Beautiful People Part I (from July): Meet The General (Red as Blood)

In the monthly Beautiful People (hosted/originated by Cait @ Paper Fury and Skye @ Further Up and Further In, and you can read all about it HERE.), I’ve been exploring the rather large cast of my current WIP, Red as Blood. And though I started to do the July feature back in, well, July, I never finished it – so I’m posting it today. Check back soon for BP Part II, which will feature the August questions and another pivotal character from Red as Blood.

So, if you need a refresher on Red as Blood or some of the major characters, check out these posts, and for more on the Seven Sisters, here’s the link to their general bio.

Next up is the third sister – Ayan Stonefist – more commonly known as “The General.” Here’s a photo and a quick recap of her bio:
A younger but pretty accurate Ayan reference photo
A younger but pretty accurate Ayan reference photo
Don’t be fooled by her small stature - she can, and will, destroy you. The General has one of the best tactical minds of the last century, and it’s a mystery why she’s working at an out-of-the-way food joint. Actually, most everything about her is a mystery, and she’d prefer it stay that way.

Age:  early forties (or so the Sisters guess)

Occupation: Assistant Manager of Henpecked Bar & Grill. But that’s just what it says on paper . . .

Height: 135 cm?    Weight: Unknown    Race: Human?

Weakness: *whispers* Don’t even tell her we asked.

Weapon of Choice: Throwing knives or a good spear

Likes: Order, cleanliness, and quiet. Sharp blades. Maps. Dogs.

Dislikes: Bad manners. Insubordinate people. Disorder. Cats.

Favorite Food: Strawberries (she has a surprising sweet tooth)

Of all of the sisters, Ayan is the most reserved and forbidding. However, she exudes calm and excels at managing diverse and difficult personalities. Sull tries to avoid her as much as possible, yet he admires the way she carries herself – as if she’s twenty feet tall and all corded muscle – anyone in her way will be ten feet under . . .

So, now, let’s attempt to get to know The General a bit better.

  1. Does she  want to get married and/or have children? Why or why not?

This isn’t the sort of thing the General thinks about, to be honest. She’s never desired children, and she has zero interest in any sort of life partner or romance. Still, she isn’t opposed to mentoring a young person, and she did very well as the leader of armies. As a general rule, Ayan feels that children are a nuisance, and that they are a danger to everyone if their parents didn’t really want them. Sull basically affirms everything that Ayan believed about kids. 😛

2. What is their weapon of choice? (It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical weapon.)

I answered this in her profile (throwing knives or a spear), but the General is one of those people who can use anything for an effective weapon. Her brain is her other favorite weapon though 😛

3. What’s the nicest thing they’ve done for someone else, and why did they do it?

When Ayan had command of a particularly large group of young men (soldiers), she caught one of them stealing food from the stores. Normally, that sort of thing was punishable by discharge and the removal of a hand, and the General had not hesitated to carry out the sentence before. However, after investigating the situation, she discovered that the soldier had taken the food for a group of orphans that had lost their parents in the current battles. Ayan looked into this and allowed the soldier to go with only extended latrine duty. She then set up a fund for the children, and personally found them all homes, despite her general dislike of children. When asked why she did it, all the General would say is that war “wasn’t right, and that no one but the instigators should suffer the consequences.”

4. Have they ever been physically violent with someone, and what instigated it?

She is the General – so 99% of her existence has been in the more violent spheres of life – but she isn’t violent without cause or reason. Rather, she only uses physical violence as a last resort.

5. Are they a rule-follower or a rebel?

While Ayan is usually a rule-follower (she believes that rules exist for a reason), she isn’t afraid to color outside the lines, so to speak. If she truly believes an action is right or wrong, she won’t hesitate to act accordingly.

6. Are they organized or messy?

Highly organized. The General despises anything remotely disordered or messy.

7. What makes them feel loved, and who was the last person to make them feel that way?

The General believes that love is like down comforters or a good mattress: comfortable and a life enhancement, but not necessary for a fulfilling existence. Her soldiers usually loved her, but she discouraged it, as she thought it encouraged an unnatural level of risk-taking and devotion (when she was in a dangerous situation).

8. What do they eat for breakfast?

The General strives for balance in every area of life, so she makes sure that her breakfast is nutritious and balanced, with just the right amount of calories to keep her going until the next meal. That being said, she’s partial to strawberry pancakes.

9. Have they ever lost someone close to them? What happened?

While Ayan tries to maintain a professional distance between herself and those around her, she has witnessed the deaths of many young soldiers. The General feels personally connected to every soldier under her command, and every loss or death has made her strive to be a better commander.

10. What’s their treat of choice? (Or, if not food, how else do they reward themselves?)

The General has a sweet tooth, so she will occasionally indulge in one of Dumpling‘s famous strawberry shortcakes. But only if she has had an extremely stressful day, or she feels quite satisfied with herself.

So that’s all for today- do you feel like you know the General a little bit better? (She’s rather enigmatic). Did you do July’s BP? How is your August going, and what are you writing/reading?

Top Ten Tuesday Rewind: Top 10 Things that Books Have Made Me Want to Learn or Do

Copyright : The Broke and the Bookish
Copyright : The Broke and the Bookish

So this week’s TTT is a chance to go back and do a Top 10 that you missed. I have missed A LOT of the recent Top 10’s, but the one I felt the most need to participate in was just a couple of weeks ago. “The Top 10 Things that Books Made Me Want to Learn or Do” is a topic that I haven’t written as much about, and as a writer*, there are a ton of things I have attempted or wanted to attempt because of books!! The difficult part was narrowing it down to just ten 😛

So – without further ado:

The Top 10 Things that Books have Made Me Want to Learn or Do:

  1. Forge a sword

If you’ve ever read a fantasy novel, you probably have read about that pivotal blade for the hero, or magical smith character. I have been fascinated by swordsmithing ever since I was little. The first book that made me think about it though? That’s tough. I’d probably go with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Aragorn’s sword is reforged from the shards of Narsil, a legendary blade of his ancestors. And it’s Aragorn’s remade blade Andúril that marks him as the “true king.” Now that, is a sword.

2. Become a samurai.
Maybe this is obvious, but Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” is one of my favorite movies.

Since I am A. Not Japanese, and B. Live in the 21st Century, the viability of this one is . . . err, nonexistent. But everything I read about these fascinating warriors always made me want to be them. In particular, Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai series sealed the deal. (After all, it’s about gaijin samurai).

