macbeth, my grandpa, and me

This post is part of We Love Shakespeare Week.

Shakespeare Book Covers by Chris Hall, via Behance

After I graduated from high school I started taking college-level courses with my grandpa.  We studied worldview science, regular science (think: Answers in Genesis), and literature.  We started with really ancient texts like Sophocles and Homer and Aeschylus and then moved on from there.  The textbook we were using had Macbeth as the Shakespeare text to study and, while I’d heard Grandpa quote from it before, I’d never read it.

Well, I read it.  Not all at once. (I believe the textbook just included excerpts.)  But eventually I did read the whole thing.  I still wasn’t a huge fan (this was schoolwork, after all) but my interest was piqued.  We watched the Ian McKellen version (#disturbing and #weird) and a recorded performance from the college that produced our textbook (there was some bad acting).

Even though I didn’t particularly love Macbeth yet, it was rapidly becoming the thing that Grandpa and I really shared.  He loved to quote the “double, double toil and trouble” and “Is this a dagger that I see before me?” with great gusto. (In earlier days, Grandpa was in a few plays – including Taming of the Shrew – so he knew how to project his voice and really say the lines.)  We had good times laughing over all that.

It was actually amazing. ❤

Then, on July 7th, 2016, I saw Macbeth performed live in Stratford. (Ontario, not England.  Psych!)  It was with both my grandparents (though my grandma doesn’t particularly like the play) and, oh man, it was fantastic.  I fell in love with Macbeth right away.  The actors were brilliant, Shakespeare’s lines lived and breathed in my ears…I can’t even.  I particularly remember that Lady Macbeth looked really young and innocent, but her performance was chilling. (As it should be.)  And Banquo (my favorite character in the play) suddenly appeared at the banquet – his ghost, rather – it was terrifying.

(The trailer for the show is here.  There are some disturbing images.)

I came out of the show in a daze – and as a firm fan of Macbeth and Shakespeare himself.  It’s still in one of my top three favorite Shakespeare plays.  And it will always remind me of Grandpa.  It’s a special thing we share…and I’ll never forget that.

23 Jokes And Memes About Shakespeare Plays That'll Make Smart People Laugh
I just had to.

So do you have a movie, book, or TV show that you and a friend or relative consider ‘yours’?



my top ten favorite retellings

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Did you know that there are more retellings out there than just fairytale retellings?  It’s true! (And probably doesn’t surprise many of you, tbh.)  I’m writing a retelling of the Apostle Paul’s life – and a western retelling of Hamlet – neither of which are fairytales. (Far from it, haha.)  Taking a classic story and making it new is one of my favorite past times…and retellings happen to be one of my favorite genres.  So let’s get into the list!

~Emmeline by Sarah Holman – A 1920’s take on Jane Austen’s Emma.  One of the sweetest books I’ve read in a while.  Updating Harriet’s character so that she’s a German working girl gave her depth and strength that the original Harriet lacked.  And Emma/Emmeline and Mr. Knightley/Frederick are as great a couple as ever.

~Cinder by Marissa Meyer – I have nothing but admiration for Marissa Meyer’s skill with retellings.  Each book in the Lunar Chronicles is excellent (including Fairest and Stars Above) but I think Cinder is my favorite.  Yes, Cinderella retellings are a bit overdone these days, but I still love them.  And Meyer’s nods to the original story are so clever!

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~Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken – I didn’t expect to love this quiet, gentle retelling of Emma as much as I did…but I did. 😉  The parts that retell Jane Austen’s original story seem a bit rushed, but all of Jane’s backstory is super interesting and the whole thing is written in pitch perfect ‘Austen-ese’.

~Dancing & Doughnuts by Rachel Kovaciny – Western fairytale retellings for the win!  I’ve read several, by a few different authors, but Dancing & Doughnuts is something special.  From the unique, upbeat narrative voice of the protagonist – Jedediah Jones – to the cleverness of the retelling itself to the fun characters…Dancing & Doughnuts is a sweet delight to read. (My other favorite Kovaciny retelling is The Man on the Buckskin Horse, which can be found in the anthology Five Magic Spindles.)

