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  • Book Review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)

    “There is no escape if love is not there” — The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare I enjoy most books I read. But when I read a book straight through without stopping once and cannot for the life of me pull myself out of it until I’m done. . . that’s a whole new level of appreciation. The historical-fiction The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare, is one of the latter. Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit’s friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty. Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It’s not the most action-filled book, but the genre doesn’t always lend itself to be. Nevertheless, I felt like every scene had a purpose, and the flow was logical. The plot wasn’t my favorite part about this book, but it certainly gave the rest of the story a strong foundation to stand on. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Five stars. Very much five stars. The characters were all so real, which wasn’t always a comfortable feeling. Elizabeth George Speare presented her characters and showed their character arcs and struggles in such a masterful way that I was in awe. Kit, the main character, was the one I became attached to the most quickly and the strongest. Her unquenchable spirit and sly humor were a joy to read, and the layers of grief and confusion turned her into a fully rounded character who feels like a friend. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ As I mentioned above, every single scene feels like it has a reason, and the character development and relationships are so fluid that it perfectly fits C. S. Lewis’ quote of “Isn’t it funny how day to day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different?” Nevertheless, despite the subtle changes and character arcs, I never once grew bored reading this book and somehow remained fixed in Kit’s world from the first page until long after the last. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ As this is historical fiction, Elizabeth George Speare had her work cut out for her. While I can’t personally validate her setting since I haven’t done much research on the time frame, the setting felt frighteningly real at times, and it was a good reminder knowing that I could technically stop reading at any time (though the intrigue made that a little tricky). Prose—⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ While I didn’t love the prose, it did its job. Elizabeth George Speare emerged from a time when writing wasn’t necessarily as strong, and the standards writers were held against as far as prose weren’t as high. Nevertheless, the prose didn’t do anything to hinder the flow of the story; it just didn’t do much to help it. Theme— ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Kit’s determination, Nat’s faith in his friends, and Hannah’s encouragement were so wholesome and uplifting and are probably one of my favorite parts about this book, second only to the character. I’d be comfortable handing this book to a pre-teen, though I doubt many of them would be much interested. The interest level and the comparability level aren’t perfectly lined up. Conclusion The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a gem, and I read it in one day the first time and many times since. It doesn’t have the fastest of starts, but to the reader who is willing to stick through the first couple chapters and to travel along with Kit will be well-rewarded for their time. Have you ever heard of this book before? What’s your favorite part about historical fiction?

  • Book Review: Shadow (Kara Swanson)