3. Archery.

This is one that I actually went out and did. While I’m not a crack shot or anything (especially with my bad eyes), I’m not terrible. And I still love archery. It’s therapeutic. And I can blame Roger Lancelyn Green’s Adventures of Robin Hood for this one! (With LOTR’s Legolas in a close second)

4. Celtic-style Illumination

Illumination^^

I don’t recall when I discovered the children’s picture book Marguerite Makes a Book, but I was probably about six or seven. Anyhow, Marguerite is a young girl with an illuminator for a father. Marguerite dreams of illuminating a manuscript, and when her father needs help finishing a book for a noble lady’s birthday, it’s Marguerite who comes to his aid. I still love this book, and I have spent many an hour practicing calligraphy and illuminating bookmarks and other things!

5. Riding in a horse race

While I did take horseback riding lessons for a few years (and I went to a horse camp), and I do enjoy the occasional trail ride, I have yet to race a horse (or own one). I’m not really the jockey build (or height). But between Black BeautyMisty of Chincoteague, and Walter Farley’s novels, owning a horse and racing it was something I always wanted to do. Still, I did learn to take care of a horse and ride one because of books!

6. Knit a sweater.

There isn’t a single, specific book that made me want to do this. Rather, it was an idea that grew after reading enough historical fiction. So many of the heroines were skilled in weaving, crocheting, or knitting, that I was determined to figure it out. After a few failed attempts, I finally got the hang of it, and I’ve knit more than one sweater now, and designed my own patterns! It’s a skill that I’m really glad I worked at developing. A recent-ish book that really made me want to knit would be Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. It’s the hero, not the heroine, who is the expert knitter of this fun little fairytale retelling. It is also, to date, the only book I’ve read where the villain was dispatched via knitting needle!

7. Go on an epic journey by foot, horse, ship, and/or wagon.

I still haven’t achieved this one 🙂 And I could name off at least a dozen books that made me want to do this. The HobbitLittle House on the Prairie, and The Hero and the Crown are just two of many, many others.

8. Get some beehives and become a beekeeper

I haven’t done this – yet! But I plan on having some hives someday (if I ever land somewhere permanently, that is). I have helped a beekeeper do their rounds, and studied bees and the homeopathic uses of honey. My fascination with the subject is pretty old, but one of the primary factors was Chalice by Robin McKinley. The Secret Life of Bees probably helped too 🙂

9. Go to a masquerade ball.

Err, doesn’t everyone want to do this? I love the idea of a fancy dress ball – but everyone knows that a masquerade is the most exciting (or frightening) type of costume party. So many things are revealed when your face is concealed, and all that jazz. Notable examples would be The Phantom of the Opera and Much Ado About Nothing, but there are a lot more!

10. Become an archivist in a crazy library.

To be honest, I’m halfway there. Every befuddled-looking, dusty person in lumpy clothes – a staple in fantasy novels, is a little (lot) like me. The library in the Abhorsen series, the library in The Thirteenth Tale, the library in Harry Potter, the Archives in the Kingkiller Chronicles – those are the places I want to go/live in the most. Maybe this will be my ultimate bucket list item?

THAT WAS HARD. There are so many things that books have made me want to do, or convinced me to learn. It’s one of the reasons I love books so much, to be honest.

*In the list of things I have learned/am learning how to do because of writing books – we can add learning Korean, dance tutorials, writing with my left hand, and living without modern conveniences, to name a few!

So – what sort of things have books made you want to do or made you do?

5 Reasons that Vassa In the Night NEEDS to be on Your Fall TBR List (ARC Review)

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I have been INSANELY busy all summer. It’s left me little time to read, and no time to blog – but I finally managed to squeeze in some reading time, and now I have to tell you all about it 😛

JUST LOOK AT IT – So Pretty

First things first – a huge thank you to ABA Whitebox and TOR/Macmillan for the ARC – this advance copy was provided for free as a bookseller promotion, and this is an unsolicited, unpaid, and 100% honest review 🙂

I don’t know about you, but I have a lifelong obsession with fairytales. Whether it was Disney, a dusty copy of Grimms, Ella Enchanted, a folktale collection I found at the library, or Once Upon a Time, I’ve given them all a shot. However, for all of the fairy tales and folktales out there (and there are thousands), only a handful ever seem to make it into novels. So when I saw the synopsis of Vassa in the Night, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. (Official Synopsis Below)

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won t be playing fair .

Basically, Vassa in the Night is a modern reimagining of Vassilissa the Beautiful (there are a lot of Vassilissa stories out there), set in Brooklyn, NYC.
And before you point out how many fairytale/folktale retellings are out there, scroll down for my

Top 5 Reasons to Read Vassa in the Night:

  1. The Prose is beautiful.

    There are sentences that my writer’s brain was wishing I’d come up with. And Sarah Porter’s “stage-setting” and descriptive writing roots you immediately – just read the first couple paragraphs and you’ll see what I mean:

People live here on purpose; that’s what I’ve heard. They even cross the country deliberately and move into the neighborhoods near the river, and suddenly their shoes are cuter than they are, and very possibly smarter and more articulate as well, and their lives are covered in sequins and they tell themselves they’ve arrived. They put on tiny feathered hats and go to parties in warehouses; they drink on rooftops at sunset. It’s a destination and everyone piles up and congratulates themselves on having made it all the way here from some wherever or other. To them this is practically an enchanted kingdom. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not the part where I live.

Not that there isn’t any magic around here. If you’re dumb enough to look in the wrong places, you’ll stumble right into it. It’s the stumbling out again that might become an issue. The best thing you can do is ignore it. Cross the street. Don’t make eye contact—if by some remote chance you encounter something with eyes.

(Excerpt from Chapter 1, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter)

Porter takes her time in setting the scene, enveloping you in a fantastical, yet familiar version of Brooklyn. Her writing has its own sort of magic, and it will immerse you in the world of the story in no time.

2. Creativity!

Baba Yaga as a demented shopkeeper? Yes, please. Vassilissa as a purple-haired teen from a blended family? Works for me. Demented, bodiless hands for sidekicks? Sure. Another world on the fringe of our own, populated by characters that Lewis Carroll would envy. SOLD. This is definitely one of the more inventive YA novels I’ve read, and I couldn’t wait to see where it would take me next. I also loved seeing how Porter worked elements from the Vassilissa story into the book.

3. It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

There’s a healthy dose of sarcasm, usually provided by Vassa herself, and a borderline-hysterics sort of humor that balances the macabre setting and rather dark subject matter (i.e., severed heads and gruesome, fairytale style deaths) The side characters and bizarre situations also provide a lot of humor. Erg (Vassa’s “doll), in particular, is a source of hilarious one liners and dry observations.

