The Gap In My Shelves

I’m going to do something totally weird.

I mean, seriously? Who writes a blog post on a book that they can’t remember?

Desperate people, that’s who.

This post is about the gap in my shelves, about the book that should be in there but isn’t. It’s about the book I lost.

Weird, right? But bear with me.

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When I was younger, my favorite books were a big deal. I read them over and over again, reread my favorite parts, and never got tired of them. I had endless amounts of time for reading and a limited supply of new books. (Okay, it was four bookshelves and a library card. That’s almost limited, right?) I knew the exact spot on the shelf where my favorite books stayed, and I went back to them so often that they were rarely ever in their right place.

In short, I loved my books. Sometimes to death.

Yes, covers got worn. Pages that were already thin—we bought most of our books secondhand—grew fragile and tore. Paperbacks were taped up once or twice. Or six or seven times. No book—especially in a family of readers—lasts forever.

This one didn’t.

One day, I went to find it. And it wasn’t there. Not in its spot, not on the shelf. I couldn’t find it. It happens right? Books get old, they can be replaced.

Or, they can as long as you actually remember them.

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I plead being twelve. What twelve-year-old remembers the author of a book? Or its title? I remember the story. I remember the faded feel of the pages, the adventure it took me on, the pictures the words created in my head. I remember the last chapter vividly, in almost word for word detail. In short, I remember what was important to me.

Now, I kind of wish I’d paid more attention to the cover. And the title.

The story followed the life of a grizzly bear, one of the largest and most dangerous predators in North America. I can remember vividly how enchanted I was by the details put into this bear’s life, from his struggle to survive as a cub to his cunning and ferocity when he was pitted against hunters and other predators. Given the amount of detail and almost historical quality of the book, I think it was based on a true story. He died in Death Valley in the last chapter.

If any of you happen to remember the title of this book, I would be very grateful. Until then, I will just leave a gap in my shelves for it.

Ghost

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She comes in the night, after all the others are sleeping. I hear her slip past my door, climb the stairs over my room to the attic. The hollow boards creak under her weight. She doesn’t make much noise. None of the others have ever heard her, but I hear her every night. Sometimes, I can’t get to sleep until I’ve seen her.

I push the covers off my bed and slide out of my room. The corridor is cold, so cold that I can see my own breath hanging in their air, like the breath of a ghost. My feet are heavier than hers, and I make more noise. I’ve never learned to be quiet the way she has, to glide along the halls like a phantom. My footsteps are always loud. She’s never scolded me for coming, nor for being out of bed, not like the matrons do. I think she’s just as lonely as I am.

She’s waiting by the window when I open the door. The moonlight is spilling through the glass, soft as spun silver on the floor, and it shines on her hair and her white hands. I’ve missed her. It’s been almost two days since I saw her last. She didn’t come last night.

I think she missed me too, although she doesn’t say so. The nurses have told us a hundred times that she’s infected, that we ought to stay away from her. I meant to, in the beginning, but she found me up here one night when I came to be alone and to cry. She held me until the ache in my heart softened, and now I don’t care whether she’s sick or not. I need a friend. So does she. We are the same, she and I. A ghost and a girl without a soul. It hardly matters to either of us any more.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

As I have gotten older, I’ve gotten more picky about the books I read.

It’s actually kind of a sad reality for me. Not every book that I pick up is as fantastic and amazing as I want it to be. Sometimes—horribly—I don’t finish the books I pick up. It is my firm belief that a book you don’t like is a book that is not worth finishing. There are just too many amazing, incredible books out there to waste your time on a book you don’t love.

When I was younger, I finished everything. I loved everything. I reread almost everything. But now, as an adult and a writer with higher standards, it is difficult to find books that meet my expectations the way they did when I was younger.

And yet, it does happen.

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Every once in a while—in a very long while—I will stumble across a book that stuns me. The way it’s written, the brilliance of its characters, its plot, its world, will carry me away, and for a while, I can be a kid again.

I spend a great deal of my life searching for those books.

