Gravekeeper

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I take them to the tombs as soon as they arrive. Marcus brings them out of the trees like a huddle of wet chicks, their hair and clothes drenched by the weeping rain, their eyes wide in their thin faces. I’ve never seen him bring so many, but he says that the silver mines are getting worse. The more children that escape, the harder the slave drivers push the others. He couldn’t afford to leave any behind this time.

We bring them to the graveyard and hide them in the stone coffins. They’re afraid of the dark, the stone angels, the heavy coffins, but they’re more afraid of the soldiers that will be riding after them through the trees. They can’t be far away now.

As soon as the lids are shut over top of them, I hurry back to the caretaker’s house. Marcus stays behind, in the coffins with the children, and my father and I will greet the soldiers when they come. The gravekeeper and his daughter.

Hopefully the rain will have erased their little tracks by that time.

The stone angels watch me go as I run down the paths. I can already hear the clink of armor, the rattle of hooves in the dark pines beyond our walls. They’re coming for the children, and this time I’m afraid they’ll find them. We’ve never hidden so many before. If one of them begins to wail, just one, we’ll lose them all, and Marcus too.

Doubtless the soldiers will kill us on their way out too.

My father stands at the gate as they arrive. He’s holding a lantern in his shaking hand, and leaning on his stick as if he needs the support much more than he really does. His hair is white and lank with all the rain, and the scar on his face is livid in the lamplight when he smiles at the approaching horsemen. “Come to visit the ghosts, gentlemen?”

Book Reviews: “The Birdwoman” and “Evocation”

An awesome review for my short story book. Thank you!

The Edifying Word

I don’t usually read short stories, though not really for any particular reason, but the two collections I’m reviewing here today make me wonder whether I should more actively seek them out. When I was brand new to Twitter a few short months ago I went on a book-accumulating spree (translation: I followed lots of authors, and every time an author advertised a book as free to download from Amazon I clicked the link and downloaded the book), and these are two of the books I happened to “buy for free,” as Amazon puts it. In any case, they are both worth actually buying.

The Birdwoman: . . . and other short storiesThe Birdwoman and Other Short Stories by A.R. Geiger

This collection of stories is phenomenal. I was captivated from the very beginning, commenting on my Kindle after the first story, Stowaway, “I want more!” The stories are truly short–several pages, on average–but they pack in…

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4 Reasons You Need A Bookshelf In Your House

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I live in a tiny house. I have one bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two bookshelves.

I also have two cupboards filled with books that I couldn’t fit on my shelves.

So, to convince myself (and you) that I am not a hoarder and do not require an intervention, I’ve come up with four reasons why every home needs a bookshelf.

Or maybe three bookshelves.

Or six.

Ahem.

1) Decor

Empty walls are boring and paintings are expensive. Books are expensive too, but if you buy from thrift stores, used bookstores, and library sales, it will take a little longer for you to go broke.

I know this from experience.

2) Endless Entertainment

Running to the library every time you need a new book is all well and good . . . right up until you run out of new reading material in the middle of a snowstorm and can’t get to town.

I wouldn’t take the risk.

3) Conversation Starters

Books are great conversation starters, especially at awkward parties where no one knows quite what to say. (Can you tell I’m 89% introvert?) Finding a friend who likes the same books as you do is hard to do, especially now when so few people have time to read. If your books are out on display in your living room instead of stuffed in your closet, you may stumble across someone with the same taste as you the next time you have a party.

Or, if you’re as introverted as I am, you can skip the party and read instead.

4) All your friends (or books) are collected in one place

I’m not the type to read a book, finish it, and then never pick it up again.

I get attached.

I like to revisit my favorites, read the chapters I loved the best, or just have them around. In case. You never know when you might need a familiar story to help you through a sick day, or pass the time at the doctor’s office, or, if you’re very brave, loan to a friend. (I don’t have the stomach for this one very often.) Having them on hand when I need them is one of my favorite parts of having bookshelves in my bedroom, no matter how much space I sacrificed to squeeze them in there.

I could come up with a few more reasons, but I think these start off the topic well. What are your favorite excuses for having too many bookshelves? I’d love to add to my list the next time someone accuses me of hoarding!

Daisy Chains

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They take us to the meadows once a month. We aren’t often allowed outside. Most of the time the keepers like to have us where they can see us, and where no one else can, but once a month they let us come to the meadows with them to make a daisy chain.

