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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Heir of Ra – Book Review

August 3, 2019 at 2:52 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Ancient Egyptian artifacts, conspiracies, 10,000 year old biological nanotechnology… hand me my tin-foil fedora and “follow me, I know the way!” This book is FUN.

Heir of Ra is an action packed thriller, merging archeology, science fiction tech, and the mysteries of ancient Egypt. As an amateur historian (without a degree in the field to speak of) and wanna-be Egyptologist, the premise excites me to no end; but I’m not going to lie, I kept wanting to picture various characters as the “hair guy” with the bad tan on Ancient Aliens. In the end, though, Sasinowski’s writing shines through and doesn’t allow for that.

Although the book is categorized as young adult, the gentle nods to Edgar Cayce and vague feel of Frank Herbert’s White Plague, it seems like something more suitable for older, tired, adults with an hour or two to kill. Sure, the driving relationship is between a father and her young adult daughter, but I’m hesitant to restrict this title to the younger corner of a bookstore. Instead I want to share it with the Amelia Peabody and Lara Croft fan bases – which in theory should not be the same people, but there’s a Venn diagram for everything and Heir of Ra lands in this one’s center.

Still, it’s quick to draw in mythological sources to a modern day page turner, laced with a twinge of humor – not too far off base from a Rick Riordan series, just a little more grown up while staying appropriately clean.

I look forward to the inevitable screenplay and movie release.

To purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Heir-Ra-Blood-Book-One-ebook/dp/B07GDSK23D

P.S. The sequel was just released in June!

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Seed Savers – Unbroken

June 19, 2019 at 5:05 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

Title: Unbroken

Author: Sandra Smith https://authorssmith.com

Genre: Teen/ Young Adult

Length: 339 pages

“Had Smith been right? Was the U.S. headed for disaster?”

This line in Sandra Smith’s latest installment of the Seed Savers series made me laugh out loud. In Unbroken, Caleb Smith is a whistleblower who sent the government a 23-page letter regarding the impending doom of monocultures. In the real world, Sandra Smith has written a riveting series that gets kids thinking about where their food comes from, who controls the sources, and who should control the sources. This one line in the book could sum up the entire series.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading each of the Seed Savers books as they come out, in advance reader copy formats. I’ve seen characters grow, I’ve witnessed Smith’s writing change and develop, and I’ve gotten to be excited with her (via email) over the much anticipated dream covers.

This series has been with me as I raise my daughter and I’ve loved having it as a reminder of why we garden, forage, and go back to the dirt and the seeds every season. We would have always gardened, but Smith’s books took it up a notch. It has always kept me true to my desire to sit with my kid and show her how to harvest a seed from a plant, or even produce from the grocery store.

Much of Unbroken concerns an ever looming food shortage in a society where food is no longer grown. Because of food shortages in my own life, I can’t express enough how much the message of this book, seed saving being the key to ensuring the world can eat, moves me. Having tomatoes planted every summer makes a huge difference for a hungry family. Being able to harvest Creeping Cucumbers, wild garlic, dewberries, grapes and grape leaves, and plant indigenous seeds in my yard for easy access, makes it that much easier to get by when faced with an over stretched budget. The books also open the door to discussion about ethics and politics, and most of all, where our belief in God and our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth overlap.

Like the Harry Potter books, the series starts out geared toward one age level and evolves into something for an older crowd. I think this is good for young adult series so that kids can have characters who grow up with them. An eight year old could thoroughly enjoy Treasure, but I wouldn’t hand Unbroken (book five) to an elementary student. With that in mind, I only read the first few books out loud to my kiddo, and the rest of the series will come later. That simply means I’ll have the pleasure of enjoying Smith’s books twice.

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Seed Savers Continues!

April 22, 2019 at 6:55 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , )

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Meet Felix Gomez…

September 19, 2016 at 2:47 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

1150191._UY200_.jpgTitle: Nymphos of Rocky Flats

Author: Mario Acevdeo

Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Mystery

Meet Felix Gomez, Iraqi-vet Vampire P.I. who has been called to Denver to investigate an outbreak of Nymphomania.  It sounds silly because it is. But it’s equally adventurous and well written.  It’s a slightly older title, but the series is still fresh with a current addition that came out in April (Rescue from Planet Pleasure).

