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#2017WritingGoals: It’s Timer Tuesday! | #amwriting #1k1hr

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

timer-tuesdayMoving forward with our “New Year, Revised Goals” theme for our 2017 Writing Goals effort, our challenge on Timer Tuesdays will be to schedule and complete a solid one-hour block of writing-related work during the day. If you’re still working on a word-count goal, please continue with a regular 1k1hr sprint, if you so desire. For those of us who are now looking at a goal of spending more time writing, the focus of that scheduled, uninterrupted hour isn’t trying to hit a word-count but just making sure we’re completely focused on something fiction-writing related for the entire hour with no distractions. Same goes for editing and revision, as well.

I’m going to try to do my #1k1h fiction-focused hour today at 5:30 PM US Central time*.

*To determine the time of the 1k1hr sprint in your time zone, go to the Time Converter website by clicking the image above and inputting my time (as Nashville or Central Standard Time) on the left, and your city/location on the right. For example, 5:30 PM Tuesday in Nashville is 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Sydney, Australia.

What time will you be doing your 1k1hr today? Or if you absolutely cannot do one full hour, how will you make sure you get at least one hour of writing-related work done today?

Remember, the more support (and accountability) there is, the more successful we’ll all be!

1k1h Tips for Success

  1. Prevent Interruptions.
    Let anyone within your household know that you need one uninterrupted hour to try to head off at the pass any interruptions.
  2. Set a Timer.
    This is most important. Don’t do this by just watching the clock. You’ll find yourself only watching the clock and not getting anything accomplished. Setting a timer allows you to forget about the time and concentrate fully on your project.
  3. Prepare Ahead of Time.
    Schedule your 1k1hr time far enough in advance (allow yourself at least an hour if not more) in order to start thinking about what you’re going to work on. Even if you’re doing something else until just about time to work, you can still use part of your brain to be thinking ahead as to what scene you’re going to write or what story idea you’re going to work on. Be sure to allow a few minutes before your work time starts in order to truly prepare, though.

    –For Sprint Writing: Re-read the last few pages you wrote (without editing/revising!) to get your head back into the story and figure out where you need to pick up. Review your outline and/or character pages in your Story Bible. If you’re going to be sprint writing, put all of that away so you don’t use those to procrastinate during the hour.

    –For Project Time: If you’re focused on building time rather than word-count, surround yourself with all of these things in order to keep from having to stop to find stuff as you work. The more things you have that will spark your creativity and present new ideas to you, the better.

  4. Music:
    –For Sprint Writing: If you listen to music while writing (I recommend instrumental so that you don’t get distracted by the lyrics), have it set up and playing before starting your timer. Use earphones, even if you’re working at home, to block out any sounds that might pull you out of your story.

    –For Project Time: Have you considered setting up a “playlist” for your story/idea? Do you have a theme song for each of your main characters? How does/could music play into your story idea/character development. (See this post for an example.)

  5. Wear Earphones.
    If you can’t listen to music while writing/working, I recommend wearing the earphones anyway. People are less likely to interrupt you (at home or working somewhere like a coffee shop) if you have them in/on—and they help block out other distracting sounds.
  6. Prepare Your Work Space.
    Make sure your work space (both physical and mental) is set up and ready to go before you start your timer, whether your sprint writing or working on a writing-related project for the hour. In other words, make sure that about five to ten minutes before you start the 1k1h time begins, you’re in the process of getting ready to work.
  7. Eliminate all distractions!
    Silence or turn off your cell phone (unless you’re using it as your timer—then don’t turn it off, just put your phone in Airplane Mode; or if there are people who may absolutely need to get in touch with you—spouse, kids, etc.—set up your Do Not Disturb with exceptions for those few people.). Close your Internet browser. Close Facebook and Twitter. Close your email program if you use something like Outlook that isn’t web-based.

Can’t figure out how to get started sprint writing? Check out one of the previous Timer Tuesday posts for ideas.

Don’t forget to check in with your progress and how you do with your own 1k1hr writing/project time today!