    “Maybe, like us, Neverland was meant to grow. It was meant to bloom more beautifully and more colorful than before.” — Shadow, Kara Swanson If you’ve read the first book of this duology, Dust, then you know that the story can’t be over. There has to be more. Claire and Peter and Lily’s stories aren’t done yet. Lucky for us, Kara Swanson agreed, and the second book of the Heirs of Neverland duology, Shadow, was written. Wrapping up loose ends in books and series is a tricky business. Let’s see how Shadow did, shall we? Synopsis: Desperate to rescue Claire and the fractured Lost Boys, Peter must unravel what truly tore his dreamland apart. But with each step, he is haunted by more of his own broken memories. Not even Pan himself is what he seems. Claire Kenton is chained to a pirate ship, watching the wreckage of Neverland rocked by tempests. When she finally finds her brother, Connor is every bit as shattered as the island. Claire may have pixie dust flowing in her veins—but the light of Neverland is flickering dangerously close to going out forever. To rescue Neverland from the inescapable shadow, the boy who never grew up and the girl who grew up too fast will have to sacrifice the only thing they have left: each other. Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Shadow is even tighter of a tale than Dust. It’s shorter, but by no means is it less full of plot—the twists and turns and surprises are as well-presented—or more—than the first book. Conclusions are tricky things. I’ll confess that I wondered at times how in the world Swanson would manage to wrap up all of the loose strands she let fly in Dust and the major part of Shadow—and yet she did it magnificently. This is one ending that will not disappoint. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The Heir of Neverland characters are so vividly real, and their growth and relationships in this book were both heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. Peter’s character arc, especially, was wonderful to watch unfold. I still don’t know how I fell in love with these characters so quickly, but I did—and Shadow undid nothing of the magic Dust laid. I felt as if I had known them for years—and, in a way, through the backstory Swanson let seep through, I had. Peter’s struggles and growth in this book both hurt and made me ever so proud of him. This boy grows so much through these two books, and the Peter that emerged at the end made me beyond proud of him, especially since I had seen so many of his battles with himself that brought him to where he ended up. Claire’s arc was very different than Peter’s, and, though I didn’t resonate with it quite as much, I loved seeing Peter’s Pixie-Girl grow throughout this duology. Claire went through so much in these books, and seeing how she handled it all in the end was so wonderful. I was intrigued by the Lost Boys after reading Dust, and getting a closer look at them in Shadow was great. It hurt to watch them sometimes—they really were lost, and I could tell they were all hurting so much. These boys never had it easy in the Heirs of Neverland duology, yet their saving graces kept me silently rooting for them throughout the book. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ As I mentioned above, Shadow is shorter than Dust but by no means lacking in plot or character growth. The pacing was quick and, at times, heartbreaking. At the same time, though, I always knew what was going on, and the quick progression from plot point to plot point certainly didn’t feel rushed. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ For all of the talk about Neverland in Dust, actually seeing it in this book took my breath away. It was both broken by all the selfishness and pain and yet brimming with hope and remnants of pixie dust among the darkness. I fell in love with Neverland when I read the original Peter Pan, and Swanson’s representation of Peter’s Never Neverland didn’t disappoint. Prose —⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Swanson mastered the first-person/present tense narrative in these books, and she thrust me so quickly into Peter and Claire’s thoughts that I felt as if I was three people at once—myself and these characters. The writing craft was wonderful. Theme —⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Shadow definitely had some darker tones than Dust, but Swanson handled them with grace and a clear line between right and wrong. There’s a lot of grief and brokenness in this book, even more than in Dust, but I’d still be comfortable handing it to a pre-teen. Swanson’s strong faith in the light of Jesus Christ was clearly shown, despite Dust and Shadow not being explicitly Christian. Conclusion Reading Shadow was a blessing, even though it ached to see all the brokenness. The healing that came with it, though, was worth it. Shadow is a masterpiece, and it wrapped up the loose strands of Dust with a natural ease, although it stayed realistic and fully showed the after-effects of grief and selfishness. It took me forever to get around to reading Dust and Shadow, but once I did, I could hardly believe I had never read them before. They’re treasures, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. What was your favorite thing about Shadow? Did you like the first or second Heirs of Neverland duology better?

  • Is Reading a Waste of Time?

