The Indigo Girl Review

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of Eliza Lucas, the indigo girl of the south. The novel begins, and journeys on by following the desperate endeavors of Eliza Lucas to grow indigo, an endeavor deemed impossible on their South Carolina land to save her struggling family plantations from bankruptcy. The daring woman strikes desperate deals, maneuvers around cunning foes, and even sweeps gracefully through balls clad in silk and followed by mystery.

I began listening to this book from Audible just out of sheer boredom (I mean, when you’ve listened to all your audio books over five plus times in a row, you start to yearn for something a little more unexpected) and I was surprised by how well done the plot, the history, and the vivid descriptions of the indigo process were done. As the British say, I was gobsmacked.

Why You Should Read

Eliza Lucas is a memorable and positive role model for both girls and boys to remember from days past. Her stubbornness often described by others, including her mother, suitors, and farmhands was really the will to pursue her dream of being the first to grow indigo in the south. And it turned out to be not just a dream, but the fate of the Carolinas. She was also unafraid to do what was right, despite the pushback she received, kind towards others, including her family’s slaves, and unbending towards others’ expectations, whether they were about indigo dye or a cantankerous suitor. While I wasn’t taken in immediately by Eliza (How many strong willed, fearless protagonists are there in the world right now?) she was persistent, and in the end, soaked my heart with affection for someone who drove hard to achieve the impossible.

I was refreshed to read a book set in the 1700’s that didn’t deal solely with the uprising of the American colonies, and in the South that didn’t deal primarily with slavery. Though both are important events, I like reading books and series where a new viewpoint is taken that isn’t normally explored. The historical description of the time period and scenery, too, was done to perfection. I am not an expert on the 1740s in South Carolina, but I can tell the author put in more than her heart and soul when writing this novel. Everything from the indigo making process to the way they heated their beds (hot bricks warmed in the fire) were expounded, and really shaped the world of Eliza’s Spanish moss clad plantation life in up and coming Charleston.

Finally, the plot was astoundingly well done. I’m usually a good judge of where a plot goes, like a Sherlock plot detective, but this one caught me completely off guard. You can’t see through the murky swamp water till you’re on the other side, and by Jove, was it a spectacularly smashing conclusion to a well rounded novel.

Content Warnings

This book, however, isn’t all bloomin’ blue flowers. There is some moderate swearing (No use of the f word, but still some strong language used from time to time), references to sex, a miscarriage with some description (though not horribly graphic), abuse, violence towards slaves, sickness, and death (though the two main deaths are not visual).

There are also some feministic ideals I picked up on during reading. The ways some of the men of the Indigo Girl were portrayed and Eliza’s reactions to them were down casting towards men and put me off just a smidge. However, since the author was telling a true story, I was able to look past the mirage since many of the male characters portrayed in a negative light were or could’ve had very similar reactions, especially since there were plenty of righteous, intelligent, integrity filled men in Eliza’s life, from her father to her far neighbor and friend Mr. Pinkney.

Because of some of the descriptions, mentions of sex, and the inntenisity of some of the more troubling scenes, I would suggest that this book be for teens and up.

Is It Shelf Worthy?

Yes! As far as historical fiction for teens go, this book bleeds well into the hearts of its readers, turning the very depths blue as the indigo plant Eliza so reverently sought to save her family. Eliza Lucas is a heroine who shines forth throughout the ages as a pioneering businesswoman and challenger of the cultural ideals that plagued the just budding nation around the 1740s. The plot, though set in the stone of history long ago, was better crafted than the ancient labyrinth of Greek mythology. And readers will beyond a shadow of Carolina oak be transported back to a time of horse drawn buggies and fields of rice, slave uprisings and windswept balls glittering with silver, gold, and blue. If ever on the lookout for a good historical novel to read or learn from, I suggest this novel of daring deeds and budding indigo leaves. 

Save the Storybook Ending! Preserving Our Happily Ever Afters

“And they all lived happily ever after….”

Yawn. 

Boring. 

I get it. You’re tired of the girl getting Prince Charming. You’re tired of everything working out exactly right in the end. You want some action and some risk, right? Well, I disagree. Happily ever afters are in fact, a staple of literature that should always exist.

Why?

Well, for one, writing is important. I know that doesn’t sound right, but hear me out. Writing is like a mirror. When you look in, you behold what’s reflected. In other words, what matters most is what the reader sees. Why? Because it can help to shape the reality around us. When Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses were nailed to the church door, they helped build the cornerstone of the future of the church in not only Europe, but the entire world. When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, it helped change the course of slavery in America during the 1800’s, which led in the end to the Civil War. This does not mean your writing is going to change the world that drastically. I mean, it could. But I’m not betting all my chips on it.