Retta starts it. She’s the best at beginning the chain, and for a long time I only bring her the flowers I pick and leave them in her lap. Her bright hair falls over her face while she braids the daisies into a long line, tying them together with grass stems and willow leaves, and sometimes, if I ask very nicely, she’ll sing for me while we work.

These are the days I like best. The birds sing so beautifully for us when we come out, as if they know how long it’s been since we’ve seen the blue sky and smelled the fresh wind and felt the grass beneath our bare feet. Our dresses are getting a little small, the hems of our skirts nearly up to our knees, but the keepers have promised we’ll have new ones next month, when the supplies come in. I hope mine is as blue as the sky, although I know Retta wants hers to be as yellow as the daisies that grow in the meadow. We always match, but sometimes I wish we could have separate colors.

The daisy chain grows quickly. We’re very practiced at making them. Last month’s chain fell apart in three days, so Retta is making extra sure to braid it tightly this time. It’s only just dusk when she finishes, and we have a little time to run through the grass before the keepers come. They lead us home on our daisy chain, but we’ll come back next month.

They promised.

Roverandom

J.R.R Tolkien is, in my opinion, the greatest fantasy author in our day and age. He created entire cultures, languages, people groups, races, and set the tone for fantasy in our generation.

He also wrote Roverandom.

Bless this man.

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For anyone who has ever read The Lord of the Rings, you know that Tolkien was incredibly detailed in his writing. He wrote his books as if they were history, putting so much depth into his races, his characters, and his world in general, that it’s possible to study his works as deeply you would any history book or culture. He was a linguist, a professor of Oxford, and a poet. His books, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit, are world-renowned.

It brings such joy to my heart to know that this same man also wrote and published a story about a little dog who barked at a wizard and went to visit the moon.

Roverandom is a fairytale. One of the sweetest fairytales I’ve read in a long time, in fact, about little Rover, a dog who was rude to a wizard and, as a result, was turned into a toy. His adventures following this unfortunate turn of events lead him from the surface of the moon to the depths of the ocean. Because the story is one of Tolkien’s, it obviously has a dragon in it, and merpeople, and the Man-in-the-Moon, and many twists and turns along the way. Rover—or Roverandom, as the Man-in-the-Moon calls him—learns to fly, meets the first dog ever to be named Rover, plays on the moon, goes to see the King of the Sea, and becomes a merdog. But really, all he wants throughout the whole story is to get back to being a real dog and go home. But for that, he must track down the wizard he nipped at in the first place, and get him to change his spell.

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The story was written for Tolkien’s son, Michael, after he lost his own little toy dog while on vacation with his father. It has the detail and imagination of all of Tolkien’s works, the more childish fantasy of the Hobbit, and a charming wit that is all its own. I would definitely recommend it to any fans of Tolkien, or just anyone who likes a good fairytale.

Not every old man with ragged trousers is a bad old man: some are bone-and-bottle men, and have little dogs of their own; and some are gardeners; and a few, a very few, are wizards prowling round on a holiday looking for something to do.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Choosing a favorite author is never an easy thing to do. Most of us could pick ten or twelve names without thinking about it too much, then add another few to that once we’ve had a few minutes to consider.

I’ve got a whole list of authors that I admire, both for the books they write and the things they stand for. J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Wayne Thomas Batson, and Cornelia Funke are just a few of the names on my list, but another name that I would put down is Victor Hugo.

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Most readers tend to skip Hugo’s work, mostly because—and I will be the very first to admit it—he is notoriously long-winded. His books are massive, and the details that he goes into in Les Miserables, such as a drawn out account of the battle of Waterloo and a in-depth description of the sewers of Paris, tend to stray from the original storyline. Since everything I read tends to fuel my imagination, I found the description of the sewers fascinating. But we won’t go into that right now.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Most of us know this story from the Disney version, where the handsome captain saves the beautiful gypsy girl, Quasimodo is accepted into society, and the bumbling gargoyles keep us laughing through the film.

Hugo’s version is much more complicated.

And much darker.

