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?

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.

Image result for semi-royal by fiona west

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.