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~A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher – This is a retelling of Les Miserables and it came this close to being a five star read on Goodreads (and those are super rare for me).  I had a bit of trouble connecting to the characters (which is why I only gave it four stars), but oh my word, the writing is GORGEOUS.  And the story is appropriately bleak and sad (considering the source material).  Highly recommended to fans of both the book and the musical.

~Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – One of my favorite books so far this year!  It has moments of comedy, yes, but overall I found it to be a far more serious book than I was expecting.  Ella and Char’s growing relationship actually had me, y’know, shipping them.  And that ending…so emotional and sweet!  I liked how it was kiiiind of a retelling of Cinderella, but still very much its own story.

(Also, the movie is trash.)

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~Colonel Brandon’s Diary by Amanda Grange – I usually enjoy Grange’s Austen-inspired stuff (though not everything she’s written) but Colonel Brandon’s Diary is definitely the best of her work.  She has to fill in a lot because Sense & Sensibility doesn’t give too many details about him, and it works beautifully.  Two thumbs up.

~Hawksmaid by Kathryn Lasky – I feel like Robin Hood retellings aren’t really retellings because the ‘original stories’ are basically retellings themselves.  There’s no one definitive version of the legend. (Though from what people have said Howard Pyle probably comes pretty close.)  Anyway, Hawksmaid is a spirited, rich retelling of Robin Hood’s story.  Highly recommended.

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~Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge – A straight-up retelling of Sense & Sensibility, set in Texas.  If you’re an Austen fan, you NEED to read this.  Lodge doesn’t try to copy Jane Austen’s style but there’s a delicacy and straightforwardness about her prose that echoes Austen’s work.

~Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay – Despite the title, this is a retelling of Daddy Long Legs, not a Jane Austen book.  I will say that the book’s heroine, Sam, is spectacularly unlikable for a long stretch of the story.  But I still loooove this novel.  It’s gripping, real, and full of hope and grace.

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So, that’s my list!  Do you spot any of your favorites on it?  Also, I’d like to mention that Once, a collection of six fairytale retellings, is perma-free on Amazon!  I knew some of the authors and, trust me, if you’re a fan of fairytale retellings, you’ll definitely want to snap this deal up.  Let me know what you think once you’ve read it. 🙂


a month in books: january 2019

This quote about reading from Ralph Waldo Emerson will make you want to pick up…

This year, I set myself the goal of reading 300 books.  In one year.  Last year, I read 228 books so I’m not sure why I thought 300 books was the next step (250 would probably have been more logical), but whatever.  I was pretty sure I’d fail, but so far I’m four books ahead of schedule.  And, um, mentally exhausted.

However!  January has been a great month for books.  I’ve read 29 so far and, for the most part, I’ve enjoyed them.

The highlights:

~We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels.  Read my review here!

~The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt.  Yes, it’s a kids’ picture book.  But it’s one of the funniest, most charming picture books I’ve ever read. (And the ‘Gladiator’ reference was icing on the cake.)

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors | Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex | Harper Collins publication | 4 - 4 - 2017 | ISBN: 9780062438898

~The Negotiator by Dee Henderson.  After hearing my mom talk about the O’Malley series for ages I finally started it.  So, so good.

~A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold.  Hard, sobering, and thought-provoking.

~An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson.  Gorgeous prose, an intriuging fantasy world, and the greatest can-turn-into-a-raven-and-is-also-a-sweetheart YA hero since Jest.

The lowlights:

~Selp-helf and My Diarrhe by Miranda Sings/Colleen Balinger.  Miranda is much funnier on Youtube than in book form. (Though I’d hesitate to recommend her videos to less-than-adult audiences.  At least, some of them.)

miranda sings, lol. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! WHAT THE EVEN HECK?!?!

~I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora.  This one was okay, but it felt like the author was trying too hard to have a quirky first person POV narration that seems to be the staple for middle grade fiction these days.  And the plot was pretty dumb.

~Egypt’s Sister by Angela Hunt.  I was expecting a little more, y’know, Cleopatra in this book.

(There were some other not-so-great books but I don’t feel like devoting energy to them.)

