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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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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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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Interview with Author and Editor Adam D. Jones

September 27, 2019 at 8:31 pm (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Adam D. Jones is a high fantasy author and editor recently responsible for publishing The Lost Legends anthology. Longtime writer, historian, and musician, Lost Legends is his first book.

Who did the cover art? How did you find them?
The very talented Ryan Swindoll handled that. You can reach him at ryan.t.swindoll@gmail.com if you ever need a cover designed. He also took care of designing the insides, the font, the cool little decals, and everything makes it fun to hold a book. Talented guy. Having a great cover is half of the work.

As a writer, what made you decide to pursue editing an anthology for your publishing debut?
At various conferences and writing groups I’ve met talented fantasy writers and always thought it was a shame they weren’t published. I also needed a project to learn how self-publishing works before launching my own novels. It turned out to be a good move. I’ve learned the ropes, but also got some really good stories into the hands of readers.


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?
Are you kidding? I spent more than years working on Idna’s Journals and it’s only three pages! I completed two novels in that time.

Lost Legends is a fantasy anthology, what draws you to read and write fantasy? What is your favorite aspect of the genre?
It’s fun. I could go on about the mythopoetic origins of the grown-up fairy tale, the foundational works like Phantasties, and how fantasy helps us understand the abstract truths by taking place in another world, but the best part is that it’s just more fun than any other genre. I want to read about monsters and magic. Who doesn’t?

Did you always love fantasy? What were your favorite books as a child?
The Gunslinger by Stephen King is incredible, and I read it every year. I read all of the books every year until the last one finally came out, and I was up until 4 a.m. finishing that one. I read these books when I was…a little too young for them.
I also devoured the Dragonlance stories and always wanted to write something as big and exciting as those.

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?
Stephen King’s The Wastelands is a perfect study in “how to write a fantasy book with multiple characters.” Rachel Neumieier’s The Floating Islands has great descriptions throughout, and I often open it to the beginning where she explains scenery and somehow it makes for an incredible opening. And many scenes in David Coe’s Children of Amarid are dogeared so I can remember his neat tricks for making things work.

You’re in a writing group. What does that look like? (What do your meetings consist of?) How has this helped you as a writer?
The Milford Method, a critique approach pioneered by Virgina Kidd, is used every meeting. I can’t recommend it enough.

It’s helpful that the group includes science writers, fiction writers, and songwriters, so we all learn a lot from each other.

Of your stories in the anthology, are there any you anticipate seeing spin off into other work?
I’ve been asked to write more about Idna’s Journals, but I prefer to keep it self-contained, leaving the audience to wonder. When I write short works, I try very hard to avoid the temptation of sequels and spurring on further works, because that often leads writers toward bad work. If you’ve only got a few pages, there’s no room for breadcrumbs and easter eggs that lead to the next story.

But there is a place for that sort of thing. Sarah Bale’s evocative story, Thundermoon Bride, will tie into other works she has coming, and I think that’s a good example of using a short story to hint at something bigger.

If The Lost Legends were to become a Netflix Original or Amazon Prime series, who would your ideal cast be for The Candlemaker?
Interesting story. The protagonist was female in the first draft of The Candlemaker. A real dainty woman who looked as threatening as a sofa cushion, making it easier for people to underestimate her. I pictured someone like Emilie de Ravin’s role in Once Upon a Time. I switched the character to a man because my other story in this collection already had a female protagonist, and it was more fun to write about an awkward guy trying to be cool around a woman who obviously knows more than him. Grant Gustin could pull it off.

Jones has another book coming out in November 2019, called Marshall Law, the first in a fantasy/steampunk series, where the discovery of old magic empowers a few survivors to take on the wicked machines of their oppressors. This new voice in fantasy is here to stay.

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Sandra Smith Returns

September 18, 2019 at 10:54 pm (Interviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Sandra Smith grew up on a farm with a tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Although she now lives with her husband, cats, and three chickens in the city, she still manages to grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard garden. 

