Fly, Fly Again

January 7, 2020 at 4:56 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Fly, Fly Again

Authors: Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson

Illustrator: Tammie Lyon

Genre: Children’s Storybook/ Picture Book

First and foremost, kiddo and I were blown away that Buzz Aldrin–THE BUZZ ALDRIN–wrote the foreword for this picture book. How cool is that? (My father, an engineer alum of the same university as Aldrin, was pretty impressed as well. Frequently, he reads my kiddo picture books and comments about how children’s publishing has “come a long way.”)

Reminiscent of The Questioneers series (of which we have every title!) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Jaffe and Lawson’s new book encourages critical thinking skills, creative wonder, and diligence to pursue dreams.

Kiddo loved the story, she’s nine, and still enjoys the magic of a children’s storybook even though she’s also reading chapter books now. She’s heard me quote “Try, Try Again” her whole life and learned to read on McGuffey’s which includes the poem in its reading exercises, so there was a genuine snicker when Hawk raised his feather and included the play on words, “If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again!”

“It is a great book, no one can doubt that. The airplane design [in the illustrations] is amazing. But you still can’t put that many people and pets into a wagon WITH a motor,” Kiddo told me. She is now monologuing design flaws, propellor safety, and superior ways to attempt this project. I think the book has done exactly its job: spiked STEM thinking.

Fly, Fly Again is a new favorite we plan to read often.

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Top 10 of 2019

January 3, 2020 at 7:03 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Top Ten – 2019

  1. Hard Road West: History and Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail – Keith Heyer Meldahl
  2. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo – Tom Reiss
  3. The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World – Abigail Tucker
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  5. The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood – Barb Bentler Ullman
  6. The Forest for the Trees – Betsy Lerner
  7. Warriors of the Storm & The Flame Bearer – Bernard Cornwell
  8. The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney
  9. Alloy of Law – Brandon Sanderson
  10. George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution – Brian Kilmeade

First off, I read over 120 books this year. The numbers between 120 and 130 get hazy, because I read a lot out loud to my kid and try not to include picture books in the numbers, but we still occasionally review picture books on Goodreads. Combined, my daughter and I are also halfway through a dozen books or so (some read alouds, some audiobooks, some books that I’m actually just reading to myself). Out of the 120 these are the books I chose for my top ten. They’re sort of in order, but don’t hold me to it. My ranking system may be moody at best. Everything in the top ten list, however, I will read again, and never give up my copy (or will purchase new copies if I do), if I can help it.

Hard Road West is a history and geology book. For a geologist to make me laugh while reading, and want to make plans to re-read the book again and again, that’s not just something, but something worthy of a Number One spot.

The Black Count is a riveting depiction of an era and author everyone should read, especially in the racially charged climate which we currently reside. It shows that there are always racist turds and always kind people that get along, regardless of policies and customs. It gives an in depth study of Dumas and why and how he wrote the sort of stories that intrigue us hundreds of years later. Rich in content and writing style, I’m putting this on my kid’s high school reading list.

The Lion in the Living Room is a spunky account of felines. Thorough, scientific, and enjoyable, this journalistic presentation of the most common house pet and city pest is completely engrossing.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine surprised me. I’m not known for picking up “new” books, contemporary New York Times bestsellers, while they’re still considered somewhat current. Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick (as cute as I think the actress is) would usually be a turn off for me. Typically I wait to read these sorts of things until I nab them in clearance years after the excitement has died down. Usually I read them and think, that was nice, and set it aside. Water for Elephants is a prime example: Enjoyable, but I’d probably only read it again if I was stuck in a waiting room, without reading material, and it happened to be left behind by someone else. Gruen is actually excellent waiting room material. But Eleanor Oliphant captivated me from the first page. As someone who is known to have some Asperger markers and has suffered from PTSD, I found myself reading Eleanor’s internal monologues (in the beginning, much less later in the book) and thinking, YES! Eleanor is definitely a distinct character, all her own, who also manages to be extremely relatable. I was surprised I loved the book so much. I am still surprised it has resonated with me for months. I’m even more surprised it has made it to my annual top ten list.