The story follows two people throughout the book, although, being Victor Hugo’s work, we are introduced to—and given the life story of—many other characters. Quasimodo and Esmeralda are really the centerpieces to this story, however. A hunchback and a gypsy. Both are outcasts from society, one of them confined to the bell tower of the Notre Dame cathedral, the other living in the streets of Paris. The story is a long and winding one, full of twists and turns and endless frustration, but these two are finally thrown together when Esmeralda is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be executed. Quasimodo, the only decent man in the whole book, rescues her and takes her into Notre Dame, claiming sanctuary for her within the walls of the church, something not even the law will cross.

From the first, I was struck by the different types of ‘love’ displayed in this book. (I say love, although most of these examples were not love, but selfishness.)

In Captain Phoebus (who was a cad and didn’t deserve the title of ‘hero’ that Disney put on him) we see lust.

In Dom Frollo, obsession is clearly demonstrated, to the point of being terrifying. The man needs a hobby. And possibly medication.

Quasimodo’s affection for the girl was the only one of these three that came close to actual love, in the way he cared for her while she was trapped in Notre Dame, his concern for her feelings and safety, and the selfless way he gave up what little was his for her, even defending her when Frollo’s obsession threatened her.

Victor Hugo is not known for writing puffed up, feel-good stories. (Anyone who knows anything about Les Miserables can tell you that. The book is literally called ‘The Miserable Ones’.)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame follows this pattern. As kind and selfless as Quasimodo is, he is not handsome, and Esmeralda rejects him in favor of Captain Phoebus. (Who is still a cad.) The Disney movie ends happily, but the book—well, if Disney had kept to the original story, they would have gotten quite a few calls from horrified parents.

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Sad as the book is, I still enjoyed it immensely. Victor Hugo is a masterful writer, long-winded or not. (He’s also a sass master and had a habit of needling very important people, which may be why I love him so much.) The book is a timeless masterpiece, and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys the classics.

And the inexplicable part of it is, that the blinder this passion, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is utterly unreasonable.

To The Mouse Living In My Woodpile

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My cat does not approve of you.

I think she would be less annoyed if you stopped pulling faces at her through the window. While it’s true that I don’t let her out of the house very often, she does occasionally find a door open and slip outside for a midnight run. Also, she is not one to forgive and forget. Please keep this in mind.

I left some nuts for you beneath the cedars. Please leave the bird feeder alone, and don’t chase the sparrows, as they are particular friends of mine. The squirrels too, are some of my favorites to see, but I don’t think you’ll find them too much of a bother to have around. Your nest is much too small for them to wriggle into anyway.

The dog next door may bark at the fence, but I have never seen him in my yard. You may stop worrying about him.

I do not particularly like nibbling around my doors in the middle of the night. If we are to be neighbors, I would appreciate it if you kept to the regular daytime hours for your excursions into my pantry and larder. One mouse can hardly eat me out of my own home, but I don’t like the holes. If you would like to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg, please ask.

Watch out for the owl who lives in the pine tree in the front yard. He has deprived me of many of my small neighbors, and his disposition has not improved over the years, no matter how many snacks he indulges in.

You have been warned.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

I love reading classics. Les Mis, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Villette, Homer, the Odyssey . . . I’ve read them all and enjoyed them all. My reading habits are—diversified, to say the least. I read everything from children’s fiction to YA to historical fiction and non-fiction to adult novels to myth to fantasy to—well, you get the idea. Classics fit somewhere in the middle, I think.

Don’t ask me how.

I still don’t know.

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This book, Journey to the Center of the Earth, was one of the first real classics that I had ever read. Also the first one I really had to work to finish, despite how much I enjoyed reading it. (I don’t include Jane Eyre on that list, of course. I never had to work to read that one.) Whole chapters in this book were devoted to scientific jargon, terms that I didn’t quite understand and details that were a little slow. (How many of us have read classics like that?)

And yet, in the middle of the equations and scientific reason lay a story for the ages. A brilliant, immensely powerful story that swept me up and taught me just how incredible classics can be, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to read them.

The story is written from the perspective of Axel Lidenbrock, nephew and assistant to the great Professor Otto Lidenbrock, a geologist with an extraordinary amount of passion and a temper that rivals the volcanos he studies. A chance discovery leads them both on a wild chase to Iceland, to the very peak of Snaefells, a ‘semi’ extinct volcano.

From there, they continue on. Down inside the volcanic tubes leading into the mountain, on a journey that will take them far beyond the limits of man until they discover the Center of the Earth.