Books Read in 2017: ‘The Madness of Lord Westfall’ by Mia Marlowe (Regency Paranormal Romance | 3.5 stars)

Monday, February 20, 2017

the-madness-of-lord-westfall-by-mia-marloweThe Madness of Lord Westfall (The Order of the M.U.S.E. Book 2)
by Mia Marlowe
Genre: Regency Paranormal Romance
My rating: 3.5 stars

Book Summary:
Pierce Langdon, Viscount Westfall is mad. Everyone knows it. He fell from a tree when he was a boy and woke to hear strange voices. When the voices grow stronger as he grows older, his family commits him to Bedlam. But what he hears are the thoughts of those around him—a gift to be used in service to the Order of the M.U.S.E. Until he falls again…this time for a totally unsuitable woman.

Lady Nora Claremont hides her heartbreak behind the facade of a carefree courtesan. Viscount Westfall is the most confusing man she’s ever met. He seems to know exactly what she wants…and what she’s thinking.

Which is a dangerous thing, because what Nora wants is Pierce.

And what she’s thinking could expose her as a traitor to the crown.

My GR Status Update(s):
02/12. . .Currently Reading

02/14 . . . 20.0%—Not sure I like the heroine in this one as much as in Book 1, but still an enjoyable story so far.

02/15. . .54.0%
02/19. . .68.0%
02/20. . .Finished Reading

My Review:
I seem to be in the minority of people on Goodreads who enjoyed the first book in the series, The Curse of Lord Stanstead, a bit more than this one. In the first book, both main characters had supernatural powers—she as a fire mage, he as someone who can psychically implant thoughts in and influence others’ minds . . . and who, if he gets close to someone, can dream about them (nightmare) and then tragically see that dream come to horrific reality.

In this second book, only the hero, Pierce, has a supernatural ability—to “hear” the thoughts of others. Apparently, he didn’t have it his whole life; it started when he was a child and fell from a tree and hit his head. How head trauma could cause a supernatural ability, I have no idea, so this origin of his superability didn’t really work for me; but I was able to suspend disbelief. Regardless of how Pierce gained the ability, it was overwhelming and confusing for him as a child and, as an adult and the heir to the Viscount Westfall title (and lands and money and social status), his uncle (his father’s brother and therefore next in line after Pierce) had him committed to Bethlehem Hospital—Bedlam.

Having met Pierce in the first book, the idea that he found being around others difficult was already well established. So it was more than a little surprising to find him almost constantly around other people in this book. Yes, he’s learned to erect a mental shield against the thoughts of others (thanks to his mentor and founder of the Order of the MUSE, Lord Camden); but I would have found this much more believable had the toll this took on him been given more than just a few passing lines about how exhausting/difficult it was for him to keep this shield up constantly. I guess I subscribe to the Once Upon a Time school of thought when it comes to magic or superpowers—they always come with a price (or, to put it in real-world physics terms, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction).

The heroine of this book, Honora, is also a bit implausible. And it felt like Marlowe originally started writing her as one type of character (a voracious flirt who’s always saying outrageous things, like the other courtesan in this series, Vesta LaMotte) as that’s how she appears in her first scene; but this side of her is never seen again. And that Pierce can’t read her thoughts the first time he meets her and can’t immediately tell that she’s not the person she’s pretending to be, much less not sleeping with her patron, is one of the worst examples in this book of how there seem to be no rules to how superabilities work in the MUSE universe. At other times in the book, he has trouble clarifying the thoughts of others because they’re scattered, too fast, or too confusing (compared to trying to catch squirrels by the tail in one scene—yet I think that was actually from Honora’s viewpoint when she couldn’t settle her own mind). Okay, fine. But to say that he can’t read someone’s thoughts because they’re pretending to be someone else (actors) . . . it doesn’t really work. Maybe not being able to filter between the real persona and the fake—or having the real thoughts so deeply buried that he couldn’t get to them, okay, maybe.

