Tag Archives: Hollins University

Book Review: Read Timekeeper Quickly

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

I did not give Timekeeper the reading that it deserved, and I’m going to probably always regret that a little. I bought this book when it first came out, and—let’s get this out of the way—I wanted to love this book, and how much that bias colored my reading, I don’t know, but when I did read this book, I did love this book. Timekeeper is the first novel by Tara Sim. Tara Sim is the first person of my graduating class at my alma mater to get a book deal from a big name publisher (one that easily supplies Barnes & Noble). She is the first author that I’ve known personally to get such a book deal. She’s the one who made it first. (She won’t be the last.)

I don’t know what happened when I was reading this book—I honestly don’t. I bought it in November 2016. I’d actually opened it and read a few pages in November 2016; I have pictures. I started reading it in earnest in January 2018 or earlier—earlier I think, but I didn’t finish it until September 2018. Between January 2018 and September 2018 I reread three favorites, I read The Burning Maze, I started a mess of books, including several set in Wales in preparation for a trip to that country, without finishing them. I think portability made a big impact on my reading of Timekeeper this first time. Because I did read a new book called Tara Takes the Stage, a little 151-page paperback, and two of those rereads were portable paperbacks too.

I also have a niggling memory of a sense of being overwhelmed by book reviews that I hadn’t had the energy or time to get to you—and a feeling that I didn’t want to add to my pile of overdue reviews by finishing anything new; I think that might have been part of why I allowed myself so many rereads this year….

All this to say that I did not read Timekeeper in one great, thirst-quenching, squealing gulp like I ought to have done—like you ought to do; learn from my mistakes.  (And I’m sorry it took me so long, Tara.)

I was squealing enough about this book in January that I had to tell Goodreads about the dopey grin that I kept developing whenever I read about Danny and Colton and their will-they-won’t-they, forbidden romance.

Every time I opened it, I was infected by the characters’ emotions, but I somehow never sat down and put nose to page until I vowed to finish the books that I’d started instead of starting more. Once I was in maybe the last quarter of the book, I was tearing through it.

I was surprised by the ending.

I love that I was surprised.

The characters are all well-crafted, the world is vividly imagined and deeply considered. (There’s a note in the back where Sim talks about the ways her mythology and the changes that she made to humanity’s timeline in Timekeeper affect the characters and society in her world as compared to the world on our unaltered timeline, absent of her mythos.)

Here are so many things to cheer: well-portrayed PTSD; several, strong, well-rounded female mechanics, including one who is half Indian; a beautiful, gay romance; respected, well-rounded black characters in a Victorian setting because (to reference Psych) black people weren’t invented after 1888.

There are moments when Sim plays with textual layout and presentation to create story in a way that is nearly unique among books that I’ve read.

I intend to do better by Book 2, Chainbreaker, when I get my hands on a copy. The series deserves my attention.  Book 3, Firestarter, is due to come out in January.

This book deserves at least four stars, probably five if I’d read it as it ought to be read.

****

Sim, Tara. Timekeeper, Book One. New York: Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by Tara Sim, Sky Pony Press, or Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Shelfie: December 9, 13, & 17, 2016: Christmas Prep 2016

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2016 was a fun Christmas.  We threw a holiday party at the store, for which I got put in charge of the decorations.  I ought to have done more, but I had fun with what I did do.  I underestimated the amount of decorations needed to make the whole store look grand.  I made one of our wreaths though, as I’d seen my mother do at home.  This year’s book tree was Hollins green and gold.

Book Review: Sweet, Satisfying, and Quick to Read: The World That Forgot How to Dance

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I am biased toward this book. This is the first published book written by a Hollins classmate to make it to my bookshelves. Many of us left with at least partial manuscripts, a little bit wiser in our craft for our four years of study, and it’s been a bit of a race to paint our words over impressionable minds and hearts. Olivia Berrier and I took English 142 together and together with our classmates demanded that we be allowed to write fantasy, promised to show that fantasy could have literary value—a fight that, for that semester, our class won, and because of that, I got to enjoy some of Olivia’s earlier fantasy works (calling her Berrier is just weird, so I think we’ll have to stick with informal address, even in this more formal review). We’ve kept in touch since, and got together once during the brief time that we were back in the same city, but most of our relationship has since been online, and most of it has been book discussion.

