Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! I’m sorry I’ve been so MIA recently–things have gotten busy with work and life and Bodo the dog. One of the things that’s been keeping me busy has been a web design class, which is awesome and maybe means I’ll update this site sometime in the near future. In the meantime, here’s a look at what I’ve been reading, in fifteen words or fewer:

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Fun and creepy, with a great voice, while also being about gaslighting and abuse.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Interesting blend of contemporary MG and fantasy. Major middle school friendship feels.

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
Sweet and touching story of family, religion, and coming out. Also manages to subvert expectations.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! It’s the last Friday of 2016, and I am super glad to kiss this year goodbye. Let’s endeavor to stay strong, stay focused, stay positive, and stay supportive in 2017. In the meantime, let’s close out 2016 with a look at what I’ve been reading in fifteen words or fewer (because it’s winter break and I’m on vacation).

Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti
Caletti’s writing is beautiful, and Mads and Billy are heartbreaking.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
A fun, British-fueled romp toward the apocalypse. I need a miniseries now.

26.2: Marathon Stories by Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson
I guess I’m the kind of person who reads sports writing now. Yay running!

In Dreams, We Enter a World That’s Entirely Our Own

Because fall always makes me feel like rereading Harry Potter, I couldn’t resist sharing this lovely stop-motion video by unPOP:

I love how Harry Potter fans have made such awesome work–videos like this one, fanfic, song parodies, etc.–based on the book series we love. Books like these definitely outlast the individual reading experience.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, everyone! All week I felt like I had no idea what day it was, so I’m way glad to see that the weekend’s finally here. Let’s kick things off with a look at what I’ve been reading and writing, in fifteen words or fewer:

Reading: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Exciting story that explores the layers beneath tropes of magic girls and dark forests.

Writing: “If there’s a dragon round, just run. Not worth the third-degree burns.”
So the WIP’s not fantasy, but I had to work in a dragon reference somewhere, right?

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

I was first introduced to Natalie Parker’s Beware the Wild at the Fourteenery retreat in 2013. It was so good, we made her read the first and second chapters. So I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, and it was so awesome. Here are a few of my reasons why you should read Beware the Wild.

1. Sterling
Beware the Wild reminded me of a classic Grimms’ fairy tale in that it was about one girl on a quest, fighting the forces of darkness to save her brother. Like any good fairy tale heroine, Sterling is brave and determined and clever. But Sterling is also a normal girl in so many ways–she’s sensitive and scared and funny and doubts herself. She’s a phenomenal protagonist and I loved getting to join her on this adventure.

2. The Swamp
Sterling lives at the edge of the swamp, which is the center of all sorts of creepy local legends and magical activity. At the beginning of the novel, Phin has disappeared into the swamp, which has already claimed the lives of other Sticks residents throughout history. I loved the swamp as a magical and scary setting, and getting to hear snippets of other swamp folklore.

3. Lenora May
One of the swamp’s creepy elements–Lenora May, who appears after Phin has disappeared and takes over his life for everyone except Sterling. Lenora May is a wonderfully complex villain/sister, and I spent the whole book wondering if I should be afraid of her or trust her.

4. Phin
Even though Phin has disappeared into the swamp at the beginning of the novel, we get a sense of him as a brother through Sterling’s memories. I loved getting a sense of his strength and loyalty and fear, and learning about why he felt he had to escape.

5. Family
Obviously in a book about a sister trying to rescue her brother, family is a big deal. But even outside of Sterling and Phin’s relationship, family is a big part of Beware the Wild. I won’t spoil anything here, but I loved Natalie’s exploration of families’ particular traumas and secrets and griefs and how they can rebuild.

6. Southern Gothic
Beware the Wild feels like a book that could only be set in the American South. Between the swamp magic and lore and towns filled with secrets and wild characters, it’s a novel that fits right into the Southern Gothic tradition.

