Author Archives: Kathryn

About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2018: Part 1: Novels

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February is Black History Month and a good time to review how people of color have been represented in fiction that I read in the previous year.  And February is quickly slipping away from me.  I haven’t yet finished reviewing all of the picture books that I read in 2018, but I have reviewed the novels.

Looking at this year’s numbers, 28% percent of the books that I read this year (picture books included) included a person of color in any capacity—which is 1% more than 2017’s numbers. However, only 12 books that I read in 2018 included a person of color as the protagonist, a dismal 7% of my total books read, less than half as many as in 2017. That’s terrible. That’s on me. I did not this year seek out as many picture books to read independently as I have done in other years. Only 1 of the 12 books with a POC as the protagonist was a book mandated for story time in 2018.

I want to help others find these novels with characters of color, help others to know where to look for representation.  This will be the fourth year that I am doing this.  You can find the previous years’ posts collected here as well as links to more complete Goodreads lists.

Middle-Grade Fiction or Nonfiction (Ages 8-12)

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Yes, No, Maybe So, Book 1: Tara Takes the Stage by Tasmin Lane.  2018.

In this choose your own adventure novel, Tara Singh, an Indian American struggles between choosing trying out and practicing for tryouts for the school theater production and helping her family prepare to impress a Bollywood star who might put their sweet shop on the map. Tara’s crush, Hiro, a theater boy himself, is Japanese American. But is she also developing a crush on Rohan, an Indian American who works with her parents at the shop? Her best friend Yael is Jewish. I have yet only read this through the once, with the one ending, with the one set of choices.

The Heroes of Olympus, Book 5: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan. 2014.

A Latino American, a Chinese Canadian, an African American, and a Cherokee (all half-Greek or -Roman deity, I suppose) travel from Rome to Athens and back to Long Island to help three white kids save the world by sending the primordial deity, Gaia, back to sleep. An Italian American immigrant and a Puerto Rican (one half-Greek deity, one half-Roman deity) go on a separate quest to restore an ancient Greek artifact to the Greek demigods in America and end the feud between the Greek demigods and the Roman demigods.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods (2014) & Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes (2015) by Rick Riordan and illustrated by John Rocco.

These are harder books to put into any of these categories. They are each collections of mythology, so all the protagonists in the stories—or most of them—are Greek.  There are adventures and visits to places farther afield, primarily in northern Africa or modern-day Turkey and Georgia.  In Greek Heroes, Cyrene is given a queendom in modern day Libya by Apollo in exchange for becoming his lover.  Orpheus travels to Egypt.  Hercules meets Antaeus in modern-day Tunisia on his way to the Strait of Gibraltar between modern-day Morocco and modern-day Spain before wandering Spain and Portugal in search of Geryon’s cattle.  In Greek Gods, Dionysus unsuccessfully tries to invade India with his followers. He is successful in spreading his worship into the Middle East, but the Indians repel him. Because in these Riordan is recounting existing myths from ancient texts and cultures, he is bound to an extant to remain true to the tellings as they are recorded by others, though he can choose what to include and what to exclude from the myriad and sometimes contradictory stories about these characters and narratives.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. 2005.

Charon is described as having darker skin. He’s a god, the ferryman of souls to Hades’ realm, and an employee of Hades’. Percy guesses at first that Medusa is a Middle Eastern woman because of her dress. I assume she wears a burka as that would best hide her eyes.

The Trials of Apollo, Book 3: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan. 2018.

Piper McLean, a Cherokee, returns as a secondary character, bordering on a protagonist, but Apollo—here appearing in the mortal, pimply, gangly form of Lester Papadopoulos—and Meg McCaffrey are protagonists.

Teen Fiction (Ages 13-19)

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Timekeeper, Book 1 by Tara Sim. 2016.

Brandon, Danny’s assistant and friend, is dark-skinned and Daphne, a fellow clock-mechanic and Danny’s rival but later an ally of his, is half-Indian, half-British.

The Raven Cycle, Book 4: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. 2016.

Henry Cheng, a Korean American, borders on being a protagonist for this last of The Raven Cycle. His mother, his friends in the Vancouver crowd, all are Asian American as is their landlady.  Blue’s extended family remain background characters.

White protagonists with diverse background characters

The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. 2014.

Some of Blue’s extended family seems to be African American, though Stiefvater is never very clear about it, in fact convincing many of us before she quashed the rumor that Blue herself was written as African American. Henry Cheng is less of a prominent character here.

Adult Fiction (Ages 20+)

White protagonists with diverse background characters

Temeraire, Book 2: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik. 2006.

Temeraire and his crew of Englishmen and at least one girl travel with a delegation of Chinese ambassadors and officials along the west African coast and then across the Indian Ocean to China where they see how dragons are treated in that country, Temeraire meets his family, and Laurence struggles with the politics of the English-Chinese relationship. I love that this book series discusses what was happening in China (albeit a China where dragons are real) during the Napoleonic Wars, China often being left out of any discussion about that conflict.  However over the course of the whole book I never really got to the point where I felt like I knew any of the many Chinese characters, so I feel like they must be background characters, characters that helped to drive plot and created tension. Perhaps I should give them more credit. Perhaps other readers felt the presence of one or more of the Chinese characters more strongly.  The Chinese culture as a whole is viewed fairly favorably by Laurence and Temeraire in this novel, though there is clearly quite a bit of palace politics and intrigue at work within the higher echelons of the Chinese government in the novel.  While traveling along the coast, Temeraire and Laurence fly over land for a while, but see mostly undeveloped wilds.  In Cape Coast, modern-day Ghana, the crew witnesses an unsuccessful slave revolt, which greatly upsets both Temeraire and Laurence, who even before visiting Cape Coast are both vociferously against slavery as an institution, though as yet neither has been particularly active in quashing the institution either.  The ship stops in Cape Town, South Africa too, but Temeraire is feeling poorly, and to the best of my recollection, neither Laurence or Temeraire much observe the city.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