Not too long ago, I found one. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. As so often happens, I saw it in bookstores and libraries, and thought, nah. It looked—weird. A little creepy. A little dull. Definitely not the kind of book that would sweep me off right off my feet.

Boy, was I wrong.

The story begins when Jacob Portman witnesses the death—or murder—of his aging grandfather, long believed by the rest of his family to be senile. Jacob isn’t so sure, however, and his grandfather’s last words—and the stories he has been telling Jacob since he was a small boy—lead him to a small island off the coast of Wales. Somewhere on the island is the ruins of the children’s home that his grandfather grew up in, a place that Jacob has heard about many times, but never seen. He is convinced that the answer to his many questions—and his increasing nightmares—lie buried somewhere in the ruins, so he goes looking.

When he gets there, he finds a girl claiming to be his grandfather’s best friend—but she is the wrong age. In fact, she’s only a few months younger than Jacob himself. Soon, the stories that his grandfather was telling him begin to make sense as he is taken from the aging ruins into a time loop, a place built specially for Peculiars—children with more to them than they let on. Against his own better judgment, he finds himself caught up in the world of the Peculiars, finding traces of his grandfather’s extraordinary past at every twist and turn and, at the same time, discovering that there is far more to himself than he at first realized.

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But even a time loop has its dangers, and too soon he and the other children find themselves on the run from creatures bent on their destruction.

Unused to hostility of this kind, Jacob must choose between the dull safety of the life he had and the whirlwind he has stumbled into by accident. His decision tips the balance between living and dying for a myriad of people, including himself.

Ransom Rigg’s fabulous book is scattered throughout with black and white photos of the Peculiars that fill its pages. The vintage, eerily realistic photos bring a sense of authenticity that is—quite frankly—chilling. If you’ve got a taste for high adventure and ghostly tales, I would highly recommend this book to you!

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.

 

 

 

Of Mice and Lilies

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This story, as with all the very best and greatest stories, begins with an impossibility.

After all, I am telling this story, and I have seen a great many impossibilities in my time. It comes of being a dreamer, and of thinking like a writer. All writers deal in impossibilities, of course. It’s how we make our living.

I shall not, dearest reader, go to the trouble to explain just how a mouse might fall in love with a lily. Indeed, such an impossibility will be a hard thing to convince anyone of, except to say that the mouse—a most rascally, clever fellow by the name of Wignilian Finch—had a mind of his own and a tendency to want everything he was quite sure he couldn’t have.

On the particular morning I am thinking of, Wignilian was in a place no self-respecting mouse ought to be. His brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins were scurrying about the floor and walls of the grain silo, just as any decent mouse might, but Wignilian had eaten his fill of grain for the morning, and as he was an exceptionally lazy mouse and didn’t like to scuttle when he didn’t have to, he had wandered off. Now, he was poking his nose about the reeds and rushes, the slimy mud and sticky algae of the mill pond, and what he could have wanted there in the first place, I couldn’t tell you.

He was looking—I suppose—for something grand and wonderful to steal away and hide beneath his nest in the grain silo. He rather liked such things, mainly because he enjoyed bragging about them to his smaller cousins and refusing to allow them even one peek, lest they should spoil his prize. He had found nothing of interest among the reeds, and as they had laughed at him for the grain dust in his fur, he had wandered on. At last, on the stone wall beside the creaking, dripping mill wheel, he caught sight of a lily floating gently in the center of the pond.

The lily was quite the loveliest, whitest, most charming treasure that Wignilian had ever laid eyes on, and right away he began to ponder how he might have it for himself. He had no boat, of course, and as mice are not known to be champion swimmers—particularly in ponds that harbor a great deal of pike and trout—he found himself quite without an idea. But, besides being rather lazy, Wignilian was also stubborn. He sat himself down on the edge of that mossy stone wall, propped his chin in his paws, twitched his muddy little nose, and began to think.

He thought for quite a long time. All day, I believe, but not a single brilliant scheme occurred to him. The lily floated peacefully far out of reach, looking whiter and more beautiful with each passing minute. Wignilian could not stand it. He chewed his paws, he chewed his tail, he even bit the end clean off one of his fine, sharp claws, but he could not find a solution.