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood completely captivated my daughter and I. It doesn’t have nearly as much fairy wonderland as you’d expect from the marketing, dealing more with life issues of the little girl who can see Nutfolk Wood, but it was exactly what we needed when we needed it. We purchased and enjoyed the sequel as well, and I would love to read more by this fairly obscure children’s author.

The Forest for the Trees is possibly one of the most motivational writing books I’ve ever read, aside from On Writing by Stephen King. I loved reading Lerner’s experience with authors from her unique perch as an editor. Her whole career actually fascinated me, and motivated me to get more word counts per day, and clean up my manuscripts in a timely fashion. That being said, I’m still a typical writer and I missed my own self imposed deadline this Christmas. Pushing for February and praying for my publishing house in all they deal with!

Warrior of the Storm and The Flame Bearer are Bernard Cornwell books I read this year. It’s unfair to give them their own lines as they belong to the Saxon Tales series (my favorite) and will push everything off the list always! My love for this series knows no bounds and I can’t wait to finish the series and start over from the beginning. I wrote Nancy & Uhtred as a love of the series letter to Bernard Cornwell and my dream is still for him to one day read my little novelette, because his books truly move me.

The Woman Who Would Be King is a speculative biography on Hatshepsut. I’m fascinated by Hatshepsut and have read two or three biographies on her this year. I’ve read biographies on her in the past as well. I’m completely convinced it was she who pulled Moses from the river and I have a life long mission to read everything scholarly ever written on or about the woman.

Alloy of Law is just down right fun. Can we all just come out and say it together? Brandon Sanderson is amazing, his books are amazing, and he’s the best fantasy writer currently writing fantasy. And he’s so diligent, he actually puts out books regularly. Mistborn is possibly my favorite adult fantasy series of all time. I know, those are dangerous words when Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings captured my heart for decades, but Sanderson’s working is not to be taken lightly or dismissed. His books will become longstanding classics. I did prefer the original series to what I’ve read of this second trilogy, but I think that’s just a matter of personal preference, not writing or storytelling ability.

George Washington’s Secret Six is the story that inspired the tv show Turn. I love American Revolutionary history. Our nation’s foundation is pretty intense and Kilmeade is a great storyteller to armchair (or backyard hammock) historians. His work can be easily passed to upper middle school and high school students, and I’d like to read them all.

Honorable Mentions (or the books that would be included in a top 20 list, in no particular order):

Grayson – Lynne Cox

The Lost for Words Bookshop – Stephanie Butland

The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France – Eric Jager

The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia – Laura Miller

Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith – Natasha Crain

Leviathan Wakes – James S.A. Corey

Trouble is a Friend of Mine – Stephanie Tromley

Founder, Fighter, Saxon, Queen: Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians – Margaret C. Jones

Matilda Bone – Karen Cushman

Byzantium: the Early Centuries – John Julius Norwich

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From Books… Adventure

December 6, 2019 at 4:48 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

A Romp Through John Oehler’s latest: Ex Libris

I’ve been reading John Oehler’s books for years now. My first introduction to his books was Aphrodesia in August of 2013. I remember being naively surprised by how much a book could make me blush. After I met in the author in person at a Half Price Books event I had coordinated, I promised myself I’d read every book he ever wrote. Oehler is endearing, kind, and fun to be around, something you don’t necessarily expect out of someone who writes the kind of thrillers that win him awards.

Oehler writes adventures for people who want to travel, his books are rich with globetrotting and exotic locations. For someone who rarely leaves my armchair, that’s a big part of my reading experience desires, and for this reason, Papyrus is probably my favorite of his work.

His books are also full of lavish descriptions compacted into succinct sentences like this one from Ex-Libris:

“The confessional felt like an upright coffin. Beyond the grate, a balding priest with a hooked nose stared straight ahead, his wrinkled face more stern than compassionate.”

Just released in September, Ex-Libris is Oehler’s latest novel to date and one Amazon reviewer has already praised it for its “dangerous characters with just a taste of whimsy.”

The book does indeed have a full cast of badasses with their own personal dynamics. Paulette and Martine have my favorite dialogues, clever Doctor Who style companions to our hero, Dan.