This novelette began as a weekly serial for her blog, Often Clueless, Always Shoeless, but it has been rather seamlessly sewn together here. I shamefully admit to not reading more than an episode or two of the serial while it was being published, so I don’t honestly know whether this is a direct rendering or if the text was edited between the blog and the printed form.

It’s a quick read, only 73 pages long, but with page breaks to allow for a breather or a bit of sleep as needed—and in this form you don’t have to wait a week for the next installment. I took a week to linger over the words and the world, and even so I was sad when the story ended, and I realized that there would be no more. I wrote a message on Olivia’s Facebook wall immediately after I’d finished, telling her essentially that: “I just finished your book, and I’m sad it’s over, and I’m not sure I can offer a better compliment than that.”

Olivia writes lovingly about dance, and the way that she writes about it, it’s easy to believe that dance could be the catalyst for magic.

Her protagonist and point-of-view character Ellsie (Ellsie’s is a fairly close third) is compassionate, passionate, and real in the best ways—longing to be what she is not and struggling to accept herself as she is and realize that she is enough while never seeming weak for having a weakness and never seeming absurdly powerful for having the ability to work magic (an ability that is this world seems fairly universal, though the spells are forgotten now).

Lester, once arrogant and jealous, now scared and hopeless inspires new vigor in Ellsie when she reignites hope in him, and he sets her an unlawful and emotionally heavy task that will save her, one hundred thirty-seven others, and the world that has forgotten magic and forgotten how to dance.

The world is strangely modern and strangely familiar, and I scraped myself once or twice against cars and guns and cell phones and familiar styles of dance, including freestyle. I don’t know why these modern elements seemed so rough against my skin, but perhaps only because I spend so much of my time in technologically early civilizations and perhaps because these objects are sparse, scattered reminders of the modernity of a world that 300 years ago could be so reliant on magic—but then 300 years is a long time, and I frequently forget that (300 years ago, Blackbeard was given his first command of a ship, the Jacobites were fighting against the Hanovers in England, and there were still a few executions of witches to come). Perhaps it’s that these objects are so familiar, that they are staples of our world while magic is not. I could not decide whether I was in an alternate version of our world or another world entirely. I think it was this last, that this confusion of setting was what threw me once or twice briefly from the text.

There were some excellent gems of wordsmithing here, particularly apt and original comparisons and poignant verbs.

Ultimately, the story is a sweet and brief reminder of the magic available to all and the freedom and power of dance.

****

Berrier, Olivia.  The World That Forgot How to Dance.  48HrBooks, 2015.

This review is not endorsed by Olivia Berrier or 48HrBooks.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

In Defense of the Small, Women’s, Liberal Arts College

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Hollins University.  Photo credit to myself.

Hollins University. Photo credit to myself.

Today is International Women’s Day making this attempt to process recent events seem particularly timely.  I hope this says what I want it to say.

***

The world is big. Like, really big. Most of you are not from our little valley, down here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Most of you probably have not heard of Sweet Briar College if you’ve heard of Sweet Briar College at all till Wednesday when the college announced that at the end of this summer, they will shut their doors forever.

But sometimes things happen, and you have to process them. I process by writing, and I have a blog, so I may as well share my thoughts. So welcome to my thoughts.

Sweet Briar College was my first choice until a somewhat disastrous overnight visit changed my mind. I ended up at Sweet Briar’s rival college, Hollins University, and I never looked back—or maybe only once or twice.

The girl I was who dreamed of marrying a landed nobleman and running a household while walking about in opulent clothes and changing to go riding through fields and woodlands that I owned, that girl loved Sweet Briar. Wandering the grounds feels like wandering through a Bronte or an Austen novel. The wooden banisters are worn smooth by thousands of hands over decades. There’s one room in the library that could have been lifted from my wildest imaginations of my manor house, all dark wood, plush couches, and pleasurable fiction. The horse barn is the nicest I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a fair few. I’d have loved to spend nights going up to the observatory, from which I could view the night sky with so much less light pollution than, well, just about anywhere I’ve ever been.