4. Reality checks.

I love how Vassa in the Night doesn’t have a “perfect” ending. Everything isn’t resolved or tied up neatly. More importantly, throughout the book, we don’t forget that Vassa is a young girl plunged into a world far beyond her comfort zone. None of her problems are magically solved, and she has to work for a resolution. Vassa’s relationships with Erg, her stepsisters, school peers, and missing/late parents are all extremely important, and she has to deal with them in “real-world” ways to grow as a character, and accomplish her goals. And hey – if Baba Yaga was real, I could definitely see her setting up a sinister convenience store chain in NYC. And getting away with it.

5. VASSA.

She’s everything I love in a heroine – smart, funny, snarky, empathetic, and believable. Despite her tough lot in life, she is determined and stubborn, and she refuses to give up when it matters the most. Also of note, though Vassa is obviously our heroine, she doesn’t fall into the stereotypical chosen-one mode at all. Her character growth and arc were well done and satisfying.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.*
A lush and inventive modern folktale for readers looking for something a little darker and less romantic than the majority of the fairytale retellings out there. A strong heroine, crazy strangeness, and beautiful prose help Vassa in the Night stand out as one of my favorite YA reads of 2016.
*Here are my minor quibbles (which are really only relevant after you’ve read the book:
  1. Was there a point to the whole story about Vassa’s dad (other than showing his extreme immaturity and selfishness)?
  2. I felt that “The Rules” (governing the magical world/characters) could have been fleshed out a little more. Obviously, like Erg, Babs had rules she was following – otherwise, she might have stopped Vassa more effectively at times. It makes it a bit harder to suspend your disbelief if you don’t know the rules that the world operates by.
  3. Babs defeat was slightly underwhelming. It was fairytale-esque, but (see #2) I felt like it would have worked a bit better if we knew how/why she was defeated.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter will be released in Hardcover on September 20th, 2016.

Do you plan on reading Vassa in the Night? Why or why not? Have you read Vassilissa the Beautiful or any of the Vassilissa stories?

 

6 Reasons You Need to Read Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

First off – A huge thank you to Intisar Khanani for allowing me to read an advance copy of Memories of Ash! This was a free copy provided in exchange for an honest review – which in no way affected my review 🙂

 

Memories of Ash, the sequel to Sunbolt came out a couple days ago- have you ordered your copy yet? If you haven’t read Sunbolt, don’t worry – it’s quite short, and very good – so fix that first 🙂 You can also click through above to read my review of Sunbolt, and to get an idea of the story.

Memories of Ash picks up immediately where Sunbolt left off – so some minor spoilers for Sunbolt follow in the synopsis (pinched from Goodreads):

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

Since I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone I’ll follow the same format as I did with reviewing Sunbolt, and give you 6 reasons why you need to read Memories of Ash, ASAP.

6 Reasons to Read Memories of Ash

  1. The World and Characters.

    If you love fantasy, you know that a fascinating world and colorful characters are extremely important. In the Eleven Kingdoms of Sunbolt and Memories of Ash, Khanani has created a world so vivid and interesting that you won’t want to leave. Her worldbuilding is fabulous, with so many (effortlessly) diverse and multifaceted cultures and places. In Memories of Ash, the Mage School and the magical wastelands (both mentioned in Sunbolt) are the primary new locations explored, and there are a handful of new characters introduced as well. As with Sunbolt, the characters are varied and well-developed, with Hitomi always at center stage (as she should be). Val isn’t forgotten either, and the ramifications of their alliance (friendship) are further explored and complicate the story.*

    2. Hitomi. 

    I know I used her as one of my reasons for reading Sunbolt, but I’ll shamelessly repeat myself: Hitomi is just the sort of strong heroine that we need more of. She isn’t fearless or invincible, but she’ll go to (believably crazy) lengths to save the people she cares about. In spite of this, she won’t trample people or intentionally cause harm (which creates a few moral quandaries to spice up the plot). She’s moral herself, but she isn’t judgemental, and she is both a likable and relatable young woman. And of course, Memories of Ash just made me love her more.

    3. Consistency rules. 

    When I started Memories of Ash (hereafter known as MoA), I was immediately plunged back into the world of Sunbolt. Khanani’s characters, facts, magic systems, locations, and details are so seamless that you don’t feel disconnected at all. With fantasy, this is pivotal to the reader’s experience of the book.  Characters from Sunbolt mixed with new characters, and at the center, Arch Mage Blackflame seems to have an even more complicated scheme than we all realized

    4. The Writing. 

    This is another point I’ve brought up – but Intisar Khanani’s prose is fluid and beautiful to read. She blends humor, intrigue, and just the perfect amount of description. Her plotting and pace are wonderful, with a good mixture of adventure, action, and a few twists. I could immediately visualize all of the different locations, though the descriptions were never long.

    5. Thorny Morality Questions: Met head-on.

    Have you ever watched an adventure film or read a book and thought “where are the consequences?,” or, “do they even care about collateral damage?” Well, morality (interestingly enough) comes up rather often through the course of Memories of Ash. Hitomi is confronted with several pivotal decisions that make her put her own freedom/safety/happiness up against the lives and livelihood of others. And she doesn’t just make these decisions by flipping a coin or shrugging it off with a “ends justify the means” mentality. It’s refreshing to see a character dealing with the real fallout of their decisions, and Hitomi’s struggles just made me more invested in her.

6. It’s BOOK SIZED.

Did you love Sunbolt, but wish it was longer (I did!)? Memories of Ash is book-length, which takes away my only complaint from Sunbolt. A longer novel was definitely worth the wait, as it allowed Khanani to further develop and enrich the fascinating world and characters.

Did I convince you yet? Then what are you waiting for?! Go purchase a copy (you can download it through Kobo, Nook, or Amazon, or ask your local bookstore to order you a physical copy!**)

Have you read/do you plan to read Memories of Ash and/or Sunbolt? Scroll down for more info and a GIVEAWAY!

Footnotes:

*Don’t you just love complicated relationships (in fiction)? And Hitomi and Val’s whole connection is so interesting to me. I can’t wait to read more about Breathers (yeah, I’ll keep bringing this up . . .)

**I’ll be ordering physical copies for the store I work at!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Info:

Title: Memories of Ash

Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles, Book Two

Author: Intisar Khanani (http://booksbyintisar.com)

Cover Designer: Jenny Zemanek (http://www.seedlingsonline.com/index2.php#!/HOME)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Release Date: May 30, 2016

Publisher: Purple Monkey Press

Price: US $3.99 (eBook), US $TBD (paperback)

Author Bio:

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

 

 

TTT: Top 10 Books That Cracked Me Up

Copyright : The Broke and the Bookish
Copyright : The Broke and the Bookish

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) was too awesome to resist! I love to laugh, as I’ve mentioned before, and there is nothing better than a funny book. Well, except a book that is funny AND really well written. On the other hand, I tend to laugh at things that *shouldn’t* be funny. Morbid humor, parody, and sarcasm = me in a nutshell.