Anyway . . . Nora (Honora) turns out to be nothing like the way she’s introduced in her first scene. In fact, she’s pretty boring. Her “secret” is both obvious and not scandalous or dangerous at all. (Boring.) She’s not the flamboyant, sensual, free-spirited, outrageous person that she’s introduced as in her first scene; instead, she’s . . . someone with little personality other than wanting to have sex with Pierce and being slightly concerned that her patron’s (Lord Albermarle) secret that he’s being blackmailed over doesn’t get out. (And even here she manages to be boring.)

In Book 1, both Garrett and Cassandra were “extraordinaires”—and both had superabilities that could not only both help and hurt others but could destroy each other. She had to learn to control her power as a fire mage lest she immolate everyone and everything around her (including Garrett); and if he came to care for her, he could potentially bring harm/death to her by having one of his nightmares-that-come-true about her. They had to work together in order to both control and mitigate each other’s destructive potential, and that’s what made the story, and the building of the relationship between them, work so much better than in this one.

Conversely, even after Nora learns of Pierce’s superability and that he knows of the plot that her patron is involved in (because of the aforesaid blackmail), she remains a passive figure in the intrigue part of this story (the supernatural threat/mystery that the Order of the MUSE is trying to solve), being unwilling to help Pierce figure out a way to get rid of the supernatural item that is to be used for nefarious purposes—even though she knows what it is, where it is, and what it’s to be used for and probably had easy access to it the whole time. Instead, Pierce must put himself in both physical and mental peril in order to try to bring a resolution to this part of the storyline. By the time Nora does finally decide to act, it’s almost too late, as Pierce has already pretty much worked out just about everything by himself, and her appearance comes almost as a deus ex machina moment in order to bring the crisis moment to a quick/neat solution.

SPOILER (highlight to reveal) And what bothered me the most about this story was its conclusion. In escaping Bedlam, Pierce once again receives a blow to the head. He’s out cold for about a day (it was a week when he was a child). When he wakes up, he cannot read anyone’s thoughts anymore. I was SO annoyed with this! It’s just like the stories in which a character loses their eyesight due to a blow to the head/injury, only to receive another similar injury/blow toward the end and, miracle of miracles, they get their sight back. It’s a cop out and bad storytelling. (And now the character has even worse traumatic brain injury than they had before.)

I know I’ve focused mostly on the negative in this review. I did enjoy reading this book, for the most part. Marlowe is a good writer and tells a great story. She keeps the narrative/plot moving along and only rarely gets mired down inside a character’s head to the point that I started skimming—but this was usually only a few paragraphs.

This was enjoyable enough that I’m still really looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Fun Friday: Another Ransome Spin-Off Story Idea

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fun Friday 2013

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on story ideas for the “next generation” of characters as a spin-off/sequel series from the Ransome Trilogy. You may not have seen others yet, so here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Working title: Her Independent Heart
This is the story that’s hinted at in the epilogue of Ransome’s Quest—the romance between Eleanor Ransome (older daughter of William and Julia) and James Yates (only son of Colin and Susan).

James Yates = Arthur Darvill
Eleanor Ransome = Karen Gillan (adjusted for hair/eye color)

Working Title: Secrets of His Heart
The romance story for Edward Ransome (older son of William and Julia), which involves the daughter of Sir Drake Pembroke, Cordelia (Pembroke) Eckley-Hibbitt.

Cordelia Pembroke Eckley-Hibbit = Holliday Grainger
Edward William Ransome = Tom Mison
Clara Eckley-Hibbitt = Catherine Steadman

Working Title: An Antiquities Affair
Telling the story of the eldest child of Ned and Charlotte (Ransome) Cochrane, Charles Lott Cochrane.

Charles Lott Cochrane = Chris Hemsworth
Olivia Ahern = Elsa Pataky

Working Title: My Fair . . . Lady?
Telling the story of the only daughter of Colin and Susan Yates, the Lady Marianne Yates; and the eldest son of Michael (a.k.a., El Salvador) and Serena Witherington, Michael Edward Witherington II.