At last, when the sun was sinking beneath the woods, a great, scaly, ugly pike came swimming right to the base of the wall, poked his hooked jaws and large head out of the water, and inquired, as pleasantly as any pike can, what could possibly be the matter? Now Wignilian knew better than to talk to a pike. He really did. But just at that moment, he was so distressed about the lily that he told the big fish all about it.

The pike listened and nodded sympathetically, and I do believe he even summoned a tear or two for the little mouse’s plight. Wignilian was touched. He ventured a step nearer, and a step nearer, so as to be sure every last word of his sad tale could be heard. At last the pike shook his head and said, in a voice quite trembling with emotion, “Intolerable. There must be a way—” Then the pike grinned, a monstrous, toothy grin. “Of course! I have an idea. Hop down onto my head, and I’ll bring you right over to it. You’re such a little mouse that it wouldn’t be any trouble at all!” And he continued to grin that terrible, wicked grin that I am sure he thought was most friendly and inviting.

I am sorry to say that for all his cleverness, Wignilian almost fell for it. He took two steps forward without so much as a thought, and it wasn’t until he saw those sharp, shiny white teeth that he began to wonder if the pike might have some other purpose for his kindness. He took another tentative step forward, twitching his little nose and wondering. The pike, seeing that Wignilian was hesitating, unhooked his great jaws and sprang upward with a mighty splash, snapping at him with all his might.

Wignilian squeaked with fright and made a dash for safety. He was spry, for all his laziness, and all the pike got for his trouble was a single whisker and half of poor Wignilian’s tail. It wasn’t quite the prize the pike was hoping for, but it was far more than Wignilian would have liked to give. He scuttled away, trembling from his nose to his tiny paws, and I dare say he never gave one more thought to that lily. And I am quite sure that he never once dared go anywhere near the old mill pond again, not even when his Great Uncle Cornelius Fellbottom gave a party on the wall to welcome the first of the merfolk to their pond.

But that, dear reader, is another story.

The Hiding Place

I believe that history is important.

George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author, said, “Those who cannot remember the past condemned to repeat it.”

I fully believe that this is true, and yet, at the same time, I struggle to read the history books that were handed to me in school. Dates, times, statistics, and names always pass straight through my head, and I never remember them.

What I do remember are stories.

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If you hand me a well-written biography (or better yet, an autobiography) I will almost certainly remember in great detail exactly what happened to them, what they did, when they lived, what they cared about, and what they believed. Books like the Diary of a Young Girl or The River of Doubt teach me much more about WWII or Theodore Roosevelt than I will ever pick up from any history book or lecture. The story sticks with me, and I remember the facts of the story because of how powerful it was.

One such book that has deeply impacted me is The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.

Corrie was a Dutch woman living during the horrors of WWII. Her story, written in her own words, tells of her life before the invasion of Holland by the Germans, and her struggle through the war to hide and protect the Jewish people in and around her community. Her resistance against the regime that caused so much terror throughout the known world begins with very small things. Simple kindness, a ration card, a message delivered. Before too long, she, her sister, and her aging father are asked to shelter a Jewish man in their home, an offense that could get them shot.

They don’t hesitate, and Eusie is added to their household.

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More and more Jews join them, until there are seven who live every day in the Beje, their tiny little home. Others come and go, on their way to safe houses, but those seven have become a part of their family. Seven people that no one else can ever know about. A secret room, built into the twisting, cramped little house, gives them a place to hide in case the Gestapo ever come.

And they do come.

The secret room saves the seven Jews, but Corrie, her sister, and her father are all arrested. A succession of prisons and concentration camps follows, leading them into the darkest corners of Germany. Corrie’s account of the horror of the concentration camps is softened by her faith in God and her love for her sister. Even in the midst of the tragedy around them, they are able to cling to the promise that no pit is so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

This book is one that has influenced me over and over again through the years. The story of faith, perseverance, and forgiveness locked within its pages is truly life-changing.

“Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love!”

