself.

This year I’m going to stop apologizing for being a little different, and I choose to be grateful for it instead. Embrace your unique personality and see how it affects your career and life.

If you’ve been put down for breaking the rules, I hope this year you’ll find the courage to accept who you are–unique and capable of true magic.

Into the Enchanted Forest


bluelady

You’ve lost yourself in a daydream again.

The paths of your wondering have led to the greenest forest you’ve ever seen – even colors appear bolder in this place. There is a breeze but it’s not unpleasant; branches are thick, yet you don’t fear what you will find here.

You’ve been walking for quite a while before you notice them – little lights in the bushes. They’re like fireflies, hiding when you squint to get a better look. Though fleeting, they’re impossible to ignore once you’ve spotted them, much like magic or love.

You ponder: is this what it would be like if the stars tumbled down to float among trees? They may be closer, but they’re no easier to touch. Instinct whispers that they will vanish if you try disturbing them.

Not wanting to scare off the magic, you continue on your way. Flashing a little smile, you wander deeper into this enchanted forest, planning to get lost in more daydreams from now on.

Book Review: Wendy Darling – Stars by Colleen Oakes


25175898

I am fascinated by retellings of classic novels! Some stories are so beloved that they capture imaginations for years, never losing their magic. Often these retellings can be shallow and unoriginal, but Wendy Darling: Stars did not disappoint.

It’s the story of Peter Pan told from Wendy’s point of view, and though it’s been a few years since I read the original book, this version was lovely to read. I enjoyed the care placed in each relationship. Conflicts were added to make characters realistic and believable; even though they’ve been written before, they were pleasantly original here.

No one was perfect in this book. Wendy’s brothers all had flaws, and even her father, though overall kind, still valued the family reputation over her happiness. He won’t approve of Wendy’s relationship with a young bookseller named Booth, and that disagreement creates a chasm between them, one we could feel—because they’d gotten along well before that. There is a scene where she and Mr. Darling are looking at the sky, looking for the second star to the right, and it was so cute that I was sad when they fell apart.

Peter Pan in this novel is more human than in other retellings. His crush on Wendy makes him more than a boy who won’t grow up; here he’s a young man afraid to face reality. There were scenes where he was kind to Wendy, and others where he lost his mind. There were times when he was considerate of others, and dark moments when he thought little about killing. Like Wendy, he’s older and makes decisions that are fitting for his age.

I also liked that the book was well-written. The author put thought into plot and location, and the writing was poetic. This novel took me through the streets of London; I flew in the skies of Neverland, swam with dark mermaids, and stole from pirates.

This book is ideal for people who loved Peter Pan. It made me sad for Wendy and Booth, made me curious about Peter, and took me to a world where lost people never grow up. I can’t wait to read the next one.

The Blue Lady, Part II


bluelady

The wind appeared to whisper words as Lady Evelyn walked up a familiar cobblestone road. Her destination was in sight, the home where she’d grown up. Light spilled through one of the windows; she remembered it had been the parlor where her father used to sit and read.

It had been years since she came here, but she could not bring herself to feel more than deja vu. Little excited her these days. Hopefully in this familiar place, she would find puzzles to pass the time.

It was a handsome house with red shutters. Two rocking chairs sat abandoned on a frosty deck. Though candles had been placed on the windowsills in form of protection, she was not a dark entity to be scared off by superstition.

She slipped through the door with no great effort and looked up at a familiar crystal chandelier; to her right, a winding staircase inched to the second floor. Her feet made no sound as she made her way to her father’s parlor.

Inside, two people spoke in quiet voices. The first was a child. “What a cold night, Grandfather.”

“I know, Abigail.” There was a sigh. “The fire should warm you soon enough.”

Evelyn peered into the parlor, where the fireplace had indeed been lit. She saw by its glow that two armchairs had been occupied, one by a girl of eight or nine. Across from her, a feeble old man hugged himself against the draft.

There was sadness in their eyes. It was strong enough to shock a ghost.

Her wandering eyes stopped on a portrait hanging over the mantle. It was a painting of herself at the age of sixteen, three years before she breathed her last. She’d been in the forest for so long that her own face startled her.

In the painting her dark hair was braided, woven into the same style she wore now. Her blue eyes peered from the depths of the painting, an uncanny likeness. She wore a blue dress much like the one she’d been buried in.

Abigail spoke, voice oddly hushed. “It always feels like that painting is watching me, Grandfather.”

Evelyn wondered if her presence could be sensed by the living in this house.

“Souls often haunt objects. It lets them catch a glimpse of the living.”

“Will you tell me how she died?” asked the girl.

“It’s a grim story, dear.”

“I’m old enough.”

There was a long pause, and he sighed. “Very well. I don’t like how your mother protects you from everything.” He looked into the fire for a moment, reminiscing. Then he clasped his hands and began.

“Eighty years ago, the city was struck by a plague.”

To Be Continued…

Book Review: The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton


faerie-ring-cover-final

The Faerie Ring follows the story of a pickpocket named Tiki. She lives with several other homeless children in Victorian London; together they make a family, looking out for each other when things get rough.

When the youngest child, Clara, falls ill with consumption, they find themselves facing a huge hospital bill. It’s more than they could steal in the time given them. Just when it seems hopeless, Tiki finds a bizarre stroke of luck and seizes it.

She manages to steal one of the queen’s rings. The reward for it is enough to pay for Clara’s medical bills, and even to make sure her little family has a decent home. The challenge is finding a way to trade it in without being caught and arrested.

But it won’t be simple. The ring is not just a bit of jewelry; it represents a truce made long ago between the Faerie court and English royalty. Some faeries will do anything to destroy the ring and what it represents, putting Tiki and her family in danger.

Even though I liked this book, it needed work. The writing could have been tightened up. If not for the several errors I spotted while reading, it would have been one of my favorite faerie stories.

I enjoyed the setting, but I wish the author had elaborated more. There wasn’t much detail for me to explore the streets of London, which sometimes made the story feel flat and a little too straightforward.

Despite it all, The Faerie Ring was a fun read. From the beginning, I wanted Tiki to be successful so she could keep her little family together. I’m going to give the next book a try soon.