Michael Witherington = Michiel Huisman
The Lady Marianne Yates = Sophie Turner

And now for the story that I’ve been working on for the better part of the last several days, featuring the fourth child of Ned and Charlotte (Ransome) Cochrane, Catherine Julia (“Kitty/Kit”) Cochrane.

Working Title: When First We Met

[Begin Backstory]

Kitty Cochrane = Jessica de Gouw

Kitty Cochrane = Jessica de Gouw

Four years ago, halfway into her second Season, Kitty Cochrane, fourth child of Admiral Ned and Charlotte Cochrane, was sent to Jamaica to stay with her uncle and his family on their sugar plantation. Though no one outside of the family knew why, she was sent to be protected by the distance the ocean provided. In the process of being one of the most sought-after young ladies of the London Season, Kitty drew most men’s attention. Including that of a man who became so obsessed with the belief that she was in love with him that he kidnapped her in an attempt to run away and elope. When she told him she didn’t want to marry him, that she didn’t love him (that she didn’t even remember meeting him), he was enraged and tried to strangle her. (Thus, she now cannot stand to have anything close around her throat—collar, necklace, scarf, etc.) she managed to fight him off and get away to get help. However, he disappeared before the constables could find him. Two nights later, back at home in Portsmouth, Kitty woke up to find him climbing into her bedroom window. Her vocal cords had not yet recovered from the strangling, but she was able to make enough noise throwing objects at him to draw her sister’s attention in the adjoining room—and to send him fleeing before he could be caught. Within a week, Kit was on a ship with her mother and older brother on the way to Jamaica.

Kit didn’t mean to stay in Jamaica for four years. In fact, she was certain a year would be long enough. However, occasional sightings of her stalker by the Bow Street Runners her parents hired over the next few years was enough for her to decide to stay put. And then, after a couple of years, she didn’t want to leave. She’d become part of the Ransome family, with her same-age cousin, Eleanor, who quickly became her closest friend and confidante. She even accompanied Eleanor to Philadelphia when Eleanor ran away to escape an arranged marriage. (See Her Independent Heart.) When Eleanor eventually fell in love with James Yates and agreed to marry him, the three returned to Jamaica for the wedding preparations to commence.

When her parents and siblings arrived in Jamaica, Kit learned that the last the detective had been able to track down about her attacker was that he’d been arrested and executed for a crime in the north part of the country. It was now safe for her to return to England. Kit was glad to hear this, since Eleanor had asked her to go with her, since she’d know no one else in Portsmouth when she returned with James.
[End Backstory]

Witherington House in Portsmouth is large enough that Kit has the entire third floor of guest rooms to herself, which alleviates any awkwardness of living with newlyweds. It’s a bit of a culture shock to return to England after so many years away. So much so that she’s almost physically ill at the idea of once again “debuting” into society. But, as her mother, sisters, and Eleanor remind her, at least it’s Portsmouth and not London. To ease the way into society for both of them, Eleanor enlists Kit’s help to plan a “small” card party at Witherington House, at which most of Kit’s family will be in attendance.

The evening goes fine, which helps Kit to set aside some of her anxiety—enough that she accepts an invitation to a ball a few nights later at the lavish home of the Dowager Countess Dalrymple (who was at the dinner) in order to be re-introduced to society. Lady Dalrymple’s guest list is always diverse and wide-ranging–from other aristocrats to many naval officers and genteel but solidly middle-class families like Kit’s. After dancing with James Yates and a few friends of her brothers’, Kit has finally started breathing easier and enjoying herself . . . Until she excuses herself to the ladies’ refreshing room after a couple of hours and finds herself alone and face-to-face with him. Although he doesn’t attempt to touch her, he is menacing and threatening, promising her that either he will have her or no one will.

