Feel-Good Fiction: Books to Read in Difficult Times

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You’d have to be living under a rock to not be at least a little stressed-out lately. With everything that’s going on, I’ve been thinking of the books I read when things are difficult. I tend to reread books I like (I wrote a post about it, which you can find here). Here are a few that I go to when I need a little literary cheering up:

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: There’s something so calming about following a hobbit on his journey. Smaug is fantastic, of course, and those dwarfs are a delight to read.

The Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters: I know that “cadaver” and “comfort” aren’t usually associated with each other, but these mysteries are so much fun! Amelia Peabody is a spunky, indomitable heroine, and the setting (Egypt in the late 1800s – early 1900s) allows for some incredibly entertaining mysteries.

Redwall by Brian Jaques: This book is charming. I love reading about little mice and squirrel warriors fighting against an evil army full of stoats and rats.

The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: This trilogy was my jumping-off point into adult fantasy. I credit my ongoing love of fantasy, my dragon collection, and my enjoyment of D&D to these.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: Another mystery (weird), this series follows an accidental bounty-hunter (she just needed a job) named Stephanie Plum. She is such a disaster, it’s like watching a train wreck: you can’t look away. All the characters in this series are quirky and funny. This series always succeeds in distracting me from stress.

Have you read any of these? What books are your go-to comfort reads?

Books That I Think Will Be Future Classics

I saw this post on both Fictionophile’s and Orang-Utan Librarian’s fantastic blogs and I just had to take part. Credit for this fun post goes to Orangutan Librarian.

I like thinking about the books that will be considered ‘classics’ for future generations, and the reasons why. Here are a few that I think will fill that role in the coming years:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up. (taken from Amazon)

Aside from the fact that this is an incredibly moving book (it’s one of my top five favorites of all time), it’s an important book. Written solely through letters, this book covers subjects that are often considered taboo in the YA genre and it does it realistically and with grace. The simplicity of the writing makes it hit home all the more. I definitely see this one being considered a “classic” in the future.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (taken from Amazon)

Admission: I haven’t read this book. However, it think it fits the criteria: it discusses an important subject, is relevant to the time (sadly), and -from what I’ve heard- it’s well-written.

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The Harry Potter series

Okay, hear me out: I’m not adding this series because it’s immensely popular. I’m adding it because of the changes it inspired in children’s literature, the first being that this series crosses from being kid lit., to being middle grade about halfway through the series. This is the first series that I can think of that was written with the goal of having the audience get older in conjunction with the characters. It also spawned a change in children’s literature: the discussion of difficult subjects without shying away or “dumbing it down” to meet the reader. Plus, there are the numerous books that have been quite obviously inspired by the changes Harry Potter affected in literature.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years. (taken from Amazon)

While it’s never actually confirmed in the book, most people agree that Christopher is on the spectrum. The way the author explored this is astounding. While it changes how Christopher handles things, it in no way shows him as being incapable or “lesser than.” It’s amazing how well-written this book is. It really made me think and I would be very surprised if this isn’t considered a classic in the future.

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

This seems like one of those books that intimidates a lot of people. I highly recommend giving it a go. I believe that- aside from the themes explored in the book- its odd writing style ( the endnotes! Endless endnotes!) will both fascinate and confuse for many generations to come.

If some of these are already considered classics, then yay and my bad. It’s been longer than I care to admit since I’ve had required reading of “classics.”

What do you think? What would you add?

