Thursday, June 8, 2017

Do you prefer books with one protagonist or many?

Some novels are told from a single point of view. Others invite you into lots of different minds and ways of seeing. Some offer a single main protagonist, but open your eyes to things they've failed to see. And still others let the reader float free over a sea of strangers. So... do you prefer books with one protagonist or with many? Or does it depend on the story, or the author, the writing style, the promise fulfilled by story's end?

For myself, I've experimented with multiple points of view (in Divide by Zero), single point of view (Infinite Sum), and a single protagonist who doesn't quite see it all (in Subtraction, coming August 1st from Indigo Sea Press). I read and enjoy books written in many different styles, and I can honestly say I enjoyed all the novels included in today's reviews.

So, choose your novel and choose your brew. Please remember the ratings are for the coffee, not for the book (which by no means suggests the coffee's more important--perhaps it's a close thing--rather that I don't feel qualified to rate books. I'd rather just read and write them).

Starting with a classic, Moo by Jane Smiley, is one that many of my friends have read and recommended. Since I hadn't yet read anything by Jane Smiley, a friend loaned me Moo. It's a comfortably slow read, set in chapters with cool headings and easy endings, so perfect for bedtime. It has a wealth of protagonists, including a pig. The satire is sharp and the humor is starkly real. Characters are colorful and intriguing, and the location evocative. Enjoy this story's rich elegance with a richly elegant four-star coffee.

Brian Doyle's Mink River is another multi-character tale, set on the Oregon Coast. If rivers could speak, they would surely tell this tale, and so one of the protagonists travels to record the water's voice. Another seeks peace in the water. Another falls. A bird speaks its own intriguing thoughts. And the whole is beautifully woven into a truly absorbing song of Mink River's hopes. Enjoy another rich elegant four-star coffee with this one.

Rare Birds by Kathleen Novak also tells its tale through lots of different pairs of eyes, and is another thoroughly absorbing book. Like Mink River, it flows through a summer rather than driving the reader from a to b. It's set in 1960, in a world about to change, around characters whose world is set, yet disturbingly fragile. And it's beautifully, vividly real. Another four-star elegant coffee would suit.

Mrs. Thistlethwaite and the Magpie by J. B. Hawker includes a fine cast of fascinating characters too. The tale's told mostly through the eyes of 85-year-old Tillie, but friends and strangers also take the stage, and Tillie will need the help of many by the story's end. A girl has gone missing. A predator is killing women. And an anonymous stranger is leaving gifts on doorsteps. But what's the connection, and how will an 85-year-old with a motto for everything, great health, and a wonderful sense of humor solve it all? Enjoy this cozy mystery with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

The Landlocked Lighthouse by Mixi J Applebottom is a mystery/horror tale, mostly told through a single first-person point of view, with short passages from another viewpoint. It's sometimes annoying to be pulled out of first-person narration, but here it works, adding tension and hinting at depth. It's a scary Hitchcockian tale that keeps readers and characters guessing. Drink some dark five-star coffee while you try to puzzle out its dark mystery.

And finally, saving one I knew I would love till last, The Devil's Triangle by Howard Owen will soon be the latest novel in the Willie Black Mystery Series. The novels stand alone perfectly, are all narrated in first person (one protagonist...always just the one) by hard drinking, hard-driven reporter, Willy Black, But the character and his world develop convincingly as the stories continue. Black is older. He's a grandfather struggling to hold onto his job in the face of Twitter and cutbacks. And ex-wife number three might need his comfort as a terrorist's plane hits the bar where here husband was dining. Risking life and relationships, true to all he holds dear, Willie Black will surely win through, but readers will find it hard to put the book down till the end. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee. It's great.

So what did I like best - I like them all. One protagonist with a clear strong voice. Many protagonists, each with their individual voices and points of view... I guess it really is the writing, the story and the people that count.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Makes a Hero?

Superheroes have super-powers. Magical heroes have mystical skills. Human heroes stand tall in the face of impossible odds. Canine and feline heroes tackle mysteries and monsters. Life coaching heroes coach great lives. Famous authors pen novels that change lives. And readers read.

I'm not sure what would constitute a heroic reader, but I'm wondering, after reading books with titles like "Heroes of the Earth," "Bloodline," and "Magician's Workshop," just what makes a hero.

Masters of magic in the Magician's Workshop create gloriously entertaining productions... like a mystical Disney perhaps--there's surely more, and many heroes in the coming-of-age celebrations that haunt young lives). I can't wait to read more...