A licensed ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Ms. Smith has enjoyed teaching students from around the world. She began writing her Seed Savers novels while teaching middle school, and the diversity of her students are well-represented in her stories.

Smith is a member of IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association and is an 2012 OSU Master Gardener graduate. She gardens and writes at her home in the beautiful and green Pacific Northwest. Smith is the author of the  award-winning Seed Savers series, an MG/YA series set in a future where gardening is illegal.

Recently, after the publication of the last in the Seed Savers series and the republication of her earlier works, she has agreed to do her third interview with Anakalian Whims.

  1. Recently your books got new covers, who did the new art and how did you find them?
    The cover designer is Shannon Bodie of BookWise Design. She helped me find an illustrator through Illustration, Inc., a company she likes to work with. We both liked the work of Alan Baker, so he was hired as the illustrator.
  2. Early in your writing career your books were all published simply under S. Smith, what inspired the change to Sandra Smith?
    When I went with the new publishing company, Flying Books House, I worked with a marketing person and she really wanted me to change to Sandra Smith, so I did. It’s just hard when you have such a common name, which is why I had chosen S. Smith when I first began. Plus, I was already used to signing the double S on bathroom passes as a teacher. 🙂
  3. Now that the series is complete, what do you think has been your greatest lesson? Your greatest reward?
    That’s a tough one. I guess I wish I would have been able to have great covers from the beginning. You know, do everything right. But sometimes the money just isn’t there. Greatest reward? It’s really rewarding to look at the five finished books and think, “I did that. I wrote not one novel, but an entire series. It’s finished.”
  4. I’d like to say I’m one of your biggest fans; aside from myself, who are some of your greatest fans over the years who have really spurred you on while writing?
    You are one of my biggest fans, and definitely my earliest fan outside of family!
    My nieces and nephews were the ones who spurred me on. They were the ones that would ask, “How’s your book coming? Is the next one done yet?” You really need someone to do that. I procrastinated book 5 for a long time. It was such a task to think about how to end things and how to bring all the storylines and characters together. I wrote an entire fantasy novel in between book 4 and 5! That’s how much I put it off.
  5. 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 love On Writing by Stephen King! I try to read current popular middle grade books to know what’s trending. I also like to read just very well-written books that aren’t necessarily middle grade. It helps me see such a variety of writing styles and to know that I don’t have to worry so much about every little thing.
  6. You’ve interviewed with AnaklianWhims before (https://anakalianwhims.com/2014/05/06/texas-tour-interview-with-s-smith/) regarding the book signing tour you did in Texas. What have been the most memorable events you’ve participated in as an author since then?
    School and club visits are always fun. I also really enjoy vending at the National Heirloom Expo or Master Gardener conferences. Places where I get to meet people and tell them about the Seed Savers series. I also spoke at the National Children & Youth Garden Symposium a couple of years ago, and that was a great experience. Oh, and this past April I went to Chicago where I attended an awards banquet and Seed Savers-Treasure won a silver award. That was very exciting!
  7. Prior to that tour of Texas, you also did a general interview and we talked of politics and your intentions for the series (https://anakalianwhims.com/2012/06/15/interview-with-s-smith/). It referred back to one of your own blog posts regarding a seed cleaner eventually losing his job. Do you feel the same way about the direction of society and the purposes of your story? Did you accomplish your goals?
    Yes, I do feel the same way. I still have some goals to meet in terms of the books becoming more widely read, but I’m happy with the finished product.
    People have gotten away from the land. I know not everyone has even a house on a lot, but if a person has even a fairly good-sized pot and some soil and seeds, they can grow something! My husband and I buy no vegetables at all during the summer just because I made part of our lawn a garden space. But that’s a little beside the point. I think eating fresh food is important for good health, and knowing at least where your food comes from and what’s in it, how to prepare it, that’s important. Food rights is (are?) important.
    I like to say there are a lot of nonfiction gardening books out there, “how to” books; Seed Savers are “what if” books. That’s the power of fiction. To immerse yourself in a world that hasn’t yet happened and make you realize you can make a difference.
  8. Now that the series is done, what’s next?
    I need to spend a good amount of time marketing the series now that so much has been invested in it. But I have another book already written and several others started. I’d really like to start something new as well, because editing and rewrites aren’t the same as that first initial draft. I’ve also started writing poetry again, because my soul was really missing that.
  9. Last, but not least, what do you have growing in your garden right now?
    Fall came really abruptly this year. I had a feeling it was going to. So the garden is dwindling. There’s a little corn, beans, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chard, a little broccoli, one kale plant, poor showing of carrots, cabbage, herbs. The usual suspects.
    Thank you for the interview!