Top 10 Books That Cracked Me Up (with gifs, because, why not?)

1. Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

It goes without saying that any Terry Pratchett book is hilarious. And while Reaper Man made me laugh pretty hard, only Monstrous Regiment has made me laugh so hard I cried. If you have ever read a fantasy (or historical fiction) novel with the heroine disguised as a man, then at least part of this book will make you laugh. After all, it’s mainly about a group of women, disguised as men. Oh, and half of the women are also monsters, disguised as human. And there is one man, by the way, and he’s the only one who convinces anyone he’s a woman when they’re all, you guessed it, disguised as women later on. Confused yet?

2. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl’s drama was one thing that is consistent with both movie and book

Another obvious one – but it’s that funny. From Howl’s dramatic antics, to Sophie’s asides, there’s a reason I reread this one when I’m having a bad day. All of Jones’ novels are pretty funny, but the only one that comes close to HMC’s level of hilarity is The Dark Lord of Derkholm. If you haven’t read it – it’s a parody of fantasy novels, that is a fantasy novel, that manages to make some very good points along the way.

*pathetic*

3. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

One of the parts in the movie that was accurate

While the movie was pretty funny (if rather foul-mouthed), the book is about 50 thousand times more hilarious (and heartbreaking – but equally foul-mouthed). Pat is one of the most interesting, sweet, silly, and unique narrators of any adult novel. He had me alternating between laughing and crying so many times that it was a testament to Matthew Quick’s skill as a writer. Never has Kenny G been so funny, yet so freaky . . .

Another pretty accurate part ;P

4. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Despite the fact that Brosh is (also) sometimes a little foul-mouthed for me, there’s no denying that Hyperbole and a Half is hysterical. From the odd little drawings to the endless musings on the perfection of cake, these comics are relatable and laugh-out-loud funny.

And yes – Brosh is the source of this meme

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This might not be the obvious Gaiman pick, but it made me laugh the hardest. From the sly observations, to the cheeky prose, The Graveyard Book walks the fine line between hilarious and chilling. It’s also heartwarming, despite the fact that most of the characters are ghosts.

6. Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

-That feeling when you die before the save point-

Before there was Sword Art Online, there was a snide little book about a teenage girl who got stuck in a VR fantasy world. She also had to win to escape – but it was a lot less glamorous. Heir Apparent was another book I picked up on vacation when I was a teenager. It’s not the most profound or best written book ever, but it’s still just as funny. Look out for a hilarious parody of every fantasy character type ever. My particular favorite is Sister Mary Ursula – the mystic devotee of everything, who spends a lot of time yakking about becoming one with, uhm, everything. But there are warrior girls in impractical outfits, dangerous princes, deadly barbarians, and lots, and lots, of failures as the heroine tries to beat a ridiculous game.

7. Every book in the Squire’s Tales Series by Gerald Morris

I referenced The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf in a previous list – and while that book is hilarious, the rest of the series is also very funny. From trope trolling to much-needed sense in the King Arthur narrative, Morris does a fantastic job of retelling these stories. There are fairies, knights in disguise, knights who take vows of silence (which he talks about endlessly), and loads of fair (?) maidens. There are sword fights and romances, and lots of absurd lines. Why haven’t you read one yet?

It’s like if the funniest bits of Monty Python were collected in a less crude book

8. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

I’ve mentioned how much I love this play before, so I’ll be brief: it’s really funny, and you should read it often. And the movie versions are all pretty good!

He isn’t in love – he has a toothache. Obviously.

9. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

Imagine waking up with no memory, surrounded by bodies, with a strange letter telling you that you were a high-level supernatural operative, and someone wants you dead. That’s exactly what happens to Myfanwy Thomas. It doesn’t sound funny – but it’s the start of a hilarious yet suspenseful adventure yarn that is also one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. The part where they try to read the oracle – SO FUNNY! Better still, the sequel FINALLY comes out this June!!

10. Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

Ohhhh Haru . . .

The anime is funny, but the manga is even better. The characters range from quirky to downright terrifying – but they’re all pretty hilarious. It’s amazing how mangas can jump from cute to terrifying to hilarious to crazy and back again in a matter of pages . . .

Honorable mentions – The Time Paradox, Piratica, Adulthood is a Myth, Naruto, The Thief, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness . . .

Have you read any of these books, or do you plan to read them? What is one of the funniest books you’ve ever read?

TTT: Top 10 Books I Love but I Just Haven’t Talked About As Much (with quotes!)

toptentuesday
Copyright : The Broke and the Bookish

I know for myself (and probably most of you) that there are tons of books I’ve read that I absolutely loved – I just don’t talk about them as much. So naturally, I had to participate in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (if you don’t know what that is, click here) hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. So let’s get started.

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Mulan = one of the best movies ever.

Top 10 Books I Love (I Just Don’t Talk About Them Much)

  1. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (first read in 2001)

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This is the cover I have

I love Ella Enchanted, but I actually prefer The Two Princesses of Bamarre. I discovered it in a tiny Northern Michigan bookstore when we were on vacation (15 years ago, *cough, cough*). At the age of twelve, I was obsessed with fantasy and still high off of reading through The Lord of the Rings by myself a couple of times (my dad read it to us when we were little). I was also at that stage when you’ve fallen in love with something (in my case, the feeling that LOTR gave me), and you read ravenously, just trying to find that feeling. This is also around when I discovered Robin McKinley and Patricia Wrede, who have remained lifelong favorites as well. Anyhow, this is a story about the bond between two sisters – one who starts out as the classic “hero,” and the other, who becomes a hero. And it was way before Frozen. ;P

“I put my fingers around the unmarked ring of the spyglass and twisted. The scene became clear. 
Oh no! A hairy brown spider clung to a vine! I couldn't go there!
I'd go to the desert to find a dragon. I began to reset the spyglass, but then I stopped myself. A spider was worse than a dragon?
No.
My first monsters would be spiders, then.” 

2. Dragon’s Milk (The Dragon Chronicles) by Susan Fletcher

“The wild creatures of the earth are as milk for the human spirit; to destroy them is to starve our souls.”

I love these covers <3

While Susan Fletcher is better known for Shadow Spinner (another one of my all time favorites), her Dragon Chronicles were some of the books I reread repeatedly growing up. It’s somewhere between MG and YA, as  I recall. The heroine, Kaeldra, is a gawky, awkward girl who gets thrust into a difficult situation – she basically becomes orphaned Draclings (baby dragons) nanny, in a world where dragons are misunderstood and hated. There are two sequels that take place in the same world, and I remember liking them just as much.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

“We have our clothes, some more splendid than others,—this is our credit; but when a man dies he has only his skin;”

Over a thousand gripping pages (really!), The Count of Monte Cristo is an epic adventure and revenge drama with complex characters and intricate morality. Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned, and he swears to get the ultimate revenge on the man who put him there. Will Edmond follow his path to the end, or will his convictions and his fear of Heaven stop him before it’s too late? You’ll have to read it to find out. And if you saw that movie, it left out, well, almost the entire book. Another one of my all-time favorite novels, and a definite influence on my writing. On an interesting side note, the nonfiction book The Black Count (about Dumas’ father-an inspiration for a lot of the Count’s adventures) is also well worth the read.