IMG_1311.JPG

Mario and Me at Dragon Con 2016

At Dragon Con people would walk up to the WordFire Press booth and ask, “Do they come with pictures?” To which Acevedo would, without skipping a beat, reply, “No, only scratch and sniff.”

I laughed every time.  It just didn’t stop being funny to me.

I think that’s how Felix Gomez will be as I continue to read the series.  I’ve never been so amused as while reading Nymphos of Rocky Flats.  It has all the excitement of the X-Files with the plot development silliness of Eureka.  Just as I had settled into the pace of the book and thought, “Ok, I’m ready for all this to wrap itself up,” he’d toss something else at me and I’d giggle, “Maybe not…”

I enjoyed having a vampire story-line with a more realistic life story being dropped into an absurd universe (Iraqi War Vet meets Vampirism, Werevolvishness, and Aliens) – as opposed to the typical unrealistic life stories being dropped into a more familiar world (Two-hundred year old man falls in love with high school teen in the mundane school cafeteria; I’ll take aliens over high school again).

What I didn’t expect were the author’s deep thoughts on life to make subtle waves in some of his writing. Hints at politics and undertones on what might be Acevedo’s worldview were made but never formulated completely.  Having met the man, I know he is intelligent, well-read, and has a lot of wisdom regarding the world. As much as I enjoy his humorous banter, in both real life and his books, I’m interested to hear or read what his deep thoughts on life are.

Aside from deep thoughts, this book is all guy all the time but one girls can enjoy too.  It sells in mass market paperback form at the bookstore to middle-aged men like hotcakes all the time, but I plan to start pushing it toward more ladies.  The trade paperbacks have a longer shelf life, but honestly, I think it’s just because of where they are located. I’m already mentally planning a place to feature them for Halloween as I type.

A previous reviewer referred to the Felix Gomez series as Dude-lit. “When Girls Go Wild… Call in the Undead” the tagline of the book says.  If this doesn’t place it in that fabulous sub-genre of Dude-lit, I don’t know what would.  The fact that the book is the first vampire novel ever to be declassified by the U.S. government is another tell-tale sign.

Ironically, scantily clad women in hooker boots is not sub-genre specific, merely a hint that it’s urban fiction as it’s something that women expect to see on their chick-lit as well.  It is a consumer behavior impulse I will never quite understand – like how magazines for men and women alike feature half naked women on the fronts…  And despite the book being classic dude-lit, I’m a chick and I loved it. Then again, as a character in Rocky Flats points out: “Earth women are surprisingly complicated…”

Felix Gomez 1 - 4.jpg

 

Side Note on Content & Ratings: I was pleasantly pleased that with all the hinting and perverted jokes, the book isn’t actually raunchy.  The movie version would probably still be rated R for nudity, but there’s a reason the books are not classified as erotica, and for that I was grateful. If it had been, I’m not sure I could look the author in the eye again – and I really like him, he’s fun.  There’s more porn in the Outlander series than in Rocky Flats.

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Deadly Dunes

July 2, 2016 at 3:53 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Deadly Dunes51ldRn0Us+L._UY250_.jpg

Author: E. Michael Helms

Genre: Mystery

Length: 220 pages

E. Michael Helms has done it again. He’s written a fun, spunky mystery involving Mac McClellan, and I find myself crushing on him much like the overly spirited cop, Dakota.  Mac is the token ex-marine turned P.I., equal parts gentleman and appropriate amounts of perve. Cunning, but not too lucky.

I like that in this installment, Helms works in the fact that private investigators don’t have the luxury of only working one case at a time if they want to get paid. Mac has to take time away from the big case everyone is grumbling about to an unseemly one that will cut him a check.  As per the norm with Mac McClellan books, it was easy to get into, a breeze to read, and satisfying to finish.

My only lament was due to my over excitement at the possibility of more archaeological tidbits. I love archaeology and was anticipating Mac going a little more Indiana Jones in this book than usual due to the nature of the big case.  This is to no fault of Helms, who included what was appropriate for the story and the characters, merely a personal disappointment.