7. Heath
Sterling and Heath have one of my favorite romances in 2014 YA debuts. They find each other through their losses and support each other in the belief that their loved ones exist. Their relationship feels so grounded in not just attraction, but also mutual respect and support.

8. Sticks
At the end of Beware the Wild the book, I really wanted a Beware the Wild movie and spin-off TV series. The world Natalie’s created, from the swamp to the high school to Sterling’s family to the Clary store, the town of Sticks feels so real and expansive and I want to dive into it even more. Home becomes a big theme in the book, and I think part of that is because the sense of place is so alive in this book, even beyond the swamp.

9. Shine
The Shine is the magic of the swamp that can give power and/or destroy people. It feels timeless, almost a force of nature, in that way that I love magic in books to feel. It’s a force that needs to be respected and can’t exactly be understood, and lends a mystical and unsettling air to the book.

10. Natalie is the best
Most of my emails to Natalie over the last year or two have included the phrase “You’re the best!” Because Natalie C. Parker is truly the best. She puts together the most amazing retreats and organizes projects like the Hanging Garden. She’s thoughtful and kind and an enthusiastic supporter of her fellow writers. She’s definitely the kind of writer and person you want to know.

Beware the Wild is now available, so make sure to get your copy today!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

I’m a sucker for YA novels that are inspired by fairy tales or folklore or mythology. Give me an old tale with a new twist and I’m there. And tales that deviate from the standard Disney princess category? Even cooler. The Fire Wish by Amber Lough involves a world of jinni and princesses and mistaken identity and it is awesome! Here are a few of my reasons why you should read The Fire Wish.

1. Najwa
Najwa’s a jinn training to be a spy–basically all worlds that are already awesome. But I also love how Najwa is sensitive and thoughtful, even when she swaps bodies with a human and has to conceal her identity to protect herself, the jinni universe, and the humans around her.

2. Zayele
In a novel with two points of view, you’d think it would be easy to forget which narrator is which. But as much as I loved Najwa, I also loved reading Zayele’s chapters. Even though she’s the human side of the story, Zayele is bold and fierce and strong, and has a deep love for her family. She makes mistakes and acts desperately at times, but her flaws round her out nicely as a character.

3. Rahela
And speaking of Zayele’s family, Rahela was a character I didn’t expect much from but I ended up loving her, too! She joins Zayele on her journey to the palace in Baghdad, and becomes a source of comfort and friendship for Najwa. Friend characters in YA without any personality irk me, and it was so refreshing to see Rahela come to life as her own character, with her own quiet strength.

4. I wish…
When you think ‘jinni,’ you probably think wishes, right? I love how Amber weaved in the classic combination of jinni and wishes into a source of mythic power and magic for this different race of people. (I love their origin story!)

5. Romance
I like my folktale adaptations with a healthy dose of romance, and The Fire Wish delivers with not one, but two adorable love interests. Swoons, guys.

6. Family
Okay, so I like complicated family situations in novels. But it was so heartwarming/heartbreaking to read about Zayele’s devotion to and guilt for her younger brother, Yashar. Also loved seeing both Zayele and Najwa’s complicated relationships with their respective parents, and what kind of expectations are placed on them as daughters. Even though there’s so much awesomeness from magic and worldbuilding here, it’s so nice to see the grounding of things like family and all that implies.

7. Cultures and history
While I love fairy tale retellings, many of them are based on European stories. It’s so refreshing to see a novel based on Middle Eastern mythology. Beyond that, Amber weaves in cultural history and social norms for characters like Zayele–she wears a hijab, prays to Allah, and generally feels like a Middle Eastern girl growing up near Baghdad centuries ago. Similarly, also cool to see a handsome prince character who isn’t white. These kinds of things matter to teen readers who don’t usually get to see characters like themselves in novels, much less exciting novels about magic and spies.

8. Page-turning
And speaking of exciting novels, this is one I couldn’t put down–danger at every turn, mistaken identity, war brewing, villains plotting, new love threatened!