Philip Grantly = Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Philip Grantly = Oliver Jackson-Cohen

She spends a sleepless night at her parents’ home, guarded by several burly men from the naval yard. The next morning, her father introduces her to Philip Grantly, a former naval captain (and intelligence officer) whom Ned has hired to finally find the stalker and bring him to justice (and protect her, but he knows his daughter too well to tell her that). Philip believes that the only way to draw out this man is to ensure that Miss Cochrane remains as socially active and visible as possible. Which, of course, means that he must attend all social events she’s invited to as well. How else will he be able to catch the stalker (i.e., protect her)?

When her attendance at social events doesn’t draw the man out, Kit comes up with a drastic plan. She and Philip will pretend to become engaged, with banns read, an announcement in the newspaper, and a ball in their honor held at Witherington House. The ruse indeed draws him out. He sets fire to Kit’s bedroom as he makes his escape. The fire is put out without too much damage, but it’s decided that Kit is no longer safe in the city. However, they still must draw him out somehow.

It’s decided that Colin and Susan Yates, Earl and Countess Childers, will host a house party at their sprawling Hampshire estate. (Colin says that the stalker would be doing him a favor if he burned it to the ground, as the upkeep on the oft-remodeled Tudor manor costs far too much.)

A week passes with no hint of the stalker. It’s decided that the only way to get him to make another attempt is for the men, including Philip, to very publicly put it out that they’re leaving to spend three days at Colin’s hunting lodge half a day’s ride from the main house.

And then . . . some bad things happen. It looks like Kit’s relationship with Philip may end/may never happen/may be torn apart forever. There’s a crisis. And there’s a happy ending. I just haven’t figured all that out yet. (And you wouldn’t want me to give away the whole story, would you?

Timed, Handwritten, Offline, Remote–It’s THORsday! | #amwriting #2017WritingGoals

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017-thorsdayOn Thursdays, we do an alternate version of Timer Tuesday—instead of challenging ourselves to sit at the computer and try to crank out as many words as fast as we can, the challenge is to get away from the computer.

What Does THORsday Mean?
It’s pretty simple. Our writing challenge for today is:

What that means is that for the length of time you designate (half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour, etc.), you will write by hand (on actual paper). You will turn off all of your Internet-connected devices (or put them away/get away from them). And you will find a remote spot in which to work—in other words, don’t do this at the same place where you usually write. Go into a different room. Go outside. If you can, get out of the house and go work somewhere else, like your public library or a coffee shop.

Otherwise, try to follow all of the [revised] suggestions that we use for regular 1k1hr writing sprints.

Leave a comment with your THORsday goal—when, where, and for how long do you plan to do your handwritten challenge today? If you’d like to, for accountability’s sake, come back afterward and post an image of your handwritten work.

Link to instructions for posting images in the comments.

Writer-Talk Wednesday: Debunking Writing Myths

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Never use adverbs. Always show instead of tell. You have to be active on social media. Read as many craft books as you can. Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard these and more taught as “rules” of writing. More often than not, though they’re myths. And I’m here to debunk them.

myth vs truth
Originally published Fall 2010–Spring 2011

Debunking Writing Myths: Blogging & Social Media

    You MUST be involved in social media through blogging, Facebook, and Twitter if you want to get published.

    You MUST write a great, well-crafted story, and you must study the market/industry if you want to get published. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “Write What You Know”

    “Write what you know” means you can only write about what you have personally done or experienced in the confines of your own life.

    “Write what you know” means you can use everything you’ve experienced in your life to imagine other possibilities, other worlds, other outcomes. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “Omniscient POV Is Bad”

    Omniscient POV is bad—it’s lazy writing, it’s a sure sign of an amateur, it’s the same thing as head-hopping.

    Omniscient POV is not the same thing as head-hopping; those who do it well are masters of the craft and work hard at it. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “First Person POV is the easiest to write.”

    I’m going to write my story in first person, because first-person point of view is the easiest to write.

    First-person POV may seem to be easier, but it’s actually just as hard to do as any other POV—sometimes harder. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “Eliminate all WASes and HADs from Your Manuscript”

    Eliminate ALL instances of was and had from your manuscript. Those are passive verbs, and that means they’re bad, bad, bad.