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August 10: Rain Clearing to Shooting Stars

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It was raining on and off the following morning when we woke. We went downstairs to breakfast, served by the wife of the man that we’d met the night before. We chatted a while enjoying a full British breakfast. After breakfast she offered to let us keep our bags in the living room downstairs after we’d checked out so that we could explore the town unburdened. Between climbing just a piece of the mountain the night before and the rain, we’d well decided not to climb Snowdon on foot, but I hadn’t quite given up hope of reaching the top, so we set out first to the station for the Snowdon Mountain Railway. We were greeted by a sign saying that they were sold out for the day, so that dream will have to wait for another visit. And next time, I will hope to have it planned a few months out so that I can get a ticket to ride the train to the top—or at least to the midway station.

Since we couldn’t go up Snowdon especially, I wanted to find the castle. That we managed to do. We walked along A4086 past the Royal Victoria Hotel until, just outside of town, we found a blue sign that I believe designated a public path. It wound through a small valley and through a bit of woods and up the hill to the foot of the castle.

The castle is little more now than a round tower keep and a scattering of low walls. Built in the 13th century by Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn the Great’s grandson Llywelyn the Last imprisoned his brother Owain Goch ap Gruffudd in that tower (probably; there is some debate as to which castle housed Owain) in 1255 after the Battle of Bryn Derwin, at which Owain and Dafydd fought against Llywelyn for control of Gwynedd and acceptance of Norman oversight. Owain was released after 22 years. In 1282, following Llywelyn’s death, the third brother Dafydd took the throne. He tried to free Wales from the rule of Edward I, but was routed. Very briefly, he stayed at Dolbadarn in his flight. His stay was probably less than a month, after which the Normans occupied Dolbadarn. The Normans took a lot of its stone and timber to build Caernarfon Castle. Parts of the castle continued to be used into the 14th century, but by the 18th century, the castle fell out of use and into ruin.

The castle sits on the hilltop beside Llyn Peris, which is divided from Llyn Padarn by only a narrow landbridge. We didn’t much see Llyn Peris, only a glimpse of shining water below, but the views of the mountains between the clouds were beautiful and somewhat haunting.

 

 

We wandered back into town, ducking into shops, including one that sold honey, mead, and love spoons (Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery), searching out trinkets and gifts. We stopped for coffee and cake at Pantri. We wandered through the crowded shop and out into the seats that were in the adjacent backpackers’ shop. While we were there, the power went out briefly, which we overheard had not been an uncommon occurrence lately in the town. It did not diminish the town in my eyes, and I feel already like I left a small part of my heart by that lakeside town in desperate need (I hope) of a used bookstore—if only I had the courage to bring them one.

Wet and not wanting to much remain outdoors, we thought we would leave earlier than we’d thought for our next stop, Machynlleth.

To get to Machynlleth, we had to take the bus north to Caernarfon. It turned sunny on the ride. When we arrived in Caernarfon there seemed to be some kind of festival. There was bunting strung over some of the streets and fair rides and games in the square beside the castle.

 

 


We stopped for directions and then for ice cream at a brightly colored shop called Palas Caffi and awaited our bus.  Some day I would like to return to Caernarfon.  I would like to have a full day to explore the Norman castle.  I would like to explore the city more and find a better view of the harbor, which pressed close to the castle.

In one small hilltop town, we passed a woman on horseback, who while the bus passed, pulled her horse over to talk to a friend who leaned out his car window.

We passed views of the ocean, through the narrow streets and stone buildings of Dolgellau and by Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn Lake, both of those last two familiar to me from Susan Cooper’s The Grey King.

 

 

The bus for Machynlleth let us out just past the clock tower.

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Map created using Google Maps. Our route is the blue and green not the white.

From there we had to walk to our next bed & breakfast, but since we were early, we stopped first for dinner. We found a pizzeria manned by a Florentine chef just off the main road in the back of the courtyard for the Wynnstay Arms. It was delicious, made to order, and the conversation was good. We talked about Italy while we waited.

Fed, we continued down Heol Maengwyn. The Maenllwyd Guest House was pink house just outside of the bustle of the town in a residential area.

We settled in for a reasonably quiet night in a room at the top of the house. In our room, there was a binder of information about the area and about the bed & breakfast itself. There was a map that marked the standing stone for which the Maenllwyd Guest House was named (Maenllwyd means gray stone), so I set out for an adventure, winding my way around gardens and along the pavements of residential neighborhoods. The standing stone itself was located in the middle of a cul-de-sac with a bench beside it, not quite the mystic sight I had hoped for.

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I kept wandering after finding it. Behind the street I was on rose a rugged looking hillside, and I thought there was likely a way to get to that hillside. I found one. There was a gate behind the houses with the sign that made me suspect that the hillside was public land, so I let myself in and climbed through paths in the bracken.