Visit the author’s website: https://authorssmith.com

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A Writing Circle Book Club

September 4, 2019 at 4:56 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Years ago, I read a book about a writer’s circle. I was intrigued by it and I wrote a review: https://anakalianwhims.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/the-writing-circle/. I believe at the time I joined a Facebook group of writers I knew and we cheered each other on with word count posts and other such encouragements from the depths of cyberspace. I thanked them in the acknowledgements of one of my novels. They were great, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their friendship and efforts — but it wasn’t a true writer’s group. Or at least not the one I imagine in my head.

I have never sat in a group with prepared writing and exchanged critiques that wasn’t an awkward pairing off in an English course over the literary merits of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Until this month.

Well, it’s just two of us. And we’ve only met once. It’s almost a bit more like a book club of people who write, maybe. But it spurred me on creatively and I’m very excited about it.

For our first meeting, we read Lost Among the Living as homework. The idea is to implement the concept Stephen King talks about in On Writing about having tools in your tool box. I write The Bookshop Hotel series, small town cozy with occasional mysterious interludes (also occasional funny and possibly more than occasional angst). My friend wants to write thrillers. Simone St. James writes somewhere in between, and creatively speaking, she added a few more tools to both our boxes.

Simone St. James nails plot points and pacing, something I tend to grasp and flail at. I typically tell people my books naturally flow like a French film where nothing much happens until my editors say, “Hey, you need a plot point here.” Even my grandmother keeps telling me to put a rat in the store or kill someone off. I have obediently placed “easter egg” mice throughout the story. I enjoyed Lost Among the Living more than I expected to, having chosen in for the purpose of reading it with others and gotten it for next to nothing, rather than for myself alone. It’s not something I would have picked up full price at Barnes & Noble prior to reading one of her titles. As soon as I was through, however, I ordered another of her books on Amazon to be delivered to my kindle. I plan to read it as soon as a cool front comes in. I think her books may best be devoured in front of the fire place.

In the meantime, I am halfway through writing the next two books in my series. If all goes well, I will be sending an anthology of shorts and a full length novel to my publisher in the next three months. I look forward to more “writing circle” meetings and what I can learn and share in them.

If you are a writer, what have been your favorite “tool box” books? (Top of my list is Madeleine L’engle’s Crosswick Journals.)

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The Most Biased Book Review Ever

August 27, 2019 at 2:16 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Lost Legends

Editor: Adam D. Jones

Today is the day you can buy a physical copy of a book (to be two-day delivered via Amazon to your home) in which the woman I call “the other half of my brain” has written a short-story.

Once upon a time, in college, I had a roommate. I actually had several roommates over the years, but this one is THE Roommate. We shared a dorm. We co-existed. We got a townhouse together, and co-existed some more. We co-existed so well, that fifteen years later, married and with children living in separate cities, we still call each other for morning coffee almost every day. We homeschool our children “together,” planning out the best curriculums and deciphering educational theory by phone. We manage a homeschool Facebook page together, previously referred to as Klemm University, but renamed for our mutual interests as Lovelace Classical Academy (if Facebook will ever allow us to update it, that would be wonderful). But I digress… the point is: She is the other half of my brain. And since we first met, we both knew we wanted to be writers. More than that, we both knew we were writers who simply hadn’t been published yet.