    Sometimes, you need a good was or had to keep things coherent and easy to read. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “Eliminate ALL Adverbs”

    Eliminate every single adverb from your writing because adverbs are bad, bad, bad.

    Though adverbs should be used sparingly, sometimes you do actually need them. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “Read, Read, Read”

    If you want to be a writer you must “read, read, read” all the time to learn how.

    When you are in the throes of creating the first draft of your story, reading fiction may actually work against you. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: Always/Never Use “Said” Dialogue Tags

    Never use a “said” dialogue tag. / The only dialogue tag you should ever use is “said.”

    Like anything else in writing overuse of anything is lazy writing and can frustrate readers (and editors). more…

Debunking Writing Myths: The Opening Salvo

    Never open with dialogue. / Never open with description. / Never open with introspection. / Never use was and/or had in opening lines. / Always open in media res.

    The rules to follow for your opening lines are that they capture the readers’ attention and that they set the tone for your story. more…

Debunking Writing Myths–“Never use fragments, one-word sentences, or one-line paragraphs.”

    Never use fragments, one-word sentences, or one-line paragraphs.

    If it makes sense, works for the story you’re telling, and flows for you, use it. more…

Debunking Writing Myths: “Showing Is Always Better than Telling”

    You should always make sure that you’re always writing in an active, showing style, rather than just telling the reader what’s happening. Showing is always better than telling in fiction.

    Sometimes, telling is much better than showing. more…

A Valentine’s Day Short Story: “Hearts in Tune”

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

hearts-in-tune After a few hours of unsuccessfully trying to sleep, Lyric got out of the bed and went down to the kitchen and put the tea kettle on. She wished she could write-off her sleeplessness to excitement, but she wasn’t excited. And she couldn’t understand why.

Last year, she’d jumped at the chance to return to the Nashville Symphony Center to fill in for the lead soprano in the Valentine’s Day program. She’d been flattered to have been asked, as she’d recently left the professional music world for the academic. It had kept her from spending the day with absolutely nothing to do.

Three months ago, when they’d called to ask her to come back this year, Lyric had said no. For the first time since she’d left her parents’ home in Rome to come to the US for college, Lyric had had a date for Valentine’s day . . . with Matt.

Matt. His name tasted bitter in her mouth. When Maestro Domingo had personally called two weeks ago and again asked her to come sing, since the soprano had just been taken to the hospital for an emergency tonsillectomy, Lyric couldn’t refuse.

She couldn’t help but feel that Matt had reacted out of jealousy—that he was jealous that she was still occasionally invited to be involved in the world of professional music and he wasn’t. It wasn’t her fault that his album hadn’t been picked up by a record label, even though he’d been a member of one of the most popular boy-bands twenty years ago. It also wasn’t her fault that the other three former members of that boy-band all had albums in the Top 20.

He’d asked her to choose between him and going to Nashville.

Lyric wanted both. She’d told him that if he’d been invited to sing somewhere on Valentine’s Day, he would have dropped everything and done it, trying to get him to be objective about it. She’d asked him to go with her. She’d even promised she’d use her contacts in the Music City to get him meetings with some artist management companies and recording labels.

Matt had refused and told her that if she went to Nashville, he would take it as her saying she didn’t want to be with him anymore.

She was going to Nashville . . . alone.


The lines at the curbside check-in were long, but Lyric could tell the lines were even longer at the counter inside the airport. The taxi couldn’t get closer than a few stands down from her airline, but the driver helped her with her suitcase, for which she was grateful.

An hour and a half later, Lyric boarded the plane. She’d treated herself to a first-class ticket and so got to board before the rest of the masses of people waiting to board. She set her earphones into her ears, and closed her eyes, visualizing the sheet music of the pieces she’d be singing as she listened.

Even with the music turned up as loud as she could stand to listen to it, all she could hear were Matt’s accusations and ultimatums. How could he have treated her like this? Why couldn’t he understand and be supportive?