Then the cat in "Bloodline" proves to be a hero out to save the girl. When Heroes of the Earth introduces a great cat too, I have to ask, are cats just natural heroes? But I'm not a cat. And I want to be a hero too.

I've no desire to leap tall buildings, though I dreamed of leaping them when I was small. I dreamed, and decided a long boring life would give me time to live lots of exciting lives through stories and books. And I do. I read a lot (to wit, these reviews). But I also want to write so readers will believe tall buildings and walls are no obstacle, cats and monsters no threat, and real life is well worth living. I want to pen novels that change real lives for the better. Sadly, I suspect, to be a hero, I'd have to have them published and read as well, a task I feel I have no control over. Ah well.

Are you a hero?
What makes a hero for you?

And what kind of coffee will you brew when you read these reviews?

Starting with Heroes of Earth by Martin Berman-Gorvine, a cool novel for middle grade and up, with alternate histories, a mystical cat, and plenty of thought-provoking real-world facts. It's good old-fashioned science fiction in the very best sense of the word--fiction that makes the reader think, fantasy that brings the real world into focus, and science that's believable if slightly beyond the scope of modern knowledge. Add history, bullying, racial profiling and more--it's food for thought and entertainment at its best. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The Magician’s Workshop Volume 1 by Christopher Hansen and JR. Fehr, closely followed by Volume 2, breaks the mold of teen dystopian coming-of-age novels, combining the breadth and world-building of Harry Potter with the trials of Divergent. I can't wait to read more of these teens as they learn their powers, break their rules, and maybe end the power structure born of color. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

Bloodline: A Witch Cat Mystery Book One by Vicki Vass is aimed at older readers and builds an intricate world on top of our own, blending Appalachian herbs, Eastern crystals, ancient goddesses and more into a new mythology of witches, covens and familiars. The protagonist has a uniquely intriguing point of view, and the blend of Salem's past with almost cozy modern mystery is clever and cool. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

Then there are human heroes. Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves' Blue Lightning, last of the Shetland Quartet, is surely a hero in his beloved's eyes, and in the eyes of those relying on him to find a murderer. His father might once have been a hero in his eyes too. But human heroes fail as this conclusion to the quartet proves so powerfully. Dark, haunting mystery and location, characters and relationships, and more, it's a book to enjoy with another dark five-star coffee.

Deadly Legacy by Daniella Bernett takes the reader to London's coolly civilized streets rather than Scotland's wilds, and offers a mysterious hero courting his heroine through a web of intrigue. It reminds me of a much-loved TV series of my youth--The Saint. An apt reminder on the death of Roger Moore I guess. Enjoy this smooth scary mystery with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Thinking of TV series, The State of Wyoming Episode 1 by Gillian Will is the first episode of an episodic novel that  succeeds in having a storyline per half-hour read. I'm not sure the hero is terribly heroic, but the situations have cool political satire--the Office crossed with West Wing perhaps. Enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Finally, Good Enough by Pamela Gossiaux offers a flawed heroine who learns to believe and to teach that we really are good enough, warts, mistakes and all. It's a pleasantly uplifting book, filled with coincidences that are easily excused. Romantic comedy and life lessons all in one! Enjoy with some more easy-drinking two-star coffee.

I think my favorite heroes from these are the magic-weavers of the Magician's Workshop. And my dream is still to be a heroic writer, making heroes of my own. What about you?






Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Will I Ever Release "Faith And..."? Will I ever finish writing it?

I'm working on a non-fiction book--"Faith And..." where I look at how God's relationship to mankind is so much than "faith alone" or "scripture alone." I've been working on it for years, off and on, and just maybe this will the year I let it out the door. Or not. It depends on time and timing--time to write, and the right time to release. Who knows, I may even brave the agent's path--I do so long to have an agent. So I follow authors, read their roads, and dream their victories. Meanwhile I read.

Recently I've enjoyed some intriguing non-fiction books---some that puzzled, some confused, and some even annoyed; but yes, they all intrigued me. I apologize to anyone still awaiting reviews from me, and I promise I'll catch up, some day... (Maybe I'll even have a desk of my own in a space of my own to catch up in, when we finally restore our basement.) But for now, here are reviews of books about success, writing, faith in self and in spirituality, and even getting the kid to bed! Enjoy.

But first, put the water on to brew some coffee.