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Jules Verne’s amazing book sets the stage for one of the most fascinating stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I love all things prehistoric (Jurassic Park, for one), and the world he created, hiding within our world, was so beautifully detailed, so intricately described, that it made me want to launch my own expedition to see it.

Except that it was also dangerous. And there were monster fish.

Monster fish and I do not get along.

Ever.

That said, this is one classic that I would recommend to anyone and everyone with a taste for adventure and a love of good literature. Jules Verne continues to be one of my favorite authors, and I have always enjoyed the depth and detail that he puts into his novels.

“Is the master mad?” she asked.

I nodded.

“And he’s taking you with him?”

I nodded again.

“Where to?” she said.

I pointed to the center of the earth with my finger.

“Into the cellar?” exclaimed the old servant.

“No,” I said. “Deeper!”

Empty House

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The house is haunted. All of the kids say so. When we pass it after school they throw rocks at the windows and sticks in the yard, but no one ever dares go past the gate and down the gravel drive. The porch is sloped, nearly collapsing under its own weight, and the garden’s long since overgrown. No one goes inside. Not even the adults.

But I do.

I always wait until the other kids are past. I drag my feet, pretend I forgot my lunchbox, or go back for a rock in the stream. When they’re all past it I slip around back and go in through a broken window. I pried the boards away a few years ago, the first time I came here, and now I pull them off whenever I come home.

It’s my own place. A refuge for a kid who doesn’t have one.

My bedroom is upstairs. I found an old couch in the dump, and someone left a side table out by their garbage cans, so I have a few things that are mine. The kitchen doesn’t work, but there’s a well out back, and I mostly eat at school anyway.

I get more here than I ever did at home. And I’m safe. A haunted house is a better place to sleep than a home with a drunken father and a mother who left so long ago I can’t remember her face. This is better. The school board, the church people, no one knows. My father doesn’t say anything, and I show up at school every day bright and clean and happy, so they don’t ask where I’ve been living.

They never ask, and I never say. So everyone’s happy.

Isle of Swords

Who doesn’t love a good pirate story?

Seriously, is there anyone out there who looks at a book, sees a pirate ship on the cover, and says, “No, I’m not really into pirates.”

No one does that. No one.

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Or at least I don’t. Pirates have always fascinated me, whether it was the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, Long John Silver and his crutch, or histories of Blackbeard and others who really did sail the high seas. I’ve sought them out in every library, every bookstore, and am always excited to find a new book filled with buried treasure, fat galleons, bloodthirsty pirates, and (hopefully) a good dose of high adventure as well.

Isle of Swords fit that description to the letter. Captain Declan Ross is the centerpiece of this book, a pirate on the search for a treasure that will grant him his ultimate wish—freedom for himself and his daughter from the life he’s been forced to choose. From the beginning, Declan Ross is a different sort of pirate. He’s a man with a code, a man with a conscience, and neither lend themselves well to a life of piracy. When the book begins he has an empty ship and a starving crew, a bad combination for a man hoping to buy his way back to dry land.

Instead of a treasure, Ross comes across a boy who’s been whipped within an inch of his life, and lost his memory because of it. This boy, a monk fleeing from a dangerous opponent, and a treasure map that is rumored to show the way to the greatest treasure in history, lead him on a voyage across uncharted waters, through the hands of the British, and ultimately sets him against a foe he has no hope of matching.

One of my favorite writers said that the villains are the salt in the soup of a story. To me, the villain is always one of the most important parts of whatever story I happen to be reading, and if I can’t bring myself to be afraid of them, I’ll most often put the book down.

Wayne Thomas Batson, author of The Isle of Swords, never disappoints with his villains. But I would venture to say that Captain Bartholomew Thorne is my favorite of all of his evil creations.

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Bartholomew Thorne. I don’t think I’ve ever met a villain that I liked so much in another book. He had something about him, an aura that whispered right off the page and made me shiver every time I came across his name. Wild storms, explosions, vivid characters, islands—charted and uncharted—scattered throughout the Caribbean, sword fights, iguana stew, blood, threats, and redemption all combine to create this fascinating book, but the presence of Captain Bartholomew Thorne is what propels it from a good story to a great one.

(Disclaimer: My enjoyment of this book has nothing to do with one of the characters sharing my name. I promise.)

“Good evening, Father,” came a strained and raspy voice. “It is time for confession.”