Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser:

“The disease, they taught me, grew in the space between men and women, boys and girls; it was passed between them in looks and smiles and touches, and would take root inside of them like mold that rots a tree from the inside out. Then I found out that Hunter was an Unnatural, a thing I’ve always been taught to revile.” ~ pg.90, Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

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On The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

“I found a dead body in the cucumber patch,’ I told them.

‘How very like you,’ Ophelia said, and went on preening her eyebrows.”

Alan BradleyThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, pg 35

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a perfect example of mistakenly judging a book by its cover. I’ve shelved this book a dozen times at my library, thinking it was one of those culinary and knitting mysteries that have become such a popular sub-genre. Had I realized this mystery featured a morbid 11-year-old girl detective in 1950s England, I would have checked it out years ago.

Flavia de Luce is no preteen Nancy Drew. They both are raised by their fathers, have amazing deductive reasoning, and won’t let a locked door stop their investigations. But the similarities end there. Flavia is more intense and far less hygienic, moral or kind. Her passion is chemistry -in particular experimentation in poisons. She adventures alone, without a Ned, Bess or George for companionship. As a mom, I wanted to reach into the pages, grab her and lecture her on her childish sense of immortality.

This passage depicts her essence quite nicely:

“I made the Girl Guide three-eared bunny salute with my fingers. I did not tell him that I was technically no longer a member of that organization, and hadn’t been since I was chucked out for manufacturing ferric hydroxide to earn my Domestic Service badge. No one seemed to care that it was the antidote for arsenic poisoning.” (pgs. 306-307)

Flavia is the reason to pick up this novel. I didn’t find the mystery particularly spell-binding, but her character makes up for that. She reminds me of a feral kitten–somehow still cute even after its lashed you with its razor claws. Pick her up ;)

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2012 Reading Recap

34 books. That’s all I’ve read in 2012. That isn’t even a sad two pages on my goodreads “shelf.”  And I’ve reviewed so few of  those 34 books–just slapped a quick rating on them. I’ve been too busy. I’m hoping for more free time in 2013.

So here’s a quick recap of my reading year. I’ll list my favorites, honorable mentions and the books that didn’t capture me. 

Favorites:

  • Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. The book and movie are nothing alike! As is most often the case, the book is better. What I enjoyed most was the setting. I was a teen in the late 90s, and this book portrays grunge and the hippy revival I lived through.
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This book well deserves its place as a feminist classic. I’m glad I finally made time to read it. 
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Just pick up a John Green novel. You won’t be sorry. 
  • Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier. I ♥ Marillier. She’s a queen of high fantasy. So happy that she’s started a new trilogy.
  • Rodzina by Karen Cushman. I listened to this one in audiobook format and it made my commute to and from work fly by. 
  • Out of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys. Officially, this is book will be released in 2013, but I had the good fortune of coming across an ARC. Great characters and setting. I can’t wait for her next novel.
  • Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Just read this yesterday. It’s very dark, but wonderful and Ree is an unforgettable protagonist. 

Honorable:

  • Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner. I liked the post-apocalyptic setting. This isn’t your typical Faerie novel.
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. A Louisiana teen in a snotty London school makes a great premise. There were parts of the story that strained my suspension of disbelief, but overall it was a good read. 
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This was almost a favorite for me. Looking back, I can’t quite remember why I didn’t give it 5 stars on goodreads. This is why I need to take the time to write reviews. It is a great story about the friendship between two girls, a pilot and a spy, during World War II.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Such a quirky retelling of Cinderella. Cinder’s sidekick Iko is just too cute. Warning: cliffhanger ending. 

Not So Favorites:

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. So many people loved this book that I feel like it must be a matter of personal preference why it was just OK for me. I liked the idea of the circus. I liked many of the descriptions. The narration just didn’t hold my interest and the romance wasn’t breathtaking in my opinion. 
  • The Little Russian by Susan Sherman. Honestly, I’ve forgotten much of this one. I do remember a certain death that I wish hadn’t happened. I don’t need happy-ever-afters, but certain deaths are so cruel. 
  • City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. This is another novel I expected to love and didn’t. Jace really annoyed me and he’s the main love interest. 
  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. I couldn’t put down Graceling and Fire. Bitterblue just didn’t hold the same magic for me. I’m still glad I read it–I needed to finish the trilogy. 
  • Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr. I’ve finally finished this series! I really liked Wicked Lovely and I kept reading the rest of the series because of that, though the other books aren’t as good as the first. The happy ending is a bit over the top. There could have been a little more loss for the characters. But, I understand the temptation to be too kind to the characters you’ve created. 

For Christmas my husband gave me a Kindle Fire. I feel like I’ve joined the dark side, but I love it. So far, I’ve read two books on it. Oddly, I feel like I read faster on my kindle. Is that possible? 