At the airport, Lyric went straight to the rental car counter and secured a car before going to the luggage claim to get her bags. She arrived at the symphony center a few hours early and one of the production staff setting up for the concert found someone who could show her to a dressing room.

Lyric napped fitfully, trying to catch up on the rest she hadn’t gotten last night. When she joined the rest of the company to warm up with the orchestra, her head throbbed and she felt on the verge of tears. She didn’t want to be here. But now, she didn’t have a choice.

She thought about what Matt had told he had planned for their Valentine’s Day together. Hiking in Kisatchie National Forest. Watching the sunset from a hot-air balloon. And, finally, dinner and dancing at Vue de Ciel—the cavernous sky-view event venue at the top of the tallest building in downtown Bonneterre.

Mechanically, she went through the warm-ups, receiving the greetings of her former colleagues with a forced smile.

Throughout the performance that evening, Lyric felt as if she were experiencing everything second-hand. She felt numb, dead inside. The solace and escape she usually found in music was, for the first time in her life, not there. It all seemed empty and meaningless.

Even the applause and cheers from the audience meant nothing to her. She had to see if there was some way she could get back to Bonneterre tonight. There was no way she could spend even one more day away.

She escaped the back-stage crush as quickly as she could and returned to her dressing room—but jolted to a halt in the hallway. The door was slightly ajar, and she knew she’d closed it before. Approaching as quietly as she could, she pushed it open slowly.

Her mouth dropped open and her heart pounded when she saw the interior of the room. Every imaginable surface was covered with vases of roses. And they were the largest, most beautiful white and red roses Lyric had ever seen.

“I’m sorry.”

Tears sprang to her eyes at the sound of Matt’s voice. Slowly, she turned toward the sound—then gasped at the discovery that he was mere inches from her. Before she could give voice to her many questions, Matt drew her to him, one hand at the small of her back, the other winding into her carefully styled hair. Her breath caught in her throat and she almost forgot how to keep herself upright as he kissed her.

“How . . . when . . .?” she whispered when the kiss ended.

“I flew in this afternoon. In fact, I barely got here in time for the performance,” Matt said, reaching up to wipe away the tear that had escaped Lyric’s eye. “You were wonderful.”

“I don’t understand.”

Matt’s smile was gentle and contrite. “I was afraid I was going to lose you. I didn’t want you to come up here and decide you wanted to come back to this. So, I realized I needed to come up here and give you a reason to come back to Bonneterre.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box even as he went down onto one knee. “Lyric, I can’t live without you. Will you marry me?”

© 2017 by Kaye Dacus

Books Read in 2017: ‘Brightwood’ by Tania Unsworth (Middle Grade Suspense, 4 stars)

Monday, February 13, 2017

by Tania Unsworth
Genre: Middle Grade Suspense
My rating: 4 stars

Book Summary:
In this spine-tingling tale, a girl fights to save her home and her life from a mysterious stranger.

Daisy Fitzjohn knows there are two worlds: the outside world and the world of her home, a secluded mansion called Brightwood Hall. But only Brightwood is real for Daisy—she’s never once set foot outside its grounds. Daisy and her mother have everything they need within Brightwood’s magnificent, half-ruined walls, including Daisy’s best friends: a talking rat named Tar and the ghost of a long-ago explorer who calls herself Frank.

When Daisy’s mother leaves one morning, a peculiar visitor, James Gritting, arrives on the estate, claiming to be a distant cousin. But as the days tick by and Daisy’s mother doesn’t return, Gritting becomes more and more menacing. He wants Brightwood for himself, and he will do anything to get it.

Tania Unsworth takes readers on a twisting, heart-pounding journey through dark corridors and wild woods to a place where the line between imagination and madness is sometimes hard to find.

My GR Status Update(s):
02/06. . .Currently Reading
02/06. . .10.0%

02/11 . . . 51.0% If no one knows that you exist, then how do you know for sure that you really do exist? This story reminds me a lot of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”—with all the fascination and creepiness that not knowing if a narrator is unreliable or not can bring.