Somewhere on that hill, I found a ring of standing stones—a much more mystical sight. I did step into it. It seemed quiet, but I think I was projecting my thoughts of what a ring of stones is supposed to be. I was transported nowhere. I seemed to miss no more time than I spent standing and spinning in a circle to look out over the surrounding hills.

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Oddly though I can’t find the photo I took from within the ring.

I kept climbing. I eventually turned around when I found a sheep, and began to question anew whether I was actually on public or private land.

 

 

(In researching, trying to figure out where I had been, I have come to think that I was on land belonging to the golf course. Maybe the ring of stones was just meant to be another obstacle to play around. Maybe it’s just atmospheric. But later in the trip I came to believe that there was a ring of stones in nearly if not every Welsh town—more likely newer installations than old. I might be very off my mark there. I would love someone to confirm or correct me.)

Back at the Maenllwyd Guest House, I showered in our private bathroom, and sat in bed watching with my sister a British puzzle-solving game show called the Crystal Maze hosted by Richard Ayoade.

I wanted to stay up late enough for it to be full-dark, past 10 PM.

We were in Wales near 2018’s Perseid meteor shower. Both the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales and Snowdonia National Park in North Wales are designated International Dark Sky Reserves. We intended to spend all of our nights in South Wales in Swansea, a much larger city than any of the towns were we slept in North Wales. Here in Machynlleth we were on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park.  Just after 10 PM, which was the earliest websites said I would be able to view the shower, I went out into the back garden of Maenllwyd Guest House. It was not so dark as I would have imagined or as dark as I would have hoped, but even with the back light on, bathing the garden, I was able to see the Milky Way, a feat that I have managed only a few times in my life.  And in the space of about 20 minutes, I saw 5 shooting stars.

Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2018

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It’s January 2019, so that means that it is time to reflect back on 2018’s best books. I have been doing so since 2014. I have collected all this lists here so you can easily view all of my 5-star rated books. There are doubles. Some of this year’s have shown up on lists from other years. Last year I started using these lists as a chance to discuss award predictions, and this year I have one that I thought would be a very strong contender.

TODDLERS-KIDS (0-8) 

Possible candidates for this year’s awards:

Special mention needs to be made of Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat. I read this book in June, but never did get around yet to reviewing it (so we’re going to take care of that right now.)

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, sample pages, awards list, reviews, trailer, and articles.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat.  Hyperion-Disney, 2018.  Intended audience: Age 3-5.

I’ve been recommending and championing it since June. I’ve loved it since then. It left a really strong impression on me, stronger than most books for sure. A very personal story for both creators, it tells the story of a grandson who struggles to communicate to his Thai grandfather, who doesn’t speak English and whose culture the boy really doesn’t seem to share either. The book begins basically wordless, told through the illustrations of their disconnect, sitting in silence, awkward questions that can’t be answered, different food, television that one or the other can’t fully understand. But when the boy gives up on connecting and pulls out his drawing pad, the grandfather is intrigued, and he comes back with a sketchbook of his own. As the two draw their avatars, the text begins, reflecting the communication that has begun to happen between the two family members. The two bond over illustration in whimsical, clever, magical illustrations by Santat that mix a more classical, detailed, refined style inspired by Thai art, and a more childish, brighter style. Their two avatars adventure together and eventually need the skills and tools of the other to defeat the Big Bad—the distance between them, represented by a dragon that is only partially finished before it decides to fight them. The defeated dragon becomes a bridge over which the two race towards one another, finally “happily speechless.” The text is beautiful, elegant, just right. This book moved me to tears reading it in the store. It nearly did so again refreshing my memory with a video of it being read aloud. I think it a likely contender for the Caldecott—if not other awards besides.

Love has the chance of sparking a Caldecott nomination too. When it was first published, one illustration in particular sparked a flurry of online articles either declaiming or praising the inclusion of a soured marriage that leads to a toxic environment for the child in the illustration, who hides as his parents scream. I think I prefer Drawn Together over Love for the medal though. As much as I love Loren Long’s illustrations in this book, I think the mixed styles of Santat’s drawings in Drawn Together will be hard to top; it’s a mastery of two styles—almost three since the two eventually blend together, and the book shares a lesser-known (in the US) culture besides. 

None of the books that I read won the Caldecott—nor honors; awards were announced today.  The Caldecott medal went to Hello, Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall.  I remember admiring Blackall’s illustrations for this book, but I never did sit down to read it; I judged it too long for my toddler story time and too long to sneakily read while walking it to its shelf.  I will enjoy it when it returns to the store.

MIDDLE GRADE (8-12) 

Possible candidates for this year’s awards:

Honestly, the pool of important, relevant, well-written books that came out this year I think will keep this book from winning any awards—other than the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Middle Grade and Children’s 2018, which it already has won.

TEEN (13-19)

I didn’t read any teen books that earned 5 stars from me this year.

ADULTS (20+)

My 2018 in Books

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2018 was a strange reading and reviewing year for me.  I still owe you all three months of picture book reviews (March, June, and July).  I didn’t review all of the novels that I read either.  I still owe you a total of 49 reviews.  Yikes!  Sorry, friends.  9 of those are novels.  I may swing back and catch some of those reviews over 2019, but I doubt that I will catch them all, and it might be better for my mental health to begin 2019 with a clean, guiltless slate as far as reviewing goes.  If I haven’t got it in me to do complete reviews, would you be interested in really short ones for at least those 9 novels and maybe some of the best of the 40 picture books?

