No Clock in the Forest by Paul J. Willis

No Clock in the Forest

Rating: * * * *

In the tradition of the Narnia Chronicles, No Clock in the Forest is the best-written novel in the English language since Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. Set in a vividly-depicted Pacific Northwest, William, followed by Lance and Gwen, become lost on hikes in the mountains and find the wilderness about them strangely changed, wilder, and full of unsuspected magic. The Muses dwell here, as do the fair folk and talking marmots. An ancient struggle between good and evil is coming to a head.

Prof. Willis paints with his prose and wields historical and Arthurian allusions with a deftness not seen since Milton. The adult reader will enjoy insights that may be over-looked by the juvenile, who will nonetheless love this book.

– Review on Amazon.com

Paul Willis possesses an uncanny ability to chart the dangers that lie within us.

– Jeanne Murray Walker

It might just be because I haven’t had much experience in the Christian fantasy realm (except, of course, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien) but No Clock in the Forest was surprisingly entertaining and fantastical, written in the style of past Christian fantasy writers. Everything, from setting to character to stylistic writing, is done with symbolism and meaning – all of it is not overbearing in the least.

The speaking marmots, the evil Lady Lira, the ice axe rising from the water in the hand of a beautiful woman – all of it works perfectly to bring Willis’ story to teeming life. It would be amiss, though, to compare Willis’ story with that of C. S. Lewis’. The Chronicles of Narnia had a uniquely magical touch to it through its encompassing involvement of wondrous children. Willis has no real children involved in his story, no innocent beings exploring a magically new world. Willis’ story, instead, is grounded in adults and realism, in a world where the fantastical and the painfully realistic meld together into what is.

If you are at all interested in Christian fantasy or even want to check out a novel that’s written with the imagery and imagination of C. S. Lewis yet reads incredibly easily, you’ll definitely want to check out No Clock in the Forest.

Recommended.

& ElizabethC

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Weekend’s Bookends: July 26 & 27

F U E L I N G | W E E K E N D

Took a week-long break from scheduled reviewing, which wasn’t exactly planned but was actually welcome. I’ve been able to catch up on reading as well as complete my academic assignments thus far, so I’d say everything’s still on the right track. [I’m avoiding the thought of the take-home midterm that’s currently resting next to me. I think people have a term for it: denial.]

Books I was able to read this week are:

the wind-up bird chronicle by haruki murakami | the jane austen book club by karen joy fowler | animorphs (books 43-52) by k. a. applegate | the shadow spinner by susan fletcher | outcast: the un-magician by christopher golden & thomas e. sniegoski

The Jane Austen Book Club was the most surprising book out of this batch. While I love Pride & Prejudice, the rest of Austen’s books just terrified me – I thoroughly disliked Emma the few times I read it, but Fowler makes me want to go back and have another go. I think I might even like Fowler’s book so much that I’m going to watch the movie version. [And what I didn’t notice from my cover of the book (different from the version here) was that Emily Blunt is in the movie. Huh. She plays Prudie, which would be very interesting to see. Prudie’s parallel book was Mansfield Park, if that gives you any hints about what her character’s like.] Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones, commented, “If I could eat this book, I would.” My sentiments exactly.

OutCast: The Un-Magician was a soothing read, welcome between some of the harsher, more realistic novels of the week. Timothy was actually an interesting, likeable character, though I suppose a bit more character development could have been welcome. I’ve ordered the second in this series, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Timothy grows along with the books and whether things continue to be as uniquely grasping as the first installment turned out to be.

Unfortunately, I had to abandon Hush, Little Baby by Katharine Davies because I just felt like it’s not the right time for me to try reading it. There’s some very good praise for it, though, if anyone else is interested – apparently it’s a really sly take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. My copy will be returning to the library until I’m ready for it. And after I’ve actually read Twelfth Night instead of just hearing about it or watching reincarnations of it (such as the movie She’s the Man).