9. Writing
In a novel with magic and spies and war, you’d think the writing would be adequate at best. Not so! Amber’s writing is so well crafted and lovely and connects so well with all her characters without losing any of that aforementioned action and excitement. (Seriously, Amber, are you a jinn?) I kept reading and thinking, “Oh, man, what a perfect way to put that.”

10. Amber Lough, Made of Awesome
Amber Lough is a fellow Fourteenery member, and I’m constantly in awe of her intelligence and kindness and talent and strength. She’s a master of languages, has served in the military, and writes awesome books. Keep an eye on her, folks.

The Fire Wish is now available, so go check it out at your local bookstore!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis is book that crosses genre, juggles POVs, and deals with everything from romance to curses to questions of identity. And it all comes together beautifully, with all the feels and thoughtfulness a reader could hope for. Here are a few of my reasons why you should read Otherbound:

1. Nolan
To put it mildly, Nolan’s going through a tough time. He’s been flashing to a fantasy world whenever his eyes are shut, and to everyone around him, it looks like he’s having seizures and hallucinations. Despite the pressure he’s under in both worlds, Nolan is a sensitive person who deeply cares about other people. He’s a character you can’t help but rooting for.

2. Amara
Similarly, Amara’s under a lot of pressure (trying to keep a princess’s magical curse at bay, having Nolan live inside of her, etc.). It’s hard enough to craft one layered main character, but Corinne’s managed to create two. Amara is brave and conflicted and passionate, and easily feels like a classic fantasy heroine.

3. Identity
With two main characters merged together in one body, Corinne brings up interesting questions about what it means to truly exist and own your body, and what kind of control we have over our own lives.

4. Family
Big feels for Nolan’s family. I love that they so obviously care about Nolan and are worried about him, and want to try to help him however they can (even if they have no idea what’s really going on). Pat, Nolan’s sister, is a phenomenal minor character. (Seriously, all the feels.)

5. Big Bads
There are a couple of super creepy, intense moments. Don’t want to spoil anything here, but oh my gosh, stakes get raised on both sides of reality. And even then, I liked seeing how the ‘villains’ and challengers were developed; they were all trying to find some kind of peace, even if it came at another’s expense.

6. Signs
I took ASL in college, so I have major respect for signing as a language. It was really cool to see sign incorporated here as Amara’s method of communication, without it necessarily being a story about a signing experience.

7. Medical Alert
Nolan is dealing with seizures that take him into Amara’s world, and Corinne includes the reality of that kind of situation–the danger of having a seizure, the difficulty of trying to find medication to help, how expensive working with doctors and medications can be.

8. Chases and Escapes
Along with excellent character development and concepts of self, Otherbound includes some good old fashioned excitement. Amara and Cilla are on the run from people trying to kill them and, on yeah, there’s a deadly curse to worry about. Nolan has a hard enough time as it is in the real world without having to deal with stuff like the lines of worlds blurring.

9. Diversity
Otherbound features a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Obviously Nolan’s dealing with seizures, but he also has a prosthetic leg and is Latino. Amara signs, and is also a WOC and loves a man and a woman (and both relationships feel genuine). None of these features become an “issue” (as in old-school after-school-special “issues”) and are instead just the way these characters exist in the world–which is how it should be.

10. Corinne Duyvis Is Probably a Superhero
If I were going to invent a superhero, it would probably be pretty much exactly like Corinne. She lives in Holland; she writes awesome books and makes awesome art; she’s extremely active in speaking out for diversity in children’s/YA literature (see Disability in Kidlit); and she currently has pink hair. I’m so glad to have gotten to know Corinne through the Fourteenery, and I’m psyched that now readers are getting to know her, too.

Otherbound is now available in all kinds of stores, so go pick it up!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

When E.K. Johnston, aka Kate, read a little of The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim aloud at the Fourteenery retreat, I couldn’t stop giggling and knew this was just the kind of book I needed in my life. Fortunately, reading the whole book gave me pretty much that same feeling, plus a lot more. Here are a few of my reasons why you should read The Story of Owen.