As usual, I look forward to the next Mac McClellan book. He’s a personal favorite of mine and made a great addition to my summer mystery binge reading.

Be sure to follow E. Michael Helms on twitter: https://twitter.com/EMichaelHelms

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Such a Cozy Summer…

June 13, 2016 at 6:26 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Cozy mysteries are where I go to find solace when I’m too tired for anything else… when my imagination is too exhausted to fly with dragons… my intellect burned out or otherwise occupied reading homeschool material to my daughter.  Cozies are for bubble baths, for “I’m so tired, I can’t sleep” nights (thanks, Sarah).  And right now, I’m hooked on a few new ones.

7457122.jpgManor House Mysteries

So far, I’ve read Grace Under Pressure and Grace Interrupted by Julie Hyzy.  The series stars Museum Curator (and mansion manager) Grace as she sleuths around a small town, helping the local police solve the murders that keep happening at her new job.  Naturally, there’s an unfortunate past relationship that didn’t go well, and a new budding one with the local landscaper to keep us involved in the character’s life as she manages to avoid looking like a serial killer – because in real life, how many people are tied to so many murders?  The touch of tourist seasons, southern drawls, and Civil War reenactments remind me of home.

Library Lighthouse Mysteries

ByBookorByCrook-1.jpgI’m now in my third installment (Reading Up a Storm) of the Library Lighthouse Mysteries by Eva Gates, which began with By Book or By Crook.  This series features a lighthouse that has been renovated into a library.  Book Nerds and Jane Austen references abound while the newest librarian and the library cat stumble across – yep, you guessed it – one murder after another.  Again, no one would dare think the Nancy Drew wanna-be is indeed a serial killer with no many murders suddenly happening right under her nose, and of course, she’s the heroine with a terrible romantic past and TWO attractive men vying for her attention. Brain candy indeed.  Each book in this series have occurred within weeks of the one previously and all during summer tourist months near the beach.  Southern drawls, check.  Meddling mothers, check. (Booked for Trouble) Food stuffs and baking references, check.  Also, weird guy who pretends to be British… this character confuses me, but I got used to him.

Next up, a Miranda James series that begins with a title called Bless Her Dead Little Heart. Seriously, how can I pass that up?

 

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Spend the Holidays with Pout-Pout Fish

November 14, 2015 at 1:00 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

613r-T9OAbL._SY494_BO1,204,203,200_Title: The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

Author: Deborah Diesen

Illustrator: Dan Hanna

Kiddo and I fell in love with The Pout-Pout Fish about three years ago when we discovered The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark.  We had a slight aversion to the possibility of “baby talk” in the writing, but were won over by the fun poetry and the fabulous underwater illustrations. (Read my original post here.)

In addition to our joint love of underwater children’s stories, Kiddo has taken on a serious love for Christmas that can be countered only by my mother’s.  These two, I’m not kidding, have enough Christmas spirit for the entire nation. All of America could abandon the idea of Christmas altogether and my kid and her grandmother would still have us all covered. (I’m a little more ba hum bug, but you know – yin and yang and all that.)

So you can imagine our excitement when the publisher sent us a copy of The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish.

“The Pout-Put Fish is like SANTA!” the kiddo exclaimed, seeing his very merry Santa hat atop his very un-merry face.  We’re not Santa promoters in our house – in the modern day sense that has become tradition, but rather in the currently untraditional traditional sense where we talk about the history of the original Santa stories and how the legend of a good man became a magical myth.  Yet, with all our reading and exploration of wonderful tales and things that promote vivid imaginations, we’ve fallen in love with stories like the Rise of the Guardians by William Joyce and so on…

Come the holidays, we have another household tradition.  We like the concept of four gifts (or gift categories that promote specific, well-thought out gifts in moderation): What You’ll Wear, What You’ll Read, What You Want, and What You Need.  So as a parent of such a household, I especially love the line, “And his gifts had meaning/ Plus a bit of bling-zing/ And his each and every friend loved/ Their just-right thing.” No meaningless haphazard gift giving for the Pout-Pout Fish! (Thank you, for that, Deborah Diesen, it truly does mean so much to us.)