I'm usually annoyed by Bible Code type books--as far as I'm concerned God guided people to write His words in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, not in code. But The Chamberlain Key by Timothy P Smith claims to disagree with the Bible Code, so I thought I'd give it a try. It turned out not to disagree as strongly as I'd have liked, and it reads like a cross between memoir and a spiritual journal, liberally spiced with persuasive argument, unpersuasive math, and many dreams and visions. For myself, I ended up believing that the author believed his tale, but unconvinced by any of his conclusions. Still, if you like the Bible Code I'm pretty sure you'll love this book too. Enjoy with some seriously intense five-star coffee.

Spirit of the Earth, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and Joseph A Fitzgerald, offers a gorgeous blend of full-color photography and Indian Voices on Nature. With text and images beautifully paired, showing wilderness, nature, animals and birds, and classical Indian poses, the book reads like a cross between and song and a prayer, which, perhaps, is exactly how it is meant to be read. "We who are clay, blended by the Master Potter," should all find inspiration in the world's beauty and the peoples' wisdom, whatever our religious persuasion. Enjoy this one with some elegant, richly brewed four-star coffee and keep it on your coffee table.

With even more pictures and fewer words, Uvi Poznansky's The Last Concubine continues her David Chronicles Inspired By Art series - an accompaniment to a wonderful collection of novels that portray the life of King David. The story has inspired art through the centuries, and the art in this collection, as in the others, is both intriguing and inspiring--a really enjoyable visual treat. Pour some elegant four-star coffee and browse some familiar and unfamiliar artists inspired by David.

Goodnight, Jeremy by Stacy White is a more traditional picture book, designed to be read with small children. Technically it's fiction rather than non-fiction, but it feels like real life and it fits in this collection with its very realistic depiction of a small child struggling to fall asleep--and of that minor guilt evoked by failing to do as his mother has asked. It's a sweet tale redolent with everyday life and illustrated in pleasing pastel shades. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Filled with a very different sort of pictures is Puzzle Box Volume 1 by Peter and Serhiy Grabarchuk - a perfect coffee table collection of brightly colored, inviting puzzles of all types and levels, beautifully collected for family fun. A social treasure to be enjoyed with some lively two-star coffee and good company.

The Six Month Novel Writing Plan by Caitlin Jans is more about words than pictures, and offers nice advice on how to start, keep going, and stick to a timetable. Novels go through multiple drafts, but completed novels don't go through infinite numbers of revisions - and they do go from start to finish. With advice on plotting, workshopping, critiquing, character and more... it's well organized, easy to navigate, and good on those so-easily-forgotten details, like who should narrate the novel or the scene. Read, drink easy-drinking two-star coffee, and write!

Then, if success seems slow to come, (ah doesn't it so), read Finding Success In Balance, my journey to the cheerful mind by Apryl Zarate Schlueter. It's a memoir (so I'm bookending this collection of reviews on the same page). But it's also a self-help manual, inviting readers to examine their lack of success or cheerfulness and be ready to "start anew." You might want a more serious coffee with this one, but don't go too dark. Enjoy a well-balanced three-star cup with a book that balances advice and memoir quite pleasingly.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Which is harder, self-publishing or cheering up a child who has a broken leg?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Judith Wolf Mandell to my blog. She's had a long career as a journalist/publicist, and the childrens book,  Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It  represents her first venture into picture books.

With her husband and Cockapoo,  Judith Wolf Mandell moved from San Diego eleven years ago to be near family in Nashville--read the book and you'll see how important family is to her. They live in an absurd-for-their-age three-level house in the woods and have a critter control service on speed-dial. This is  Judith Wolf Mandell's first book and I, for one, really enjoyed. Click here for my review of Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

So, find some coffee and maybe a gluten free brownie (yes, I've been baking!) then sit down and learn enjoy the tale of Judith's road to publication. Thank you for joining us, Judith. And over to you:

NINE YEARS TO CREATE A BOOK (BUT WHO'S COUNTING?)
by Judith Wolf Mandell, author
Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

Nine years to create a thousand-word, 32-page book? No way! Yet that's how long it took.

I was inspired to write the book when my granddaughter had an "oh, no!" fall that fractured her thigh
bone and landed her in a chest-to-ankle (spica) cast for a mostly miserable month. Searching in vain for a book to buoy her spirits, I vowed to someday write a book to cheer glum, grumpy kids in clunky casts. My granddaughter was two when her world turned topsy-turvy; she's eleven now. Ergo, nine years.