    The Dreamer awakens, The shadow goes by, The tale I have told you, That tale is a lie. But listen to me, Bright maiden, proud youth, The tale is a lie, What it tells is the truth. — Traditional folktale ending Many story-lovers wrestle with questions about their time spent reading. There are so many more important things I could be doing. Reading doesn’t have any immediate effect. . . am I being lazy by reading? Is it wrong to read just for pleasure? These questions are fueled by not only their own thoughts, but the voices around them. Friends. Acquaintances. Parents. Teachers. They all lead story-lovers to the same question: Is reading a waste of time? I don’t believe that for a minute. And here’s why. Cultures Changed Cultures are ever-changing. Laws are passed, revivals sparked, wars fought. . . and books read. Take a look at the following: - Uncle Tom’s Cabin. - Oliver Twist. - The Chronicles of Narnia. All of these examples are of fictional novels, and yet they have majorly shifted entire cultures. Whether that be Harriet Beecher Stowe stoking the embers of resentment against slavery. . . Or Charles Dickens pointing to the reality hidden behind poor houses and abandoned alleys. . . Or C. S. Lewis equipping generations with a love of fairy tales and a subtle understanding of how to defend their faith. . . These books changed literal cultures through fiction. And not only does reading these works give us an appreciation for how they did this, but it pulls back the curtain of history. They let us see what man was and why he changed. There’s a reason these books changed cultures - and they can change us, too. They are not a waste of time. Lives Transformed At some point, every person is convicted, challenged, and changed by a story. Maybe it’s a story that forces you to take a look at what you believe, or a character who struggles with the same things you do and yet overcomes them, or a whisper of hope in the darkest time that rings true with your own world. Whatever the case, stories can change people like little else. Writer and author Jerry Jenkins says that “There is nothing like receiving a letter from a reader that says that your book changed their life.” Stories have so much effect on our minds and our hearts. A few months ago, a friend asked a group of us—all of whom loved reading—what book, besides the Bible, had most changed our lives. We talked for what felt like hours. One of the ones I mentioned was Rilla of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery. The beautiful strength in the face of brokenness and Rilla’s resolve to “keep faith” inspired me and continue to do so every time I pick it up. There have been times, over and over and over, when my world seems to splinter beneath me. Moving continents is never easy. Having siblings stay in the hospital for weeks is never easy. Realizing that the friends I left behind won’t be there when I return is never easy. But, like Rilla, I will “keep faith”. As a friend of a friend once said, talking to a young writer, “Sometimes a story is better than a sermon. . . that’s why we need people like you.” "Sometimes a story is better than a sermon. . . that's why we need people like you." Rest Given Pleasure is not in and of itself bad. Enjoyment is not bad. Rest is not bad. And reading for pleasure or enjoyment or rest is not bad. Think about it for a moment. When we cram our days full of business and getting as much done as we can, going here, checking on that, hurrying off to do this, it wears on us. It can make us more fragile, more easily rocked by the highs and lows of our days. Putting more work in in a day actually results in less productivity. In a study from Sanford University, an economics professor found that “productivity per hour decline sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week.” In other words, working crazy hours does not result in crazy productivity. It results in crazy burnout - looks like God knew what he was doing when he created a day specifically for rest after all. There needs to be a balance, of course. I’m not saying to read from dawn to dusk and never stepping out of bed (though it’s tempting some days—all right, most days). But reading books that take on darkness in its full and yet counter it with light, that rejoice in the healing and don’t glorify evil. . . this is not bad. This is rejuvenating and refreshing and lets our mental energy seep up again, permitting us to really rest. At its core, this is good. This is so very good. Lessons Taught Tales with heroes who strive to do good, of brokenness being healed, can inspire us to do likewise. They can take our hurts, our pains, and our worries, whisper “I understand; it’s all right”, and then show us how to move on. How to learn and grow and heal. And even those stories with flawed characters, negative character arcs, and sin can show us that we are not alone. That we are not the only ones struggling - and yet they can warn us in subtle ways. They can show us what happens when we let our anger control us, when pride becomes our master, or any manner of things. I can attest to this personally. I have cried with Jess Aarons (Bridge to Terabithia) and felt his fear twist in my stomach yet learned that I don’t need to be controlled by those fears. I have crowed with Peter Pan (Dust and Shadow) and realized, bit by bit, that growing up doesn’t mean loosing who I am. I have had my world rocked with Sara Crewe (A Little Princess), yet have resolved that, though I be a princess in rags and tatters, I will be a princess on the inside. These books and countless others have taught me things I’ll never forget. So how can I call them a waste of time? From the Beginning Guys. Our Lord Jesus Himself told stories. The Parable of the Good Samaritan? A tale told over and over and over that has convicted an untold number of people—yet, in its essence, it’s fiction. The same goes for the Prodigal Son, for the Lost Sheep, for dozens of stories told that have changed lives—have changed the world—and, yet, never actually happened. The Messiah urged the people to come. He gathered them to himself to listen, and they did. So why shouldn’t we? Conclusion As the traditional folktale ending I quoted at the beginning discussed, fiction is more than true. Truth is not only facts, statistics, and how-to’s—truth is love, sacrifice, honor, courage, and all the wonderful things good fiction can show us. And, so, story-lovers, here you have it. Next time, after you complete your tasks for the day and live in reality for a bit, when the voices hiss in your ear and ask “Isn’t reading a waste of time?”. . . Close your eyes. Smile. And whisper, “No.” What do you think about my points? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so leave me a comment below!

  • Who Am I?

    Some people love me and some people hate me, but every single one of them knows me. Even you. Sometimes I carry a sword and come whirling up to them, cold and silent, slicing open wounds that will smart and sting and never completely heal. Then they shrink back, cry out, cover their faces and weep. Yet sometimes they call out to me, reach for me, their cracked voices lacing thin scars into a sky washed of all colors by their tears as they beg for me. Then I creep up to them and brush my hand on their cheek. Their skin will be burning like flames licking towards the sky, crackling like the wracking cough of death and despair. Then I’ll sing to them, care for them, heal them.. You see? I am no monster. Some time people paint me differently than what I am. Sometimes they’ll say that everyone sees me differently and that it doesn’t matter what I truly am. Sometimes people lie about me. But I just curl my fist and close my eyes, trying to ignore it. Sometimes no one believes me. Sometimes they push me away, clutching their wounds even as they pretend they’re fine. I try to drive my way back, pleading with them. Sometimes tears will slide down my cheeks and I’ll clench my jaw as they push away the one person that can set them free. Sometimes people try to pretend that they invented me or even just discovered me, but I’ve been around longer than any of them. I’ve never been invented and I’ve never been discovered. I just am. Sometimes I slip up to the prisons with keys in my hand. I’ll steal a look at the prisoners; they’re always moaning, clutching their heads, begging for it to stop. To be set free, to feel the breeze on their faces, to have peace wash through their hearts. Then I’ll gently slide the key into the lock and turn it. Sometimes they cry out as I do so, and I know it’s painful, that it hurts, but when it’s done, they’ll turn to me with faces like the rising sun of the morning. Some people know me and some hate me, but every single one of them knows me. Even you. The question is. . . Who am I?