Favorite book of the year (so far):

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Yes, it’s a re-read.  And, yes, it’s the best.

My favorite quotation from my favorite book! "To Kill A Mockingbird" -- And to think, Harper Lee is publishing her second novel!!

So, let’s talk!  How many books have you read this year? (Please don’t think I’m bragging about how many books I’ve read, btw – I have more free time than most people and an affinity for speedy reading.)  What’s your favorite book so far this year?


give every book a chance (#GEBAC)

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Recently, I’ve found myself trying to pay more attention to what I read.  And that mostly takes the form of saying to myself (right before I dive into a new book) “This book could be bad.  Or it could be one of those astounding, five-million-stars-on-Goodreads books that will literally change your life.  Or something solid and good and in-between.” (Of course, I’m not that poetic in my head.  It’s more like “book could be good, pay attention”.)

I used to rant about books I hated – without mercy.  Granted, I still do some of that but since getting more serious about my own writing, I like to give every book a chance.  And even if I don’t love it (or even like it), chances are that that book has been worked on and cried over (and maybe even prayed over) for years.

Years, people.

Most of the books on your shelf, on your library’s shelves, on the bookstores’ shelves, are the product of at least a year of work.  Usually more.  They’ve gone through revisions and late nights and endless cups of coffee.  The author (nine times out of ten) has given their everything to the book you hold in your hands.

So…let’s give every book a chance.  Of course, we won’t like each one.  Some of them will make us furious.  Some will evoke such a sense of ‘meh’ that we’ll never fulfill the perky ‘RTC!’ on Goodreads.  But every once in a while, we’ll find a book that makes our soul soar.  A book that inspires us in every way.  A book that will leave us on a literary high for days or even weeks.  Or simply a book that we thoroughly, completely enjoy.

(And I’m not saying that we can’t write rant reviews on our blogs or Goodreads.  ‘Cause then I’d be a hypocrite.  Just…let’s not be so quick to do so.)

(By the way, this principle applies to pretty much anything.  People.  New foods.  Music genres.  Movies.  TV shows.)

So yeah.  That’s about it. 🙂

What books have surprised you with their awesomeness?


P.S. This is the LAST DAY you can get Sarah Addison-Fox’s Allegiance series for FREE on Kindle.  I highly, highly recommend you do so!  Here’s the link to her Amazon author page where you can find each book in the series (beginning with Disowned).

two book reviews: ‘a bound heart’ & ‘we hope for better things’


Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning—together.

So, I have mixed feelings about A Bound Heart.  On the one hand, it’s a rather well-written story (especially for a Christian historical romance) with some good characters, but on the other it took me a while to slog through it and there were some characters I didn’t appreciate.  To begin with the good, I really liked the main character, Lark.  She was refreshingly unique for the Christian historical romance genre.  She has an actual job (tending beehives and growing herbs) and is quite courageous throughout the whole story.  I feel like this would have been a better book if it focused on her and didn’t try to stick in romance.  Larkin was a dear – one of the few authentic, non-cloyingly-sweet babies I’ve read about.

The main thing I disliked about A Bound Heart was the romance.  Magnus is one of those Christian romance heroes that you can tell was written by a woman.  Which may sound confusing and sexist, but basically he’s fake.  He’s so perfect and ‘manly’ that he’s unlikable because you know that guys like him don’t really exist. (If we’re being honest.)  There were two other potential love interests for Lark that I liked way more because they seemed like real guys you might bump into.

Overall, A Bound Heart was a well-written story with an atmospheric portrayal of Scotland but some annoying Christian romance cliches.



When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request–that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos–seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.


This book drew several tears from me.  On the cover it was compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and while it’s quite a different story and not as good, We Hope for Better Things is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve read in a long time.  The writing is crystal clear, engaging, and evocative.  The story was a bit reminiscent of a Lynn Austin book because of the multi-generational thing, but more serious.

Books that deal with racism always grip me and this one was no exception.  There are many hard things and many heartbreaking things…but many wonderful things as well.  Through the three couples – Mary and George, Nora and William, and Elizabeth and (oh, man, I forget his name and it’s awful of me) ?Tyrese? – you get three incredible stories (though I definitely don’t agree with the choices Mary and George made).  Each of the characters became dear to my heart.