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this great tag on Reader Gal’s blog. Her blog is awesome, so make sure to check it out. Original credit for this tag goes to A Book Lovers Playlist. Since we all sometimes put our books on hold to binge a show on Netflix, I think this makes for a fun tag. Here goes nothing:Recently Finished- the last book you finishedIt was either Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls or Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan (my review). I actually think I finished them both on the same day. I really need to make more of an effort to mark my books “read” on Goodreads the day I finish them.Top Picks- A book that was recommended to you based on books you have previously readDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style was suggested to me by Irresponsible Reader (follow his blog!) based on my review of A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age (review here).Recently Added- the last book you boughtI grabbed The Library of the Unwritten, which I’m dying to read. Have I started it yet? Um…Popular on Netflix- Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you have no interest in )I read and loved both The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Daisy Jones and the Six. I think both of those are ubiquitous at this point. I have absolutely no interest in The Gilded Wolves or Gideon the Ninth.Comedies- a funny bookFowl Language: Winging It had me in stitches. That little duck really understands parenting.Dramas- a character who is a drama king/queenCity of Bones. Both Clary and Jace rate pretty stinking high on the drama-o-meter.Animated- a book with cartoons on the coverI’m not sure if this counts, but I’m going with Thornhill (click on book name to get review).Watch It Again- a book/series you want to rereadI reread both The Night Circus and The Dragonlance Chronicles every year.Documentaries- a non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyoneI loved For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More . Okay, the name is a bit much. Actually, it’s way too much. The book is excellent, though.Action and Adventure- and action-packed bookKings of the Wyld is chock-full of action. It also has amazing writing, and a sense of fun that it seems a lot of fantasy has been missing lately. I highly recommend it.Well, there it is. What do you think of my answers? I’m not going to tag anyone here, but I’ll probably bug a few people on Twitter. Ha ha! If you do participate, please tag me,so I can see your answers.

Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Author Fiona West

Finishing up my weekly series on mental health and literature is author Fiona West. Thank you so much for contributing!

First, can you tell me a bit about your book?

The Semi-Royal is about a woman who’s under immense pressure, being both a princess third in line to the throne and a widely-renowned doctor. She’s in denial about a lot of things, her attraction to her brother’s best friend being one, and it’s the story of her slowly coming to accept and make peace with herself and her body.

One of things I wanted to explore in this book is the relationship between a woman’s mind and her body. One of the things that frustrates Rhodie is that her body isn’t really under her control…as a doctor, she knows a lot about the body in general, but an event in her past has caused her to lose faith in her body. And I think that’s a connection we don’t talk about enough: a lot of mental suffering is caused by worrying about our bodies and what they look like. I know as someone with a chronic illness, it’s really impacted my relationship with my body. I hated it. I hated that it didn’t do what I wanted it to, I hated that it didn’t do what other people’s bodies did. And over time, I had to learn to see it differently: that a flare wasn’t my body failing me, it was just part of a complicated situation. My body is still keeping me alive, my heart’s still pumping, my lungs are still taking in air. And when I shifted my focus from what my body couldn’t do to what it could, my mental health improved tremendously. I had to learn to re-interpret symptom flares as communication from my body instead of a betrayal. In a word, I had to learn compassion for my own body. I still fail at it plenty, but it’s something I’m working toward, and it’s something I wanted to write about. Mental health is a journey. And even though it’s fiction, Rhodie’s story reflects that. It was a really difficult balance to give her enough progress that we felt her story was resolved and still portray that it was an ongoing struggle for her.

Do your characters go to counseling?

For Rhodie, counseling was necessary. Several members of her family and her boyfriend all try to talk to her about her disordered eating, but she’s so deep in denial that she really can’t believe it until she talks to a professional. She valued his authority. And more than that, I think what she really needed was an outside voice. Someone who wasn’t going to remind her of her royal responsibilities and how this might look to the press. Just someone to come at an issue from another angle, one we can’t get to on our own. In the book, Rhodie likens the experience to one of those paintings that looks like an old woman to some people and a young woman at a mirror to others. That’s what counseling has been to me: just a different perspective on my own life. And it did help her. It gave her a way to move forward in repairing her relationship with her body. It was slow, of course, but so many good things in life are.