1. Here There Be Dragons
Seriously, you tell me you don’t want to read a book about dragons and I don’t trust your judgment in general. The dragons in The Story of Owen are intense and dangerous and therefore awesome. While a lot of series feature paranormal characters that have lost a major sense of threat, I love that Owen keeps them as majorly life-threatening giant beasts.

2. Revised History
Owen and Siobhan’s world is pretty similar to our own–cars, high school, hockey–but living among dragons means that the world has been a little different. The passages about world history (plus dragons) made me laugh and smile, and I love that Kate has thought about her characters’ world so thoroughly.

3. Musical Theory
As someone who’s totally not musical, I love getting to see characters who have that talent, and being inside musical Siobhan’s head was a real treat. Not only does she play multiple instruments, compose music, and enjoy pieces, but she also thinks of the world in terms of music. Getting to hear someone described as a “a tuba to the core” felt so right.

4. Humor
As I mentioned above, it’s hard to read The Story of Owen without laughing out loud. It reminded me of reading The Enchanted Forest Chronicles back in the day (the first book series I remember really making me laugh). Kate’s humor is delightfully wry and her characters make wonderful quips with still feeling grounded.

5. Friendship
I’ve heard a lot of people mention how they’d like a YA novel that focuses less on romance and more on friendship, and now I know I can hand them The Story of Owen. Siobhan and Owen’s friendship reminds me so much of my friendship with guys in high school, and characters like Emily and Sadie feel so genuine as well. This is a group I want to spend time with, and a group that reminds me of my own friends. (You know, if we fought dragons.)

6. Family
Similarly, The Story of Owen does a wonderful job depicting the intricacies and love of family. From Owen’s Aunts Lottie and Hannah to Siobhan’s parents to Owen’s mother and father, the adults populating the world feel real and thoughtful and loving, even if they don’t always make the best decisions. (Also, I really want a piece of Hannah’s smithy pizza.)

7. Last Battle
Oh my gosh, Siobhan in the last battle. In a book that has a lot to do with bravery, this scene killed me. I’m not going to leave anymore details here, but it’s so well written and captivating. The feels!

8. Oh, Canada
Growing up, my experiences with Canadians in children’s lit were pretty limited to the Anne of Green Gables series and Susan Cooper’s The Boggart. I’m glad to add The Story of Owen to the list. Canada’s a beautiful country and I loved getting to see a little more of it in book form (okay, Canada plus dragons).

9. Good Common Sense
One of my personal reading favorites is a set of characters with good common sense. The cast of The Story of Owen so delivers there. And now I kind of feel like it would be a good idea to keep a sword in the trunk of my car in case of dragon attacks.

10. Kate the Great
Kate’s the kind of person who can write a whole novel in her sleep (literally). Who will find out you’re terrified of giant spiders and tell you exactly when you should look away during The Desolation of Smaug and when it’s safe to look back. Who’s a dedicated bookseller/sharer of stories. Who’s a writer you’ll be hearing about long into the future.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

Thiefs. Assassins. Knights. Warriors that ride giant, man-eating wildcats. Yeah, it’s easy to get excited about Midnight Thief by fellow Fourteenery member Livia Blackburne. I was so psyched to dive into Kyra’s world and it was even better than I could have expected. But in case you need a little more info, here are my reasons why you should read Midnight Thief:

1. Morality and Mortality
Kyra is a smart, complex heroine who’s confronted with major moral choices–and I mean major. I don’t want to do into too much detail here because hello spoilers, but I loved seeing her grapple with doing what’s right and doing what can help her (and the people she loves) survive.

2. And Action!
Fight scenes and chases may pull a reader along at breakneck speed, but they are so hard to write. Major kudos to Livia for constructing exciting scenes and compelling action scenes that also move the plot and develop the characters.

3. Climb On
Because of this awesome action, I’m inspired to go do cool things like rock climbing. You know how Katniss inspired a lot of kids to take up archery? I’m thinking Kyra will do the same with climbing.