My only complaints about We Hope for Better Things were that sometimes it was hard to keep track of who was related to who and it seemed like the book ended with a rather large unanswered question…but it doesn’t look like there’ll be a sequel.  Still, I adored this book.  Highly recommended to those who enjoy well-written historical fiction.

Have you read either of these novels?  What did you think of them?


mini book review: code of valor + response to your feedback!


What Detective Brady St. John really needs is a relaxing vacation. Unfortunately, just as the sun is setting on his second day at a friend’s cabin on Lake Henley, he hears a scream and races to rescue a woman from her would-be killer. When the killer escapes only to return to finish the job, Brady vows to utilize all of his many resources to keep her safe–and catch those who would see her dead.

Financial crimes investigator Emily Chastain doesn’t trust many people. And even though she let the detective who saved her life in on a few pertinent facts about why she was being attacked, there are some things you just don’t share with a stranger. Little does she suspect that the secret she is keeping just might get them both killed.

I haven’t read too many police thrillers (is that what this book is?) but Code of Valor was a fast-paced, entertaining read.  Maybe I’m getting soft, but there were actually a couple scenes that made my heart pound with worry/fear.  Which was exciting.  I hardly ever read books that have that effect on me (The Maze Runner is the only other one I can think of), so yeah.  Even though this book is the third in the Blue Justice series (and I haven’t read the other books), I easily read it as a standalone.  The writing was good, the characters well-written (if not stellar), and the plot was a wee bit confusing (though that might have been because I was reading the end so fast).  Recommended for fans of clean thrillers.


You know, I actually enjoyed writing that review.  I think it’s more my style.  And you know why?  Because I actually enjoyed reading the book! (Duh.)

So, a couple days ago I asked you guys for feedback regarding these ‘forced’ reviews and, yeah, you gave me plenty.  Seven responses in all, and they said basically the same thing: ‘I skip these reviews’.  Ouch.  But completely justified because I don’t care much about these reviews (because I don’t care about the books), so why should you?

I have two more reviews coming – A Bound Heart and We Hope for Better Things (both of which look really good, tbh) – and then I’m implementing my new policy.  Which is that I won’t request books at random.  I’ll only request books to review if I a) know and like the author or b) have a really, really good feeling about a book.  So no more random books.  There are a couple of programs that only require reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I’ll still request randoms from them, but not for this blog.  This blog has been going for over three years and I owe it to myself and to you to not let it degenerate.

Thanks so much for all your feedback!  It was much appreciated (even if it did sting a little at first).


i need feedback, y’all

I love books.  (Everyone knows this.)  And I love blogging. (Ditto.)  And when I married those two loves (wow, that sounds weird) to create this blog, you guys responded – you love my blog (at least, I think so!).  I currently have 346 followers (whaaaat) and because of that high follower count, I’ve become part of several book review programs.  Basically, I request books (e-copies or hard copies) from all these different programs, read the book, and then write a review on my blog (as well as Goodreads and Amazon).

So, free books!  Which is awesome.  But it’s also started to worry me because, since I can’t pass up a free book that looks good, pretty much all my book blogging is reviewing those books…and I feel like the quality of my blog has suffered because of it.  I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a book on here that had no strings attached to my review.  There are so many books I loooove and I’ve reviewed so few of them. 

The last twelve books I reviewed on this blog were review copies.  Some of them I truly loved, but most I didn’t care about.  And I feel like that dilutes the integrity of my blog.  I know I can’t give up requesting free books entirely, but I think I need to step back a little (even now, I currently have four books waiting to be reviewed – and one of those reviews is coming on Monday).  I want this blog to truly represent the things I love.

I’ve also noticed that my book reviews don’t get a lot of comments compared to my other posts and I think it’s because y’all can tell my heart isn’t in them.  So what I’d like to know is – is that true?  Are you annoyed by this flood of reviews of books that I’m ambivalent about?  Please let me know!  And I promise to work harder at writing blog posts that truly mean something to me…and to you guys. (After I get those four books reviewed, that is. ;))

Have a great day everyone.