Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Summer and Bird

Truth: I'm an only child.

Odd way to start a blog post? Perhaps. At least when it comes to a book review. But there's a point to this, I swear.

I am an only child and while I have a flock of cousins both older and younger whom I have great relationships with, they certainly are not siblings. I've always claimed: my cousins are like my siblings, but as I grew older I noticed that the relationships siblings have with each other are much different than my relationship with my cousins. Basically, I don't understand siblings nor their relationship.

Often enough, I write out my desires in my novels, I write about characters who have siblings. I tend to get attracted to books  that feature the bonds of siblinghood because it makes me feel as if I have a better understanding of that kind of relationship. To me, it's something important and borderline magical.

I also tend to be drawn to the retellings of myths and fairy tales. I'm a sucker for that stuff. 

Summer and Bird focuses heavily on family dynamic. The bond of two sisters, the frustration amongst family members, how the action of one person can affect many others, and it's all nestled into a mystical world and entwined by the magic of the Swan Maiden.

The writing is beautiful and the narration is by someone who is nameless but omniscient. In the form of storytelling, they'll hint at future events, assure us we'll get to those points, and give us a dialogue that reminds me so much of fairy tales from childhood.

Summer (age 12) and Bird (age 9) are complete opposites. One is light, sunshine and freshness while the other is air, cool and more like nature. The girls wake one morning to discover their parents and cat have disappeared. Not in the magical sense, but by means of leaving in a hurried manner and only leaving behind a picture note that may or may not have multiple meanings that could or could not be indicating where their parents are.

The girls decide to go after their parents and find them, rather than going to authorities. I remember when I was little, one of my bigger fears was of my parents disappearing or abandoning me. A childish fear but one that was still very real and frightening for me. So, right away this book points out something children readers can identify with.

The girls go into the big woods: Summer tries to track and be the logical one while Bird follows gut feelings. A patchwork bird tries to help and they are brought to the world of Down. After traveling for some time, sleeping in the woods, trying to start fires and eat what snacks they have, Bird leaves Summer to go "on a path of her own."

I, for one, can't imagine just hiking into the woods as a child and sleeping on the ground. I would be frightened of what lurks in the dark. Even now I can't really imagine being able to do that. But again, we're introduced to another frightening idea -- losing your sister. For Summer, she is both angry and ashamed. Angry at her little sister for not listening and staying by Summer's side; but ashamed for having lost her little sister, her responsibility.

The girls from this point forward go on their own adventures. They learn, separately, the history of their parents romance -- that their mother is actually a swan that can become a human when shedding her feathered coat, and their father "captured" their mother's heart by hiding her coat. There's the typical villain of the story -- a crazed woman who eats birds and has left many others to go insane in cages. She whispers vile things into the ears of one of the girls and makes her idea of her parents rather twisted. While the other girl hears the truth and is able to have a better understanding and open heart.

But the villain doesn't remain the solitary villain. There are villains in other forms -- in that people make mistakes, or the choices they make can create future issues. It's all about choices. The swan queen -- the mother -- left her kingdom and her subjects to near ruin. The father made a selfish choice to hide his wife's coat but, when he wanted to give it back to her, discovered it had been stolen. The girls make their own choices and react in their own ways, both becoming a little darker, a little more heavy, with the facts of the world.

The family somewhat falls apart due to the choices of everyone involved so the "happily ever after" is somewhat lacking. However, happily ever after does not necessarily have to fit into one mold. It can be seen in many ways, even if it doesn't appear perfect.

This book, while beautifully written and geared towards children, does have a lot of dark qualities in it. I don't know if it would necessarily be child-appropriate. Although, often times children may not fully grasp the concepts at hand. It's also somewhat lengthy and the plot is slow to really develop. I found myself really pushing to get moving with the book during the first half, but once I passed that halfway-point I seemed to more easily make my way through. I would say, if anything, this would be more enjoyable for teens or adults. But every child is different, so I would leave this to a parent or guardian to determine if a child would enjoy this book.

Last Week's Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker
Next Week's Review: The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Month in Reviews -- February

I have mixed feelings about February. I'm glad we're really settled into the new year, saddened that the last of three day weekends are occurring (Presidents' Day weekend is a three day weekend for me! But I won't see another free bee weekend like that until Memorial Day), but I'm also super excited that the final winter holidays occur and I can really begin looking forward to spring.

February has been busy and pretty overwhelming. A lot of life choices were presented to me over the course of the month and with my work schedule and classwork overtaking my free time, I've often felt exhausted. Books, certainly, were my escape.

I've mentioned before that I follow a FODMAP-friendly diet to help manage my IBS, which I was diagnosed with almost a year ago but have been suffering from for eight years. It's a long road and I'm inching along with it. Certain foods need to be avoided and others, well, we'll see! I've also discovered an allergy to some medication I was taking and had to go off it. There's been a lot of research and learning of how to handle this new life but I'm feeling positive and made more progress in February. Hooray!