If you liked Ludlum’s Bourne Identity, you’ll appreciate Oehler’s fight sequences, political intrigue, and consistent tension.

Some reviewers compare Ex-Libris to Dan Brown’s popular Da Vinci Code series. I have never read Brown’s books, and I would have preferred to read more antiquarian bibliophile geeking out and theological analysis theories— where other reviewers thought there was already too much of this. It just goes to show, you can’t please everyone, even when you’re a stellar genre writer.

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Ryan Swindoll Interview

November 28, 2019 at 3:53 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

You did the cover art for Lost Legends, it’s beautiful. Have you designed other book covers?

I’ve designed a handful of covers, yes! I got my start in print design for Grafted Life Ministries, branding the books in their catalog. When our fearless anthologist Adam D. Jones’ recruited me for The Lost Legends, I took the plunge into fiction, so you might say this is my genre debut.

With The Lost Legends, it delighted me to explore the classy aged appeal of art deco in the unusual visual context of folk magic. I think the cover evokes the same eclectic feel that characterizes the stories inside.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug Adam’s newly released novel Marshal Law, which I also designed. The cover takes inspiration from science fiction westerns, but without the photorealism or lonely protagonist look so common in the genre. We wanted a fresh direction for the cover that provoked the imagination.

As a writer, I’ve heard you usually prefer writing science fiction; what inspired the The Problem With Elves and Tavernfall?

One of the boons of writing science fiction is that it need not be future-specific. When Adam approached me about contributing to his fantasy anthology, I saw a personal challenge to blend the setting of medieval magic with stories of alien encounters.

“Tavernfall” was born of a simple thought experiment: what would a medieval era conspiracy theorist have looked like? Not (merely) the town drunk or the madman in stocks, but the scholarly type. What could they have said to convince you that, say, all of human history was secretly the plot to the Lord of the Rings? I pulled out my old college notes in history and theater, and the story practically wrote itself.

I found writing “The Problem with Elves” more difficult. It began with a literal dream I had about an alien abduction, wherein they forced me to listen to a timeshare presentation. It was hilarious, but lacked substance. When I stumbled upon Grandmother’s mysterious epitaph, “Never throw out a rotten egg–I never did,” the whole story opened up. I was able to follow the protagonist’s relationship with Grandmother to its unconventional end. And we got fart magic out of the deal. Sweet.

You have two short stories included in Lost Legends, do you find short stories to be easier or more difficult to write than longer fictions?

I do find short stories easier, but all of writing is difficult. It just takes a long time.

What other things do you have publication?
Nothing yet! But working on a science fiction novel about an alien family that crash lands on a robot world, and the trouble that ensues because the robots don’t know the first thing about children, biology, or toilets. I have no idea how I’m going to market it.

You have a great sense of humor, have you always been clever and funny, or is it a skill honed over time? What were your favorite books as a child and how do you think they contributed to your wit?

I’ll never forget reading The Boxcar Children and getting far enough into the book series that the primary author changed–and all of a sudden, characters were “chuckling.” I remember reading on the toilet and thinking, “These people never chuckled before, and now they’re chuckling twice per page.” I never read another boxcar child after that.

I’m sure that answers your question.

Stephen King wrote in On Writing that writers should read a lot to keep their technical and creative tool box full. What are your favorite “tool box” books?

I enjoy James Scott Bell’s book The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Easy to scan, read, or dive in.

Of your stories in the anthology, are there any you anticipate seeing spin off into other work?

I’ve heard rumors. If I could wish feature-length stories out of the anthology, I’d want to see more of the world in “The Luck Stone,” “Death of a Young Mage,” “The Door,” and “The Candlemaker.” Each story felt like a peep into a much larger world.

If The Lost Legends were to become a Netflix Original or Amazon Prime series, who would your ideal cast be for The Problem With Elves?

Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things fame would be a ringer for our fourteen-year-old protagonist. Grandmother is more difficult, but for some reason I like the idea of Octavia Spencer in the role. Good with her eyebrows, I think.

With your obvious artistic ability and creativity, do you plan to create bookmarks or other such “swag” to go with copies of the book that fans could buy?