However, our writing does influence those who read it, by portraying a reality that reflects ours. And in the end, a reality that can be mimicked

Let me explain. A reader could pick up a book and read about a divided family. Does that sound familiar? It should. Hundreds, if not thousands of books portray broken families. Is it a surprise, then, when we peek our nose out of the pages and look around, that the families around us are also shattered? That they don’t have that story book Happily Ever After? You could replace broken families in this example with anything. If a girl reads only about women who value their bodies over the souls God gave them, is it possible she’ll begin to believe her body is ultimately what has value? Or if a boy reads over and over about violence, will he not come to believe violence is normal, or even to some point acceptable?

These are all hypothetical example, but hopefully you grasp the point I’m making. Literature, in all its forms, is a powerful tool. It can be used to carve terrible things into the very souls of men, women, and even children. Or it can be used to burn off the outer layers of soot and grime for others to see the truth.

But there’s something else.

When you look around at the world, what do you see? Happily Ever After’s? Probably not. War, famine, disease, injustice, and death have reigned near supreme ever since Eve sunk her teeth into that juicy apple. That’s when the story book life ended and the real pain began. Sin entered the world, and therefore, Happily Ever After is no longer something those without Christ can ever truly grasp. Even happiness is in itself laden with a hollowness that cannot be placed, like a deep, bottomless void.

But not so in stories.

Within stories, we who practice the craft have the power to create something that was lost after the fall; Happily Ever After. Princesses are rescued from their terrible stepmothers. The horrid dragon that terrorized the kingdom now lies slain on the floor. The bad guys lose, and the good guys win. Isn’t that just wonderful? In a world where death and darkness reigns, I would rather dive into the escape of goodness, the triumph of something glorious than the victory of sin.

However, I am not supposing that everything becomes sunshine, rainbows and hugs. Not only is that unenjoyable and sickening, but unrealistic. Our real lives aren’t like a hallmark or a storybook for a reason. What I’m saying is that we, as people, crave goodness. Not only do we want to hear stories about good versus evil, but we want a story where good wins. No child grew up hearing how Captain Hook stabbed Peter Pan, threw him overboard, and took over all of Neverland with a hearty pirate cackle. No! Peter Pan rescues the Lost Boys, commandeers the Jolly Rodger, and flies off with Wendy by his side at the helm. 

See? That is the story we innately want. A story where evil stands supreme, laughing at its victory, before the final hammer falls, before it is swept into the grave for good, just like the ultimate story of our redemption at the hands of Jesus Christ. The End. 

So, when it comes to the beholding of goodness or the death of goodness, I say fling the latter aside and cling to the goodness that still prevails in Happily Ever After. Everything that happens in between, however, is totally up for conjecture. The ending, the happy one in my opinion, is what really matters. 

Dust Review

Dust by Kara Swanson is a Peter Pan retelling set in the dark, smoggy streets of London. Claire is a haunted girl who just scrapes by, hiding the peculiar flecks of dust that plague her while giving everything to find her missing brother. Peter is now grounded without Tink, his shadow, or magic as he races through the streets of London pursued by his own lost boys. But the teenage Peter is looking for something too. Someone, some girl, who has the ability to fix all the chaos that’s been caused.

There’s one problem — that girl thinks Peter played a role in kidnapping her brother. And she hates his guts more than any knife wielding pirate. Can Claire find her brother? And can Peter somehow convince Claire to help him return to Neverland?

I opened this book skeptically. Long ago, I used to be an avid Peter Pan fan. There were only three things I wanted for my birthday: A beanie baby jellyfish, a bell from Santa’s sleigh, and Disney’s rendition of Peter Pan. So I definitely qualify as a tough critic. I’ve never been a fan of retellings (Please stop the live action remakes, Disney!), but I was also intrigued. So, with a hot cup of tea and few pieces of chocolate, I dove in, ready for an adventure, only wondering whether there was enough faith and trust to keep the pixie dust magic.

Why You Should Read

From the first few chapters, I was shockingly surprised. Swanson sets up the magic of Neverland in a completely new light, as a dark, grown-up version of J. M. Barrie’s beloved fairy-tale.

Claire and Peter are both perfectly sympathetic, believable characters. Claire, on the one hand, is a shy, introverted, shattered foster girl living in California. She’s scared of her strange dust, anxious for her missing brother, and hiding from the darkness of her past and fears. But she’s willing to push past that darkness toward the light, determined to do whatever it takes to get to her brother. Although Claire isn’t my favorite protagonist (I have other favorites that outrank her), she is undoubtedly sympathetic, and I admire her determination to push past the fear, doubt, and darkness towards something brighter.