I did manage to write more in 2012 than I did in 2011. I picked up an old manuscript and worked on it steadily in November. I must have fed off of some of that NaNoWriMo energy out there. This manuscript has a long way to go, but I’m resolving to finish it in 2013.  

I hope 2013 is filled with wonderful new releases. 

Happy reading in 2013!

 

 

 

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Teaser Tuesdays 8.21.12

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser:

 

“Maddie had grabbed an umbrella. Gas mask, tin hat, ration coupons, and an umbrella” (Code Name Verity, page 49).

 

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Wisteria (Part III)

Here it the final part of the fairy tale. Read part one here.

Wisteria or The Ugliest of Them All

III

I live as if I am the old crone, luxuriating in the feather bed instead of huddling under my tattered blanket in the corner, canning and eating the best sour pickles, crushing herbs with my mortar and pestle. I’ve given up the dainty ankles and silken hair, but I still use magic to straighten my teeth because I enjoy being able to drink normally from a teacup.

Every night that the moon shines, I watch my old family in the water. My stepmother’s belly grows round as if she’s hid a pumpkin beneath her dress. She and my father are surprised and delighted that she is with child so late in life.  My curiosity grows with her belly, and I curse the nights when the moon is obscured with clouds, not allowing me to watch. Will this child be as ugly as me? Will my parents leave it in the forest?

The ninth time the moon waxes, my stepmother gives birth to the most beautiful baby girl I have ever seen. Silken curls top her little head, her eyes are so blue they are almost purple, and she has a tiny rosebud mouth. My stepmother sings her sweet lullabies; my father showers her with golden smiles.

I am consumed by anger and jealousy. I hate my stepmother, but I hate my father more fervently. How could he abandon his own flesh and blood, only to be rewarded by the fairest child in the village, perhaps even the world?

Although I thought it impossible, I become uglier. The afternoon my stepmother weaves her a crown of daisies and places it on her curly head, a giant wart appears between my eyebrows. The day my stepmother cuts up my mother’s wedding dress and sews her a white nightgown edged with lace, orange tufts of hair sprout from my ears. And the evening my father waltzes with my sister in the crook of his arm around their kitchen, my skin erupts in livid boils.

As the months pass, I hope that their joy will diminish, that they will tire of her, that her angelic beauty will fade. Instead, she sleeps in a ribboned cradle in my old room, growing lovelier by the day. I cannot be happy in my wisteria cottage with all of my magic while she gathers their love around her like the softest lamb blanket.

During her ninth month, I leave the cottage and the forest for the first time in almost a decade. At night, I slip into my parents’ house, somehow smaller and distorted from the place in my memory. I pause by their bedroom, whispering a spell to keep them asleep until morning. In my hand I clutch the knife meant to slice bread and cheese, the one they left with me so many years ago. I think about killing them in their sleep, but then I will no longer be able to watch them in the moonlit water. I glide past to the baby’s room, my old room.

I mean to kill her, causing my parents the greatest grief.  Perhaps I will use the knife they have given me, sharpened to be quick and merciful. Perhaps I will use my magic, drawing out her sweet breath.

I stand above her cradle, watching the rise and fall of her small chest. She wears the nightgown fashioned from my mother’s wedding gown.  Her long lashes rest against her rosy cheeks. Then, she opens her eyes, and I gasp in surprise, fixed by her purple blue gaze. She does not start or cry out at the sight of my strange ugly face. Instead, she smiles.  My purpose is lost.

I can’t kill her. She is my sister—the most beautiful sister who does not cringe at ugliness, who does not deserve to be raised by the monsters snoring in the other room. I lift her from the cradle and she reaches for my flapping ears with her dimpled hands.

I cut a long strand of my orange hair and leave it on her tiny pillow, curled to shape a heart. I steal my sister away into the center of the woods.

Her giggles and coos are the loveliest music I have ever heard. Her sweet essence spreads throughout the cottage, creeping up the walls and into my being, twining around my cold heart and squeezing out the hatred. I feed her goat’s milk and crushed berries, and move the dishes around with my mind for her amusement. When she is older, I will teach her my spells and recipes, but maybe not how to waste hours in front of a bowl of moonlit water watching the world pass her by.

I think of the lesson I have taught our parents. I watch them weep and search and curse one another at night.  And I think that I will not stop with this act of revenge. I will steal other children, your children. I will fill my forest with stolen children. But I will not steal the plain and ugly ones like me; that would just be a favor to disappointed parents, saving them a trip to the woods. No, I will steal your loveliest so you will appreciate your most ordinary.  A pretty child will be mourned for all will know she will be spirited away. I will take your human treasures, so that you will be left with the drab and despised. I will make you find beauty in twisted limbs and marred skin. I will teach you unconditional love.