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I read fewer books and fewer pages in 2018 than I have done in previous years—even accounting for the additional 1204+ pages of novels not in the above total that I began reading but haven’t yet or probably never will finish.  For the first time in a long while, I got most way through a book, but gave it up without finishing it; I had just gotten what I needed from it without finishing it.  That was a rare nonfiction, an autobiography in the form of an encyclopedia of thoughts on various topics from Amy Krouse Rosenthal (An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, which I was very much enjoying and would recommend but also warn you is sort of like an alphabetized Tumblr feed).  Right now I am in the middle of 8 novels.  I am actually enjoying most all of them (some more than others admittedly), so I am not rightly sure why I keep setting these aside except that other books keep presenting themselves and that there is comfort in the familiar.  I would like 2019 to be a year of finishing what I start—but I am making no promises and so far not making much headway in 7 of those 8.

goodreads2My average rating remained the same, actually matching my average rating of 2017 and 2016.

I am amused that the highest rated book of 2018 was a picture book written for adults by a late night comedy news show in response to a picture book written by the family of our vice president about their pet bunny rabbit, the White House, and the office of the vice president.

M. H. Bradford is a local, self-published author.  How his book came to be in our ARC pile at Barnes & Noble, I don’t know, but I took it home to review.  I am ashamed to admit that I have not yet.  So let’s do that here really quick, yeah?

This book takes the form of a set of questions posed to moon, wondering where it goes during the night. The book posits several theories from the moon descending into the ocean to seek treasure to it lighting the way for monsters in the darkest caves of the earth to it being protected by fireflies on the forest floor.

The illustrations use mostly a dark palette, contrasting sharply with the pale yellow orb of the moon, except for the furry monsters who are jewel-toned. The rhymes seemed a bit forced to me, sometimes repeating an idea to land on a rhyming syllable, sometimes using language above the reading level. I think that made the ending jar just a little. That and maybe the use of ellipses.

It’s a fun question to ask though.

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Because I like to read more than one picture book for story time when possible, I often read multiple books by the same author.  I read 2 books from many writers—too many to list.  I read 3 picture books of Kobi Yamada‘s, 3 of Anna Dewdney‘s Llama Llama books, and 3 of Chris Ferrie‘s.  I read 4 books from when Dr. Seuss was going by Theo LeSieg and 4 of Aaron Blabey‘s Pig the Pug picture books.  I read 4 of the Pete the Cat books, all of them rereads for me.  I read 5 of Jane O’Connor‘s Fancy Nancy picture books.  I read 6 picture books of Mo Willems‘, all of them rereads, and 6 of Ryan T. Higgins‘.

I reread 2 novels of Maggie Stiefvater‘s The Raven Cycle and 2 of Sharon Shinn‘s The Twelve Houses.  I read 2 novels by Susan Cooper, 1 a reread and 1 new to me (and not yet reviewed).  I read 2 of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, both for the first time.  I read 5 novels of Rick Riordan‘s books; 3 of those were new to me.

To view the full infographic from Goodreads, follow the link.

Anything surprising in looking at your reads last year?

Book Reviews: December 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Insects, Romance, and a Snowman Gone Rogue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Never Touch a Spider by Rosie Greening. Make Believe Ideas, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This came out as part of a series of similar books by Make Believe Ideas: Never Touch a Dragon, Never Touch a Monster, Never Touch a Dinosaur. These books are bright. The textures, made of rubber or some rubbery substance, are unique. I actually like that these are just fun; there’s not really any kind of educational element to these. They are silly. It makes a rare change in a touch-and-feel book—in touch-and-feel books. I admit that there’s not a lot of maybe value to this, but I enjoyed the laugh, and I enjoy the textures.

****

Click to visit the the publisher's page for links to order, summary, review, and sample pages.

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. Little Bee-Bonnier, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Stevie Lewis has done an amazing job with these illustrations! They are so vibrant. My favorite by far is the page with the prince and his knight lounging together by the town fountain, watched by the joyful townspeople. Their pose says so much about the casual, comfortable love and trust that they have for one another. The kingdoms that the royal family travel to too are colorful. It’s difficult to tell but there seems to be some chance that the prince’s chosen knight is of a different racial background than the prince as well. The story is told in easy rhyme. The prince’s parents are supportive not only of his eventual choice but in his quest for the perfect partner, taking him abroad to meet princesses with whom he does not ultimately end up sharing a connection. The prince is often in stereotypical princess poses, for example leaning on a balcony railing, propping his head on one hand—or caught in the knight’s arms as he falls from the dragon. The story is good. The message is good. The characters are good—like, lawful good (chaotic good?). All around, I love this one.

*****

Click to visit BN.com for links to order, summary, and reviews.

How to Catch a Snowman by Adam Wallace & Andy Elkerton. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-10.

This story plays with modern, living snowman “lore,” specifically referencing without naming Frosty of Rankin and Bass’ movie and Olaf of Disney’s Frozen. That was almost my favorite and least favorite part of the book—the references to other snowmen. The midnight snow star is new. The flying is new too. Why the kids want to catch a snowman is never really addressed; though it says in Goodreads’ description that the kids have built him for entry into a contest, I did not pick up on that in reading through the text; maybe if I examined the illustrations more carefully I would have done, but I often read these upside down for the first or second time. The kids’ traps all fail. The snowman is never caught but he creates a larger than life, snow trophy for them—which makes more sense if the kids’ first ambition had been to win a trophy. Some of the rhyming seemed forced, and I’m not overly fond of the direct address to the audience format.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: 777, Another Excerpt from My WIP

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Aimlessly scrolling through old challenges on this blog, I found this one.  I first did this challenge in April 2015.  The challenge is this:

  • Go to your current work in progress
  • Scroll to page 7
  • Count 7 sentences
  • Share the next 7 sentences after that
  • And of course, tag people to do the same. You can even tag 7 people if you want to really get into the number theme.