Meanwhile, Peter Pan was hit dead on. He’s mischievous, troublesome, and boyish like the Pan we all know and love, while on the flipside, he’s officially growing up. He’s fighting buried memories, friends-turned-enemies, and some particularly annoying facial hair. While struggling against Hook and the decaying magic around him, Peter fights an inner battle against becoming a man, stuck between what he wants to be, and what he needs to be. What can I say? Life is no longer just fun and games when puberty and cutlasses are involved.

Not only are his strengths played perfectly, but other aspects are cleverly shown too, points I never noticed before. He’s not just joking and roguish, laughing in the face of Lost Boys and pirates. He’s also irresponsible, headstrong, moody, and above all, selfish: all characteristics of the typical misbehaving child. This was very clever on Swanson’s part, because Peter takes the role of not the storybook hero we know, but as a struggling anti-hero, who’s charming and lovable, but just as likely to trade the right thing for a bite of lemon cake or a chocolate biscuit. And, well, there’s nothing I drool over more in books than a well baked anti-hero arc. Especially if he’s British.

The plot twists and pierces more than a certain pirate captain’s glimmering hook. I have a remarkable Sherlock-like talent of sniffing out plot twists, but Swanson crafted her tale in such a way that I wasn’t able to detect all the unexpected spins. Unfortunately, I guessed at the ending, so it wasn’t as impactful as it would have been to me personally. Luckily I’m a bit overdrive when it comes to picking out endings, so I have no doubt that most of you won’t see it coming.

Finally, Swanson delivers powerful messages through the entire narrative. The light is more powerful than the darkness, and instead of hiding from that darkness, you have to face it to truly accept your past and emerge into the light. Sometimes, there are things worth more than your own pleasure. Sacrifice – loving others above yourself, just as the Son of God did– delivers more in the long run than fist fights and flying could ever provide. That is the mark of a truly mature man – a man who lifts others up instead of himself.

Content Warnings

Swanson’s Dust isn’t all fairy tales. There is undoubtedly violence (then again, what do you expect with pirates?), accounts of terrible trauma, self-harm, anxiety, death, various injuries, lying, and selfishness. Basically all the parts of a backstabbing but invigorating adventure story.

Is it Shelf-Worthy?

Undoubtedly, says this skeptical believer. This is a fairy tale retelling worth having on your shelves. Dark, yet twinkling with hope written in the very stars, Swanson has woven a book full of memorable characters, sinister story-twists, and impactful messages. Faith in light, trust in others, and a whole lot of pixie dust. 

(Note: Background artwork by me)

Monthly Life Update ~ January 2021 (We made it!)

Happy New Year everyone! Ah, yes, a new year has rolled in, break has finished, and sensibility has returned to splash the cold water of reality into my face. A very happy new year indeed. 

Luckily 2021 comes with more than a return to work and school for all of us. It’s more because every new year is a year of chances, to renew, to mend, to start, and end. Or in plainer terms, the commitment to eat healthier but not, start a new hobby you like for three weeks, or throw up your hands in protest at trying to kick that terribly stubborn habit. We’ve all been there, including me. I have all the typical resolutions. Exercise every week. Eat healthier. Try my hand at bullet journaling. Learn to cook more than scrambled eggs.

But this year is different for me when it comes to those pesky resolutions in the hopes of finally beating the dreaded habit of giving up the first week of January. I’ve split up my new year’s goals into three categories, physical, mental, and spiritual. Each impacts my life in specific ways that’ll help me grow in one of the three areas. 

For the past years, I’ve primarily worked in two of the three areas, physical and mental, finding ways to keep myself healthy, hone my crafts, and expand my intellect. Spiritual health, my relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is almost always at the bottom of the list. And that must change. I won’t go into the details of what I’ll be doing, partly because I don’t want to sound overly righteous (Flaunting my deeds in front of man is not what I wish to accomplish in my very short life) and partly because I don’t wish to suffer the humiliation of listing my detailed plan only to forget and suffer the miserable life of a hypocrite (Wow, am I dramatic).

To keep some of these habits, I’m going to be pulling back on extra activities. Less TV, less shopping, and less blogging. Instead of posting monthly updates, I’ll be posting bi-monthly updates (Especially since I’m finding it increasingly hard to write anything interesting about my life). Hopefully I won’t have to cut back on regular posts for a bit.