“There are men who have suffered and who have not only gone on living, but even built a new fortune on the ruins of their former happiness. From the depths into which their enemies have plunged them, they have risen again with such vigor and glory that they have dominated their former conquerors and cast them down in their turn.”

4. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

One of the most beautifully written, lyrical fantasies I have ever read. It’s my favorite one of McKillip’s novels, and the one that made me track down her other novels. Sixteen year-old Sybel is given a baby to raise, even though her only companions up to that point were a fantastical menagerie of creatures. This book is gorgeous, magical, and if you haven’t read it, you should. A strong female lead, enduring themes, and amazing prose – this is one of those “so close to perfect it hurts” novels.

“What do you think love is- a thing to startle from the heart like a bird at every shout or blow? You can fly from me, high as you choose into your darkness, but you will see me always beneath you, no matter how far away, with my face turned to you. My heart is in your heart. I gave it to you with my name that night and you are its guardian, to treasure it, or let it whither and die. I do not understand you. I am angry with you. I am hurt and helpless, but nothing will fill the ache of the hollowness in me where your name would echo if I lost you.”

5. Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

I might have mentioned this book in passing, but I haven’t sung its praises enough. This was the last work Lewis completed, but it started out as one of his earliest projects. Most people know how C. S. Lewis loved Greek Myths and classic literature. Till We Have Faces is the story of Cupid and Psyche told from Psyche’s sister Orual’s perspective. But it isn’t a simple retelling – it’s a complex, dense, thought-provoking, and deeply philosophical novel that thoroughly explores the nature of love itself. Till We Have Faces is nothing you would expect if you’re only familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia – it’s more akin to The Four Loves, or C.S. Lewis’s essays on the power of myths and legends. If I could just take a handful of books to a deserted island, this would be one of them.

“Oh, I can see it happening, age after age, and growing worse the more you reveal your beauty: the son turning his back on the mother and the bride on her groom, stolen away by this everlasting calling, calling, calling of the gods. Taken where we can't follow. It would be far better for us if you were foul and ravening. We'd rather you drank their blood than stole their hearts. We'd rather they were ours and dead than yours and made immortal.” 

6. Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer

“Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.”

Twelve. Millionaire. Genius. Criminal. Artemis Fowl is all of those things. And Eoin Colfer sells it with the writing equivalent of a cheeky grin and a magician’s sleight of hand. One of my favorite middle grade series ever, Artemis Fowl is laugh out loud funny. The characters are hilarious, the plots are crazy, and at the center are the epic odd couple of Artemis and his loyal butler, Butler. Yes – Butler. Butler is the other best thing about these books.

“That was horrible. Horrible. That poor little guy."
Pex was unrepentant. "Yeah, well, he asked for it. Calling us ... all those things."
But---buried alive! That's like in that horror movie. Y'know -- the one with all the horror."
I think I saw that one. With all the words going up on the screen at the end?"
Yeah, that was it. Tell you the truth, those words kinda ruined it for me.”

7. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf (The Squire’s Tales #3) by Gerald Morris

“I said you lie, knave!” shouted Beaumains, drawing his sword. “And for telling such craven falsehoods, you must die!”
The knight looked plaintively at Roger. “What’s wrong with this fellow?”
He was dropped on his head when he was a baby,” answered Roger.”

This book is hysterical – even if you haven’t read the Arthurian original that it reinterprets (The Kitchen Knight). I loved every book in this series, but this one is a definite stand out. It takes Arthurian story constructs and constants, and turns them completely on their heads, all while keeping the basic story intact. With its witty, sharp-tongued heroine, a dash of faeries, crazy characters, and of course, the aforementioned sense of humor, this is another book I’ve read repeatedly.

8Sorcery & Cecelia: or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

“I am determined to have the headache Thursday, if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it.”

Manners, Magic, and Mayhem

The concept behind this book is positively brilliant: two writers decided to write letters to each other, assuming the characters of Regency girls with magical aptitude. Their letters became this delightful light fantasy novel that mixes Jane Austen with Diana Wynne Jones’ style magic and hilarity. The sequel, The Grand Tour is equally funny, and highly recommended.

“She probably enjoys cutting up everyone's happiness. Not to mention cutting up other parts of people; given her penchant for poisoning people and turning them into beech trees, I fail to see how she has reached thirty without leaving a trail of bodies behind her.” 

9. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

While I’ve mentioned my affection for Pearl’s writing, I doubt I’ve praised this book enough. Dante’s Inferno is a favorite of mine, and this historical novel surrounds the translation of the Inferno made by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Oh, and there’s murder most foul, as well.* But who doesn’t like to watch a group of middle-aged writers solve a murder, all while being terribly literary?

“The force of Dante's poetry resonated most in those who did not confess the Catholic faith, for believers would inevitably have quibbles with Dante's theology. But for those most distant theologically, Dante's faith was so perfect, so unyielding, that a reader found himself compelled by the poetry to take it all to heart.”

10. The Kestrel (Westmark Trilogy #2) by Lloyd Alexander

The dedication in this book: “To those who know they are only human, but strive to be nothing less.”

Lloyd Alexander is another author I’ve touched on at times – with his excellent Prydain Chronicles being one of my favorite MG fantasy series ever. I’ve also named off Westmark in passing. But The Kestrel is one of the first, and best YA novels (that I have read) to deal with the trauma of war and fighting (especially for causes you believe in). Theo, the young printer’s devil from the first book, convincingly transforms into the Kestrel, a fearsome warrior and bogeyman to haunt the enemies dreams. Humanity, hatred, fear, rage- this book covers it all, in a surprisingly slim package. There are touches of Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities (two more of my all-time favorite novels), but it’s an easier read. Not convinced? Read this excellent review and see if it changes your mind.

Well, if nothing else, I’ve learned that I need a shelf just for silly fantasy novels (I hadn’t realized what a great favorite they were of mine until I started working on this list!)

Have you read any of these books, or do you intend to?

What are some favorite books that you don’t mention enough?

Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani – COVER REVEAL!!! (+ Release Date, Preorder Info, and More!)