Since 2015… I don’t know how many more false starts I’ve written (4 or 5 I think).  But I am still doggedly working on the same novel that I begun in 2006.  This hopefully-not-false start I have been working on since November 2017.  Fingers crossed, all.  This draft is currently 59 pages of size 10 Verdana, single space, with a line between paragraphs.

The man grabbed Veil by the shirtfront and pulled him down nearer.

Veil shivered.

“Take it,” the man croaked.  “Tvorec, I need you to take it.  I can’t.”

“You’re—you’re going to be fine.”  Veil was far from sure that the man would be fine, but he knew that he had to—

Looks as though I have shortened the beginning of this novel since 2015.  This is a little later in the plot than that excerpt from 2015.

I like this challenge being my first post of 2019.  (TWENTY NINETEEN, ALL!  We made it this far!)  I feel like I have been spending a lot of time recently with my novel–since this past NaNoWriMo.  I hope that is a good sign.  I am getting into the excitement and frustration of new scenes, new ideas, new backstory, new rules of operation.  I hope this trend will continue into 2019.  I would like 2019 to be a year for writing.  But who knows what curveballs this new year has in store for me–for all of us?

Anyone I know with a blog and a WIP want to take up this challenge?  My followers, do you have WIPs?  I would love to know.  I would love to know who and what books to look out for in the new year or the next or the next or….

I went looking through the pingbacks from Olivia Berrier’s original challenge, and found that Gwen added a further piece to this challenge: the 777th word in my current draft is “Glenys,” a recent name change for an important secondary character.  It only took her 12 years to outgrow her original name.  I’m pretty sure until now she had been using her original name, chosen then because it meant “old.”  Her new name means “pure, clean, holy.”

Just for fun, the 2019th word in this WIP is “nearest.”

Challenge: The Joy of Christmas Book Tag

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I found this book tag on Adventures of a Bibliophile, who found it on The Terror of Knowing, who found it on Thrice Read, who found it on Macsbooks, who found it on the Booktubers Wikia, which I also didn’t know existed and am excited to find.  This tag originated with Samantha at Sam’s Nonsense.

Anticipation: The Christmas excitement is real, what book release(s) are you most anticipating?

I know what I want! I want that first book in the new sequel series to Maggie Steifvater’s The Raven Cycle, a series all about Ronan Lynch! I hear a draft has been edited—and did I hear that it has been turned into the publisher? Did I dream that?

Christmas Songs & Carols: What book or author can you not help but sing its praises?

Rick Riordan is amazing. He is so excellently including blacker, browner, queerer characters in his mainstream middle grade fiction, and he is too popular and too well respected for most people to complain. He was so smart, writing a whiter, more heteronormative series first, and then learning from his fans. He learns from his fans—and that is the best. He is turning out books quickly and keeping himself relevant.

Gingerbread Houses: What book or series has wonderful world building?

One of the most expansive, deepest worlds that I’ve entered is Patrick Rothfuss’ Temerant—specifically the Four Corners of Civilization where the story he is now telling in The Kingkiller Chronicles take place. There are multiple, distinct cultures with their own traditions, beliefs, histories and folklore, governments, dress, and language. There are several sentient races. No one else that I know has a board game that can be bought in stores with its own history and multiple variations based on who is playing and when and where in the world they are playing. No one else I know knows the history and exchange rates of several currencies within his world.

A Christmas Carol: Favorite classic or one that you want to read?

I am currently reading Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. I’ve read parts of it for a class before, but I have never read it in full—but more than Aeneid, I want to read Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey. I’ve read several other translations, but hers is the first published by a woman, and I’ve heard that she’s erased some patriarchal mistranslations.

Odyssey is my favorite of the classics that I’ve read—specifically I’ve liked Robert Fitzgerald’s translation the best yet.

That is what you meant by “classic,” right?

Christmas Sweets: What book would you love to receive for Christmas?

This is not a short list—and I am sure there are more on there that I don’t yet know about. But I have had my eye on the illustrated Harry Potter books, which I can’t justify buying for myself—or just anything that I’ve been wanting. I’m missing a book of Riordan’s. I’m missing all of the Rick Riordan Presents. There are other books I am waiting to buy. I need a copy of Chainbreaker by Tara Sim. I want to read Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger. I like picture books, but I can’t justify spending money on them myself. There are graphic novels I would love to own: the whole Avatar: The Last Airbender set, Craig Thompson’s—but don’t own for the same reason that I so rarely buy myself picture books; it’s a lot of money for a few hours’ enjoyment.

What I got was a signed copy of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, and I am not at all displeased.

Candles in the Window: What book gives you that warm fuzzy feeling?

I have a hard time finding books that give me warm fuzzies—because generally that’s not what I’m looking for in a novel. Most recently though? I was given very warm fuzzies from the budding romance between Colton and Danny in Tara Sim’s Timekeeper. Those were warmer, fuzzier feelings even than I am getting from the sword and sorcery romance series that I am rereading.

Christmas Trees & Decorations: What are some of your favorite book covers?