The only other notable piece of news besides it being a new year? It’s my birthday this month! I bet you can guess which one of us will be breaking their healthy eating habit first… 

Anyway, that’s really it. No fancy outro. Just a God bless, and the hope that you all have a joy filled 2021, no matter what unfolds.

Monthly Life Update ~ December 2020

Frost icing my lawn? Fake chemical evergreen tree sitting outside my bedroom door? Stores bombarding me with messages to buy their stuff? Sweets galore topped with snowy sugar and refreshing peppermint tempting my inner glutton? Oh, it must be December! Hooray! Time to breathe a collective breath of quiet joy. This year is almost over, and a new one is just about ready to begin!

The coming of a new month this Christmas season is more of a relief to me than a time to celebrate, because of the craziness November brought (Then again, this whole year was crazy). Shoving NaNoWriMo on top of renovations, a load of other commitments, and being sick all the while was a heavy load to cart all the way to December 1st. Luckily, you’re reading what I’ve written, so we can both safely assume I didn’t crumble completely under the weight, right?

Speaking of National Write a Novel Month, you all want the goods, don’t you? Did I actually write 50,000 words? In a month? While being sick? 

No. I wrote over 50,000 words in the month of November! I won! NaNoWriMo for the first time!

This is a huge win for me. Not only does this convince me I can write on a deadline when forced (an important skill for an aspiring author), but I can also improvise along the way when an outline doesn’t work fluently and come out with something still half decent. It might seem small, but progress usually is. It’s not a flashy achievement, but it’s a step on the path to becoming a full-fledged author. It’s almost like a series of tests. Will the aspiring author overcome sickness? Can she beat procrastination and the constant hammering of a nail gun in the background? How will she handle a deranged kitten digging in her houseplants? Can she overcome these odds?? (Spoiler: she can and did.)

Even better, my Dad managed to finish all of the main floor renovations. And just in time to decorate for Christmas! This is a huge personal blessing. As I said in my last update, the chaos these past few months has been especially hard on my nerves (Then again, living in the midst of an ever changing chaos of paint, scaffolding, and roaring table saws have been chafing all our emotions). So any progress, whether big or small, is a leap back towards something like normal. We aren’t anywhere near done yet (We still have to get new siding and all new windows) but having our first floor put back together is a comforting step in the right direction for all of us. 

Finally, because this is the time of year to celebrate Jesus’ birth (Hooray! None can express the joy of such a gift!) I’m going to be taking a break from blogging for this month. Right now, especially after such an interesting year, I personally need a break to concentrate on other things. I thank you all in advance for understanding! I hope and pray (when I can remember, that is) you all have a blessed Christmas celebrating the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ. 

Wonderstruck Review

Bam! That’s what the book Wonderstruck is all about. A leap into something purely extraordinary. The part book, part picture book follows two wildly different people. The first is Ben, a 70’s teen working to rebuild his fractured family after a fatal accident. The other is a mysterious unnamed girl from close to a century ago who spends her days tracking the life of a famous actress. And the looming mystery is this: How are these two connected? The answers revealed as the story unfolds are as shocking as a lightning bolt.

Why You Should Read

The author of this book, Brian Selznick, has been on my radar for quite some time for writing books in a completely different way. He not only writes, but illustrates whole chapters to communicate the story in both words and images. That alone caught my eye as worth picking up.

The author brings it to the next level by not only being a talented artist – something in itself – but by also being a talented story-crafter. The characters in this story are beyond genuine. Ben struggles with the death of his mother and the absence of his father. The girl (displayed in stunning pictures) shows a love of silent theater, a bit of spice towards her tutor, and struggles the same as Ben with parental relations. Except instead of missing the parents she’s lost, she’s wishing for parents who can understand. Both search for their place in the world and find it through wonder cabinets – old fashioned museums containing the most mysterious, unique, and unusual artifacts of the human world (Hence the name, Wonderstruck). Because of this, both characters touched me deeply. Their struggles are similar, and even though the readers don’t always share their difficulties, they are presented in a way that is touching and authentic.

The author also does an amazing job of writing about disability, a hard subject to tackle when you don’t know all its kinks and quirks. I can say, though, from what I know, practice, and experience from other books, that he not only managed, but excelled in writing a believable and relatable account for children and parents, disabled and abled alike.

The plot is just as wowing. The author inexplicitly weaves these two different human beings, separated by different times and experiences, together in a wonderful way. But I won’t reveal anything, just so you can find out this for yourself.

