July 17, 2015
Within the last two weeks, I read two books about Christian missionaries traveling to alien worlds. I recommend them both. Both are works of fantasy, yet both are grounded in reality, providing wonderful character studies and handling deep philosophical questions.
In The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Peter, an English pastor, is chosen by a powerful multi-national corporation to act as a missionary to the Oasans, people on a planet newly colonized by earth. Peter must leave his beloved wife, Bea, and their cat, Jacob. Bea introduced Peter to Christianity and their marriage has been one of deep love and total companionship. The difficulty of their separation and what it does to their relationship is one of the main focuses of the novel. The “aliens” that Peter ministers to are thirsty for knowledge of Christ, and we wonder why. We also wonder about the powerful muti-national corporation and its motivation for sending Peter. And what about the previous pastor who disappeared? And the linguist who taught the natives English and also disappeared? While the novel is suspenseful, it isn’t action-packed. The stress on Peter and Bea’s relationship also causes stress on their faith, and this is where the book excels. Its examination of love and faith in crisis is fascinating.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is also an examination of faith. Father Emilio Sandoz had it and lost it: why? Father Emilio Sandoz is one of a crew of Jesuit missionaries sent toward Alpha Centauri after radio signals demonstrate that intelligent life exists on a planet in that area of space. Sandoz is the only survivor of the mission. The book alternates between “past” and “present.” In present day, Sandoz is being interrogated by the Jesuits to discover what went wrong. He is accused of some horrible crimes. In alternate chapters, we learn about the discovery of the radio signals, the recruitment of the crew (all wonderful characters, that we readers fall in love with; Sandoz being the most wonderful), the trip across space, until the past meets up with Sandoz’s confessions. What went wrong? How did everyone die? How did Sandoz “go bad” ? This book has action, great characterization, and incredible world building. The author, Mary Doria Russell, has a PhD in biological anthropology, and uses her knowledge well. The development of the setting on the new planet–the cultures and languages and interactions of the races–is brilliant and probably my favorite part of the book.
I was disappointed by the endings of both books. However….
After thinking about the ending of The Book of Strange New Things for several days, I changed my mind. It ends exactly how it should. I didn’t “get” it at first, but I do now.
The Sparrow puts so much emphasis on what went wrong, what horrible thing happened, that its discovery was anti-climactic for me. I still recommend the book.
I highly recommend both books. So, get reading!
May 21, 2015
Dear Krista, Brenda, Mónica, and Elizabeth,
Ever wonder why Cinderella’s stepsisters were so mean? They’ve been misunderstood. THE STEPSISTERS is a young adult, steampunk Cinderella told in alternating first person by the stepsisters. It is complete at 55,000 words.
Drusilla “Dru” is a mildly autistic, scientifically-minded teen who doesn’t use pronouns. When her father dies, she vows to complete all his laboratory plans and projects. Dru’s younger sister Charlotte “Lottie” is a social fashionista who grieves the death of her father and the loss of the family fortune. Their mother re-marries to save the family from poverty, and they move to a two-room farmhouse where their stepsister Cyntia Rellah runs a messenger pigeon service.
The Rellah farm is near the country palace of the King and Queen, who are expecting a child. For centuries the Royalty of Jacobia have been born with weak hearts because of an ancient curse. A special medicine is no longer available, so the King brings Dru to the royal laboratory to finish her father’s work: discover a new medicine or create a mechanical heart for an infant. As the day of birth draws near, Dru must complete the invention her father began or else the child won’t survive.
Impressed by Lottie’s sense of fashion and magical aura, the Queen entangles her in a quest to find and kill the descendant of the sorceress who placed the curse. Lottie must choose between saving her family or serving the Queen.
The traditional Cinderella tropes are used and transformed in this tale of magic, science and romance.
I teach children’s literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. My adult historical novel, SYNCOPATION: A MEMOIR OF ADELE HUGO was published by Cornerstone Press in 2012. My middle-grade mystery, THE STOLEN GOLDIN VIOLIN, was self-published in 2010. I am a member of SCBWI, AWP and the Historical Novels Society.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
The gondola of the luxury airship Ludtwidge sways gently beneath its hydrogen-filled webwrought balloon. Pilot Brijit Eyre studies the darkness out the bridge window and taps the barometer. Something’s off. She can feel it in the air, in her bones.
“Betti, change course 5 degrees north-northwest. Alec, get a mech-pigeon ready.”
Captain Eyre flips a valve. Steam hisses through a pipe, moving the engine to full throttle.
The Ludtwidge uses a Steppe steam engine. Instead of creating steam by burning coal or gas, Steppe engines use the flameless heat of firestones. A vast improvement over past airship engines. Flame and hydrogen are a deadly combination.
In the largest cabin of the Ludtwidge, inventor Sir Ernest Steppe lies on his bunk, melting into sleep.
His daughter Dru holds her hat, which begins to fly. She yells at Ernest. No, it isn’t Dru. It’s the Queen. She’s angry at Ernest. He hasn’t done what he should’ve done. Is it about Dru’s engagement to the Prince? He dreads explaining the situation to his wife. The Queen expands to twice her size. Her red hair ignites into flames. She leans over—
Ernest wakes when his body hits the floor. The airship’s gondola rocks. The floor tilts. He slides from one side of the cabin to the other.
Ernest grabs the porthole’s raised edges and pulls himself up. Rain pelts the glass. Lighting flickers in the distance. Thunder rumbles.
Ernest puts on his shoes and heads to the engine room.
March 6, 2015
For the past several years, my ladies book club has decide to spend the months of December and January reading children’s novels that have a chance at the Newbery Medal. We do a bit of research, come up with about 15 to 20 titles, then share the books. We meet in January and talk about our favorites. The Newbery Medal is announced at the end of January.
This year, the book I liked most was Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. The story is about an autistic girl and her dog. It is a beautiful, beautiful book. I was extremely disappointed when the Newbery Medal was awarded to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, a book I hadn’t even heard of.
Well, I just finished reading Crossover, and I am delighted that it won the award. It is a wonderful novel-in-verse about two African American brothers who love basketball. I’m not male, I’m not African American, and I don’t much like basketball. It doesn’t matter! The story is brilliant and the writing inspired. Alexander’s poetry jumps off the page and sings in your head. Some poetry you have to read aloud to hear it as poetry, but I could hear the cadence and the rhymes in my head even in silent reading.
Crossover is not only a book for people who love to read, it is a book that will appeal to those who hardly ever read. So, hats off to Kwame Alexander and the Newbery Award committee. Great book. Great choice.
July 21, 2014
The first Little Free Library was started in 2009 in Wisconsin. Since that time, more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries have been built.
I am happy to announce that my family has built a Little Free Library:
Our little library is near the end of our driveway (so the snow plow doesn’t knock it over in the winter). Books are available to anyone who walks by and wants to borrow one. The Little Free Library works on the honor system. Readers can borrow and return a book, or swap books.
People ask: Aren’t you worried that someone will steal the books? The answer is: a free book cannot be stolen!
My little free library is filled with books for both children and adults representing a variety of genres. My friend Sally helped paint the library and suggested the text above the door.
If you are ever in my neighborhood, stop by and borrow a book! To learn more about Little Free Libraries, visit the official website.