  • 5 Books to Read at Christmastime

    Ah, Christmas. A time full of hot chocolate, twinkling lights, and peace on Earth, goodwill towards men. And Christmas breaks are a wonderful time to read, too. Naturally. Today I’ve gathered my top picks to read during the Christmas season. I hope you enjoy them! Two From Galilee: The Love Story of Mary and Joseph I read this book for the first time a few years ago and fell in love with it right away. I’ve read it every Advent since, though it never takes me very long to get through. Though I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers, this book is a gem, and it makes the familiar Christmas story so much deeper and makes me think about it in so many different ways than I would have beforehand. The Man Born to Be King More specifically, the first of these twelve radio broadcasts, written by Dorothy L. Sayers. While the following eleven focus on the later life of Jesus, of his ministry, death, and resurrection, the first features his birth, and is a perfect delight to read. The author was one of the few female Inklings of her day, and, though The Man Born to Be King is not along her lines of usual writing, she did it wonderfully. The Christmas Carol No Christmas book list is complete without this classic, right? Although nostalgia has a few points with me and Dickens tends to favor more words over fewer words, The Christmas Carol is a lovely book to read at this time of the year, and I would highly recommend (re-) reading it this holiday season. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe I know, I know. It’s not technically a Christmas book—but close enough. The wintery feel of this book just fits perfectly with curling up on a couch with a mug of cocoa at your side, and despite of—or maybe because of—“always winter and never Christmas”, this is a wonderful book to read at this time of year. Little Women Especially as far as the first half goes, this book that opens at Christmastime and follows the flawed yet beautiful March family is a great holiday season read. Even though a good portion of the book takes place at other times than Christmas, the themes of love and sacrifice and expectancy fit perfectly with the most wonderful Christmas story of all, and Little Women is lovely to read at this time of year. Luke Particularly chapter two. Like I hinted at above, all of these stories won’t come close to the real Christmas story—the most beautiful story ever told. A story that reflects the brokenness of this world yet rings of truth and beauty and the greatest love possible. And, what’s more, my friends? This story is true. What are some of your favorite Christmas books? I’m always looking for more books to read, and I’d love to hear your recommendations!

  • Too Afraid to Fly

    You’re afraid, Elsie. You’re too afraid to fly. “Theo!” Elsie shouted, leaning over the rail. The cold metal pressed into her shirt. The sun trickled down her wings. I’m the one with the wings, brother. You shouldn’t be the one jumping. Theo fell with the same careless grace as always. His curly hair fluttered as he fell, hurtling towards the golden waters below. He didn’t look up at her. “Why do you get wings?” Theo pouted. Elsie followed his gaze up to the sky. “Because I’m a girl.” Theo groaned. “It’s not fair. And you never fly, anyway. Why not?” It was a question that expected no answer, and Elsie gave none. She closed her eyes as the voice inside whispered again: You’re afraid. You're too afraid to fly. “Theo, please,” she whispered. “Please, come back.” A crack came from the tree, along with a shriek. “Elsie, help! I’m going to fall!” Elsie stood quickly, straining to catch sight of Theo’s small form. “Where are you?” “Right here!” There. Dangling so many feet above ground, one arm encircled around a groaning branch. Her chest tightened. “I. . . I can’t. . .” “Elsie, just fly! Please, I—I’m going to fall!” Elsie’s mouth went dry. “No. . . no, I. . . can’t. . .” And then Theo fell. He was close to the water now. Soon he would be gone, and she would never see him again. The voice inside whispered again: You’re too afraid to fly. “I wonder what the land of the fairies looks like,” Theo said, staring out the window. Elise yawned. “It’s just a story, Theo. It’s time to sleep.” “But we could still try to find it,” he insisted. “We could fly—you could fly, and you could lift me up.” Elsie shook her head, wrapping her quilt tightly around her shoulders. “Not tonight.” There—only two more heartbeats. Elsie couldn’t breathe. She was more conscious of her wings than ever before. Still Theo fell. . . And Elsie flew. No. I’m not.