Content Warnings

There is mild smoking (It is the 70’s after all), taking God’s name in vain, mentions of evolution (The world began 70 billion years ago, that sort of stuff, just to let you know if that’s a trigger), terrible treatment of the children on the part of parents and strangers alike, lying, stealing, running away, and rebellious nature by both children in the story (Yes, kids, it is in fact bad to disobey your parents, even if they’re wrong sometimes).

Is it Shelf-Worthy?

The big question. Well, I can answer this for you with confidence; Yes. This book is a wonderful addition to any library, whether you’re young and spry or lived when black and white film was all the rage. While it may grow worn and the cover frayed like the era it was placed in, the story itself will take a mighty hold on your heart through its heartfelt characters, haunting pictures, and shocking story. 

Why I’m (Still) Thankful this Year

Let’s face it, folks. This year, when it comes to thankfulness, isn’t on the top of everyone’s list. 

Yes, I’m thankful I can’t go anywhere. 

I’m thankful that all my activities for the year were cancelled. 

I’m glad my business went under. 

Well, I’m thankful that we couldn’t see grandma on her 80th birthday. 

Yeah not exactly things to be thankful for. At least, not on the surface,. But, without a doubt, as my family sets the table and we say what we are thankful for this year, I have more to share than I ever have before. All thanks to this crazy year called 2020. 

So this year I’m thankful:

  1. My family is still safe.

During the natural disaster that hit our town, my whole family was safe. During the riots and extended seclusion, my extended family was kept safe. Despite her constant colds and living conditions, my foster sister hasn’t been seriously ill. Even during our first months of lockdown, me and my siblings didn’t kill each other off. And that in itself is a wondrous miracle. 

  1. It strengthened my relationships (And even helped me make new ones)

Even though for the first six months I couldn’t come in contact with anyone but my immediate family, I have built stronger relationships with others. That includes my parents, my siblings, and my friends I kept in contact with through texts and little gifts left in mailboxes. More than that, I’ve formed new relationships with other writers online, and even with my mentors and the other students in my new college alternative course. I can truly say that I have stronger, richer relationships in each of these areas, all because of the events of this year.

  1. It shook me out of my comfort & called me to action

This is an interesting one, since often many think of comfort as an ultimate goal in life, through money, friendships, possessions, and status. But because I am a Christian, God calls me out of a life of just comfort to do difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful things. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). While that’s always been hard for me to do (especially when I  broke my foot for the summer,) I was still able to do little things, like being polite even when I didn’t want to, apologizing for snapping at my mother, sweeping the porch, or inviting the guys working on our leaking ceilings to come have dinner. 

This also enabled me to become more studious in keeping a personal schedule, taking care of my body, and keeping up with my schoolwork and chores. These might be considered little things,but when you do well in little, you can do well in much (Luke 16:10, check this one out!) And, thank the Lord, your worth isn’t measured by the things you do, but by the faith you have in Jesus Christ (Of course, that doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing, but I’m getting off topic).

  1. It helped me grow

Because I’ve been shaken out of my comfortable life and stretched, God also allowed me to grow at an amazing rate this year. Having less made me more thankful for what I still had and thank Him for little things more often–a loving, supportive family, reliable, wise, and encouraging mentors, a roof over our heads even if it leaks, good food, whether its refrigerated or stale as a board, a beautiful world where flowers still bloomed, and autumn is still a blaze of beauty and warm sweaters. Because I had less, (Including money, since I couldn’t work) I became more generous with what I still had. And because I knew the stress my family and friends were under, I learned to be kinder, more supportive, and think of others more proactively than I have before, whether they are my family or the people working on our roof. All this change morphed my outlook on everything exponentially (Note: I’m not saying I’m now some miracle being because of 2020. Ha, far from it. What I am saying is that God was able to work in me, as He is with everyone, in a much more effective way than if we had had no pandemic, riots, natural disasters, etc. And He will continue to work in me as time goes by, making me a better and purer likeness of His glorious and wonderful son Jesus).

  1. It made me grow closer to God

What can I say about this one besides what I’ve already mentioned? He has pulled me so much closer to Him during a time of uncertainty, anger, and fear. He’s whispered for me to lean on Him. I’ve learned, laughed, cried, been comforted, fallen, and lifted back up again. And through it all, He has been there instilling the fruits of the spirit and the joy of His son. 

Maybe that’s why I’ve been at peace during all of this, because I know God has everything under control and, in the long run, this is part of a grand unique plan . I think this can me summed up in two quotes, one from my journal at the beginning of the year, and from the Lord Himself.