At our release party, I distributed limited edition “I survived The Lost Legends release party” bookmarks, with quotes from the book attributed to the after-party, like “We were lit, all of us, and especially me.” If fans want to buy swag, I see no reason to deprive them.

What are you thankful for this week and how are you celebrating the holidays?

I am certainly thankful for my health, which falls under constant threat from having young boys. I’m also thankful for said boys and the endless inspiration of their wonder. And my wife, who listens to my monologuing. And my God, who also listens to my monologuing, and surprises me with a treasury of meaningful discoveries when I write.

I think I’ll be celebrating the holidays with a dismembered turkey, a nap, and a writing deadline. Should be fun!

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Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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Justice Gone

November 9, 2019 at 4:27 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Justice and police dramas have been hot topics for what seems to be my entire life. From Law and Order being popular on television, to John Grisham being all the rage for most of my adolescence; and now, in my adulthood, police brutality and Blue Lives Matter is constantly on the news. So it’s not surprising that a crime novel about the judicial system and police murders would win awards.

N. Lombardi Jr. is the author of Justice Gone, a courtroom thriller published on February 22, 2019 (which just so happens to be mine and George Washington’s birthday). After some googling, I discovered that Lombardi “has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).” (Noveldelights.com)

Within mere months of publication, Justice Gone had already won three awards:

  • National Indie Excellency Award
  • American Fiction Awards
  • Silver Medal Winner, Readers’ Favorite

And most recently added the New York City Big Book Award to its lengthy honors.

That’s pretty impressive. And reading the book, it’s obvious why Justice Gone has received so much attention. Lombardi has tackled the genre with the same fast-paced finesse that intrigued readers all over the world in 1989 with A Time to Kill.

The first in what will possibly be a series featuring the character Dr. Tessa Thorpe, Justice Gone reminded me a bit of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley books, primarily regarding my stress level while reading. Books like this are emotionally intense, and must be tackled in the right mood for someone like me who has moved on from voraciously reading the bloody suspense of Nelson Demille (between the ages of 12 to 22) to cozy mysteries featuring crochet, coffee, and craft shops at the ripe old age of 35 (complete with fuzzy socks and glasses sliding down my nose).

Justice Gone would be excellent fodder for a feisty book club: homelessness issues, the criminal justice system, thoughts on PTSD, even addiction and recovery methods… there are so many rabbit trails of heated debates waiting to happen. Have the wine ready and let the rabid discussions begin!

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Marshal Law Hits the Shelves

November 9, 2019 at 12:57 am (Interviews, Press Release) (, , , , , , , )

Marshal Law is live on Amazon as a paperback, an e-book, and for anyone with Kindle Unlimited… Check it out.

This is a fantasy novel…but it’s a little different. Tell us about that.

Marshal Law is a fantasy story, but it looks like a western. It takes place on a world with two suns, which makes most of the planet a dry desert. So it’s a magic story set in a frontier world.

How does magic work in this frontier world?

Strange stones can be found deep underground, and there are various ways to coax power out of them. Some use these stones to build powerful machines, but there are rumors of men using them to perform wondrous deeds.

What’s your favorite part of Marshal Law?

The characters. I love the setting, the picturesque western scene, the dual suns and endless deserts, but the characters who fill the story really stole my heart. Early on, our hero meets a scientist named Dawn who’s run away from the Republic. She’s a genius who can turn the villain’s machines around and make concoctions that do amazing things. Really fun character. Then they meet a boy named Raine who’s on the verge of a breakthrough. His whole life he’s believed he could revive the old magic, even though no one’s ever taken him seriously.

Tell us about your protagonist, Marshal.

He just wants to enjoy his quiet life with his wife and kids, but good stories never let anyone get away with that, do they? Marshal has to leave his family to fight the war, but he ends up playing the role of a father figure to the motley crew that gathers around him, holding them together while they battle to save the frontier.

Is Marshal Law the start of a series?

I’ve got three books planned. The sequel, “Desert Raine,” should be available in the spring. It’s coming along great. Marshal Law does a good job of setting the stage, so in the sequel our characters can further explore the magic and the machines and really push the boundaries of what they know about their world.