She has lamented and rejoiced with me through every major life event… and now, it’s my turn:

E. S. MURILLO IS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

as a contributor to The Lost Legends anthology, edited by Adam D. Jones and Renea McKenzie (more college friends of mine).

This anthology is fun for any fantasy reader, I honestly believe that. The stories are well crafted, edited properly (a huge feat in the indie-publishing world for debut work), and fun. Obviously, An Inconsequential Miscalculation is my favorite, as – by sharing a brain – I was able to see the story as it was meant to be told from its very first incarnation and have had the pleasure of reading it in most of its versions. Reading it in its completed form brings me sheer joy.

Mostly high fantasy, there are a few writers in the mix who are downright funny, the future Terry Pratchetts to the future J.R.R. Tolkiens (My favorite stories are the funny ones)… the anthology has a wide variety of tales, but flows seamlessly as an anthology, which is generally hard to do.

I am exceptionally proud of my friends and would love if all of my fantasy reading followers checked this book out for themselves – you will not be disappointed in it.

Click to order:

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Diminutive Books I Have Loved

August 19, 2019 at 4:20 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Once upon a time…

I was on a book hunting excursion at the Recycled Bookstore in Denton, Texas. That night I purchased and read a book by Paul Collins called Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. I loved every minute of it and proceeded to hunt down everything the man had ever written. When pressed, I will tell people this is my *favorite* book. As a book lover, it hurts me to choose just one, so I must admit I don’t even know if this is an accurate proclamation. But it is the one I claim.

Later, I would get a job at Half Price Books and not only re-read this gem, but purchase any copies that came into the store. I’ve given several copies away, I think I own a few still, the one I will always keep is the polypropylene covered first edition I bought in Denton. Of all the parts of the book, one quote regarding dust jackets and marketing is the one that has always stuck with me, it’s something I have even told other booksellers when training them:

“Woe and alas to any who transgresses these laws. A number of reviewers railed against ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ because it used the diminutive hardcover size and muted color scheme of, say, an Annie Dillard book–thus cruelly tricking readers of Serious Literature into *buying crap*. Not to be outdone, the Harvard University Press issued Walter Benjamin’s opus ‘The Arcades Project’ with gigantic raised metallic lettering. One can only imagine the disgust of blowhard fiftysomethings in bomber jackets as they slowly realised that the project they were reading about was a cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie–and not, say, a tale involving renegade Russian scientists and a mad general aboard a nuclear submarine.” 

I am a sucker for diminutively sized hardback books with matte finished covers, especially if they are about books or nature. Case and Point: the hardback edition of Sixpence House is 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches in size. It isn’t small per se, but it is definitely smaller than your typical contemporary New York Times bestselling fiction, like Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, for instance, which is 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches. Or, if your flavor is more sci-fi/fantasy, Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings hardcover stands at 6.4 x 2 x 9.6 inches. 8.6 inches to 9.6 inches is a meaningful jump in the publishing world. It tells you something about what is lurking inside those beautiful, beautiful pages.

Imagine how much more significant a leap from 9.6 inches down to 7.3 inches, which is the height of the hardcover edition of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. I plucked this book up sometime before I separated from my ex-husband. I read it just a month before I finally said enough was enough. I remember reading it and craving the calm of being bedridden and having nothing to do except think and watch a snail creep around the house. I was aware that it was probably ridiculously unhealthy – to crave someone else’s pain, but I was very much exhausted of my own. Much relief comes from evicting an abusive drunk from your home, but before you’re free it’s nice to find comfort in books like this one. I’d like to re-read it again, and soon, so I can appreciate it more fully for what it is rather than using it to hide from what it isn’t.

I’m in a good place now, much healing has occurred over the last few years, but I still occasionally crave tiny and textured books. Keeping an eye out for calming and similar reading experiences, and knowing what I know about book covers, imagine my glee when I discovered Grayson by Lynne Cox.