My opinion of Sweet Briar has been clouded both by that overnight visit and by the traditions and history of my own alma mater, which proclaimed the annual soccer game between our two universities “Burn the Briar Day” and sold student-made t-shirts proclaiming “Friends don’t let friends become Vixens” (the Vixen is the Sweet Briar mascot).

I never had the opportunity to interact with any of the Sweet Briar women or visit the college again after deciding to become a Hollins woman.

***

The announcement of the closing of Sweet Briar rings like death knells across the Internet (or at least within certain circles of the Internet) for a certain types of universities, or at least universities that, like Sweet Briar, share three qualities. Sweet Briar is a small, rural, women’s college. (And a liberal arts college besides, but enough large liberal arts colleges are thriving that I’m going to leave the argument alone for now.) Maybe the three stresses were too much, but each I feel has its benefit, and if the landscape of colleges becomes one where any of these three aspects is absent, we as a country will lack much. In this alternate universe where schools like Sweet Briar, schools like Hollins do not exist, social pressure probably would have found me in a college, but I would not be the woman I am, and I honestly don’t think that the woman I am now would much like the woman I would be.

I wanted a small university. I wanted a relationship with my classmates and professor. Coming from a town of 16,000 and a high school graduating class of 200, I was used to personal attention, and I was unwilling to give that up. I needed a small university. I would not be the woman I am had I not attended a small university. I am quiet by nature. I don’t like to be called on in class because I would rather reflect and observe and process and answer questions later, preferably in writing. Being in a small class and being called on even when I didn’t feel like the most qualified student in the room or the only active participant in a class (the reasons I’d have spoken out in high school) taught me how to express myself. The observation rather than participation mode of learning works for me, and I would have learned the class material in a large university setting, but I would not have fought for my turn to ask questions or to share opinions and I would not have become the more confident woman I am today, more unrepentant than my high school self about having opinions and more willing to share those opinions.

That town of 16,000 is a Connecticut suburb not long removed from its days of farming, with open spaces aplenty but shrinking and old stone walls dividing properties and crisscrossing the woodlands between. By the time I was looking for a college to attend, I’d been to New York City and Boston, and I knew I didn’t want that hustle and bustle or that gray. I am not a city-girl. I specifically avoided schools in large cities, as surely as I avoided schools that are cities, anything with a population to rival my hometown’s. The landscape of Sweet Briar stole my breath and nearly stole my heart—did steal my heart for several months, and I think in my heart, I always believed that Hollins never really did compare for all its green hills and lawns, and its shady garden, and cool creeks, and the woods that kept us bounded on two sides, and the horse pasture that formed the third side. Hollins’ grounds became home, and I felt and feel privileged to walk and run unchecked across them, to explore their crannies and surprises, but Sweet Briar’s grounds are nearer to what Heaven will look like, and I would have spent my four years discovering their secrets and communing with nature among the grasses and woodlands. I’d have been unhappy anywhere without greenery, and Sweet Briar offered me by far the best.

Lastly, women’s colleges. Let me tell you about women’s colleges. I stumbled across women’s colleges accidentally. I didn’t intend to go to a women’s college when I began looking for schools, I just didn’t exclude them, especially as my guidance counselor pinned Hollins as the school for me from the get-go. All of the colleges of which I became aware that happened to have the right climate (I wanted to move south and escape the cold) and environment (small, intimate, with caring professors, and enough greenery to keep me sane) also happened to be women’s colleges.

The small class size was necessary to teach me to speak out, but I think an environment entirely composed of women helped me speak out as well. We were women who shared ideas, ideals, and circumstances, and my classmates were supportive in ways that I think male classmates would not have been able to be, speaking as they would have been from a position of privilege that had been denied to us women since birth. My classmate and I were all of us in some way, however intentionally or unintentionally, coming from a background of repressed voices, and so we listened to one another and encouraged one another to speak out as some of us had never been encouraged to speak out.