4. In Which I Want to Write Midnight Thief Fanfic
Let’s count all the minor characters I loved in Midnight Thief–Flick and Bella and Lettie and Idalee and Brendal and Pashla and James and oh my lord, everyone. Even if they get less page time than Kyra and Tristam,  they’re all well-crafted characters with rich lives of their own. Seriously, guys, I’m ready to start writing Flick fanfic.

5. Real Romance
Midnight Thief has some romance, but it comes naturally from the characters and doesn’t feel like an unnecessary addition to the plot. I love seeing this in YA–characters getting to know each other and falling for one another gradually in a way that makes sense for who they are as people.

6. Stuck Between a Rock and a Giant Man-Eating Wildcat
Kyra’s in the middle of a struggle between the palace and the Assassins Guild and the Demon Riders–and can’t really trust any of them. I love that each side makes valid points about its reasoning and still has major flaws. It’s not an easy case of good vs. evil, and that makes for some awesome conflicts for Kyra.

7. The World at Large
Livia’s crafted a cool world in the Forge and its surrounding areas. The city, with its walled-off class-restricted areas, feels real and I love the glimpses at the world beyond (especially through songs and traveler’s tales). The world feels expansive without wasting a lot of reader time mapping things out.

8. Alanna and Kyra
On her Goodreads page, Livia said Midnight Thief is an “homage to the medieval fantasies I grew up reading…notably, Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness…” I definitely got that sense reading Midnight Thief and I mean that as the highest compliment. Just like I fell in love with Tortall and Alanna, I’m already attached to Kyra and her life in Forge. I’m so excited that there are new readers who get to grow up with both Alanna and Kyra.

9. Livia Is Made of Awesome
Things Livia Blackburne knows about: neuroscience; jujitsu; writing awesome fantasy novels. In Fourteenery email threads, you can count on her to share useful information and hilarious quips. If she were also secretly a wizard, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

10. Poison Dance
My reaction to finishing Midnight Thief: “Wait…no. More pages! I want more pages!” Fortunately, Livia’s got me covered–she’s written a prequel to Midnight ThiefPoison Dance is a prequel novella about James, who’s captivating in Midnight Thief as the leader of the Assassins Guild. Even better–it’s available right now. So go buy it already!

Midnight Thief is due for publication in 2014, so make sure to add it to your Goodreads list.

Update #3: 48 Hour Book Challenge

Plowing through my “mid-read” pile this afternoon. Glad I can finally put these back on the shelves!

photoUpdate #3:

  • 1.5 hour reading time (6 hours total)
  • 196 pages read (697 pages total)
  • 0 cups of tea consumed (2 cups total)

The Books

Review #3: I was a little less than halfway through Dirty Little Secrets when I picked it up for #48HBC. It’s one I’ve meant to read for a while, since it deals with a big family secret and a mother with some emotional/mental problems (in this case, hoarding). My heart broke for Lucy through this one, as she feels a strange hope in getting to move on with her life if she can just clean out the house. Omololu manages to make Lucy’s mom into a real person, not just someone defined by her hoarding, and I liked those glimpses of her outside of the house (at work, as a child). I also liked that crush-worthy Josh Lee is revealed to be dealing with his own family problems; I love that “everyone has secrets” theme and it’s one I tend to use in my own work. The ending felt a little rushed for me, and I would have liked a little more of an emotional build there, but overall a great read for anyone interested in YA contemporary family drama.

photo-1Review #4: I was almost at the end of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and so glad to finally finish this one. It’s a tome, so even though I started it a while ago, I’d inevitable leave it at home and take another book with me. Then I’d want to finish the other book and, well, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell suffered for it. But it’s an excellent novel–fake British history plus magicians is a winning idea, and Susanna Clarke gets the tone perfectly. I loved seeing the various plot threads eventually come together, and the ending is surprisingly bittersweet.