I work in a bookstore. I see good covers all the time. ALL THE TIME. And very few of the books behind those covers have I ever—will I ever—read. As I look around my room I see more books that I’ve brought home because the cover and the jacket blurb convinced me. Books like Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (Hatem Aly), like Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers (Diana Sudyka), like Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (Rich Deas), which I am actually very slowly reading now because I am not ready for that level of emotion.

 

Of the books that I’ve read, I think that John Rocco did a wonderful job with Riordan’s books, particularly for The Heroes of Olympus, particularly The Son of Neptune and The House of Hades, but also on The Kane Chronicles, particularly The Serpent’s Shadow. I think Mary GrandPré did a great job with the Harry Potter covers, particularly for The Order of the Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows but recognize that I like those perhaps more for their nostalgia than for their merit alone (a poster of The Deathly Hallows hung in my bedroom for several years), but I like Jonny Duddle’s covers for The Philosopher’s Stone and for The Deathly Hallows best of all of the English-language versions yet.

 

 

Some special mention needs to be made for Morgan Rhodes’ Rebel Spring (Shane Rebenschied) and Shannon Messenger’s Flashback (Jason Chan) for having amazing covers which almost alone are the reasons I want to read these series—though I’ve not started either. I guess the way to draw me in is to threaten or attack me with a shiny, pointed weapon.

 

Looking at these all side by side, I think that I like jewel tones too, emotional faces of realistically painted heroes and heroines, lots of detail.

Christmas Joy: What are some of your favorite things about Christmas And/Or some of your favorite Christmas memories?

I want to change this one, because this question does not seem appropriately bookish. So let me pose this question instead: What is your favorite Christmastime scene from a book? You don’t come here to learn about my memories—or you shouldn’t do, because that isn’t what I’m here to share—you are here to learn about books!

I think the Christmas scene that gives me the warmest fuzzies is Will Stanton and Merriman singing parts of “Good King Wenceslas” in The Dark Is Rising on Christmas Eve to open the magical portal to the room that holds the book that teaches Will EVERYTHING. But young Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in the film version of The Sorcerer’s Stone exchanging “Happy Christmas, Harry” and “Happy Christmas, Ron” and Daniel’s astonished “I have presents?” warm my heart more than most anything could do.

Merry Christmas, my readers, whatever you may be doing today, whether you are celebrating or not.  And hey! if you complete this book tag, let me know; I’d love to read about some of your favorites.  Cheers!

August 9: We Reach Wales

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Hey! You probably thought that I forgot that I was supposed to be writing these travelogues for you. Well, I didn’t, and I am sorry that they have been so scarce. Today, we’re going to Wales, so hop on nearly every form of public transportation (as I proudly told a surveyor on my journey back to the US), and journey with me.

We were up very early the next morning to walk back into town to catch a pre-booked bus to get to the port. Our shuttle boarded on O’Connell Street around 7:15, and our ticket warned us to be early to the bus stop (though I don’t actually think that was as necessary as they made it seem). We were taken along the river to the check-in, then boarded on another shuttle, which took us directly onto the ferry, we were unloaded, and conducted upstairs to a plush lounge with seats facing the front of the boat, lots of tables both at the windows and further into the center of the boat, a bar, televisions, a movie room, arcade games. It didn’t feel all that much like a boat. But I found us seats near the front where I could at least pretend to be standing at the bow and watching the sunrise and looking out for land. I’ll admit that I fell asleep for a good deal of the crossing. I read through some of it. I went wandering at one point trying to find a way to get to the sea-air, but without success.

 

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Route map courtesy of the Stena Line webpage

We docked in Holyhead in North Wales, went quickly through security, and crossed the bridge into the city to find lunch.

My sister took the crossing less well than I did.

I didn’t feel hardly any motion from the boat, even watching the horizon ahead. I could tell that we were moving forward at times, and I could see the boat turn once or twice, but I felt any movement far less jarringly than on any bus or train or plane.

Lunch acquired, sandwiches and coffees, we mostly played the waiting game. We were expected in Llanberis that night, and to get to the town, we had to take a train to Bangor and then a bus from there to Llanberis. The port and the train station are within the same building so finding the station was easy as was finding help with the schedule and the best route and the best lunch if only we’d asked sooner.

The train to Bangor got us there with lots of time to spare between arrival and departure. I wandered the city a little. Retrospectively, I wish I had looked at a map. I went up Holyhead Road and got so far as College Road before turning around then went down Farrar Road to High Street. I missed most of the sights. Y’all, learn from me. Consult maps. Use map apps. Know some of the sights before arriving. I hadn’t planned for a long layover in this city and knew practically nothing about it other than that it was the spot we needed to change modes of transportation.

We waited for a while at the bus stand, reading mostly, though I met a nice Welshman there and we talked for a little bit about Wales and Welsh before his bus arrived. I perhaps made the mistake of mentioning that I’d tried to learn a little of the language before arriving from Duolingo, and of course, confronted with the problem of speaking, my practiced phrases fled me, but he took me through the sounds of the nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll so that I’d have that as party trick.

The bus ride took us up on (I think; please correct me if I am wrong) Elidir Fawr at one point, negotiating narrow and windy mountain roads, and at one point having to wait for an oncoming car to back up to be able to continue forward—which certainly made me forgive the driver for running late to Bangor. The bus route isn’t the most direct route between the towns, but the views of Llanberis and Llyn Padarn from atop the mountain were worth it.

 

The bus dropped us not too far from our bed & breakfast, Idan House, on the north-end of High Street. We actually saw it from the bus and got off a few stops earlier than the Llanberis stop to save some walking.