“… I’m not very worried about this. Sure, it’s new, & everything’s uncertain… But other than a tick of unrest and confusion, I’m calm and collected, prepared for this… I’m finally almost in awe of what is happening in our country right now… But now the country, the whole world, is being shaken. People are going crazy! But it feels like a wake up call; a warning. The world, this country, isn’t invincible… It is good that this is happening… this is a wake-up call to the world to what is shakeable & unimportant, & what is unshakable & eternally important. I’m intrigued to find out what God is doing; He has the whole book, & I’m busy reading page by page, exhilarated to get to the ending. I’m on the edge of my seat, Lord; can’t wait to watch the show… I hope & pray this time is spent well, growing exactly the way He wants. I’ll pray unceasingly… May we all run towards what matters most in this fragile time.”

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Beast Player Review

Time to review one of my absolute favorite fantasy books! And just in time for the recent release of the sequel, The Beast Warrior!

The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi, is a Printz honor Young Adult fantasy. (Finally, a book that actually deserves a medal!) Elin, the main character, is the daughter of an animal caretaker. But not just any animal caretaker. Her mother tends to the royal Toda, vicious aquatic serpents that are owned by the ruler of the land, the Yojeh. When Elin’s mother is convicted of a terrible crime and sentenced to death, she sends her daughter away in the nick of time from the jaws of death. As Elin recovers from the terrible tragedy she so narrowly escaped, she begins to reacclimate with the world. Against her will she is drawn back to the mystical wild animals her mother so dearly loved, especially the elusive and highly prized Royal Beasts. As the young girl flourishes into womanhood, and the lies and mystery encompassing her world thicken, decisions must be made and sides chosen, lest the beloved beasts of the land fall prey to the most despicable evil the world has ever known (Dun dun dun…).

Why You Should Read

First off, the cover is GORGEOUS. Whether you’re a paperback girl or a hardback guy (I’m more of a hardcover person myself), both come with beautiful, vivid illustrations the like of which I rarely see. Not exactly the most compelling reason to read, but, well, it’s good to know if a book will look good on the shelf, right?

Okay, secondly, the characters. There is a wide plethora of both good and bad, moral and corrupt people that populate Elin’s journey through life, but I’ll start with the main character. 

At the beginning of the book, Elin is around eleven, but towards the end she’s blossomed into young womanhood (so sit tight, ‘cause this book will be a long one). As she grows, she changes from a naïve little girl to someone, shockingly, with a brain. Not in one of those woo-hoo, go-women sort of ways, though. It’s a deeper sort of intelligence, the kind of human being who notices the suffering of others and responds to trouble with kindness. One who critically thinks out a situation, and then acts with wisdom. It’s hard to explain the concept, but I would take a stab at calling it an intelligence of the spirit (or fruits of the spirit, if you like fruit). In fact, it’s almost an exact picture of what is called ‘the woman who fears the Lord’ at the end of the book of Proverbs (A woman who is precious to her husband, works with her hands for the benefit of others, is responsible, generous, kind, and wise). Though Elin is far from perfect, I found it wonderful to see the love and care she put towards others, brethren and beast alike. Not only that, but she has interests, fears, hobbies, ups and downs abounding. In short, she’s a completely rounded, positive, fleshed out character. Shocking, isn’t it?

The side characters, barring her mother (who died, so no comment on her) are all of the same stock: characters with backstories, lives, hobbies, loves, hopes, and dreams (though not all are good and just). They are characters who live and walk and talk and act as if they were real flesh and bone. And, as a lover of great characters, this is no small point for me.

The setting is also extremely well crafted. Throughout the course of the story, you travel across wide plains to secret forest dweller meetings, up to a lonely cottage up in the lush but wild mountains, or to the sprawling capital city where the queen, the Yojeh, dwells. Each passing scene receives its own individual care, which results in beyond astounding worldbuilding, from food to the royal history to the wild animals that populate the land.

The plot is just as wowing. The author really keeps you guessing, wondering, hoping, ‘till the earth-shattering end. I’m shocked that I almost gave up this book at the beginning (I wasn’t a huge fan of Uehashi’s writing style), but I’m glad I kept it tucked away in my backpack, bookmark in place. Though the beginning is similar to a typical fantasy novel (which, I admit, did tempt me to lay the book aside), it sheds any resemblance to a half hearted young adult fantasy the moment Elin is swept off into the world. The plot goes from simple, shallow soil to roots deep as the core of Uehashi’s fantasy world, twisting its thread through the mysteries of the Royal Beasts to the mysterious attacks set on the banks of a winding, rushing river.