If you’ve followed me (or even just stopped by my blog), you might have noticed how much I loved the fantasy novella Sunbolt, by indie author Intisar Khanani. You can read my review of Sunbolt here. So, naturally, when I heard there was going to be a sequel soon, I was super excited. I have the distinct privilege of participating in a cover reveal today for Memories of Ash, and keep reading for an interview with Intisar Khanani and info on pre-ordering the book!

I’m excited to have Intisar Khanani on the blog today, revealing the cover for her newest novel Memories of Ash. This cover was designed by the amazing Jenny of Seedlings Design Studio. There’s also a Kindle Fire giveaway, so make sure to scroll down to the end of the post to enter.

Describe Memories of Ash in 3 words.

IK: Walk with courage.

What compelled you to write your first book?

IK: I always wanted to write a novel, so my senior year of university I decided I’d better buckle down and try. I chose a fairy tale (The Goose Girl) to give me an over-arching plot and narrative structure, and then went to town with it. I really wrote it as an exercise to test myself, not intending to do anything with it when I finished. But, by the time I finished, I loved my characters so much that I ended up working through over a dozen revisions to take it from “writing exercise” to my debut novel, Thorn.

If you could live in one of your books, which one would you choose?

IK: Definitely the world of the Sunbolt Chronicles. Sunbolt follows Hitomi, a street thief with a propensity to play hero when people need saving, and her nemesis, the dark mage who killed her father. Although there is a lot of darkness in Sunbolt, there’s also a lot of light. It’s a real world, in its way, and I love the diversity and vibrancy of the cultures and creatures that populate it. I’d have my choice of living in a tropical island sultanate reminiscent of historic Zanzibar, or among the nomadic desert tribes that eke out an existence alongside the cursed Burnt Lands, to name my two favorite options. Then again, in Memories of Ash, there’s the decaying grandeur of the capitol of a fallen empire that feels a lot like an Istanbul of old, right at the heart of the Eleven Kingdoms. Plus, I wouldn’t mind having shape-shifting friends and charms to keep my bread from burning.

What authors, or books, have influenced you?

IK: As a young duckling, I imprinted on Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley’s earlier works. I read pretty widely, but those are the authors I kept coming back to, especially McKinley’s Damar books. I am also an incorrigible Jane Austen fan, but my books don’t reflect that very much!

What are you reading now?

IK: I just finished “Kingdom of Ruses” by Kate Stradling. In a kingdom where the eternal prince who rules is just a ruse kept up by the prime minister’s family (and most recently, Viola, our heroine), keeping the peace is a delicate thing. Enter a stranger who manages to take the place of the doppelgänger the family uses, and Viola has her hands full.

Your first reaction to the cover in GIF format.

 

And here it is…

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“In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.”

Kobo Pre-order | Apple Store Pre-orderAmazon Pre-order | Barnes & Noble Pre-order | Add it to GoodReads

A Special Treat For Those Who Pre-order…

Not only is the pre-order of Memories of Ash on sale for only 99 cents, but anyone who buys the pre-order will receive a free digital art print of Hitomi by artist Grace Fong. Just email your proof of purchase to moapreorder@gmail.com!

Haven’t read Sunbolt (Book 1) yet? It’s been knocked down to just 99 cents to celebrate the release and is available at most major e-retailers. That’s two fantastic books for less than your morning coffee. And don’t forget to check with your local, independent bookstore to see if they can order Sunbolt for you. (I have a physical copy and it’s beautiful!)

MoA_PreOrder Special

About Intisar Khanani

Khanani_Author_PhotoIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

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Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (and Why You Should Read It)

My avalanche of 1-3 star reads finally stopped this last weekend, when I picked up Ryan Graudin‘s Wolf by Wolf. Thank you to Little Brown and Co. Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group for this ARC! (Wolf by Wolf will be available October 6th, 2015) Note: Cover and quote might not be final.

Love this cover.
“These were the names she whispered in the dark.
These were the pieces she brought back into place.
These were the wolves she rode to war.” 

I read The Walled City earlier this year, and really enjoyed it. Wolf by Wolf was better, with a tighter story and more developed main characters.  Like with TWC, Wolf by Wolf takes actual history for its inspiration. But this time, there’s a fantasy twist. Here’s a rundown for you:

 

Set in an alternate 1956, Wolf by Wolf imagines a world where the Axis powers reign triumphant, and their victorious alliance is celebrated each year by a cross-country motorcycle race. The 1955 victor was the only girl, Adele Wolfe, and she had a rare opportunity to dance with Hitler himself after winning the race. That up-close look at the elusive Führer is one that resistance groups would gladly die for. But it seems impossible.

Yael, a young resistance member, just might be able to make the impossible happen. A Jewish girl who survived terrible experiments and escaped from concentration camp, Yael can skin-shift, altering her appearance to resemble any girl she has seen. If she can imitate Adele Wolfe, infiltrate the race, and win, Yael might get close enough for a second Operation Valkyrie.

Yael has been trained to fight and survive, and she has spent the last year practicing both racing and imitating Adele Wolfe down to the tiniest detail, but there are two major problems: Luka, who has a bitter romantic history with Adele, and much more serious, Adele’s twin brother Felix. Yael will have to fool them both, and defeat them along with all of the other competitors, if she wants to complete her mission.

 

Alternate history, what-ifs, human experiments, motorcycles, infiltration, how could this not sound amazing? But all that aside, this was a strong novel with an epic concept. And here are five reasons you should read it:

1. Yael. I loved Yael so much. A little Winter Soldier and all survivor, she was sympathetic, hardcore, and brave. She (understandably) had a hard time trusting others, but she wasn’t afraid to love or feel for the people in her past. She wanted to think well of people, and she put her mission ahead of her own interests.

Also, I loved her interactions with Adele’s brother Felix. Felix was brave, adorable, and loyal and Yael really didn’t know how to handle this. Humor, and some surprisingly touching moments, resulted from this. (But she’s not Adele, so, ouch!)

2. The story. I really enjoyed the movie Valkyrie, and I find revolution/resistance novels tend to resonate with me. Wolf by Wolf was definitely character centered, with Yael’s inner war against the Axis ideals, and what it took from her, taking more of the focus than the overall plot. Also, the fact that Yael was Jewish, while important to the story, wasn’t shoved in your face. Likewise with a cast of mainly German and Japanese teens.

3. Alternate history. Though Graudin definitely had to bend and shape history to her story, she did a great job of projecting how the world might have looked if things were different. From the tensions between Germany and Japan, to the disinterest of the US, to the eventual fall of Britain, it felt like she put a lot of time and thought (and research) into this historical fantasy novel.

4. The skin-shifting. I guess this relates to #1. I loved how the story just went with this slightly outrageous premise. I mean, scheming Nazi scientists? But it just worked, and the shifting was worked into the greater themes and character development. Also, Yael’s ability reminded me a bit of X-Men’s Mystique. Yael had similar identity problems due to always wearing someone else’s face. Also like Mystique, she tended to distance herself from her feelings and thoughts because of this.