We checked in with a nice, older man, who showed us to our bedroom at the top of the house. The view was amazing. We could see Llyn Padarn and Elidir Fawr rising behind it, the lakeshore not but a block or so away.

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With our bags put down and a little more settled in, we went out exploring the town. Mostly we were looking for dinner. We settled on Indian takeaway and took it to the park by the lakeside where we had a view of the Elidir Fawr and Dolbadarn Castle too.

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Our meal done, we wandered the city some more. We passed our first free-range sheep on public land. We found a path that pointed toward the local waterfall, Ceunant Mawr, and followed, trying to find the overlook. I think we missed our turn off the paved road, but continued up beside the railway line and beside houses and woodland and meadow until we reached a sign saying that we’d reached private land and weren’t to go any farther. Un-penned sheep greeted us at the top and another wonderful view of Elidir Fawr in the setting sunlight. We were near the waterfall; we could hear it and see a bit of it through the trees on the opposite side of the railway line, but never got a photo-worthy view. The climb was steep and exhausting. It dashed our hopes of being able to conquer Snowdon on foot the following morning.

 

We worked our way back down, back into the park beside Llyn Padarn, and then back to the b&b to settle in for the night.

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Llafn y Cewri seems the sort of monument with which one poses. It was erected in memory of the Welsh princes and resembles one of their swords.

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Our first day’s travel in Wales, following the blue not the white line.  Created using Google Maps.

Book Reviews: November 2018 Picture Book Roundup: Valuing Women and Two Holidays

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Women in History and Today

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

My First Book of Feminism (for Boys) by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Michéle Brummer-Everett. Downtown Bookworks-Simon & Schuster, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

Feminism for boys! Very young boys! Or boys of all ages. And women who need reminders about these same principles. This is about respecting women as people, allowing space for their voices and ideas, and about unlearning the toxic masculinity both that says that boys can take advantage of girls and that tries to define what men and women should and should not do. It suggests some simple acts one can do to express one’s respect for oneself and for the women in one’s life. The illustrations, though sparing in color, using only the primary three, green, black, and white, seem to represent a more inclusive feminism too than is too often practiced, which I appreciate.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. Feiwel & Friends-MacMillan, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

This was an odd one for me. Juno is searching for her own favorite shoes, plain white Keds, when she discovers a magical portal to a magical closet filled with shoes from historical women which, when she puts them on, transform her into the women who owned the shoes. Or that’s how it seems. There’s not a whole lot of explanation about what is happening to Juno or about the women themselves. I would have liked to have this be a very long story about Juno overcoming with these women the trials that they faced both in their climb to greatness and then once that greatness had been achieved. What I got was a line each about one quality that helped each woman succeed. And I suppose in its way that that’s its own positive message, but it was not what I expected, and it wasn’t the story that I wanted—because it was really not much of a story. This was not about overcoming adversity but about possessing certain qualities—and shoes. This book supports in part the idea that clothes make the woman, and while I understand that Eva Chen is a fashion director, a former editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Lucky, and a former beauty and health director for Teen Vogue, it’s not the message that I want to send to children who may not be able to afford or who may not be interested in owning the shoes that are chic for their chosen profession. It closes with Eva changing her own shoes to reflect her experiences in the shoes of and her present in the footsteps of these powerful women. In the back, there is a page with a bit more about each of the women, but the picture book itself really is the type of story that only works if you already know the figures. In short, I think the book, the idea had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to because it didn’t go far enough. As an introduction to influential women of history, it is far from the best that I have seen, and right now, there are a lot of fish to choose from in that pond. There are better, more comprehensive books even for younger audiences. Had this been printed another year, several years earlier, I probably would have rated it more highly because it would have been filling a need. It does have a more creative plot than many of the other books about influential women for children that I can think of which are often written more as encyclopedias than stories, but it slides past those women’s experiences in favor of the protagonist’s to the point that only a foreknowledge of the women gives the women context.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.My First Little People, Big Dreams: Audrey Hepburn by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

My First Little People, Big Dreams: Amelia Earhart by María Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by MARIADIAMANTES. Frances Lincoln-Quarto, 2018.

I learned a bit about both of these women from these board books. I pulled a copy of each of the available board books in this series for a story time and offered to read any in which the audience was interested. (Also available in board book form from this series are biographies of Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Maya Angelou; more are coming in February.) The kids didn’t voice any opinions, but two adults in the audience expressed interest. Vegara does a good job of keeping to the truth without going into either too much detail for her audience or too romanticizing the history. Hepburn’s war-torn childhood is not forgotten nor is Earhart’s disappearance left out. These books talk not just about the one act that these women are most famous for, but also their philanthropy, what influenced their lives, and their influence on others. Their lives are framed as models and lessons. I’m not 100% sure what the appropriate audience would be for these books. As with many nonfiction board books today, I’m just not sure if the interest is there for the 0-3 year olds that board books are marketed towards, but I had no trouble reading these to my story time audience which consisted that day of children probably up to age 7.

****

Seasonal Stories

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

Fangsgiving by Ethan Long. Bloomsbury, 2018.