I’ve recieved a few more books in the mail,

arena by karen hancock | up high in the trees by kiara brinkman

which is exciting! I think I might have one or both of them up for next month’s giveaways, but it’ll depend on how I feel after reading & reviewing them myself.

Speaking of giveaways, there were a good number of entries this month and I’m glad there was almost equal interest in both books. I have here the lucky winners of July’s giveaway:

Cheryl W. has won Conviction by Skylar Burris!

Linda L. has won One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus!

Congratulations, you two! You’ll receive e-mails tonight on how to send me your info so that I can give you your books!

Thanks to everyone who entered – on the first of August, there’ll be another giveaway and another chance to win some free books.

Cheers all around!

& ElizabethC

Weekend’s Bookends: July 19 & 20

H E A R T Y | W E E K E N D

First book arrived in the mail today, from BM! Outcast: The Un-Magician (Book 1) by Christopher Golden & Thomas E. Sniegoski. I’m such a sucker for young adult fantasy books, if you couldn’t tell. Anyway, the actual receiving of the book in the mail was exciting! I seriously suggest everyone to join BM or PBS. I’m having a ball giving and receiving books here.

And the books I was able to read this week:

the no. 1 ladies’ detective agency by alexander mccall smith | animorphs (books 1-42) by k. a. applegate | the book of the city of ladies by christine de pizan | no clock in the forest by paul j. willis | sarah by marek halter | mrs. pollifax and the golden triangle

Most interesting of the books was The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which pleasantly turned out to be much more than I expected. Most surprising of them was The Book of the City of Ladies because of its awesome subject matter – praise for women in light of men’s historical abuse of them in their writings. I seriously haven’t read anything like it before and it’s so very inspiring to read these all the stories of heroic, intelligent, amazing historical women. And most comforting was, of course, Animorphs, because I really, really, really loved the books as a kid. And I loved Tobias. And Rachel. It’s seriously the best trip down memory lane, and I’m discovering all over again why it was such a memorable series for me. I obviously haven’t been able to keep that commitment of just 5 of the books per week, but…they are so addicting.

LAST CALL for July’s book giveaways. Winners will be randomly selected on Friday! So get to it if you haven’t yet but still wanted a chance at one of the books.

I’m off to help bake a cake – dear God, save us and don’t let anyone be poisoned – for my father’s birthday. Hope everyone has a nice weekend!

& ElizabethC

Studies Series by Maria V. Snyder

Studies Series (Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study)

Rating: * * * * *

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered a reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace, and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust, and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. As Yelena tries to escape her dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and she develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life’s at stake again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear!

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Yelena is on her way to be reunited with the family she’d been stolen from long ago. Although she has gained her freedom, she can’t help feeling isolated in Sitia. Her Ixian background has changed her in many ways, and her newfound friends and relatives don’t think it’s for the better. Despite the turmoil, she’s eager to start her magical training. But her plans take a radical turn when she becomes involved with a plot to reclaim Ixia’s throne for a lost prince, and gets entangled in powerful rivalries with her fellow magicians. If that wasn’t bad enough, it appears her brother would love to see her dead. Luckily, Yelena has some old friends to help her with her new enemies.

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Yelena’s new role as Soulfinder has made the Sitian Council uneasy. Worried that her new powers will corrupt her, the Council debates her fate. Yelena, though is trying to keep Sitia and Ixia from going to war. In the middle of political wrangling, Yelena receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by Ferde, the Soulstealer who murdered eleven girls and has escaped from prison with Cahil Ixia’s help. Cahil believes if he joins with the new Daviian Clan, he will have enough support to regain the Ixian throne. Testing the limit of her skills, Yelena becomes embroiled in the desperate fight to stop Ferde and the Daviian Clan from siphoning enough power to unleash a Fire Warper on the world. That would be worst than war between the northern and southern lands. Especially since, of all the powers Yelena possesses, she couldn’t set fire to a candle wick if her life depended on it. And there is more at stake than just her life.