5. Nothing was neat, tidy, or easy. Everything from the motorcycle race, to the ending, to Yael herself unraveled a bit. There was no quick fix. Especially when it came to playing Adele while dealing with Luka and Felix. Yael was always teetering toward failure, and I really wasn’t sure (till the end) how things would pan out. That’s a rare occurrence.

Minor Quibbles:

Yes, I loved this book so much, but I did have a few tiny issues. Like with TWC, the characters (other than Yael) were a bit thin for my liking. In particular, I would have liked to read more about the Japanese racers (there was some, but I wanted more).

Luka was a James Dean meets Thor type, and I wasn’t particularly interested in reading about him, but that’s purely personal. However, I did like how Yael handled his interactions with “Adele.” Talk about an interesting situation there.

Other than that, this was one of my favorite books this year, and I am so thrilled that she is writing a sequel! The fallout from the ending just begs another round, and Yael is a heroine I would gladly read a series about.

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars. An exciting alternate history with a strong heroine, lots of action, and a fascinating premise. Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Valkyrie, The Scorpio Races, The Maze Runner, Code Name Verity and X-Men.

Tale as Old as Time

The timeless appeal of an enchanted dude with an awesome library . . .

It’s a truth to be universally acknowledged- we love Beauty and the Beast – whether it’s the Disney movie or a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth. 

Even at its most subversive, the story is still powerful. And it really is a “tale as old as time,” with hundreds of similar stories found in cultures all over the world.* Sometimes, the story is even found in the real world (it’s certainly more common than Cinderella!)

I was thinking about this as I finished my latest read, the (excellent) Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodges. I had finished numerous novels in the past three months, and [at least] four of them were basically retellings of Beauty and the Beast. 
I decided to look at my Goodreads page and see just how many distinct retellings I had read, and came up with over thirty. There were the straight up retellings, and the ones that were too close to leave out. There were also stories that were basically the same thing, just hidden under other plot threads (i.e. Jane Eyre).** If you think about it, Pride and Prejudice could even fall into this category (“beastly” guy, spirited and intelligent heroine who has to make personal sacrifices/lose everything before she wins his hand, etc.)

In its most basic form, the “Beauty and the Beast” story is this: 

1. We have a girl who is smart and principled (but not always physically beautiful or moral, per se. The ‘Beauty’ can refer to her mind or strength of spirit).
2. And whether she is naturally so (or forced by circumstances), she sacrifices herself for a lapse in judgement (hers, her parents, etc), and gives herself as a “bride” or a “gift/sacrifice” to a Beast.
3. The Beast is often a prince in animal form, but he might be a god or minor deity. The reason for his “Beast” form is one of two: either he was “beastly” in nature and offended a powerful woman, or he (or someone close to him) is testing his bride.
4. How it pans out here is always a little different, but either the girl fails the test and gets to go through trials to reclaim the beast (that she has grown to love), or she leaves and comes back at some personal loss (there always has to be a sacrifice) and her love restores his human form/proves she’s worthy to be his wife.

Somehow the story never gets boring.

So here are a few standouts:

Favorite Retelling: This is hard! Probably Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis, with Robin McKinley’s Beauty as a very close second.

Worst Retelling: Beastly, by Alex Flinn

With Scottish Highlands and a Werewolf: By These Ten Bones by Claire Dunkle

When the Beast Doesn’t Get the Girl: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

More Like Tam Lin (basically the same story): The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Where the Girl is the One Under a Curse, and the Guy is Beastly Anyway: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Needless to say, there are a bunch of retellings that I’ve never read. And I will probably never get sick of them (and I’ve written a few of my own!). If you’re interested in the more scholarly look at Cupid and Psyche, there are some good essays here.

So do you have a favorite Beauty and the Beast/Cupid & Psyche retelling? Do you think the library scene (in Disney’s B & B) is basically the best Disney scene ever? Sound off in the comments, and brownie points for retellings that I’ve never heard of.

Footnotes:
*SurLaLune Fairy Tale Blog has a nice list of variations here.
**There is a huge list of B & B retellings on Goodreads.

“In Which I Am Flummoxed by Beach Reads (and Excel at Creative Procrastination)” – A Love Letter (not the title of a Panic! at the Disco song)

All of the images in this post are copyrighted and belong to their respective owners. I am making zero money off of this blog, and off of them. And MARVEL, if you ever see this. I love you.

I could say that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of New York. That would be true. 

I could also say that it’s because I’ve been crazy busy since I got back, which is also true. However, I’ve been avoiding the Internet because I’ve been trying to read as many books that could possibly pass for beach reads as possible.

Confession: I never read at the beach, I swim

Confession: I have no real idea what people read at the beach

I assume it’s a lot like what people read on vacation, but I’m not sure. When I’m on vacation, I’ll read whatever I was reading before I was on vacation, be it an ARC from work or a dry tome on genetic engineering, or whatever subject I happen to be researching for a novel.

Anyhow, I’m supposed to be writing reviews and recommending beach reads. Not for my blog, but for the women’s magazine that I contribute to on a monthly basis. It’s aimed at professional Michigan women of diverse tastes, so I always try for maximum variety in my book suggestions. This is great: it makes me read outside of my normal taste zone, and makes me better at my job (bookselling!). I really do understand that not everyone has reread The Lord of the Rings almost every year, and even more so, I understand that not everyone wants to read gritty, post apocalyptic novels with gallows humor and dry social commentary.* This is a wonderful thing-we are all different.

So today I had the day off from my real job, and I made myself stay home and read. This sounds wonderful, until you realize that I was trying to read about ten different books that I had zero interest in. They were not bad books. Someone would be interested in them. That someone was not me.

I succeeded in finishing a couple, which is a testament to the writers’ skills. I can freely add these to my recommended beach reads, no reservations. But now that I am sitting at the computer, I don’t feel like writing reviews at all. I’d rather work on my current project-a post apocalyptic humor/adventure novel that is silly and snarky and full of duels (wits and weapons), sci-fi tech, criminals, and coffee love.

Or I could be watching Daredevil (the Netflix series, not that dreadful movie). I only have 1.5 episodes left, and I am constantly distracted from what I am doing by wondering what will happen in that finale. It is pathetic.

But this post was not supposed to be about Daredevil.

I Googled beach reads (I do this every time), and found the answers unsatisfactory and banal: Gone Girl,** Beautiful Ruins,***The Notebook, ****The Fault in Our Stars*****

I could go on, but you could probably fill in the rest of this list with most of the pop book hits of the past decade. Some of the suggestions were interesting (And the Mountains Echoed and Where’d You Go Bernadette? for example, both of which are on my to-read list). But the problem was, even the interesting ones aren’t sitting on my floor, waiting to be grabbed. So I considered going to the library.