 The End

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Wisteria (Part II)

Here is part two of “Wisteria or The Ugliest of Them All.” Read part one here.

II

I sweep the crone’s floors, tend her garden, and clip her yellowed toenails after her bath. She teaches me how to make potions to cure or to poison. She’s taught me her spells, and how to watch the world in a bowl of rainwater set beneath moonlight.

At first I don’t want to look into that bowl. My own horrid reflection startles me and makes me weep.

“Silly girl,” the crone says. “I am also ugly, and I don’t cry about it.”

“You are not as ugly as me,” I say.

She snorts. “I am just older. Ugliness is better suited to the elderly. Less is expected from an old face.”

Then she transforms into a beautiful young woman with creamy skin and sunshine hair.

“Show me how!” I have never wanted anything so badly.

So, I learn how to shrink my ears, straighten my teeth, and deepen my hair to the shade of a sunset. Instead of the ugliest girl, I am a willowy sorceress with sparkling eyes, dainty ankles and silken hair that ripples past my waist.

“Why be ugly when you can be the fairest of them?” I ask her.

She cackles. “Ugliness had its own power.”

In the moonlit water I watch my village: the old classmates that taunted me, my stepmother and my father. In the water, I visit my mother’s grave, a small bleached marker, already tilted.  I like to believe that she would love me if I were alive, that I do indeed have “a face only a mother can love.” But, I do not remember any particular affection from her, only averted eyes and endless chores.

Nobody seems to miss me or even remember me. I could forget them too; instead I become obsessed with watching them in the water, going about their mundane tasks. Hatred wraps around my heart.

Seven years pass. The debt I was to repay is forgotten. Then one day, unexpectedly, the crone tosses me against the chimney with a gust of wind. I crumple to the floor, hurt and confused.

“Rise up, ugly one! Fight back, young hag with the face that makes me lose my supper!” She hurls fire at me.

This time, I defend myself with a wall of water.

For the next two days, we battle each other, upsetting the cottage and then tearing through the forest, causing the deer to flee and the small animals to hide and tremble. I even hear Bear whimpering for his mama.

The old crone catches me by the ankles and hangs me upside down under a rushing waterfall until my face turns blue. “Think I can wash away some of the ugliness?”

“I do not want to fight you, old hag!” I cry tears of anger and frustration.

She drops me into the river below and summons hungry piranhas to attack me. I scramble to the shore, trailing blood in the water. I send swarms of wasps to chase her through the brambleberry bushes, stinging her withered behind. She retaliates with a flock of angry jays that swoop and peck at my head.

Finally, a bolt of my lightning strikes the old crone in the chest. She topples and does not rise. I drop to her side.

“Well done,” she grins, black smoke escaping her shriveled lips. She is gone.

I bury her under the lilac bushes at the edge of her garden…my garden. My cottage, wrapped in wisteria vines. My forest.

… I’ll post the final part tomorrow.

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Wisteria (Part I)

Here is a fairy tale that I wrote last year:

Wisteria or The Ugliest of Them All

by Amanda Von Hoffmann

I

There are two reasons parents leave their children in the woods:

  1. They cannot afford to keep them. While it would be kinder to smother the little ones in their sleep, or hold them underwater in the washtub until the bubbles stop, parents feel less like murderers when they abandon their progeny in the forest. They don’t have to witness their demise.
  2. The children are unwanted. Maybe they were born out of wedlock, maybe they are impossible to discipline, maybe they are deemed lacking either physically or mentally. Perhaps their parents are just afraid of them.

My father and stepmother are leaving me in the woods for the second reason. I am so ugly that they can no longer bear to look at me. I am so ugly that they fear I am evil. My ugliness must be a curse, retribution for past sin, the devil’s handiwork.

My ears look like I’ve been caught in a tug o’ war between two angry schoolmarms. My teeth are so turned and gapped that I cannot drink from a teacup without awful clacks and spills. My hair is coarse and orange, crackling with electricity, a sure mark of witchery.

My parents are right to fear me, although they do not know my secret. They do not know that at night I practice moving things with my mind. I have moved my father’s boots three hand spans closer to the fireplace.

My secret magic does not comfort me as they remove the blindfold from my eyes. I am surrounded by towering pines. My father hands me a satchel that contains one blanket, a flask of well water, a knife, a loaf of bread and a small wheel of cheese.

“Take care,” he says, but his words are hollow.

They do not say “goodbye” or even meet my eye before they walk away. Whether they are ashamed or they just do not want one last look at my ugly face, I cannot tell. Even though they do not love me, I want to follow them back to our home. But, I will my feet to stay rooted. They would only beat me and bind me to a tree were I to try. They will tell the village we had a picnic, and I wandered off on my own.

The first day, I see no reason to move from the place they left me. I eat a portion of cheese and bread, curl up in my blanket and listen to the wails of wild animals as I fall asleep. I think that maybe my father’s conscience will make him return for me the next day. He does not.