– MariaVSnyder.com

It’s interesting that there are not many novels in circulation concerning food-tasting for poison testing. Especially considering how fascinating the subect can be – Snyder chose a unique situation to begin her trilogy’s fantasy.

Snyder’s writing takes her novels beyond cookie-cutter fantasy and into a level all its own. Her characters break through the pages and gain life; her settings and atmospheres are memorable without being obtrusive; her plot steadily unwinds itself with constant surprises; her style is easy to understand and essential to the story.

Perhaps the only difficulty in the trilogy is part of the final novel, which suddenly becomes more difficult to handle than its predecessors. But toward the latter half of Fire Study, Snyder reclaims control of the novel and everything comes neatly together.

Snyder’s novels provide fresh material for the fantasy genre and really are a welcome addition for all fantasy lovers.

Highly recommended.

& ElizabethC

East by Edith Pattou

East
[ released in the U.K. as North Child ]

Rating: * * * * *

Rose has always felt out of place in her family. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him, she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she finds love, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun.

As fresh and original as only the best fantasy can be, East is a novel retelling of the classic tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” told in the tradition of Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine.

– Amazon.com

East is a book I loved when I was younger, not just because of its story but also because the author had used the lesser-known fairy tale that I had one day hoped to use in my own. Set in the cold, northern lands, the book takes twists and turns that constantly keep its readers – both young and old – guessing until its lovely end.

Rose is Nyamh, a North-bairn, a feared child for all superstitious mothers. In order to hide her true nature, her mother does a terrible thing and lies both to herself and to Rose about her true birth. But Rose is North – she is the traveler, the constant adventurer, and adventure will seek her despite the lies that rule her life.

This is a fantastical tale with courage, wonderment and love, and the characters each – even the misguided, spineless mother – proves his or her worth throughout the story. The mysterious polar bear and his cold, cold Queen draw Rose on a journey to rescue her only purpose in life, and on the way she finally discovers who she truly is.

East is a magical adventure one should not miss.

Highly recommended.

& ElizabethC

Sarah by Marek Halter

Sarah (Book One of the Canaan Trilogy)

Rating: * * * *

Sarah’s story begins in the cradle of civilization: the Sumerian city-state of Ur, a land of desert heat, towering gardens, and immense wealth. The daughter of a powerful lord, Sarah balks at the marriage her father has planned for her. On her wedding day, she impulsively flees to the vast, empty marshes outside the city walls, where she meets a young man named Abram, son of a tribe of outsiders. Drawn to this exotic stranger, Sarah spends one night with him and reluctantly returns to her father’s house. But on her return, she secretly drinks a poisonous potion that will make her barren and thus unfit for marriage.

Many years later, Abram returns to Ur and discovers that the lost, rebellious girl from the marsh has been transformed into a splendid woman—the high priestess of the goddess Ishtar. But Sarah gives up her exalted life to join Abram’s tribe and follow the one true God, an invisible deity who speaks only to Abram. It is then that her journey truly begins.

From the great ziggurat of Ishtar to the fertile valleys of Canaan to the bedchamber of the mighty Pharaoh himself, Sarah’s story reveals an ancient world full of beauty, intrigue, and miracles.

– Random House

This was a highly enchanting book with just the right amount of fantasy, history, spirituality, sexuality and fiction to be a constantly engaging read. Halter chooses an interesting perspective for his book – that of a pagan Sarai and her journey to and with Abram – and it is this perspective that makes Sarah so compelling. Rarely do people view Sarah as the woman who had been a part of a pagan religion, who must have still been extremely attractive when meeting the Pharaoh, who must have cursed her barren womb, who fought her bitter jealousy of her handmaid Hagar, who stayed by Abram’s side as he became Abraham.

Sarah sets itself apart from other historical fiction in its mingling of supernatural atmosphere and embellished historical research. God, as Abraham’s deity, is not overwhelmingly represented in the book – in fact, as only Abraham is able to speak with him, he seems almost non-existent.