But no, I was wearing holey jeans and a scrub top******and I didn’t want to change. [As excuses go, this is pretty bad, but there you go]

I also knew that when I got to the library, I would see all the shiny books, forget which ones I wanted, and grab shinies like a magpie in a silver shop. And they would be about monsters, or chosen ones, or ninja assassins, or flying people. They would not be books that land on Real Simple‘s beach reads, or even BuzzFeed.

I try to limit myself to only one book about ^^^^^ per month. Variety, remember?

So instead, I starting reading a book about a woman who was fifty-six and had a falling out with her daughter about a television show. There was architecture, and family drama, and there were bizarrely attractive men sprouting out of the ground, like daisies (not exactly, but you get the point).

And I thought “How is this any more plausible than Harry Potter? How are these financially stable, uber-talented, attractive and successful people any more relatable than Bilbo Baggins or Elizabeth Bennet?

Answer: No. They are not.

I am twenty-six. I work at a bookstore. I write books, read books, and will watch (almost) anything MARVEL. I live with my sister, and if I don’t budget scrupulously, I will not be able to pay my rent or buy food. I chain-drink tea and coffee, and sometimes I wear make-up.

Of the above characters, I relate the most to Bilbo. He’s cranky, he lives in a hole, and he’s enamored with elves [see my other posts]. I love adventures, but I am usually burned out before I embark on one, and decide to stay home instead. I have waited roughly twenty years for a stubborn wizard and a pack of dwarves to show up, but if they did, I would probably be a perfect beast, and if they raided my (lean) pantry, I would be irate. But I would go with them anyway.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about me, and if you are still reading, you get a gold star. 

But back to the point (I know there was a point): all novels are fantasy!

And before you wave that super-realistic holycrapsorelatable! thisbookjustgotme! or that thisbookissogritty! sorealandraw! can’tyoujustfeelthedirtthroughthepages,man? at me, hear me out. (I’ll restrict myself to two examples)

EXAMPLE 1: I have never met a bizarrely attractive man in my life (sorry, every man I have ever met). They might exist, but they don’t grow out of the ground, fall from the sky, hang out in my library, or live anywhere near me.*******In fact, sometimes I suspect that they are brewed in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D facility. And the women in the book never seem to notice that this is strange and unusual, instead they spend pages staring at the guy in excruciating, TMI, cringe-inducing detail . . .

AND DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON UNREALISTIC WOMEN! THIS IS OLD NEWS AND HAS BEEN HOTLY DEBATED ELSEWHERE. I am specifically addressing the book I just read.

EXAMPLE 2: Most twenty-somethings through thirty-somethings that I know are:
A. Back in school because paper DECREES they need more if they want to get their dream job
B. Only wish that they were financially secure enough to have their own studio/fancy car/condo/dream house
C. Have student loans
D. They are married/engaged-to [if they aren’t single] absolutely normal (wonderful) people who aren’t secretly spies/master hackers/wizards/billionaires or whatever, and would never concoct schemes to kill them [this is something I’m sure we’re all grateful for].

So those are examples directly addressed to the contemporary realistic fiction that I just read. There are more, but I could write an essay and I have not done enough research for that. I need way more footnotes, and quotations.

But my point remains: regardless of why or what you read, all fiction is fiction, and all fiction is fantasy of a sorts.


Even if we lived a world where we got Hogwarts letters or visits from Gandalf, we’d have to obey the rules of that world, just like ours. I always think about this while reading Jasper Fforde’s lovably loony Thursday Next series. They are crazy and chaotic and wonderful, and I would love to live in them. But what if that meant I couldn’t have other worlds too? What if books there weren’t books here? Call me crazy, but I’m a writer, and this is the sort of thing I like to consider when I’m supposed to be writing reviews.

If you had to give up every book you’d ever read, and the whole world you’ve experienced, but you could have a totally uncertain life in a book-world of your choosing [no guarantees that you would survive, meet Mr/Mrs. Right, be chosen for an adventure, etc], would you actually do it?

Think about it.

Say what you will, we read for a lot of reasons. To know that we’re not alone (you saw that coming, I’m sure). To experience things we’d never want to (really, who wants to be kidnapped and slung over an enemy horse, headed to who knows what terrible fate?). For sheer entertainment. But at the end of the day, if the book is scary, or miserable, or crazy, we can leave. It is the ultimate no-strings relationship. Books never ask for anything, but they give a lot. And after the book, there are people to talk about it with, there is an author to doggedly follow (stalk), and there are often feelings to deal with. There are Pinterest boards and Tumblr posts, and whole websites to make.

I love fantasy-as-a-genre because it is shameless. It says, “this isn’t real, but I can make you believe it.” It challenges your perceptions of reality, and often exposes deep, universal themes and truth. And it is fun.

But I will not force anyone to read it.

And because I know that not every successful, professional woman would like to read about monster hunting, I will read more books about successful, professional women. I will evaluate writing and plots and characters, and be better able to relate to more people.

All of this will help me as a bookseller (and I hope, as a person). But when I finally hit “send” on those reviews, I will dig under my bed for the first book with a monster or a wizard on the cover, and I will forgive every single overly-gifted orphan or bizarrely attractive man, and it will be wonderful.

So, do you have any good “beach reads” to recommend? Do you believe a beach read is anything more than just a book you bring to a beach?

 And how do you feel about the fantasy genre? Do you think that all novels are fantasy novels? Have you ever met a bizarrely attractive man, or are all your twenty-something acquaintances financially stable and ridiculously accomplished? I NEED TO KNOW

FOOTNOTES:
*I honestly love books like this. That may mean I have issues. But even I get tired of them sometimes.
**Really? I couldn’t stand that book. I figured it out by chapter three, then made it through pages of vomit-inducing characters to find out that I had been right about the plot all along, and that there was no plot twist at all. Made me so mad.
***Sooooo boring. We read it for book club. It was sentimental and full of annoying characters and I Just. Didn’t. Care.
****Never read Nicholas Sparks. Never seen one of his movies. Never plan to. But I know why Ryan Gosling is iconic.
*****Preposterous, pretentious, sentimental, and over-rated. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and yes, I read it for book club. I felt horrible because I was the only one present who hadn’t felt a thing the whole novel.
******I do not work in the medical field. My dad had to wear scrubs when I was born, and he gave me the top as a momento (sweet, huh?). No, I don’t look good in them.
*******In this respect, I refuse to believe they exist until I’ve seen one. Not on TV. In real life. If they are hiding in basements, I don’t think I want to meet them.