Sounds like Marshal Law is a story with a unique setting. Is it similar to any other books?

Anyone who likes Stephen King’s Dark Tower series should find themselves right at home. Same goes for Sanderson’s Alloy of Law. It’s fun to writing at a time when fantasy stories are finding new settings, because, even though there’s plenty of steampunk books with magic thrown in, I can feel like I’m writing something new and not always following another author’s trail.

Did you have to do any research to write about this new world where your story takes place?

A little. Most fantasy stories don’t require research since we just tend to make up whatever we want, but I really loved the idea of planet with twin suns. I did just enough research on binary star systems to make sure the idea would work. Apparently, two suns would probably make the planet a very dry place, so most of Marshal Law takes place in a desert environment. Only a few spots on the continent benefit from nicer weather. Grass and trees are a rarity enjoyed by the wealthy and elite, but Marshal’s revolution may change all that.


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October Reads

October 31, 2019 at 4:40 am (Diffuse And Read, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We’ve had quite the month, here at the Whims House, and I’m pleased with our progress – both recreationally and educationally.

The Lost for Words Bookshop – Stephanie Butland

I will always pick up books about bookstores. This one was especially wonderful for me, as the main character made it impossible for me not to imagine one of my favorite humans in the world while reading it – even if they are definitely drastically human beings. Butland did a great job writing believable characters with all the fantastical coziness of the perfect bookstore and the sensational backdrop of an imperfect past. I enjoyed the unfolding of all the story layers.

Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis

Kiddo has had a lot of tough questions lately regarding life, the universe, and everything. So–naturally–I consulted the best of the best: C. S. Lewis. He is my go-to for finding the words to explain all the hard questions and bible verses that I don’t know how to address.

Tepui: The Last Expedition – John Oehler

John Oehler has a new book out: Ex-Libris. I had already read Tepui, but I wanted to re-read it before I jumped into his newest novel because I read Tepui at a not-so-great time in life and failed to write a proper review for this author I love. I’ll be reading Ex-Libris before Thanksgiving. I highly recommend anything Oehler puts out, feel free to join me for an Ex-Libris read along.

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult – M. Joseph Bedier

Tristan and Iseult – Rosemary Sutcliff

As a homeschool mom, I find it important to go back to the classics as much as I can. So while I read Sutcliff’s version out loud to the kiddo, I made sure I read Bedier’s to myself. (Read my blog post here.)

The Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan

It took us longer than expected to get through the first two Percy Jackson books, but don’t let that dissuade you from understanding how hooked we are. We’re just spread thin and don’t have as much time as we’d like to have. We’ll spend November reading Titan’s Curse.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

I loved this book. I wasn’t expecting to love it, contemporary fiction pieces with Reese Witherspoon’s name stamped all over them aren’t typically the kind of books that call my name. Eleanor Oliphant, however, is a true gem, and I love her dearly–like an old friend.

Morningstar: Growing Up With Books – Ann Hood

Ann Hood books have been cropping up everywhere, for me. Until one day I glanced at a pile and realized I had a nice little collection of freebies and clearance purchases all by the same woman. It intrigued me, seeing this little pile, realizing I knew nothing about her. So I started with The Obituary Writer and began adding her books to my monthly TBR pile, with every intention of reading everything she has in publication by the end of 2020.

Gaspara Stampa Selected Poems

As a classical homeschool mom, we do things in chronological order through history, lining up our biographies, literature, historical fiction pieces, and science… then repeating the cycle. This is the third time we’ve read Gaspara poems sporadically and we finally finished our collection. We’ll start the book all over again in a few years, and maybe one day we’ll know a few of our favorites by heart.

The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan

Sucker for a bookshop book! This one was pretty cute, and I’ll probably pick up more books of Colgan’s in the future.

The Ordinary Princess – M. M. Kaye

I loved re-reading this old favorite with my kiddo! We set up the diffusers with lovely fall combinations while we cozied up to the story of Princess Amy.

The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World – Abigail Tucker

Abigail Tucker’s journalism is riveting! I don’t even like cats (I’m allergic) and this book kept me enthralled from beginning to end. I highly recommend this for any animal lover, especially if you find yourself wondering why there are so many feral cats creeping along your fence line.