  • Book Review: Dust (Kara Swanson)

    “You were created for more than to bear the weight of your shadows—but you have to choose to no longer let them define you. You have to choose to let the light shine through the shattered pieces.” — Dust, Kara Swanson You turn the book over in your hand, thinking. A girl terrified of her own magic. A boy torn from the world he loves. A princess desperately trying to keep her world from crumbling. Turning the book over, you glance at the back. A masterful storyteller. A twist on a classic tale. YA fantasy that builds up and inspires. But is it worth it? The book you are holding is Dust, by Kara Swanson, and as for whether it’s worth it. . . well, I am very glad you asked. Synopsis: The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale. Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real–since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London… and a boy who shouldn’t exist. Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins. The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan–and herself. Plot —⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Swanson’s plot grabs you from the first page and keeps you until the very last page. The twists and turns caused me to gasp several times, to the great amusement of my siblings. The action is vivid and logical, and the many surprises and reveals never failed to keep me guessing. Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Of the whole book, the characters were by far my favorite. Broken yet clinging to hope, struggling yet refusing to despair, they were beyond real in my mind and became friends within the first chapter. Claire’s fierce love of her brother and her fear of her own dust beautifully intertwine to form a girl who is broken yet believing, holding onto the last hope she has. Her backstory was heartbreaking but realistic, and it was beyond clear how she became who she is when the reader first meets her. Her struggles and fears resonated with mine, and I quickly became attached to her. Peter was an absolute delight to read. His quips and banter with Tiger Lily left me grinning, and yet his character is much more than a cocky little boy. This Peter Pan has depth, new sides to him, a determination and vulnerability I never saw in the original. I fell in love with his character even more than I did Claire, and I kept longing for him to receive a happy ending even when he messed up. Lily, with her graceful poise, cool-headed and determined personality, and fierce loyalty made me think over and over: This is the kind of friend I want to have. More than that, Tiger Lily is the kind of friend I want to be. I was fascinated with her character and treasured every scrap of backstory Swanson revealed of the tribal princess. Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ If the definition of a good book is one that can get me to vocalize my surprise at a plot twist, Dust is a masterpiece. I believe I seriously concerned my mother at one point when a character’s alias finally clicked. The scenes are fast-paced, emotional scenes and action scenes perfectly balanced. As a writer, I can attest to how hard this is—and yet Swanson did it magnificently. Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Peter and Claire’s surroundings, be that California, London, or the sky, were vividly painted in my mind. The settings, be they California, London, or the sky, made me want to go there myself, to see Lily and Peter and Claire as they fly through this adventure. Prose — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The first-person narrative pulled me so quickly into the characters’ minds that it felt strange returning to the real world. When I first read Dust, I wasn’t at all used to reading in the present tense. I did it sometimes, but it would generally take me a while to get used to it. When I picked up Peter’s story, though, it took me several chapters to even realize the writing was in present tense. Swanson pulls your thoughts from the words to the story so quickly that you barely even realize it happened. Theme — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ For all its stardust and dreams, Dust also features characters who have been broken and the darkness they wrestle with. Despite this, Swanson’s strong faith is clearly shown, and the darkness never got to a point where it made me uncomfortable from a moral point. As it is a YA, there are some older themes woven into the tale, though my younger brother (age eleven) read it and enjoyed it. I’d be comfortable handing Dust to a pre-teen. Conclusion The short answer is: Yes. Dust is beyond worth it. Kara Swanson’s tale is one of aching beauty that drew me in at once. Readers who love powerful speculative fiction with themes that resonate will adore this book. I would highly recommend reading the original Peter Pan before this—it lays the foundation and lets you know who Peter is before he steps onto the stage. It is possible to read it without this, of course, but the story will be much more full if you read the original beforehand. I wouldn’t say, though, that Dust is in any way trying to replace J. M. Barrie’s story; rather, it is merely fulfilling it. Dust takes those of us who had fallen in love with Peter Pan as children on a new adventure—an adventure that doesn’t end when we leave the nursery. Because, as Peter and I found out together, growing up just might be the biggest adventure yet. Have you read Dust yet? Who was your favorite character? Let me know in the comments!