“Can we read it again tomorrow?” Kiddo asked when we were through.

“Of course.”

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It’s a Keeper

November 7, 2015 at 1:06 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

keeper-front-revTitle: Keeper

Author: S. Smith

Genre: Middle Grade/ Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

Length: 200 pages

Many moons ago, it seems like forever now, S. Smith sent me a copy of Seed Savers, the first of her young adult series set in an America where growing your own food has become illegal.  Children were being taught about seeds and produce gardens in whispers; collecting, saving, and planting seeds a prison-worthy offense.

The story couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  It was the summer of 2012, I had a small daughter at home, my husband was out of work, and I had just started spending more time and care actively growing more of our groceries.  On top of that, I was beginning to learn how to forage and was focusing my daughter’s future education on as much regarding sustainability and self-sufficiency as possible.  I wanted taking care of ourselves to come as naturally as literature does for me.  I wanted finding edible grapes in the forest to be as simple as knowing that 2+2 = 4.  Then Seed Savers happened and it felt like the stars had begun to align.

Several books later (Seed Savers, Heirloom, and Lily), we finally have the fourth installment of S. Smith’s world.  The girls, Lily and Clare, have done a lot of growing up.  Siblings Dante and Clare have received a lot more education during their stay in Canada.  Rose is being indoctrinated… bad guys are getting closer and closer to turning everything upside down as rebels have begun starting riots in the street.  Soon, all four kids find themselves in Portland, Oregon, where Seed Savers headquarters has been stationed under a forested park in the city for years.

More and more, the series is resembling the fast paced action political drama of the Divergent series – without the killing, and with the added fun of things like Dandelion syrup being discussed.

Although I was sent an advanced reader’s copy of Keeper, I still made a point to pre-order a final copy for my kindle.  The book is a keeper in every format, and it’s just worth it to be as supportive as possible of this story, help it get told.  I’m looking forward to the day Smith gets a movie or mini-series deal.  Better yet, the homeschool mom in me votes for it to be a Netflix original.

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Introducing Psycho Cat (and a Sucker)

July 28, 2015 at 1:08 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

61OhIWNdMOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Title: CATastrophic Connections

Author: Joyce Ann Brown

Genre: Cozy Mystery

First of all, I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.  Second, however, I chose it out of a long list of options from a ton of authors because 1. I’m a sucker for cozy mysteries 2. I’m a sucker for cozy mysteries that feature pets 3. I’m a sucker.

In this case, I’m totally ok with being a sucker.  I’ll admit there’s a tad more “psycho cat” than I enjoy –  but I’m not a big cat lover and the few cat mysteries I’ve read involved the cat being a swanky background character, not a constant topic of discussion.  Die hard cat lovers, though, would probably love this book.  (I’m a dog person. *Gasp*)  I imagine that Lilian Jackson Braun fans will be the best fit for this series, but I haven’t actually read her books yet.  (I tend to lean toward the Cleo Coyles of the genre.)

The mystery is fun an upbeat, which fits the bill for a cozy; and a lot of the action is driven by dialogue.

What won me over, in the end, were the quotes at the beginning of every chapter.  I’m a sucker for that as well and love jotting down references for me to find and read later.  Better than that, I love already knowing the reference and nodding my head along with the witticisms and wisdom of Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the rest of them.

Brown has an easy breezy writing style, appropriate for a summertime cozy.  I’d recommend this series for a road trip or plane ride, something to dive into to pass the time that won’t take too much energy or focus to read while things are going on around you.  If your attention strays just the slightest bit, you have a friendly nudge back into the story: “Must I remind you? We are essentially in the middle of a detective mystery.” I tend to enjoy a little meta-fiction every now and then.  Also, there are many short chapters, rather than fewer long ones, which I find makes for better vacation reading because it’s easy to find appropriate stopping points at a moment’s notice.

I already downloaded the second book in the series to my kindle and look forward to spending some time with Joyce Ann Brown’s characters again.

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