The Story of Doctor Dolittle – Hugh Lofting

There’s a new movie coming out… I’m beside myself with glee and started introducing this glorious serious to the kiddo. We’re trying to read through at least six of the twelve before January.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo – Tom Reiss

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

I read these two books as a pair. Education is a Lifetime Pursuit, which means that I try to make sure to study new topics (and re-study old topics) right along side my kiddo. I though it would take me longer to read these, and was preparing myself for a long winter session in the French Revolution. I hadn’t read Dumas since I was a kid, he’s a much speedier read as an adult; Reiss’s biography of Dumas’s father blew me away and I plan on using this for high school level required reading when kiddo gets to that point.

The House on Tradd Street – Karen White

This series is a new favorite. I binge read this book in a day after it lurking on my dresser top for years, a chapter from the end I ordered the next in the series. Can’t wait.

The Chronicles of the Awakening – Jeremiah Salyer

I purchased this off an acquaintance in an online Facebook group. I love supporting other authors and sharing work. This wasn’t my cup of tea though. It’s sort of meta-fantasy, and I know a LOT of people like that, but it has to be pretty mind blowing for me to get into that genre. I like my fantasy with more magic and dragons. I’m just not this author’s target audience, but others who read this blog might be…

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Interview with Author Kristen Bickerstaff

October 25, 2019 at 9:15 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , )

Who is Kristen Bickerstaff?

Writing since she could pick up a pen, Kristen has always loved exploring the worlds and characters that live in her head. She loves writing (and reading) all forms of speculative fiction, from hard SF to urban fantasy. As a member of DFW Writer’s Workshop and Writer’s League of Texas, she’s a firm believer in taking part in her local writing community. Kristen also works with Rooted in Writing as an editor and marketing coach, and she loves helping other authors turn their writing dream into a reality.

I had the pleasure of reading Bickerstaff’s work in The Lost Legends anthology earlier this year and am excited to share an interview I had the opportunity to conduct via Facebook.

Prior to The Lost Legends anthology, what projects had you worked on or completed?

 Lost Legends is the first anthology I’ve been a part of, but I also have another anthology coming out in early 2020 around pirate stories that I’m very excited about, called X Marks the Spot. Other than that, I’ve been working on my fantasy novels Embers on the Wind, which is about elemental magic workers called crafters, and Howl to the Stars, which I usually playfully call my “werewolves in space” book. 

Lost Legends is a fantasy anthology and you’re known for writing speculative fiction, what draws you to read and write this genre? What is your favorite aspect of it?

I’ve always been one of those people that looks at something mundane as a subway or an overpass and asked “what would happen if someone with magic encountered this?” So that’s how I tend to see the world. Most of my story inspiration comes from odd things I see in real life. A door in someone’s front yard, a glowing necklace, a harvest moon. And I usually just take that a step further: what if the door opens to a place beyond our realm? What if only one person can see the door? Those are the questions I love to ask. 

Ray Bradbury once said, “You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices.” What do you think about this statement?

I agree and don’t agree with that statement. I feel like I learned some great things about craft, about the  historical landscape before us, through my college writing classes. Honestly the plethora of genres and authors I read during college were so impactful for my formative years. But I was often looked down on for writing fantasy or encouraged to write something more… “literary.” I hope that’s changed since I’ve been at school (and as fantasy has become more mainstream). But I did feel stifled in school for sure, in terms of creativity. 

What were your educational experiences like? Do you think these experiences have influenced the kind of writer you have become?

One of the best memories I have of my educational experience is my unfettered access to the library. So many books that I considered touchstones in my literary development, I read because a librarian looked at the book I was returning and then said “you might like this.” Beyond that, I had a couple teachers that really encouraged creative exploration as a child. My third grade teacher loved Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl, and I remember her encouraging us to try writing in their styles to see how that felt. To this day, she’s still one of my favorite teachers. She encouraged us to think, to daydream, to wonder. I loved that. 

Stephen King wrote in On Writing that writers should read a lot to keep their technical and creative tool box full. What are your favorite “tool box” books?