Have you had any experience with counseling? How has it affected you?
I still remember when I was about fourteen, I was going through my mother’s planner looking for a phone number (remember when people had paper planners? Good times.). On her calendar, she’d written ‘counseling’ on the month’s agenda. Being helplessly curious, I paged back: she’d been going for months. When I asked her about it, she gently told me that the counselor was helping her and my dad work through some things in their marriage and that it was nothing to worry about. That it was, in fact, proof that they were going to make it. (Spoiler alert: they’re celebrating 45 years in May.)
That’s the shift we need to make as a culture: throwing away the idea that counseling is a busted bucket for a sinking ship and instead see it as the personal flotation device that we keep with us, just in case. When I went on a cruise, we all stood around in the bar, doing the drill about what to do if there’s an emergency. But we didn’t throw our life vests overboard after that. Those devices are good for all kinds of things: kids who can’t swim, snorkeling trips, a cushion for your butt on a hard bench. We kept them in their designated spot in our cabins, close at hand. That’s how I want us to think about counseling: a tool for the right situation. I’ve met with a counselor once: sometimes, once was enough. It got me through that storm, helped me get my boat rightside up again. I’ve met with other counselors for several months: those issues were deeper. Sometimes, a hug from a friend or a listening ear was enough. Sometimes, just a good jungle yell and a cry was enough. But it’s silly that we still talk about counseling in hushed tones instead of getting on the roof and letting everyone know how much it helped. Let me start: it helped me, and while I can’t speak for others, I think it’s something worth trying, even before it’s an “emergency.” Do a drill: try it on and see how it feels.

As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

What’s saddest to me in literature is when poor mental health is depicted as some kind of moral failing by a degenerate soul. There are so many factors that go into our mental health, but one of the most poignant ones is the story of leaded gas. In his article, “How Lead Caused America’s Violent Crime Epidemic,” Alex Knapp writes that “every country studied has shown [a] strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit….decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for ‘emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.’” If we’re demonizing people for needing help or writing them off as “crazy,” we may never help them identify the other underlying causes, such as environmental toxins, that might be affecting their health. This is just one example, but it indisputably shows why we need to think more deeply about it as a culture, which is why I’m grateful to Jodie for starting the conversation here. (You rock, Jodie.)

Fiona West is the author of The Semi-Royal, among other books. Look for her work on Amazon.

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Mental Health in Literature: A Conversation with Before We Go Blog

Today, Beth from Before We Go Blog is sharing a very personal experience. This is incredibly moving. Thank you for joining the conversation, Beth!

I am many things. I wear many hats. For a long time, and mainly before the birth of my daughter, I was someone who defined themselves by books and the stories they bring, being a good wife to my loving husband, being a landscape designer, and generally a good human being. Especially the last one, I wanted to bring good to the world and try, even if it was in my small way, to leave the world just slightly better. However, with the birth of my daughter, the joy of my life now, my perspective, and view of life shifted and not in a positive way.

No one wants to talk about postpartum depression.

It is the gigantic elephant in the room. It is a creeping fungus that covers one’s eyes during what should be one of the most joyous times of your life. PPD is something that happens to other people, but couldn’t possibly happen to me, right? It did, and It nearly killed me. But I am here and alive, and I want to talk to you about what I went through and how moms should not be silent.

First off, let me say it loud and proud, “You are not a bad mom. Nor are you a bad person. This isn’t your fault.” Repeat it, and again. Say it first thing in the morning, and right before bed. “You are a good person, a good mom, and this is not your fault.” It is not your fault as much as having asthma or astigmatism is.

To describe PPD and how I coped with it, I am going to describe my life as a series of beats, of moments. It can demonstrate how badly I wanted a child, and how much PPD crushed me flat to the floor.

Firstly, My husband and I wanted a baby for years. We tried unsuccessfully for years to conceive. Our daughter was very much wanted and fought for. With the help of modern science and 12,000 dollars, we managed to conceive. I had an eventful and hard pregnancy. But we managed with c-section to deliver a bouncing baby girl who weighed just shy of 12 pounds.

Here is where things took a turn for me.

I was fine in the hospital for about the first 8 hours or so. Happy even. On hour nine, I started to dive down into the dark. It was almost like a light had been shut off inside me. A light my doctor said was a hormone dump that my body did not react well to.

This was the moment that I stopped sleeping.

Dramatic, huh. But completely true. I was desperately worn out. Anyone who delivers a baby will know the tired I am talking about. But, I lost the ability to calm my mind enough to sleep. I remember sitting in the hospital bed watching the clock slip from one number to another, and thinking how much better the world and my daughter’s life would be if I were not in it. These were not rational thoughts. I had fought tooth and nail to birth this child.

About 12 hours later, I lost my ability to eat. You are probably asking, “She lost it? Like it was a pair of shoes?” I was unable to eat any food without throwing up. I was uninterested in eating. I wanted no sustenance.

Twenty-four hours after that, I could no longer hold my child without having a panic attack. I could not cuddle, hold, or even be in the same room with her. I would throw up or hide in a corner in our bedroom, rocking back and forth. This wasn’t baby blues, nor was this my fault. Something was very wrong in my mind.

I battled as long as I could. When I had finally went to the doctor for myself, not just checkups for my daughter, I hadn’t slept or eaten anything for weeks. I had lost 60 pounds, my hair was falling out, and I was continually rocking back and forth. My doctor, bless her, told me they were going to help me, this isn’t my fault, and I was going to be ok. They put me on powerful anti-depression medication and anxiety meds to help get me back to proper place. It took me four months before I could hold my child for anything longer than a few minutes. It took me six months before I was watching her overnight, and eight months before I had anything resembling a normal home life. At about the one year mark, I had come back to myself. But I still battle. Now I am a happy stay at home mom to a bouncy five-year-old. She loves me more than anything. We have a strong bond. I am ok, generally, although the management of anxiety and depression will never go away. I am candid about my quest to come back to myself because I feel no shame in what I went through, and neither should any mom.

I am now an active blogger, and I use reading and writing as a means of tackling my anxiety and occasionally as an outlet. It is important to me that I can get on my soapbox every once in a while and shout to the world my love of books and writing in general. It would not have been possible if I did not say to my husband, “something is very wrong; please help me.” I have learned through counseling and looking back on myself that real courage is not struggling with something like this. True courage is looking at yourself and say, “No, this cannot stand. I am a good person that something bad has happened to. I can get better.” You are true courage mommas out there; this dark tunnel is not the end. There is so much more. I am here if you need to talk to someone. I have walked these dark paths, and the rain has fallen on me. I almost lost myself, but I made it. You will too. Just remember you are loved, and you are courage personified.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation with Bookish Creation

Today, Bookish Creation has kindly offered to add her thoughts on mental illness in literature. She brought up several points I hadn’t heard before and gave me much to think about. Check it out.

I think that there are several things that need to change within the literary world – and the entertainment world in general – when it comes to mental health. As many have mentioned, misrepresentation of certain mental illnesses is really harmful no matter what, but I think the change needs to go deeper than that. Most books that we see that are accurately describing mental illnesses tend to tackle the illnesses that are thought of as larger illnesses, scary ones, or ones born from tragedy that causes social skill changes in the character. While the ones that accurately look into this are good, I really feel that there needs to be a lot more stories that have characters that face the illnesses that are thought of by most people as less severe. These, after all, tend to be more common and can still cause difficulty for the people facing them.

Every day, people face mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, not too severe personality disorders, social anxiety, hypochondria, and many more. While these mental health concerns don’t always require hospitalization or heavy medications, they still present people who have them with obstacles that can be difficult for them to overcome. This becomes a real issue for patients because it can cause those who care about them to misjudge them or even cause them to lose relationships all together. I honestly feel that discontent and loss of relationship is generally not due to rudeness or deliberate attempts to hurt anyone, but rather is caused by a lack of understanding about the problems the patients face. I really feel that if we start to include these mental health concerns accurately in main characters in fiction, we might start to bridge the gap of that lack of understanding more.
There is another problem that I have noticed when it comes to mental health in fiction: It tends to be the main obstacle or plot point the story focuses on. Fiction tends to take mental health issues and turn them into these almost opponents that the characters need to face. When the story revolves around the health condition it can cause it to become more frightening. This is we tend to look at the focal point of a story as being inherently negative to a point where we reject it as being something we want to deal with in our lives. This only leads to people with mental health conditions to being ostracized more and treated harshly. I truly feel that if the characters in fiction have the condition as just part of their character, much like they may have some acne or poor eyesight, yet they face some other issue that the story focuses on, we will normalize these conditions while bringing awareness to how these conditions can hinder or affect people. Bottom line here is, the main plot point that characters must overcome will almost always be viewed as bad and scary, so we shouldn’t always make mental health the main plot point if we want to remove that fear.
All in all, I feel that mental health needs to be represented more in books as being a normal part of the characters‘ lives. We should be bringing awareness through normalization rather than trying to use real health conditions as villains or problems to be frightened of.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation with Author Ricardo Victoria

Me: Thank you so much for joining the conversation! Please tell the reader a little bit about your book.

Well more than talk about a particular book (as you reviewed the first one and I’m still working on the sequel), I would like to talk in general about the series. Tempest Blades is a series of stories where the characters have to learn to deal and work through their personal struggles on par of them going into adventures that put them in the position of saving the world –a world where magic and science coexist-. The three main characters: Fionn, Gaby and Alex, are blessed or cursed –depending on whom you ask- with the Gift, this special source of power that enables them to do superhuman feats, but which process of obtaining it is more than traumatic (as in dying). Supported by a cast of friends, and able to wield the titular Tempest Blades –sentient weapons of great power- they are able to face menaces that border in the eldritch abomination territory. Fionn, -who is the eldest- is a former war hero that retreated from the world due the traumatic experiences that made him lose his family, and his best friend, and is only starting to return. And his return is accelerated by agreeing to help a friend to find a missing person. This is compounded by the fact that along the way he finds himself in the role of mentoring Gaby and Alex, which have the Gift, like him, but lack experience in its use. And Fionn realizes that life does give you second chances. The story progresses in the next book (the one I’m currently working on) along the mentoring process and the ramifications from the events of the previous one.

Me: How does mental health play a role in your book?

In the already published one, Tempest Blades The Withered King, it plays a role through Fionn, who suffers from a degree of PSTD and depression, as result of his past experiences, and that informs his actions on the book. In the current sequel I’m working on, -tentative subtitle: Cursed Titans- I’m trying to explore more about depression, through another of the main characters, Alex. This stems from both the events of the previous book and traumatic events from his past that have gone unresolved and come to head into the present in a self-destructive way, which is pushing him to unhealthy limits while being a hero. Depression and the way it affects a person can take different forms.

Me: I know you mentioned your character deals with depression: was that difficult to portray?

In a way. Since I’m drawing here from my own personal experience and struggles dealing with depression, so I know exactly how the character feels. But it is difficult in two particular aspects: write it in a way that put the reader in a place where they can observe how depression feels, without being triggering or impeding the narrative from telling the overall story. And given that I’m not a therapist, but a sufferer from depression, it makes me wonder how much I should share or how far I should go and still be of help for potential readers that might suffer from depression as well. It is also difficult because I need to be careful of not putting myself into a mindset that backfires on my own mental health. At the end of the day I’m trying to write a hopeful story. Basically, it’s like walking on a tight rope. So I hope I can pull it off in an adequate manner.

Me: What are your thoughts on therapy and if/ when it can be useful?

I think therapy is useful and a good way to determine what kind of mental health issues a person might have, or as preventive health care. We need to learn that taking care of one’s mental health is not a sign or weakness nor that you necessarily have an issue that needs care, but as part of one’s overall well-being maintenance. Therapy is also a good way to help someone to get better when mental health issues are present or work to prevent them if possible. But for therapy to work, the person going to it has to want it to work. And it takes time, as it is a tough process. There is no easy solution so that has to be taken on consideration. Therapy is a process to teach you how to work out things with the help of a friendly, non-judgmental shoulder. At the end of the day, it is always good to have someone to listen to us and help us realize things that on our own might not be possible.

Me: As a writer, how do you feel about mental health portrayal in literature?

I’m not sure I can respond accurately, as I haven’t read all the books that dwell in the issue, so I don’t want to generalize. Something I have noticed though, is that often the mental health of main characters is not even mentioned. We expect our heroes to be strong and resilient and always overcome any kind of trauma derived from their escapades. But rarely it is explored the mental toll from the characters’ actions. We see a character killing another, maybe in self-defense, maybe to save the world, and that action takes a toll in a person’ psyche, in the real world. But in literature it tends to be glossed over (I myself am guilty of this, but I’m trying to improve). Same with a character surviving a war, or another traumatic experience. This, because writers tend to see the characters as objects to be used rather that ‘beings’ that can have feelings and thoughts. Curiously enough, one of the most interesting, if subdued, explorations of mental health and the toll adventure takes on a person that I’ve read, is The Lord of the Rings, in specific with Frodo near the end of the book, when the hobbits return to the Shire. Frodo is a bit despondent. I would dare to say that he suffers from PSTD. Carrying the ring or experiencing Mordor the way he did it wasn’t easy. So when he returns to the Shire you can see that and how it affects his actions to the end. I would dare to say that Tolkien draw a bit from his own experiences as soldier. Another pitfall in media seems to be that there are works were there is a generalization or poor job portraying mental health issues, even stigmatizing them, such as using them as an excuse for the antagonist to be the way they are, rather than understanding that anyone can have them and that they are not to be used as an excuse for trying to conquer over the world, sort to speak. Sadly they have become a crutch for many writers and the way the talk about the topic, really hurt those that suffer from mental health issues. Thus, it is necessary to reframe how, we as writers, use and understand mental health issues, how they can affect anyone and how is good to ask for help, or how a person suffering from them is not automatically a bad person. That heroes, like Frodo, can suffer mental health issues too. That going to therapy or asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather of strength as you are acknowledging that you are not fine, but want to be. That depression is not just ‘being sad’ or something to get over it. That it takes time to mourn, to work through PSTD.

Me: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You mentioning that Frodo might have been suffering from PTSD made me see that character in a new light. I loved your point about it taking time to work through mental health issues.

Ricardo Victoria is the author of The Withered King (Tempest Blades #1). You can find it on Amazon, among other places.

Mental Health in Literature: a Conversation

I’ve noticed a trend in fiction when mental health is portrayed: it’s either portrayed completely inaccurately or vilified. I can’t tell you the number of thrillers that I’ve read that describe the villain as “crazy,” “psychotic,” “schizophrenic,” or “bipolar,” as though having a mental illness automatically makes a person an amoral killer. Often, it’s quite obvious that the author has chosen a mental illness simply to avoid having to give a reason for a person’s actions. It made me think: do writers have a responsibility to portray mental illness compassionately and accurately?When it comes right down to it, I think the portrayal of mental illness in literature falls under creative license. How (or if) mental illness is included in a book is the author’s prerogative. However, an author that takes the time to do research and depict mental illness with compassion and understanding automatically becomes an author I’m infinitely more excited to read.Mental illness is much more prevalent in society than I think most people realize. It’s been stigmatized for so long that those who would see a doctor for any other health concern balk at even admitting they might be struggling on a mental or emotional level. I recently read a book in which a character was afraid of someone seeing them walk into a psychologists’ office and it broke my heart. It broke my heart because it’s a completely realistic reaction. I have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed over twenty years ago, but it’s something I’ve been ashamed of until just a few years ago. It’s only recently that I’ve made an effort to be open and transparent about my struggles with mental illness.You can imagine how it feels to read a mystery or thriller, only to find that the villain’s sole “motivation” for committing a violent act is simply listed as “bipolar.” Or what about those books where someone dies by suicide, but it’s an act of revenge. Really? Shouldn’t we be past that by now?I’ve been fortunate that some authors and bookbloggers have been willing to write their own thoughts on mental illness in literature. I was going to integrate them all into a single post, but what they wrote was so insightful that I’ve decided to make a separate post for each of them. They’ll be published throughout the week. Please feel free to add your own thoughts on mental illness in literature: I want to hear all opinions!

Continuing On: Lesser-known sequels to popular books

Sometimes a book is so popular, and functions so well as a standalone, that I don’t realize there’s a sequel. This happened last year when I discovered that Richard Adams had revisited the world of Watership Down. Maybe I’m the only person who doesn’t always check for sequels, but here’s a list of sequels to popular books that may have been skipped over. Let’s give these books some attention!

Tales From Watership Down by Richard Adams: 

Image result for tales from watership downI’m one of those weirdos who actually really likes Watership Down. Yes, it’s odd, and the themes are harsh and rather upsetting, but I would argue that it’s an important book (even though the characters are adorable little rabbits). I have to be honest: I was disappointed by Tales From Watership Down. It felt like an unnecessary tack-on, which might be why it’s never talked about.

 Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott: 
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Here’s the thing: I really hate Little Women. Not the movie with Wynona Ryder, I like that one; I hate the book. I tried to reread it not too long ago, but the way the author beats the reader over the head with her life lessons was just flat-out annoying. I love Jo’s Boys, though. The lessons are still there, but they’re less in-your-face, and following Jo as she runs her school for boys is pretty cool. Don’t forget to read Little Men first!

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card: 

Paperback Speaker for the Dead Book
Without discussing the author’s behavior in any way, I think it’s pretty common knowledge that Ender’s Game is fabulous. The series continues in several more books. The Speaker for the Dead is the sequel and it is brilliant. I highly recommend it. I’d also suggest Ender’s Shadow, which is actually a parallel novel to Ender’s Game. It’s written from Bean’s perspective, and it really fleshes out his character and adds a new dimension to the original book.

Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas:

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I fell in love with The Three Musketeers when I was pretty young (who doesn’t love buckling swash?) and I reread it a lot. It’s one of those books that’s just fun. Twenty Years After feels a little more serious to me, but it’s still very well-written, and definitely one worth reading.

                                                       Sequels I haven’t yet read

The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
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I haven’t read this one yet. I plan to get to it eventually, but I also plan on traveling the world, and actually having a clean house while my children still live here, neither of which has happened yet. We’ll see what I manage to accomplish first.

Closing Time by Joseph Heller:

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How did I not know about this book? I must be slipping in my old age. I’m actually rather annoyed at myself for not having gotten to it yet. I will definitely have to read this one soon!

Have you read any of these? What are some other sequels to popular books that I’ve missed? Let me know. I love to talk books!

If…Then: In Which You Get a Terrifying Glimpse Into How I Come Up With Book Suggestions

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that my train of thought often jumps its tracks. Usually (but not always) these random jumps make perfect sense, but only if you’ve had a rather terrifying look into my thought process. Seeing as that can get a bit hairy, I suggest you proceed carefully, as I’m about to give suggestions of books to read next, based on books recently enjoyed. I will try my hardest to explain why, but…yeah.

If you enjoyed: The Starless Sea

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Find my review here

Then read: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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Find my review here

The reason I suggest The Ten Thousand Doors of January is that both Alix E. Harrow and Erin Morgenstern have an incredible way with words. Their prose is so gorgeous, it’s like enjoying a decadent treat. If you enjoy one of these two books, definitely read the other. Of course, other than that, the books are completely different. They make sense together to me, though. In fact, I seem to think that Alix and Erin went on a book tour together? All I know, is they didn’t come to a bookstore near me. Sad, sad, sad.

If you enjoyed: The Wheel of Time series

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Then read: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

Find my review here

The reason behind this recommendation is that they have a similar feel. Both are high fantasy, both have complicated characters, both take you on epic adventures. Both will keep you guessing. If you enjoy one, then you’ll like the other. Actually, this thought process kind of makes sense.

If you enjoy: The Invisible Library

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Then read: Jackaby

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Find my review here

Here’s where my brain goes a little wonky. I have no idea why The Invisible Library series makes me think of the Jackaby series. Jackaby himself channels a Doctor Who-meets- Sherlock type of vibe. At any rate, it’s really good and I think readers who enjoy The Invisible Library need to check this one out. Incidentally, readers who enjoy Jackaby should absolutely read The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters! Both Jackaby and The Crocodile on the Sandbank feature intelligent, incorrigibly curious female characters.

If you enjoy: City of Ghosts

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Find my review here

Then read: Anna Dressed in Blood

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The thing with both of these books is that they have a bit of a “fun ghost story” feel to them. Neither of them is actually spooky (although both of them would scare the living daylights out of my middle-grade reader), but they come across as Supernatural light.

If you enjoy: The Name of the Wind

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Then read: Master of Sorrows

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Find my review here

Justin T. Call is a wordsmith, the kind that only comes around once in a while. Just like Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, Master of Sorrows drew me in immediately. This book is excellent, and definitely needs to be read by everyone.

There are several others that I’m not including because the way I’ve likened them will make absolutely no sense to anyone sober. Hopefully, the connections for these make pretty decent sense. Enjoy!