In the DC region we've experienced a number of seasons over the month. One weekend we had nearly 70 degree temperatures, which was spent entirely outdoors as we finally took down our outdoor Christmas lights and took a five mile hike. Then the temperatures dropped and we had -17 degree wind chills on Valentine's Day night, followed by snow squalls.

Valentine's Day was pretty fun this year as it was a part of a three day weekend and landed on a Saturday. It was filled with food treats and naps. Basically, it was awesome.

But once Valentine's Day was over, no matter the wind chill, I was taking out spring table cloths and putting away the winter decorations. While I want snowstorms for snow days, I also want warm spring weather. I can't wait to sit in the sunshine and read!

Aside from wanting warmer days, I want to share book reviews with you!

Book Reviews:

Other Posts:

Must Reads from the Web:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Longbourn entered my realm of knowledge a little at a time. The cover was one I was consistently noticing and after awhile I paused my skimming of magazines and websites to read the description of Longbourn. Another book of the Pride and Prejudice era? Something potentially riding on the coat tails of the successful show Downton Abbey? I can be quite catty about such things if I'm in a foul mood but usually it's unfounded. I'll move past my negative opinion and at least give the book a try. After all, I've read more than my share of books that were based on Pride and Prejudice -- call it a guilty pleasure. Longbourn was like this, in that the next time I saw the book I bought it and a short time later I was reading it.

Why the comparison to Downton Abbey? The book takes both the underworld of servanthood (much like that show) and combines it with Pride and Prejudice and begs to question: what did the servants of our beloved Bennets experience?

This book doesn't hold back nor does it make the more famous, beloved Bennet characters perfect as they are so often portrayed in Austen-esque novels (or movies, or tv shows, etc.). A household filled with women will without doubt bring on some unpleasant experiences. How did women handle periods when there weren't pads or tampons? Well, I found out.

The characters would get up before dawn just to prepare breakfast and the household for the homeowners. They would clean up after them, help them dress, do their laundry, prepare foods, run errands, and not really ever have an opportunity to do anything for themselves other than a little reading before bedtime.

I know very little about servants so the majority of this book was very humbling. Fiction or not, it's based on fact, and I felt horrible for complaining about doing my own laundry -- at least I have time to lay on the couch and watch TV, to cook for myself and not make fancy meals for someone else that I only have the left overs (or nothing at all). While I always loved Elizabeth and thought her to be so independent for running off and going through the mud with no care about clothes or what is expected of a woman, this book made me realize there were unspoken characters in the original book -- the servants who had to clean all the mud out of the clothes. 

But for all of this, secrecy and romance still happen and quick enough I was sucked into a very Austen-like love story. Mysterious men; the wrong love but then, possibly, the right love; and secrets within multiple families that are all tied together. I loved it, I was as tangled in the relationships of these characters as they were and quickly enough I was coming to the end of the book, stomping my foot, and demanding more.

I would urge anyone who enjoys Jane Austen -- especially Pride and Prejudice -- to pick up this book and give it a go. I completely understand what all the fuss was about and am adding to it. Go, go read it now!

Last Week's Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Next Week's Review: Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

If I Stay

I've seen this book on bookshelves for ages and have continuously ignored its presence. It was a YA book, I assumed a love story, and while the idea of the main character being in a coma and "how are they going to write a book that way" was intriguing, it wasn't enough for me to pick the book up.

Then I saw the trailer for the film. I didn't even realize it was a movie based on a book, not until near the end. Good job, movie producers, because I may have ignored it if I saw at the very beginning that the preview I was seeing was for this book (considering how determined I was to stay away from it for no good reason). The trailer caught my attention, I was interested in the cast, and I immediately was thinking, "I kind of want to see this movie."

Then I saw the title and went, "Well, shit. Now I have to read the book."

And read it I did.

The story is somewhat hard to swallow but not because it is poorly written or any of that -- it's the subject matter that's strange. Here we are, reading the memories of a girl who is in a coma after a horrible accident that killed her family. I was caught up in the story of how she met her family, how her family became a family, and her teenage years but then would be brought back to the present -- her present -- and the jarring fact that her life was hanging in the balance and the wonderful characters I had come to know were (at least some of them) dead.

The book can't help but bring the reader to question what they would do. Would you stay or would you go if you were aware of all that is going on around you and you had that choice. Would you stay or go if you had lost the people who you held dear. It was a question I kept turning over in my head and I'm glad of the author to not make it into an easy decision for the main character.

There were many relatable quotes in this book, many that you could highlight and think "this is something I would like said to me" or "I agree with this so much." But my particularly favorite section, my favorite moment, was when the main character's grandfather sat with her and was honest. If she wanted to go, she could, he would understand, but he did want her to stay as well. It was a very real moment, something that I have experienced when family members were on the brink of death. There is a certain romance with death, especially in fiction, but in the end when you are at the bedside of someone you love, someone who has suffered greatly, you will at times think of what could potentially be the best option for them, "I don't want you to suffer anymore. I'll miss you so much, I don't want you to leave, but it's ok if you go." That idea, that message, was what has hung onto me since I finished this book.