In a women’s college, I learned to see the struggles of women, of myself that would have been repressed beneath the usual blanket of social etiquette in a co-ed environment.

It took a little while longer to sprout, but there’s a fighter in me planted there by my experiences at Hollins. My experiences there opened my eyes—or gave me the tools to see the truth when it was in front of me later in the work field, in relationships. That fighter learned to speak out. She learned to see the injustices that needed righting. She learned to be unafraid to get dirty, to not dislike the grease of fried chicken on her fingers, to be unafraid of paint splatter or the “herpes of all craft projects”: glitter. She left behind the prim and proper lady who wanted to be only another ornament in an ancient household and peerage of ornaments, that woman who first fell in love with Sweet Briar’s campus.

There’s one thing more that the Hollins environment did for me, the most important thing. And I hope this is true of Sweet Briar too.

I would not trade the friendships for anything. I have a solid group of friends, any of whom I would take a bullet for, and among whom I know for whom I shouldn’t take a bullet because they’d be too wracked with guilt. Six of us meet weekly to discuss our lives and whatever else comes up, anything from trifling matters like television shows to big things like current events and societal problems.

Those six are the bulwark that keeps me together, at least as important as my family. It makes me so sad that there are those who do not have this support network and when I try to explain to them what my friends mean to me cannot understand. Those six are an absolute and true Godsend. But they are a small, small part of Hollins for me. We are all of us family—the whole of the university—and while we have divisions, our cliques, at the end of the day, we are Hollins women—everyday. Living with these girls was like living among an eternal educational summer camp or slumber party.

Now that I am an alumna, the divisions have ceased to matter near as much. No matter where we are or how many years divide us, Hollins women support one another. I once met a Hollins woman in a tack shop in Connecticut. She offered to let me ride her horses during that first meeting, before we’d even realized that we were Hollins sisters; it was an instantaneous Hollins recognition. I was recognized as a Hollins woman by man who, as a young orphan, had been “adopted” by Hollins women, students who took him out and bought him Christmas presents and generally loved him even if they couldn’t take him home. He stopped me at work to confirm that I was a Hollins woman and then to reminisce about those years, ask after me, and advise me.

We call the alumnae network “the Hollins mafia” because they are everywhere, unexpectedly, and those in the network will move earth to help you once they realize that you’re family.

In the end, Hollins and Sweet Briar share much, both small, women’s, liberal arts colleges, and neither in a large city, though Hollins is in a much more active area. We need small colleges like these to give personal attention to our students, to tease answers out of the more reluctant speakers, and to teach them to speak. We need women’s colleges to continue to inform our women, to show them the world in a new light. As I write this, women are demanding equality, fighting again for our rights. We fight against microaggressions and violence towards women, the unequal social footing, and unconscious and conscious degradation of our sex.  I know the Sweet Briar Vixens and my Hollins sisters will all back me up when I say:

Please, please, let’s not let this one university’s closing spell the closing of universities with their qualities and of their caliber.

***

My heart goes out to the Vixens and residents of Sweet Briar, VA. I know the college and college town more intimately than some as someone who so strongly considered the college. I know how tiny, how rural is Sweet Briar, VA. My heart goes out to those who work in the town of Sweet Briar, the population of which is almost entirely college students and staff. Without the college, I don’t know what will happen to that strip mall. I don’t know what will happen to that town.

I know that if it were my college, if Sweet Briar had been my college, I would be heartbroken to know that soon there would be no home for me to return to.

Vixens, we’ve been rivals for a long time, and I’m sure you’ve enjoyed that rivalry as much as I did. In this trying time, I hope we can learn to be friends. I hope we can focus on our commonalities and not on our differences. I know that no home will ever replace your home, and that your home is what they’re taking away from you, I hope you can find a little solace elsewhere, at Hollins if Hollins is where you choose to find rest. I know it may be too hard to come to us.