But what gripped me the most was the thought behind this work. Uehashi, unlike most authors of our current culture reads, has intelligently thought ideas and morals that spread out, blooming over the pages in a way that strengthens the book itself. Instead of a thoughtless reason for doing something, the reasons are always displayed, a why for the how. There’s plenty of care for God’s world as well. One old man laments the bees in his keeping that die, because they are living breathing creatures that matter, just as he does. And Elin, as I said, has a quick mind disciplined in the art of wisdom, which raises her beyond her age and status. In these pages there is a touch of pride, a dedication to the craft of writing and to… well, something beyond just the surface world that I don’t discover very often. Morality or love is the best I can put it (God weaves His way even into young adult fantasy). I find it utterly refreshing like a brisk, clear gale amidst a sea of stagnant fiction. Thoughtless, in my opinion, is the last word you’d use to describe this book.

Content Warnings

There are a few things to be aware of. There is plenty of violence, which includes killing and near death. There’s also some magic and something like spirits (though exactly what kind, I don’t know. I think they were basically spirit animal messengers, not ghosts or demons). Finally, the web of mysterious and dangerous lies which seep throughout the land of Uehashi’s vivid, Japanese-inspired world can be tough to read, especially during the tenser moments.

Is It Shelf-Worthy?

Yes, yes, yes! The Beast Player, though long, is a keeper for all lovers of the wooded and wild world God has created. If you like animals, whether it be friendly fox or fearsome dragon, pick up this book from your local library or your bookstore. You won’t regret it.

Song for a Whale Review

Today’s book I’ll be reviewing Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. (Then again, you could already tell from the title, right?)

To begin, this book is just a whale of a tail for your middle-school readers. (Whale of a tail, get it?) The story begins with Iris, a twelve-year-old whiz-kid with radios and other mechanical marvels. Oh, who’s also deaf.

Yep, you heard me: deaf.

Iris gets reminded of this painful fact far too often at her school where she doesn’t quite fit in, and at home where her mom doesn’t see what she needs most; others like her outside her small pond. All that changes when she learns of a whale named Blue 55, who, for some reason, cannot speak with the other blue whales. Iris instantly feels a connection with an animal thousands of miles from her home. Both wish to communicate with a world that’s sundered from their grasp. So Iris begins an epic quest to create a song for Blue that will open up his world–and hers as well.

Why You Should Read

This middle-grade novel stood out to me because of its character strengths. Iris, despite her troubles, is a shining star in a sea of characters. Not only can she be a bit witty and crackle like a firecracker, but she’s smart and resourceful, with both her gizmos and disability. Her love of radios as a way to “feel sound” is also touching. Not to mention her inexhaustible journey to connect with a lonely singing whale because, though she can’t admit it, she too needs the friendship of someone who understands her troubles completely… even if that someone is a thousand ton blue whale.

Not only that, but way her friends and family members support her is admirable (though not all are understanding and supportive at all times). Their dedication to help Iris, even when she’s not exactly cooperative, is a wonderful light of family loyalty amidst a lot of books with broken families. Though families aren’t perfect, I think more should be shown in books, if not to tell kids that their future homes don’t have to be broken, but can be bound together by love and loyalty.

At the same time, however, there are some places where Iris’ character and that of her family don’t exactly shine. There are plenty of times where Iris snaps at people, whether family, friends, or classmates, loses her temper, and goes behind her family’s back to accomplish her goal. Her family members, especially her mother, don’t always see eye-to-eye as you swim through the pages. And not to mention her grandmother somewhat encourages Iris’ rebellious behavior.

Content Warnings

There are very few things in this story to worry about. There is disrespect towards family and friends, as well as disobeying parents. Iris was a little selfish with her desire to pursue her dream, even ignoring her family and ignoring what her mother and father tell her as she fights to connect with Blue 55. Often in our culture, individual wants are put above what is actually good (Though in this case, Iris did actually need a friend to connect with). It should still be pointed out that just because you want something, even if you think you need it, it’s not an appropriate reaction to disobey your parents and break all the rules for a greater cause or even a piece of candy.

On the positive side though, there isn’t any language that I can remember, nor any true violence (besides some pushing and yelling and slamming doors). This is a pretty clean book for kids with only a few things to discuss before reading.

Is it Shelf Worthy?

How do you say yes in whale? ARRROOOOAYES! Song for a Whale makes a wonderful splash for Middle Grade, and other readers alike. Iris is a wonderful character. Her leap into the unknown for Blue 55, just so he can know he’s not alone in the world and that he is heard, is both heartbreaking and heart-mending at the same time. Yet, at its heart, Song for a Whale is a trumpeting harold to all those that feel different or without another to share the sorrows and joys of life with that, difficult it may be, there is someone out there in the world seeking, looking, wanting the same as you. To connect. To live. To love, just as the Good Lord loves us. Without a doubt, this is a book to put on your list. I could clap my fins with happiness for reading this (if I had any, that is) and I hope you all will as well.