The only true downfall of this story is the characters’ weaknesses and flaws. At times, it is quite easy to dislike Abram or berate Sarai’s foolishness, but that is what eventually brings each character to life. Halter’s gift is the enviable ability to tell reality through fantasy.

Recommended.

& ElizabethC

Weekend’s Bookends: July 12 & 13

T W I S T E D | W E E K E N D

I’ve begun taking an evening class this week which has left very little time between commutes for reading (or listening, since my headphones were still broken but have finally been replaced, yay!). That Kindle is looking extremely good now…

So really, instead of actually reading, I’ve only been able to listen (using the laptop) to:

ukridge by p. g. woodhouse | the stupidest angel by christopher moore | mrs. pollifax and the golden triangle

Luckily, I made a trip to the library this morning. Whenever I go, I first visit the 50¢ “Friends” section to see if there are any books I’d like to read or give away. Then I head over to the “Oversize” bookcases because I always discover a few gems that grab my eye. I really hate going out and searching for books among the masses because it feels way too much like shopping. And I hate shopping. This week, the books I brought home were

no clock in the forest by paul j. willis | the probable future by alice hoffman | stones from the river by ursula hegi | the file on devlin by catherine gaskin | the jane austen book club by karen joy fowler | hush, little baby by katharine davies

all of which will provide a really eclectic reading experience. I’m especially excited about The Probable Future, because I’ve read a few good reviews about it, Hush, Little Baby, because it just looks so interesting and The Jane Austen Book Club, because – whoa – there’s a guy included on that cover.

But hey, exciting news! I’ve joined PaperbackSwap (thanks to Kate) and I have two books I’ll be mailing, but also two books headed my way! Up High in the Trees by Kiara Brinkman and Arena by Karen Hancock! So if you like getting presents in the mail – and sending them yourself – sign up for PaperbackSwap! Let them know extensivereading referred you. Which reminds me, BookCrossing is also a really fun way to exchange books (and you don’t need credits to do it, either) and it’s always amazing to find a BookCrossing book out in the wild.

In case you haven’t signed up for the July book giveaway and wanted to, click HERE.

I’ve got a summer midterm later this week, so until that’s over, the reviews will be posted without me.

I was tagged by Nicole with this classics meme. Thanks! So here goes:

What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The first time I read it, I hated Jane, I hated Rochester, I hated every single person in the book. The second time I was forced to read it, I hated it even more. The third time, I finally relented that Jane was stronger than I assumed, Rochester needed trials to counter his personality, that everything was done in metaphors and scenic imagery.

What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?
Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I can only handle so much agony in one story before I feel like burning the book to save my soul from complete misery.

Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley & Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. While the subject matter can be a bit crude, I think it’s important that students be able to have a bit of skepticism to understand that not everything being taught should be immediately trusted. Also, it can give a bit of a dampening perspective on the “leisures” of life and help some students see the bigger picture.

Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. No. Just no. None of the characters are the least bit admirable, the passion isn’t really passion but more obsession, and for God’s sake, why do so many female singers need to have some sort of version of “Wuthering Heights” in horrifying octaves out there?

**Bonus** Why do you think certain books become “classics”?
Because they’re old. Seriously. Some of these books wouldn’t have been considered “classic” in their own time, simply because so many other books out there were like them. There are a few considered classics now that challenged the status quo of writing, but for the rest of them, they’re just slosh that had to be dredged up. So many literary critics hailed them, praised them, that things went a bit out of hand and certain books were dubbed groundbreaking when really…they aren’t. Least, that’s just my cynical view – I’m feeling hungry and my cynicism tends to leak out at such times.

I think I’m supposed to tag five people for this, but since I’ve only recently begun this site and don’t know very many bloggers, I’ll just open this to anyone who’d like to do it. Consider yourself tagged!

Have a lovely weekend!

& ElizabethC