On the third day, I decide I should find a way to leave the forest. Perhaps I can return to the village and I’ll work for the apothecary whose his eyes are too milky to suffer from my ugliness. Perhaps I will find a new village where the mothers take pity on me.  I could sweep their floors, tend their livestock and serve to remind ungrateful daughters and sons how fortunate they are.

I set a path at random, pushing through brambles that rake my cheeks. I run out of water, and I fear that I have moved deeper into the forest instead of closer to civilization. I am lost.

In the distance, I hear rushing water. I follow the sound until I find a brook, whispering over white stones. My heart stops when I see a huge brown bear, fishing with his great clawed paws.

But he is more frightened than I am. He yelps and retreats a few feet. Then, he laughs. “Ugly girl, you have accomplished what no other creature in this forest can. You have scared the shit out of me! Come, join me for supper.”

I drink from the brook and eat the little fish Bear gives me. By the end of the meal, he decides to keep me for a pet.

“Climb onto my back,” he says. “I am tired of being the most frightening creature in the forest. I am glad to have found you.”

I live with Bear until winter arrives, sleeping curled against his furry side in his den, eating berries and raw fish. I grow taller, my hair lank and greasy. When other animals see me riding Bear, they shriek with fear. Beaver even fainted once. Bear says that they are terrified of my ugliness, and he feels better about himself.

“How did you get so ugly?” Bear asks me. “Did you practice in the river’s reflection?”

I shake my head. “It comes quite naturally.”

“What a gift,” he says. “All the creatures fear you.”

I do not believe his words, because I know that Bear is happy he isn’t as ugly as me. After all, he does not want to be the most feared in the forest.

When the frosts come, he falls asleep for too many days. I am hungry. I do not want to leave Bear. But, he is only using me for my ugliness, so I do not feel too guilty. Also, there is the stench. Bear farts in his sleep, filling the den with smells so powerful and wretched that I vomit. So, I leave Bear’s warm but noxious side.

I am not alone for long. One day, a gray wolf joins me.

“I have heard your voice at night,” she says. “I marvel that such a lovely voice can come from such an ugly mouth. Come sing to my pups that are born late this year.”

I am nervous as I follow her to the pack, afraid of the lean and hungry wolves we find gnawing at the carcass of an elk. However, the wolves seem to have no interest in ripping apart my scrawny bones. Gray Wolf leads me to her pups.

“This is Greedy, Whiner and Dumbass,” she introduces the three young wolves. Her eyes narrow as she glares at a mangy wolf sneaking off from the pack with an entire elk leg between his jaws. “Every year that bastard catches me and gets me with pups. I do not want to spend every year nursing his whelps and singing them lullabies. I want to be free.”

I live with Gray Wolf and her pack for a few months, singing her pups to sleep while she traipses the woods and howls at the moon. She brings me various birds and small creatures to eat. But I cannot stay. I love her pups as they wrestle and nip my arms with their sharp teeth, but I am not their mother. I do not like Gray Wolf. She is like my father and stepmother, desperate to abandon her own. She is using me for my pretty voice just as Bear used me for my ugliness.

I leave in early spring. Gray Wolf calls after me on the wind: “Bitch.”

I am lost in the woods for days, and I begin to think that I will die. Then, I tumble into a clearing and see the quaintest cottage, built with stones and logs, capped with a thatched roof, covered in wisteria.

I have wanted for human company for so long that I forget to be cautious. I pound on the lilac-colored door, but no one answers. It is unlocked, so I enter. No one is home, but the pantry is filled with jams and strange squat bottles filled with powders and rainbow liquids.

I sleep in the feathered bed, snatch eggs from the chickens and fry them over the fireplace, the first cooked food I have eaten in almost a year. After a few days, I am reckless enough to heat water and bathe in the copper washtub.

I no longer feel lost; I feel like I have come home to a place that is more mine than the dwelling I lived in with my father and stepmother. I begin to delude myself that the wisteria cottage belongs to me, believing that I have imagined this perfect place into existence.

I am wrong. When summer begins to burn more freckles onto my skin, the real owner of the wisteria cottage returns. She is a hunched old crone, and she is not pleased to find her lovely cottage occupied.

“Get out!” She forces me from the cottage with a blast of wind, her magic much stronger than mine. “How dare you eat my best sour pickles and bathe with my lavender soap! Be gone, ugliest child!”

But as she screams the last words, she sends her wisteria vines to wrap around my ankles, pull me to the ground and drag me back to the cottage.

“Do you think you can just leave without paying for the goods you’ve used, hideous one?” She strikes me with her bony knuckles. “You will pay for what you have taken. You will be my servant until you have repaid your debt.”

Stay tuned for Part II on Monday…

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