There is a follow-up book to this, a sequel if you will, which I'm not as interested in reading. I was satisfied with this book and I do want to see the movie (and judge it accordingly as I often do). But I don't want to mar the impression this book left on me with reading the following book. I'm perfectly content with the experience of this one.

Last Week's Review: Dancing with Mr. Darcy by Various Authors
Next Week's Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bookish Travel: City Lights Booksellers and Publishers

What: City Lights Books Website
Where: 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133
When: October 2014 (repeatedly)

Wedged between Little Italy and Chinatown on the rolling hills of San Francisco sits a building filled with my favorite of things -- books. With the cool air, the there and gone again fog, and coffee shops scattered in the vicinity, this is the picture of bookish.

When I arrived at San Francisco, we were dropped off outside of this bookstore so that we could head for our hotel (which was located a block away) and immediately, I was thrilled. "We're staying near a bookstore!" I exclaimed to the beau who sighed and said we didn't have enough room in our luggage to take back more books (that was a lie, by the way).

By the first full day that we were in the city, we were in the bookstore. Three floors of books, the outside sign declares, and it's the honest truth! Large windows let in light to the middle floor while the top floor, filled with poetry, has a more pleasant light from a few overhead lights and a window in the corner.

A rocking chair in the corner, a street musician outside the open window singing, and myself, sitting and enjoying the atmosphere. While this is certainly a bookstore to shop and pick up odds and ends, it's a place rich with atmosphere and history.

They also publish, which is awesome in my humble opinion. Their books have some connection to the city of San Francisco which I find even more exciting. It's nice to find regional books in indie book shops.

The store stays open until midnight which served us well plenty of times on our trip. Not being partyers or drinkers, we found ourselves wandering the shelves of the bookstore, pulling out books and reading them to one another in funny voices, and making mental notes of what to buy.

Outside of the store is also a special place for book enthusiasts, Jack Kerouac Alley. With brightly painted walls, street musicians or music from the local bars pouring out into the street, it's pleasant to pass down this alley and look at the quotes ingrained in the concrete by famous writers.

P.S.: I bought only two books while there, we definitely had room in our luggage for more.

View other bookish places or travel posts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dancing with Mr. Darcy

This was an impulse buy while at my local Barnes and Noble. It was placed on top of a bargain bin and while I generally stay away from the bargain bins (due to finding very few books of interest) this caught my eye. Snagging it, I inspected the book and upon approving it worthy of the few bucks in asking price, I bought it.

The page count isn’t extreme, which I have found I need with with collections of short stories. You would think that a love of reading would cover all aspects, including novels, novellas, and short stories, yet I’ve never found short stories (or essays) to grab my attention. It’s a true rarity when I do find something that seems to fit.

Funny, considering I co-wrote a short story in The Midnight Carnival.

I think my distrust in collections are from the works I find uninteresting. It’s a risk to buy a book and discover you only like one part of it. For Dancing with Mr. Darcy, I was pleased to enjoy a few of the stories, all of which could not be grouped together by writing style or plot.

What I found most impressive is that a month after I completed the book, I still found myself thinking of it fondly. I recalled specific stories – a mother and son traveling to the UK, a model, a dream – and I would get the same feeling I so often felt while reading Austen in the past: a quiet of the soul and content feeling in the heart.

Last Week's Review: Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith
Next Week's Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Reading Nook -- Sarah

My Reading Nook, a feature from Soon Remembered Tales, gives readers a chance to show off their favorite place to read.

What’s your reading nook? 

Roughly seven months ago, my partner and I moved in together - new apartment, new reading nook. I still feel as if I'm adjusting to the space, particularly when it comes to finding a comfortable and lighted area in a one-windowed loft with little to no privacy. I've taken to using the big leather chair, angled in the corner by the window. At least the feeling of seclusion is present. Cue the fluffy blankets and basset hounds to snuggle. 

Why is this nook special? 

The necessity of my nook is what makes it special, I think. Here's what I've learned from living in this open space with another person and two dogs: how to perform under pressure. I've always been a very distracted reader - quickly picking up my phone, playing with my dogs, thinking about how much laundry I have to do. However, I love reading and being in this new environment has truly forced me to focus. The dogs barking in the background or the boyfriend playing video games on the couch next to my nook does not bother me as much as these distractions once did. I don't think my reading nook fits its standard definition of cozy and comfortable, but it has given me a sense of flexibility and a place of study. 

Where else do you read? 

With this new self-awareness, I read just about everywhere I can - riding in the car, the elevator, in the line at the grocery store checkout, on my phone, my tablet, my computer. I oftentimes find myself pulling a book from our shelves in our office space, plopping down in the desk chair, and reading a few pages before moving on to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. 

About you: 

My name is Sarah Reynolds, a part-time blogger, full-time worker, and a forever lover of words. I am originally from the Endless Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania and now reside in Baltimore, Maryland. I have a degree in creative writing, editing, and publishing, but find myself working in higher education fundraising. Check out my blog, craft projects (#SarahCrafts), iPhone photography, and general life musings using the links below: