Eight Bookish Awards for the First Half of 2020

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I’m pretty sure everyone could use some good right about now. Something to cheer us up, or distract us a teensy bit. Joe at Black Sail Books came up with a fantastic idea: why wait until the end of the year to celebrate some awesome books? Let’s talk about some of our favorite books so far this year! He runs a truly amazing blog, which you can find here. If you’re not already following him, you should drop everything and go do that. I’ll wait.

Let’s hand out some awards, shall we?

1. MVB (The Most Valuable Book Award)
Awarded to the book that has been my favorite so far, one that has stuck with me. The winner is…

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

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Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.
I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.2. My services are confidential.3. I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened, to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help. (taken from Amazon)

Everything about this book is just awesome. The main character, Fetch, is a Sam-Spade type in a fantasy world. You’d think it wouldn’t work, but it does. Brilliantly. This was one of the first books I read in 2020: it started my reading year off with a bang and gave me a wicked book hangover. I’ve waxed enthusiastic about the it here. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

Honorable Mentions: The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs and Feathertide by Beth Cartwright.

2. The Narrative Genius Award
Awarded to the book whose narration was unique and added an extra level to the book. The winner is…

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore

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I was home alone on a Saturday night when I experienced the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard in my life.

Beautiful Remorse is the hot new band on the scene, releasing one track a day for ten days straight. Each track has a mysterious name and a strangely powerful effect on the band’s fans.

A curious music blogger decides to investigate the phenomenon up close by following Beautiful Remorse on tour across Texas and Kansas, realizing along the way that the band’s lead singer, is hiding an incredible, impossible secret. (taken from Amazon)

This book is deliciously bizarre. The narrator adds to the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Seeing him go from dubious to terrified makes the book that much more memorable. You can read my original post on the book here, if you are so inclined.

Honorable Mentions: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

3. The Comfort Zone Expansion Award
Awarded to the book that helped me step out of my comfort zone and appreciate a new type of story. The winner is…

Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t often read graphic novels. There’s something about them that my brain just can’t follow. I suspect it has to do with my epilepsy.  I was able to read this book, though. I think maybe the fact that the pictures weren’t colored, combined with the lack of speech bubbles is what worked. At any rate, I loved it! You can read my original review here.

Honorable mentions: Fences by August Wilson and Craigslist Confessional: A Collection of Secrets from Anonymous Strangers by Helena Dea Bala

4. The “They Are Who We Thought They Were” Award: 
Awarded to the book that I tried, knowing it was outside my comfort zone that ended up being what I thought it was.

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill

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It’s London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future. One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4. (taken from Amazon)
Let me first say: this was not a bad book. I just don’t read lighter fiction. I stepped outside my comfort zone to give this one a go and was reminded that this genre really isn’t my thing. However, if you like lighter, romantic fiction, you’ll enjoy this book.

Honorable mentions: no others considered

5. The New to Me Award
Awarded to the book that introduced me to a new author that I’ve fallen in love with. The winner is…

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

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In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s propulsive epic fantasy.
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood. (taken from Amazon)

Wow, Devin Madson can write! I need to read everything she’s ever written, and everything she writes from here on out. I heard this book was great: man, was that an understatement! You can read my original review here.

Honorable Mentions: Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall and Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

7. The MVC (Most Valuable Character) Award: 
Awarded to the character who represented the make-or-break point in a book I liked. The winner is..

The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs

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A mixtape of Friday Night Lights, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and early ’90s nostalgia blasting through fifteen-inch speakers.

After Marcus Brinks left mysteriously two decades ago, financial ruin and his dying mother brought him back to his hometown of Rome, Alabama. Brinks, the former lead singer of ’90s indie-rock band Dear Brutus, takes a job teaching at his old school, where years ago, he and his friend, Jackson, conspired to get Deacon, the starting quarterback and resident school jerk, kicked off the football team.

Now it’s Jackson, head coach of Rome, who rules the school like Caesar, while Deacon plots his demise. This time Brinks refuses to get involved, opting instead for a quiet life with Becca, his high school crush. But will dreams of domestic black go up in flames when the repercussion of the past meet the lying, cheating, and blackmail of the present? (taken from Amazon)

Chad Alan Gibbs created the perfect characters for this book. It could have gone in an overtly smushy (that’s a word, right?) or angst-ridden direction, but instead Gibbs’ characters brought both heart and humor to this book. Silas, in particular, made The Rome of Fall a joy to read. This is easily one of my favorite books this year. Check out my review here .

Honorable Mentions: Rizzel in Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall and Fable in The Unready Queen by William Ritter.

8. The Audio Hero Award:
Awarded to the narrator who brought the audio book to life. The winner is…

You tell me! 
I don’t listen to audio books. I can’t concentrate enough (also, it’s way too noisy most of the time, since I have kids at home). What book do you think wins this award?

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There it is! According to my Goodreads, which I’m trying to be better at updating, I’ve read 70 books this year. These ones have found a place in my heart. I hope you give them a go. What books would you give these awards to?

 

 

Interview with a Middle-Schooler: Fantastic Fantasy

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My oldest is a huge reader. He likes most kinds of books, although he tends to gravitate toward sci-fi and fantasy. I like to interview him every few months and get his take on books that he’s read and enjoyed. Today, I’m asking him about his favorite fantasy books. If you’re looking for middle-grade fantasy books to read, here are some he recommends.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius—and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit.  These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories; these fairies are armed and dangerous. 

            Artemis thinks he has them right where he wants them…but then they stop playing by the rules. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest says: “I really liked it because it’s written in a smart way. Artemis Fowl was around my age and he used words that I like, like he had good dialogue. There’s one character that I don’t like because all his jokes are about flatulence. The story was fantastic and I also like that it’s a long series because I got hooked on it. The action is pretty good, even though the main character isn’t athletic at all. That’s one thing I liked about it; he’s really smart. Like Tony Stark, instead of Captain America.”

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

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Since his mother’s death six years ago, Carter Kane has been living out of a suitcase, traveling the globe with his father, the brilliant Egyptologist Dr. Julius Kane. But while Carter’s been homeschooled, his younger sister, Sadie, has been living with their grandparents in London. Sadie has just what Carter wants — school friends and a chance at a “normal” life. But Carter has just what Sadie longs for — time with their father. After six years of living apart, the siblings have almost nothing in common. Until now.

On Christmas Eve, Sadie and Carter are reunited when their father brings them to the British Museum, with a promise that he’s going to “make things right.” But all does not go according to plan: Carter and Sadie watch as Julius summons a mysterious figure, who quickly banishes their father and causes a fiery explosion.

Soon Carter and Sadie discover that the gods of Ancient Egypt are waking, and the worst of them — Set — has a frightening scheme. To save their father, they must embark on a dangerous journey — a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and its links to the House of Life, a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “I like that it has ancient Egyptian mythology. There’s a ton of action, and the magic is really cool. They use actual Egyptian words for it, I think, which is really neat. The magic has a lot of interesting results, like it can blow stuff up and put it back together. It’s a three part series. My favorite Egyptian mythological character is Anubis and he’s featured a lot, which is cool. The characters are around my age, which I like. It’s also written like it’s a tape recording and the characters don’t get along very well, so there’ll be arguments between chapters.”

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

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Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.

Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a completely original take on the world of fairy tales, the truth about what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s a must-have for middle grade readers who enjoy their fantasy adventures mixed with the humor of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Witty black-and-white drawings by Todd Harris add to the fun. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s absolutely hilarious. It’s chock-full of funny, sometimes fourth-wall breaking jokes. It’s got good action and the characters are written in humorous ways. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s actual fantasy, you could say that it’s like a bad D&D campaign. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Once and Future Geek (the Camelot Code #1) by Mari Mancui

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When young Arthur of Camelot accidentally time-travels to the 21st century and Googles himself, he discovers the not-so-happily ever after in store for him once he pulls the sword from the stone. Yes, he’ll go from squire to sovereign basically overnight, but he’ll also lose the love of his life to his best friend and eventually die in battle. What’s a once-and-future king to do? Easy: stay in the future, where he’ll actually have a future-and join the football team instead.
Now, with the help of the great wizard Merlin, modern-day gamer-geeks Sophie and Stu find themselves in a race against time to get that sword pulled from the stone and the stubborn soon-to-be-king Arthur back to the past where he belongs. Complicating the plan? Lady Morgana-Arthur’s sister and greatest enemy-has traveled to the future as well, determined to take Arthur out and seize the throne. Can Sophie and Stu use their gaming abilities to defeat the evil Morgana and set the timeline right? With the very existence of their friendship, their families, and the world as they know it (including pepperoni pizza!) at stake, they’ll use every skill, power-up, and cheat code they know in their quest to save the day. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s a different version of the King Arthur and the Sword and Stone legends. It was like if you took King Arthur and made it really nerdy. I liked the first one better than the second one, even though the second one is still good. Stu was my favorite. He’s not very athletic, although he does come through at the end when he’s given a weapon. Mostly, he prefers video games.”

Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan

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They have always scared him in the past – the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied….(taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “It’s just an overall really good fantasy. The main character, Will, was my favorite. He’s around my age, and he was really good with a bow and arrows. He was a good fighter.”

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic in a cynical world. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite…

Kendra and her brother Seth have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws give relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, an arcane evil is unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save her family, Fablehaven, and perhaps the world, Kendra must find the courage to do what she fears most. (taken from Amazon)

My oldest: “I reread it and returning to it was really fun. There’s a lot of fantastical creatures in it and one of the characters is a big trouble maker. The other is a big rule-follower so it’s a fun contrast. There are goblins, fairies, and a witch. I’m not sure if it’s a classical witch, but it’s a female magic-user. It’s actually a series. The trouble-maker, Seth, is my favorite character. He is kind of goofy. Plus, yet again, he’s close to my age from what I can tell.”

 

 

 

 

 

Women in Fantasy: the good, the bad, and the hardcore

Wyrd and Wonder - celebrate the fantastic

image credit: Sujono Sujono

I’m so excited to be participating in #WyrdandWonder this year! It’s a month-long celebration of fantasy, which of course I’m down for. While I appreciate and enjoy many different genres, fantasy will always be my favorite.

When people think of fantasy, they sometimes think of the “damsel in distress.” Luckily, there are many other women in fantasy: smart, capable, and epic. Here are some fabulous females in fantasy (how’s that for alliteration?):

The Good:
Echo from Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer-

This book is loosely based on the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Echo is an interesting character. She’s very brave, not only sacrificing her freedom for a wolf, but undertaking a harrowing journey to fix a (rather horrendous) mistake. She’s definitely flawed, but that makes her character utterly believable.

Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf―the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: if she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books- turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. (taken from Amazon)
Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons (The Enchanted Forest #1) by Patricia C. Wrede

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is the perfect series for younger readers who are just dipping their toes into fantasy. Cimorene is a no-nonsense princess who actually volunteers to be a dragon’s princess. She’s intelligent and resourceful. She also appreciates the many uses for soapy water. Who needs a sword to defeat the big bad?

Take one bored princess. Make her the seventh daughter in a very proper royal family. Have her run away.

Add one powerful, fascinating, dangerous dragon.

Princess Cimerone has never met anyone (or anything) like the dragon Kazul. But then, she’s never met a witch, a jinn, a death-dealing talking bird or a stone prince either.

Princess Cimerone ran away to find some excitement.

She’s found plenty. (taken from Amazon)
Marea from Feathertide by Beth Cartwright (book available in July)

This book doesn’t have magical battles or daring swordfights. It’s entirely character-driven and each person in the book is amazing! Marea is the most three-dimensional character I’ve read in a very long time. I felt everything she did, and watching her change and come into her own was a joy.

Born covered in the feathers of a bird, and kept hidden in a crumbling house full of secrets, Marea has always known she was different, but never known why. And so to find answers, she goes in search of the father she has never met.

The hunt leads her to the City of Murmurs, a place of mermaids and mystery, where jars of swirling mist are carried through the streets by the broken-hearted.

And Mara will never forget what she learns there. (taken from penguin.co)

The Bad (because everyone loves a good villain):
Kitiara from The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’re probably not even remotely surprised that I’ve included Dragonlance in my post. When I think of good (bad?) villains, Kitiara is one of the first to come to mind. She is strong, cunning, and ambitious. Commander of armies, rider of dragons, ally of death knights, Kitiara is the perfect adversary.

Lifelong friends, they went their separate ways. Now they are together again, though each holds secrets from the others in his heart. They speak of a world shadowed with rumors of war. They speak of tales of strange monsters, creatures of myth, creatures of legend. They do not speak of their secrets. Not then. Not until a chance encounter with a beautiful, sorrowful woman, who bears a magical crystal staff, draws the companions deeper into the shadows, forever changing their lives and shaping the fate of the world.

No one expected them to be heroes.

Least of all, them. (taken from Amazon)
Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling

Bellatrix Lestrange is a demented zealot, who is perfectly happy using violence to serve Lord Voldemort. There’s not a ton to her character (don’t hate me, Potter fans!), but she’s fun to read.
Dolores Umbridge is absolutely horrible. She’s worse than Voldemort, in my opinion. What makes her character so chilling to read is that most of us know (or know of) someone like her. Someone who is so convinced they’re right that they feel justified doing whatever they deem “necessary” to accomplish a goal.

Dark times have come to Hogwarts. After the Dementors’ attack on his cousin Dudley, Harry Potter knows that Voldemort will stop at nothing to find him. There are many who deny the Dark Lord’s return, but Harry is not alone: a secret order gathers at Grimmauld Place to fight against the dark forces. Harry must allow Professor Snape to teach him how to protect himself from Voldemort’s savage assaults on his mind. But they are growing stronger by the day and Harry is running out of time….(taken from Amazon)
The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis

By now it’s pretty much universally accepted that the White Witch is a representation of Satan. She’s utterly ruthless, even willing to kill children (spoiler alert: she fails at that). She’s C.S. Lewis’ version of the epitome of evil.

The Hardcore:
Cura from Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Cura is an inkwitch, meaning the monsters tattooed on her body come to life. She wields them as weapons, which is majorly hardcore. Many of her battles, however, are fought with her own past.

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side. (taken from Amazon)
Katharine from the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake:

Technically, any female from that series would easily fit in this category. They’re all strong in their own unique ways. Katharine, however, is majorly hardcore. She has no immunity to the poisons she’s supposed to be able to control, yet she uses them against herself over and over in an attempt to master them. She is betrayed by one she trusts, but she doesn’t let that break her. She’s been brought up knowing that she’ll probably be killed by one of her own sisters, but she’s not going down without a fight. Love her or hate her, no one can deny her inner strength.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn 16, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. (taken from Amazon)
Inej from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the kick butt females in Six of Crows. Inej happens to be my favorite. She’s indomitable; she gets knocked around (Leigh Bardugo isn’t nice to her characters), but she never gives up. Plus, her acrobatic and spy skills allow her character to do some incredibly cool things.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone.

A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first. (taken from Amazon)

What say you, fantasy readers? What are some of your favorite females?

Judging a Book by its Cover: an interview with artist Natasha Overttun

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Lately I’ve been thinking about judging books by their covers. We all do it a little bit. A good cover catches the eye and makes us curious about the book. I thought it might be time to feature some great book artists, starting with the excellent Natasha Overttun. You can find her work on the covers of the Terra Nova books by D. Ellis Overttun. If you’d like to contact either of them for interviews, you can find them on Twitter @neoverttun. In a fun twist, author D. Ellis Overttun interviews Natasha Overttun (a husband-wife duo: how cool is that!). The author’s questions are in bold.

@WS_BOOKCLUB, a while back, you floated the idea of doing a Q&A with Natasha. What a great concept! We thought an interesting twist might be if I did the Q. This Q&A will focus on the evolution of Natasha’s work and skills. It was a lot of fun. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

First of all, could you please give us some opening comments?

(singing) I’m so exited! And I just can’t hide it! I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a shower song…

I’m so exited. And I just can’t hide it. I’m about to lose control…

Something that’s not a Pointer Sisters’ song…

Apart from being thrilled, I’m so proud that a blogger like Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub would want to hear what I have to say. At first, I was a little surprised and scared…`

As I recall, I had to talk you into it.

Yes, I’m not used to being out there. But, as time passed, I got more comfortable with it. You know its just like Bob Wiley says: “Baby steps, baby steps.”

I think it was Dr. Leo Marvin.

No, I’m sure it was Bob.

We’ll Wiki after the Q&A. Anyway, how did you first get involved with visual arts?

When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books…

Let’s skip a head a bit…

Oh…well, more than a little while ago, I took an introductory art course at the local community college. One of the projects we did involved collages. Each of us brought in a magazine and were told to cut out pictures or shapes we found interesting. We put them all together on some of the desks in the front row. The exercise was to assemble a cut and paste collage.

I had absolutely no idea what to do. So, I hung back and watched the feeding frenzy. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what they were going to do. My first attempt was a fireplace surrounded by flames, lights and candles suspended in the air. I was so proud of myself! The teacher came by. She gave it a look that was more than just a glance. So, I thought, “Yesss! She likes it!” But it was really one of those howcanIputit looks. “It’s hanging,” she said. “That’s right,” I replied. Then, I realized she meant that something was missing. A few people had gathered around for her critique. “Where is a rock to crawl under when you need one?” I thought.

 

That was the best idea I had, and I now looked through the cutouts on the front desks that had been picked clean. This is what I came up with…

Lips

I was a little more than embarrassed when it came to present at the front of the class. What I put together didn’t look like anything. Oh, where’s that rock?

To my surprise, it drew rave reviews. Who knew?

That course gave me an appreciation for things like balance, composition and perspective. More than that though, my fellow classmates encouraged my small successes. That gave me confidence.

How did you become involved with the Terra Nova series?

You finished the first version of Universe: Awakening in May 2017. I remember you were on the kdp site rushing to publish. Then, it asked you for a cover. I’ll never forget the look on your face. It was: I need a cover? AHHH! Neither of us had any idea what to do. An anxious read of the help notes said we could use a jpeg. Great! But a jpeg of what?

Then, you came up with the idea that we would take a picture of something. So, I got my iPhone, and we frantically scoured our suite for something suitable. You finally decided on one of the patterns from a pot. A few clicks and a couple of emails later, and it was uploaded. It was too small. At the time, we had no idea how to resize an image. My niece is a graphic artist. So, she did it. Uploaded! Publish? No, we had to deal with text: Which font? What size? What color? I gained a real appreciation for your wordsmithing that day. Your string of invectives was colorful and creative. But not “Like wiping your ass with silk” to quote the Merovingian. That said, you finally slapped something together.

Lorna from On the Shelf Reviews (@ljwrites85) gave you some very constructive feedback. It went something like (and I paraphrase) “…perhaps, you could do something with the cover”. You have many faults but not being able to take a hint is not one of them.

Yes, I remember. So, I casually hinted…

Implored…

Asked if you had any suggestions.

Yes, and the result was the second cover.

Before (You) After (Me)

20170829 Universe eBook Cover (120 x 192) 20190330 Universe (2nd ed) - Cover (120 x 192 72 DPI)

How have you gone from collages to covers?

It’s been an evolution. To promote the book, you started a blogsite called “Author’s Cut” where you would write posts about Universe. I read somewhere that it’s good to break up text with visuals, to prevent reader fatigue. When I made the suggestion, I got the job.

I had no idea how to go about actually creating visuals. I was lucky to bump into a site called “Pixabay”. It’s a very popular site that has millions of images available without running into copywrite issues. I started out with find, cut, paste. It was primitive, but it was something. Then, I found some freeware called “Photoscape”, and I was able to do things like add text, crop, superimpose, stuff like that. When it came time for the Universe cover makeover, I was ready.

What’s happened since then?

You found that maintaining a social media presence, writing and publishing were too timeconsuming. So, you vacated SM, and I took over. I started on Twitter last year.

How has that gone?

Very well. I think it has increased SM awareness for your writing in a way you never could. If I say, “Hey! My hubby’s great. Read his stuff”, people say, “What a supportive wife.” If you echo the same sentiment, you’re a braggart.

True, very true. How did you start doing visuals on Twitter?

It started with the header, and it took me to another level. I found that, while Photoscape is great, you can’t edit after you’ve saved and exited the program. I found that Word gave that to me. People trained in graphic arts would probably snub their noses at it, but it was a quick fix that was easy to learn. My first headers were the covers of your first two books plus some Pixabay jpegs.

20190309 TWTR Header (750 x 250)

That looks like the first version of the Genesis cover.

That’s right. When I did it, I thought that it was ok, but something was missing. It kept bugging me, so, finally, I did a makeover. Tada!

20200108 Genesis - Cover (120 x 192)

Yes, it has a certain pop to it.

After that, I noticed that a lot of people have a pinned tweet. I suggested to approach bloggers to do guest posts that I could then pin. I had found that there is a heavy emphasis on visuals on Twitter, so I suggested that I do something to accompany the post that I could attach to the tweet to catch people’s attention. As each post came online, I swapped the pic for the one from Pixabay in my header. Here’s what it eventually looked like.

20191114 TWTR Header (700 x 250)

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes, but it’s mostly due to the blogging community who has been very receptive and supportive of our creative efforts.

Have there been any recent developments in your bag of tricks?

Yes, I recently came across a program called GIMP. It’s a real graphic arts program. I’ve only been using it selectively for certain effects because it’s quite involved. For example, in the visual below…

Exodus Final

The breaking apart of the sphere and the beam of light were done in GIMP.

I also started using the gif feature in Photoscape. Most notably, in the recent Prophecy cover reveal. Thank you from the both of us, once again, to Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub for giving it a spot on your blog.

Well, I think we have gone on long enough, any final comments?

More of a question really. I know that one of the characters in the series is named after me. However, she is a blonde with a bob cut. I am not a blonde and have never worn my hair that way. Where did she come from?

Uh…this is your interview, not mine. We should discuss this later.

Yes, we will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May the 4th Be With You: Star Wars Literature is Strong with this One

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May fourth is lovingly known as Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you, always”) to fans of the movies. Even though Firefly is my jam, I still have some love for Star Wars, as does my husband and kids. In honor of the day, here’s a list of Star Wars favorites in our house:

The Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn:

From Book 1: It’s five years after the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and drove the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy. Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting Jedi twins. And Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of Jedi Knights.
 
But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor’s warlords, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to build. (taken from Amazon)

Star Wars ~ The Thrawn Trilogy: (Vol. 1) Heir to the Empire ; (Vol ...

My husband and I both loved these, although I must admit it’s been a while since I’ve read them. I am not sure if they’re still considered canon, but I don’t care all that much: good is good.

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson

After devastating losses at the hands of the First Order, General Leia Organa has dispatched her agents across the galaxy in search of allies, sanctuary, and firepower—and her top spy, Vi Moradi, may have just found all three, on a secluded world at the galaxy’s edge.
 
A planet of lush forests, precarious mountains, and towering, petrified trees, Batuu is on the furthest possible frontier of the galactic map, the last settled world before the mysterious expanse of Wild Space. The rogues, smugglers, and adventurers who eke out a living on the largest settlement on the planet, Black Spire Outpost, are here to avoid prying eyes and unnecessary complications. Vi, a Resistance spy on the run from the First Order, is hardly a welcome guest. And when a shuttle full of stormtroopers lands in her wake, determined to root her out, she has no idea where to find help.
 
To survive, Vi will have to seek out the good-hearted heroes hiding in a world that redefines scum and villainy. With the help of a traitorous trooper and her acerbic droid, she begins to gather a colorful band of outcasts and misfits, and embarks on a mission to spark the fire of resistance on Batuu—before the First Order snuffs it out entirely. (taken from Amazon)

Amazon.com: Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire (Star Wars) (9780593128381 ...

Delilah S. Dawson is a fantastic writer. I really enjoyed Kill the Farm Boy, so of course her take on Star Wars is worth reading. My oldest loved it.

Wookie the Chew by James Hance

‘Wookiee The Chew’, in the style of the original Pooh books tells the adorkable tale of the little biped that belonged to Chrisolo Robin (and Chrisolo Robin belonged to him). 24 pages of affectionately crafted adventure, brand new b&w illustrations and sneaky Star Wars references- a tribute to the combined genius of George Lucas, A.A.Milne and E.H.Sheppard. Suitable for jedi apprentices of all ages! (taken from jameshance.co)

Let’s all pause for a collective “Aww”. This book is as absolutely adorable as it looks. It’s great for any age, and is definitely worth the read.

The Origami Yoda Files by Tom Angleberger

Not so long ago, in a middle school not so far away, a sixth grader named Dwight folded an origami finger puppet of Yoda. For class oddball Dwight, this wasn’t weird. It was typical Dwight behavior. But whatis weird is that Origami Yoda is uncannily wise and prescient. He can predict the date of a pop quiz, guess who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and save a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, Tommy assembles this first case file in the blockbuster bestselling Origami Yoda series, hailed bySchool Library Journal as “honest, funny, and immensely entertaining.” (taken from Amazon)

Amazon.com - The Origami Yoda Files: Collectible 8-book Boxed set -

Oh, the hundreds of origami Star Wars creations that have graced our house since my oldest discovered this series! These books are a lot of fun, and the step-by-step directions for making your own origami Star Wars characters inspire creativity. Plus, Tom Angleberger rocks: my oldest has written him two fan letters, and Tom responded both times! It meant the world to my oldest (it means a lot to me too).

Goodnight, Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown

It’s time for a Star Wars bedtime story in a galaxy far, far away, and Darth Vader’s parenting skills are tested anew in this delightful follow-up to the breakout New York Times Star Wars books bestsellers Darth Vader™ and Son and Vader’s™ Little Princess. In this Episode, the Sith Lord must soothe his rambunctious twins, Luke and Leia—who are not ready to sleep and who insist on a story. As Vader reads, the book looks in on favorite creatures, droids, and characters, such as Yoda, R2-D2, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Maul, Admiral Ackbar, Boba Fett, and many others as they tuck in, yawn, and settle down to dream. As ever, Jeffrey Brown’s charming illustrations and humor glow throughout, playing on children’s book conventions to enchant adults and kids alike. This Star Wars makes a fun, unique pregnancy gift, a new Dad gift, or funny new parent gift! (taken from Amazon)

Goodnight Darth Vader (Star Wars Comics for Parents, Darth Vader ...

There are several Star Wars books like this by Jeffrey Brown, but I read Goodnight Darth Vader first. It’s a lot of fun, and the illustrations are so cute!

Star Wars OBI-123 by Calliope Glass, Caitlin Kennedy, and illustrated by Katie Cook

ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR
Counting with Star Wars is hardly a chore!
From the chosen ONE to a transport of TWENTY
This book is full of numbers aplenty!
So, Padawans, prepare, get ready, get set
For a numerical lesson you’ll never forget! (taken from Amazon)

My toddler tornado loves this book for the colorful pictures, and the fun rhymes. I love it because it actually goes up to twenty, instead of stopping at ten, which is rare in counting books. It made teaching number recognition easier and more fun.

What are some Star Wars books you love? Have you read any of these? May the 4th be with you!

 

The Stay at Home Book Tag

I have several book reviews waiting to be posted, but it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done a book tag, and this one is fun. I blame Books are 42 for having fabulous answers. This tag was created by Princess of Paperback. If you decide to do it as well, please link back to me so I don’t miss seeing your answers. Here goes:

Laying in Bed: A Book You Could/Have Read in a Day- The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs

After Marcus Brinks left mysteriously two decades ago, financial ruin and his dying mother brought him back to his hometown of Rome, Alabama. Brinks, the former lead singer of ’90s indie-rock band Dear Brutus, takes a job teaching at his old school, where years ago, he and his friend, Jackson, conspired to get Deacon, the starting quarterback and resident school jerk, kicked off the football team.

Now it’s Jackson, head coach of Rome, who rules the school like Caesar, while Deacon plots his demise. This time Brinks refuses to get involved, opting instead for a quiet life with Becca, his high school crush. But will dreams of domestic black go up in flames when the repercussion of the past meet the lying, cheating, and blackmail of the present? (taken from Amazon)

This book is so much fun! I loved every nostalgia-filled moment. You can find my review here.

Snacking: A Guilty Pleasure Book- The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare

The reason I consider Cassandra Clare to be a guilty pleasure is that her books include everything that usually annoys the snot out of me: love triangles, angst-ridden teens, bad boys with hearts of gold…I could go on. So why do I love this series? Magnus.

Netflix: series you want to start- The Black Iron Legacy by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Enter a city of saints and thieves . . .
The city of Guerdon stands eternal. A refuge from the war that rages beyond its borders. But in the ancient tunnels deep beneath its streets, a malevolent power has begun to stir.
The fate of the city rests in the hands of three thieves. They alone stand against the coming darkness. As conspiracies unfold and secrets are revealed, their friendship will be tested to the limit. If they fail, all will be lost, and the streets of Guerdon will run with blood.
The Gutter Prayer 
is an epic tale of sorcerers and thieves, treachery and revenge, from a remarkable new voice in fantasy. (taken from Amazon)

              The first book in this series is The Gutter Prayer. I’ve heard amazing things about it and I’m mad at myself for not having read it yet.

Deep Clean: a book that’s been on your “to be read” list for ages-  The Ghostwriter by Alessandra Torre

Four years ago, I lied. I stood in front of the police, my friends and family, and made up a story, my best one yet. And all of them believed me.

I wasn’t surprised. Telling stories is what made me famous. Fifteen bestsellers. Millions of fans. Fame and fortune.

Now, I have one last story to write. It’ll be my best one yet, with a jaw-dropping twist that will leave the nation stunned and gasping for breath.

They say that sticks and stones will break your bones, but this story? It will be the one that kills me. (taken from Amazon)

                       I’ve been wanting to read this book for the longest time. I just can’t find it when I’m physically at a bookstore and I don’t usually order books online. That’s changed recently, for obvious reasons, so hopefully I’ll get this one before too long.

Animal Crossing: a book you recently bought because of hype- I don’t usually buy books based on hype, but there are bookbloggers whose opinions I listen to. I bought High Fire based on The Irresponsible Reader’s recommendation. Have I read it yet? Um…

Productivity: A book you learned from, or that had an impact on you- Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. Born to celebrity parents, she was picked to play a princess in a little movie called Star Wars when only 19 years old. “But it isn’t all sweetness and light sabers.”

Alas, aside from a demanding career and her role as a single mother (not to mention the hyperspace hairdo), Carrie also spends her free time battling addiction, weathering the wild ride of manic depression and lounging around various mental institutions. It’s an incredible tale – from having Elizabeth Taylor as a stepmother, to marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon, from having the father of her daughter leave her for a man, to ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed. (taken from Amazon)

Carrie Fisher was unapologetic and brave about her mental illness, which is something I aspire to. On tough days, this quote from Wishful Drinking is one I come to:

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

Facetime: a book you were gifted-  A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age by Emmy J. Favilla 


A World Without “Whom” is Eats, Shoots & Leaves for the internet age, and BuzzFeed global copy chief Emmy Favilla is the witty go-to style guru of webspeak.

As language evolves faster than ever before, what is the future of “correct” writing? When Favilla was tasked with creating a style guide for BuzzFeed, she opted for spelling, grammar, and punctuation guidelines that would reflect not only the site’s lighthearted tone, but also how readers actually use language IRL.

With wry cleverness and an uncanny intuition for the possibilities of internet-age expression, Favilla makes a case for breaking the rules laid out by Strunk and White: A world without “whom,” she argues, is a world with more room for writing that’s clear, timely, pleasurable, and politically aware. Featuring priceless emoji strings, sidebars, quizzes, and style debates among the most lovable word nerds in the digital media world–of which Favilla is queen–A World Without “Whom” is essential for readers and writers of virtually everything: news articles, blog posts, tweets, texts, emails, and whatever comes next . . . so basically everyone. (taken from Amazon)

My husband gave this to me for Christmas. Since I’m hoping to one day join the world of book editing, this book (review found here)    was the perfect gift.

Self-care: what is one thing you’ve done recently to look after yourself- Um…I’m pretty low maintenance. Give me a half hour to read uninterrupted, and I’m good. I wouldn’t say no to some yummy coffee, though.

Bonus: name a book that is coming out soon-  The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton 

A murder on the high seas. A detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.
It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

It truly doesn’t matter to me what this book is about: I loved The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle so much that I’ll be excited to read anything by this author. That being said, the description sounds awesome. It won’t be out until much later in the year, but I’m incredibly excited.

 

Well, that’s it. I’m not tagging anyone here (although I might nag some people about it on Twitter), but I hope you take part. This one is fun!

 

 

 

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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