Rain Pits

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They hide in the rain pits. They don’t come out in the daytime, only at night, and I come down here when the moon is full and the starlight in filtering down through the leaves and shining on the water.

That’s when they come up. Up to play, up to eat. Up to visit with me.

The Chakari, they’re called. Spirit Walkers. My father says they’re the dead come back to us, but my mother scoffs at that. The dead don’t come back, she says, no matter how much you beg them. They are gone. The Chakari are only fish, she says, fish that live in the pits filled by the constant rain.

I don’t know who I believe more. I don’t think the Chakari are dead, or spirits of the dead, but I don’t think they’re quite alive either. Quite natural. They’re too beautiful for that.

They come out, their pearly white fins swirling in the water, their black eyes fastened on me, and I smile at them through the clear surface. They know me by now. I’ve been down here enough. I give them the apple blossoms and willow leaves I’ve brought, and they chatter and giggle and swirl away, returning with shells and brightly colored pebbles to trade. I don’t have many friends in my village, but when the moon is full I come down here and play with the Chakari, and then it doesn’t quite matter that I’m too young, too small to join in the games the others play. It doesn’t matter that I’m chosen last for everything, that none of my siblings will let me tag along after me.

The Chakari like me. They like my black hair and my smile, and when I come down here to cry they comfort me with bubbles and gifts of seaweed and sea-glass. They’re the only friends I have, so I always come back. No matter how often my father says it isn’t natural to like them.

The Ordinary Princess

I am not a fan of romance books.

Oh, I like the old classics, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, that sort of thing, but for the most part, I will avoid a book if it is solely based on romance. I like books full of action and adventure, books with intrigue and suspense and a life and death goal. If romance happens to be slipped in alongside that, fine, but a book that is absolutely centered around the guy getting the girl?

Not so much.

And yet, this particular book is just exactly the kind that I usually don’t like. It’s a very typical romance, where the princess in disguise meets the charming and handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.

Except—it’s not.

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The Ordinary Princess is one of the sweetest fairytales that I have ever, in my entire life, come across. The writing style is perfect, the characters are funny and charming, and the world they live in is just the right mixture of fantasy and whimsy. It begins with the birth of a princess. In fact, the birth of a seventh princess.

And everyone knows that the seventh princess is always the most charming, the most beautiful of all her sisters.

A great celebration is held for the child’s christening, and the darling little child is given a name. Or, seven names, to be precise. Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Ann of Phantasmorania. In addition, it is decided that, since she is the seventh daughter, it would no doubt be an excellent idea to invite all of her fairy godmothers to the christening.

This was not, in fact, an excellent idea.

One of her godmothers, a crotchety old woman named Crustacea, is caught in traffic on the way to the party. By the time she arrives, she is in a foul temper and quite dried out from all the dust on the roads. (Besides being a godmother, she is also the fairy in charge of lakes, pools, and the ocean.) She stumps into the throne room in high bad temper, looks at the charming, sweet little Amethyst, and says, “My child, I am going to give you something that will probably bring you more happiness than all these fal-lals and fripperies put together. You shall be Ordinary.”

And then she is gone, and the damage is quite done.

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And Amy (for who could possibly call an ordinary child Amethyst?) is ordinary. She has straight, mouse-brown hair, a turned up little nose, and freckles. Her father and mother are at a loss on how to marry their ordinary child off. Amy, of course, does not want to be married off at all, and in the end, she runs away to find her own adventures. Through a series of circumstances involving, among other things, a crow, a squirrel named Mr. Pemberthy, a dress that is simply falling to pieces and must be replaced, and a man-of-all-work, Amy creates her own happily ever after.

What I love the most about this book, (besides the absolute charm of it) is that the romance in it is entirely ordinary. Nobody swoons, no-one is enraptured by the beauty of their significant other, and there are no dramatic fights in the rain. (Although blackberries do get thrown.) Amy and her prince are simply best friends. And that, I think, is the best basis for a marriage that can possibly exist.

(Whoops. I gave away the ending, didn’t I?)

Lavender’s blue, rosemary’s green,

When I am king, you shall be queen.