(Note: Whale drawing above by me)

Monthly Life Update ~ November 2020

Does anyone know that comic strip? The dog with the hat and the mug? Well, if you don’t let me spell it out for you. There’s a cartoon dog sitting in the middle of his house. His hat is perfectly situated. His mug is filled, sitting on the perfectly rounded table.

Oh, and his house is on fire.

“Everything’s fine,” he says in response, grinning stupidly. 

Yep. That’s me right now.

Well, except everything’s not fine. My family and I have been trying to piece our life back together after a natural disaster tore it apart. Literally, you should’ve seen our backyard. Anyway, after our church helped clean up and over a month to get our roof on (With some nice rain around 3 in the morning) we’ve finally turned to the inside patch-up work. My room got torn up a couple weeks ago to replace the carpet (Which we also had problems with). 

I may have slightly had a mental breakdown. Yes, about my bedroom. 

I know it sounds pathetic. I freak out about my bedroom? When countries are closing,  people are running around torching buildings, and an election of doom is on the horizon? 

A rearranged room may not seem bad to some, but little changes are actually more stressful to those of us on the autism spectrum. It’s kind of like really anxious OCD. Because the world outside is so erratic and unpredictable, little things like arranging bottles, making the bed every morning or knowing that annoying little smudge on the ceiling is always undeniably there are all things that bring immense comfort. 

That begs the question though. Wouldn’t big things be unbearable? Well, not necessarily. Ironically, God gifted me with a strange calmness this whole year. Yes, you hear me right. Pandemic sweeps through the world? I’m fine. Country erupts into riots? I’m fine. Natural disaster destroys where we live and leaves a bunch of rubble where there were places I used to love now cower? Fine. Random strangers working next door while I’m in my pajamas? Totally fine. Tear up my room? 

I fall apart. 

Through it all though, Jesus has been there shining a light in the darkness, gripping my hand as I — or rather, my whole family — slog through this wonderful, glorious mess of a masterpiece he’s painting. And because of that, the autistic girl is the one doing the best out of her whole family. Still doing the best out of her family. And many of the general populous, actually.

And hey, we found a kitten under our lawnmower we got to keep, so I guess everything is turning out fine. 

In other news, November isn’t just the month of thankfulness, remembering God’s blessings, pumpkin pie, and half-price shopping. It’s also national novel writing month. Or, as we call it in the writer world, NaNoWriMo. And this year, I’m taking up my proverbial pen and jumping in. 

What exactly is NaNoWriMo? It’s simple. You (a plucky, oh so ignorant writer) take it upon yourself to write a traditional 50,000 word novel. Yes. Fifty-thousand words. In 30 days. Scared yet?

This project is going to be a challenge, not just because I’m basically shoving everything else out of my life as well as taking off Sundays (So it’s more like a novel in 23 days), but there’s the danger of pushing God out as well. This has always been a struggle for me in my writing. I pray as often as I can remember that God will seep into my words, guiding my fingers across the keys to ultimately write something that He will use for His wonderful glory. This year especially, as I’m honing my craft and connecting with other writers, my attention has begun to shift from stories that are important to stories that are cool, or sound more fun, or would be an exciting challenge. Writing for God can be all of those things, no doubt. But when they start to take over, morphing into idols, it’s then that He has to rip me out of my writing comforts (And misery) to bring me back to the ultimate joy, His son, the ultimate joy of my life, not my writing. 

To combat this possibility, I’m setting up daily prayer time in addition to my normal prayer and mediation before every writing session. Just a short time to say “Lord Jesus, help. Make this work Yours.” Other than that, I’ve stocked up on snacks (Both chocolate and veggies), made a full outline, sketched some inspirational doodles, pinned up some writing advice to remember, even set aside specific writing time every day to slay this 50k monster. Now all that remains is the question; Will I do it? I guess you’ll have to find out at the end of the month…

Finally, an update on Inktober. If you didn’t see my last post, What a Pen and an October Event did for Me (As an Artist), go check it out. If you already have, than you already know that at the end I made a challenge to complete all 31 pictures before November 1st, and if I did, I’d get a new book picked out by you readers.

Well…. I did it! I finished all 31 pictures! It was hard, sometimes stressful, and at times I almost gave up, but I did it, and I’m happy I did. So, that means I have a book to buy! If you want to help me pick out my prize, head over to my Instagram and tell me your thoughts. For now though, it’s on to the next challenge!

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