My favorite craft book right now is probably The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas. When I went to the Superstars Writing Seminars this spring, he taught a hands-on workshop based on the book, and it really did change the way I write. 

What have you read for sheer pleasure recently?  What did you enjoy most about it?

 I’ve been re-reading Anne Bishop’s The Others series recently, and it’s still such a fun read. It’s a really cool spin on the urban fantasy genre, where non-humans are the dominant species in the world, versus where they’re usually in hiding or downtrodden. I love the characterization throughout the series and the suspense she builds throughout. 

What other means do you use to explore fictional worlds? Do you participate in larping, cosplay, pen and paper RPGs, or role playing video games?

 No, I don’t participate in the above activities but I’m always really interested in different explorations of fictional worlds. 

If you could interview any author (alive or dead) and pick their brain, who would it be? Did that particular author influence your work in any way?

Tough question. I’d love to ask Brandon Sanderson about how he developed the Cosmere universe, because I love the detail of his magic system. I’m doing a re-read of his works this year and it’s just so impressive. I’m a person who always asks “but how does this work” for fantasy elements, and he always has an answer. 

Any conventions or events in your near future? Where can fans find you to have copies of their books signed?

Next conference I’m at is Superstars 2020. Then if everything works out, I’ll be going to DFWCon and Dragon Con later in the year. 

[Note from Anakalian Whims to readers: If you haven’t been to Dragon Con, GO! I loved my experience in 2016. If you don’t know what Superstars is, visit this site: https://superstarswriting.com. I’ve been wanting to go for years and the timing just hasn’t been right. It’s on my list of to-dos.]

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m focusing on drafting Howl to the Stars and I’ve been really enjoying all the research behind it. 

Follow Kristen on Goodreads and Twitter and stay tuned for her future ventures.

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The Stretching of Our Days (And Dime)

October 18, 2019 at 1:47 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I don’t remember exactly when it was I discovered Scribd, or how for that matter. I know I was trying to figure out Audible, my kid eats audiobooks for breakfast and we have a tendency to need more immediate access than we currently have with our library. Having the *time* to go to the library frequently enough is truly the issue… we just don’t have time. I say that un-ironically, as we have lounged about the house today for nearly eight hours, listening to music and audiobooks in between reading paperback books as well.

But we need those eight hours. We need the time to lounge and read the books. Yes, it’s a luxury many don’t have, but it’s a priority for we homeschoolers (kiddo) and introverts (me). There was co-op yesterday (The Atrium) and swim and music theory class this morning, a birthday party tomorrow. Eight hours to recharge and prepare–in the grand scheme of things–isn’t nearly enough.

Still, here we are, me wrapping up a book and mentally preparing a review, typing a post; kiddo, in her pajamas, playing play dough, listening to Wings of Fire Book Two on Scribd.

For years I lamented, “We have Netflix for television, why can’t we have a Netflix for books?” Lo and Behold! Scribd. It’s Netflix, for books, basically. And I’m smitten. We primarily use the audio function, as we have plenty of paper books lying about and don’t like to read on screens if we can help it. But audio… that allows us to close our eyes, do crochet, or build with legos or play dough. It’s also less expensive than Netflix, and when you share with your friends, you get free months.

Check out Scribd – the membership for readers! Use my link to sign up and you’ll get 60 days free: https://www.scribd.com/ga/7adrgu

Since finding Scribd, we’ve discovered all sorts of books we didn’t know we wanted, and were able to listen to books in our craft and downtime that we would have otherwise been too tired to get to, books the library doesn’t even have available. I was pleasantly surprised to discover my own published works available on Scribd! That excited me to no end.

So far I’ve listened to a vast range of John Piper, C. S. Lewis, Bernard Cornwell, Ann Hood… kiddo has indulged in Karen Cushman, Neil Gaiman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Beverly Cleary, and the 39 Clues series. Titles like Becoming by Michelle Obama and Educated by Tara Westover were available almost immediately. To my great delight, I was able to listen to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks when the bookstore had completely run out of copies due to school’s required reading lists and I had missplaced my own copy. It’s been a wonderful year (or more) with Scribd in our lives and we look forward to more options as more people discover the app and more publishers add their inventory to the selection.

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