One of the most lovely qualities of such books is that they can be read in one sitting by nearly any audience, but they rarely talk down to the reader and are often articulate and well-researched. These are the books written by amateur observers – remember the Latin root for amateur is amo, “I love.” An amateur is not someone who is less competent, as the connotation has evolved, but someone who has learned something for the sheer passion of it. They didn’t study for a grade, they aren’t necessarily doing it for their job, instead it is their passionate hobby. It is what they pursue at the end of the day when their bones are tired and their eyelids weak.

Lynne Cox loved to swim in the ocean. She swam every day for miles. I read about her swimming habits and am in awe. Several times I looked at my fiancé and said, “I would have drowned.” I definitely would have probably choked on the grunion when it slithered into my mouth, and then drowned. But Lynne Cox didn’t drown the day a baby whale found her during her morning swim. In fact, she swam and tread water for hours so she could help him find his mama. She didn’t go back to shore when her lungs were burning and her body freezing, because he would have beached himself and died. Lynne Cox loves the open water and the beach and you can experience how deep this love goes when you read about just one morning of her whole life. So much quality is packed into 150 pages: quality time (my love language), quality writing, rich and genuine details about sea creatures off the coast of California. I loved every second of this darling book and I’m grateful Cox chose to share it with the world.

This experience, to me, defines the genre of diminutive books. They aren’t separated out in any particular way in any bookstore I’ve ever patronized (again, I’m using the less commonly used definition here: “frequently shop”), but they definitely reside in the same file folder in my brain… and yes, my brain is actually a series of files and folders (and boxes and “gently raining post-it notes”) I spend hours sorting through. The books, and an assortment of others, all belong in the same place in my mind – not just belong in the same place, but belong to each other, I think.

Each one is a small nod of knowing to another, whether they are aware of it or not, guiding people ever so tenderly down a cobblestone path lit by fireflies and dreams…

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The Small & The Invisible

August 16, 2019 at 11:59 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Title: Dust

Author: Joseph A. Amato

Publisher: University of California Press

Length: 250 pages

I work at a used bookstore and am constantly confounding my co-workers with my eclectic taste in books. I like histories of things, biographies of objects, anthropomorphizing of trees and plants and bugs. Honestly, the weirder and more obscure, the better. So imagine everyone’s excitement when this came in… and the universal proclamation that Andi needed to see it.

When I think of dust, immediately three specific things come to mind:

  1. My older sister singing “Dust in the Wind” in our living room, circa 1994. There were choreographed dramatic arm motions worthy of Michael Bolton and Whitney Houston. It was a very serious affair. I’m not sure Kansas even took this song as seriously as my sister did. Her hair was way better, though.
  2. My fiancé and his dust mite allergies.
  3. Watching the speckles float past my window as a child when I was still tucked in my bed, but the sun was beating down hard through the panes. I imagined they were fairies, as I’m sure every child does.

Needless to say, my co-workers were right, I was VERY excited about this book. And it started out wonderfully, so promising! There were even a smattering of beautiful illustrations of small creatures known to reside in dust, which is right up my alley. Then it derailed into theories and modern commentary on germs and such, seemingly to reach a word count. I’d rather read science than political and social commentary.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but the conclusion went on far longer than necessary. Where I started the book excited and engaged, I ended it bored, with a sigh of relief.

That being said, if I ever wrote a nonfiction piece even half so interesting, I’d probably be pretty pleased with myself. I hope, regardless of my opinion, that Joseph A. Amato is pleased with himself – and I don’t say that lightly or sarcastically. He is a professor of Intellectual and Cultural History, so it is most appropriate that his book took the turn that it did, but I was still hoping for more of something a microbiologist would write.

I have in my possession a first edition hardback in near mint condition that I do plan to keep. I find the size and marketing of the book quite lovely, and the pages are high quality and the best texture. It is the little things I appreciate most, and for this title specifically I find that pleasingly appropriate.

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