I was truly pleased by this original Thanksgiving tale. A group of monsters (a vampire named Vladimir, a werewolf, a witch, a mummy named Mumford) every fourth Thursday in November get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, and they all cook a special dish. When Vladimir’s family drop in unexpectedly, they go about expressing their distaste for the dishes and improving them with their own ghastly twists (boogie butter, eyeballs, baboon farts), much to the chagrin of the monsters whose food and hard work they disparage. Because they are family and he loves them, Vladimir wants to make the best of it, but when their dog Spike eats the feast in its entirety, Vladimir cries that they have ruined Thanksgiving. To which his family responds that they were only trying to help, that he can’t be mad at them because they are family. Vladimir reminds them that families forgive one another and work together, and together with Vladimir’s friends, they set out to make a second feast that takes everyone’s tastes and ideas into account. Spike remains outside, and the monsters start a new tradition: Fangsgiving on the fourth Friday of every November. There are some important lessons that this book has to impart to the young and the old any time that they are about to embark on a day of getting together with family and friends (Thanksgiving, yes, but other holidays and events too). Family and friends don’t always have the same ideas or tastes as you or as each other. Though they are often acting with the best intentions, they may forget their boundaries and their manners. It’s okay to get angry. Sometimes you have to let them know that what they are doing is hurtful. Once you have done so, you can forgive one another and work towards a more perfect day. With lots of gross ingredients and several puns to get laughs, plus the spooky characters, this is a likely hit with most kids, despite its more narrow color palette.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Bear Can’t Sleep by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Margaret K. McElderry, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Bear’s considerate friends stop into his cave to see that he is warm and comfortable when he should be hibernating. But Bear can’t sleep, despite his best intentions, earnest attempts, and his friends’ acts of kindness. The friends try building up the fire and turning down the lights. They make him warm milk to drink. They sing him a lullaby. But nothing is working. So Bear gives up and decides that since they are here and he is not asleep, he will tell them a story—a new story. And just before the end, he falls asleep, snoring. The friends will have to wait till Spring to hear the end. As with most of these stories, Chapman’s soft, warm, realistic illustrations are the star. This would make a good bedtime story.

****

Click to visit Barnes & Noble for links to order and summary.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Goes Christmas Shopping by Annie North Bedford, Bob Moore, and Xavier Atencio. Little Golden-Golden-Penguin Random, 2018.  Originally published 1953.  Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

We read this book with the help of a Google Home Mini, which produced background music and sound effects cued to the words of the story as spoken by my voice—which was really neat when it worked. It once lost me very early in the story, but then found me again. It seemed to lose me again while the boys were on the space ride. It cut out entirely when the store closed—and it never did pick back up. I wonder if it works better when in private and not in a store on a Black Friday weekend. But that’s another review for another day. The story itself does not show Mickey or Minnie in the best light ever. They take their nephews shopping, but then each think that they’ve left the boys with the other, and end up leaving them unsupervised and then in the store altogether after it closes—which must mean that neither sought and found the rest of the family much before if at all before the store closed and neither was watching the boys or one another. This was about doing a chore and not about spending time with family as the boys had hoped. Of course, the boys too were distracted by the toys and the rides in the toy department. After realizing that they have fallen asleep in the enclosed pod of the ride and awoken in a closed store (no employee checked the ride?), the boys find the store’s Santa Claus, still in his suit, and Santa delivers them to the front door, where Mickey and Minnie are banging to be let in to find their renegade nephews. Perhaps because I know Mickey and Minnie and not Ferdie and Mortie, I judge as negligent and in need of correction the adults’ actions more than I do Ferdie’s and Mortie’s.

***

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

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This cover does not do this book justice. I understand that the publishers were going for a more classic, more simplistic cover, but the cover it has would not make me pick the book up as readily as if a full-page illustration had been used. That’s probably personal preference and a small quibble though. The inside is every bit as vibrant and realistic and amazing as I remember Curato’s illustrations being. Mouse is really excited for Christmas, but Elliot just is not. When they go to see Santa, Elliot asks for Christmas spirit from Saint Nick, but Santa says Elliot will have to find that himself. Elliot and Mouse try lots of wintertime activities to try to find Elliot’s Christmas spirit, but to no avail; this elephant has no luck. Walking home, a letter blows into Elliot’s hands. It’s for Santa. They go back to the store to try to hand-deliver it, but they’ve missed him. So Elliot with Mouse decide that they need to fulfill the Christmas wish themselves. They take a cab outside of the city to become friends with the letter’s sender, a little Asian American girl named Noelle. And in granting her wish, Elliot finds his Christmas spirit too. This story is saccharine in the best way, a tale of Christmas spirit that isn’t commercial and is truly attainable magic.

****

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

Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The mice are overstepping again, this time making commitments for Bruce that Bruce does not want to keep. He is a grumpy bear, and wearing red long johns should not volunteer him to be Santa Claus despite one excited raccoon’s mistaking him for the jolly saint. Nevertheless, the mice invite excited animals into Bruce’s home not once but twice and say that Bruce will deliver presents overnight to the woodland creatures. Very, very reluctantly and because the mice have done all of the work and have promised to do in fact more work than they can actually do—forcing some of the onus onto Bruce once they are already out in the snow—Bruce agrees to their plot. Presents are delivered, a joyous feast is attended, and Bruce—Bruce is still grumpy, vowing to sleep through next year’s Christmas as he had hoped to do through this. I actually like that Bruce is not won over and filled with the holiday spirit. It’s a change from the Scrooge & Grinch narrative that so pervades Christmas stories. Though much Christmas cheer is spread here and everyone (except Bruce) is celebrating, there is no real miracle here, just a grumpy bear fulfilling promises made on his unwilling behalf because deep down he is a softie for kids—being mother himself to four nearly grown geese.

***** 

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.