02/12 . . . Finished Reading

My Review:
What an interesting book! When I first added this to my Goodreads list, based on the summary above, I marked it as Paranormal fiction. However, the use of the term “ghost” is misleading. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you’ve read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” you might have some clue as to why it isn’t truly a paranormal story.

Even though my timeline shows that it took me six days to read this book, it’s really a pretty quick read (about 3–4 hours, depending on how fast you read)—as a novel for middle-grade/tween readers, it’s not overly long. However, the length of the book and the age of the heroine, Daisy, are really the only things that mark this as a story for “younger” readers. Unsworth’s writing sparkles, and she doesn’t “dumb down” the language, style, or complexity of her prose in order to cater to perceptions about what young readers might and might not be able to understand. In fact, were I a middle-school English teacher, this would be a great book for the students to read with assignments to dissect the sentence and story structure, along with a nice vocabulary list to learn!

For example, after Daisy’s mother disappears and James Gritting arrives, he is surprised to find Daisy on the property and tells her that no one knows she exists. Later, speaking to the topiary horse (named True), Daisy poses a deeply philosophical question and receives an equally deep answer in return:

“If nobody knows you exist, how do you know you exist? . . . How do you know if you’re real?”

“You feel the wind,” he suggested. “You see the clouds passing overhead. You hear the hum of the earth turning.”

“But how can you be sure?” Daisy asked. “How can you be sure you’re not imagining it. Or somebody else is. What if someone is just imagining me? Like a character in a book. Do characters in books know they’re only made up?” . . .

“Be still. Listen. Deep inside you, deeper than your mind and deeper than your heart, something lies hidden. Nothing can touch it, not the gardener’s shears, not rain or storm, not even the boxwood blight. Can you feel it?”

Daisy felt the slow surge of her breath and the beating of hear heart. . . . She opened her eyes and stared up at the calm, endless sky until something unfurled within her that was just as calm and just as endless.

“That’s your Shape,” True told her. “That’s how you know you exist. And you have to keep your Shape, Daisy. No matter what happens.”

“I will,” she said. “I promise I will.”

(Kindle loc. 872–882)

In the long run, it’s this idea of “keeping your Shape” that helps Daisy through some of the most harrowing parts of the book. And she’s helped out along the way by Tar, the rat; Frank, a black-and-white apparition of a young woman who supposedly assisted Daisy’s great-great-grandfather on his safaris/adventures; True, the topiary horse; the Hunter, a statue in the garden; and other “friends” around the estate. (Don’t worry, it all makes sense in the book.)

Circling back to “The Yellow Wallpaper”—if you haven’t guessed it from the fact that Daisy has never set foot outside the boundaries of the walls surrounding Brightwood, there is/are (a) character(s) with mental instability in this story. And, like that classic short story, with the narrow scope of a limited Point of View of just one character (in this case in third person, rather than first), it’s hard to be sure if the narrator is 100% reliable all the time—if what’s being reported as happening is really happening. Does the topiary horse really speak? Is Frank real? Is James Gritting truly not so bad, or is he masking some kind of maliciousness? Daisy lets the reader know that “The Crazy” runs strong in the Fitzjohn family. And while, for the eleven years of her life until now, Daisy has taken for granted that the way she and her mother live is normal (in an enormous manor house which Daisy can get around only by climbing over, under, and around furniture, stacks of books, and unopened delivery boxes; knowing they have a stockpile of food that could last them for years; and living life by her mother’s very strict schedule), it isn’t long after Gritting arrives that Daisy is forced to reconcile what she’s learned (home-schooled, of course) about the rest of the world and the life she’s lived up to this point.

It’s her friends (the rat, the topiary horse, the ghost, the statue…) which help her see things that she’s known all along but just didn’t want to admit to. And all the while, she’s in the middle of trying to figure out who James Gritting is, why he’s there, and what he wants—and decide whether or not she should risk venturing into the outside world to get help.

All in all, a wonderful story. I look forward to reading more from this author.

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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