The first draft practically wrote itself. My granddaughter's experience was memory-fresh. The whimsical element of the story -- a troupe of kisses who secretly whoosh into the child's life to cheer for her and inspire patience -- came to me as an "aha." If one kiss heals a boo-boo, then a broken leg needs a bazillion kisses.

I've always loved a line from Cyrano de Bergerac: "A kiss is the rosy dot over the 'i' of 'loving.'" The Kisses were from all the people who loved my protagonist and knew in their hearts she was hurting.

What took so long? Life happens, so I was otherwise occupied for some chunks of time. For other chunks the manuscript sat on the shelf because I was stymied about next steps. My best friend had self-published a novel, so I knew about that possibility. But my book needed art. How would I find an artist? Can an illustrated book even go through the same process as a text-only book? Those questions boggled.


Then I heard a sermon about "living your dream." I knew I was meant to go forward. First step was to send the manuscript to friends and family. Most loved it. A few disputed The Kisses as being unrealistic. Oh, c'mon! I banked on Santa, The Tooth Fairy, Peter Pan as beloved improbabilities.  

Next: send the manuscript to professionals for medical clearance. Mission accomplished, with a bonus of endorsements I used on the book's eventual back cover.

While I was taking these steps to make my book a reality, the self-publishing (now known as "independent publishing") world was growing up, becoming a popular route for would-be authors.  At a Community College course on self-publishing, I learned about CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing arm, a low- or no-cost platform: download its template, input your book, upload said book, have a cover designed or DIY, push the "publish" button and voila, you have a POD (print-on-demand) paperback book. Nifty.

Except that pesky issue of illustrations. By now I had given my book a title: Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It. I had a vision for its art: bright, whimsical, insightful. The Internet brought portfolio samples from around the world. None clicked. In my heart of hearts I wanted someone local for what I envisioned as a collaborative effort. Networking rules: through a mutual friend, I found my illustrator, Lise C. Brown, close by. Her quirky style, experience with juvenile art and knowledge of graphic design made her a perfect fit.

While the art was underway, I was on a mission to find a way to produce a hardback version. Envisioning my book in libraries, schools, children's hospitals, doctors' offices, I intuited the need for a durable hardback. A hardback would also be more likely to be stocked by bookstores; time will tell if I'm correct. My search came to an end with my discovery of IngramSpark, producer of deluxe POD hardback and paperback books.

Then Google found me a local graphic designer who specializes in book formatting and is certified to work with IngramSpark's exacting specifications, as well as CreateSpace. Bonus: she had the savvy to make the book available for Kindle and iBook readers. An eBook version is attractive to my target demographic: youngish parents.

My book was technically finished December 7, 2016...but once again, sat on the shelf. I was stubborn about having a Sammy website before publication. Networking rules again: I found my talented, affable web designer locally. Please visit www.sammysbrokenleg.com to appreciate how worthwhile the wait was until we at last "test drove" the website.

On this March 15, I hit the "publish" button at CreateSpace and IngramSpark, making my book -- nine years later -- a reality. Recall that I set out to help kids cope with the challenge of life in a cumbersome cast. Imagine my gratification to read this Amazon review:

                "This book is perfect for our almost two-year-old who is one week into her spica cast     experience. We're already read it dozens of times!"


Wow, what a perfect endorsement for your book! And thank you for sharing this journey. I run a local writers' group where the speaker will discuss publication choices at the next meeting. It will be good to attend armed with my new knowledge of yours, as I've never got up the nerve to go beyond the Amazon Createspace part. Thank you so much!

Find Sammy's Broken Leg Oh No on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Sammys-Broken-Amazing-Cast-Fixed/dp/0997444908/
and on Barnes and Noble here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sammys-brok%E2%80%8Ba%E2%80%8Ben-leg-judith-wolf-mandell/1125988035?ean=9780997444919

and find the author on her website: http://sammysbrokenleg.com/

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is Beauty And The Beast Just For Kids?

I haven't seen the new Beauty and the Beast movie yet. Somehow it seems odd to look for a live-action version of a Disneyesque version of a familiar fairytale. But I might see it one day.

Meanwhile I was given a copy of "Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales about Animal Brides and Grooms from around the World" to read. I suddenly found that Disney's version wasn't so strange, and that there are far more versions of the familiar fantasy than I'd ever known. Myths and legends, from Greek, Native American and more... stories of wisdom and folly, warnings, and messages of love that sometimes conquers all... a fascinating collection... and not for kids!

"Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh No!) and the Amazing Cast that fixed it" isn't strictly for children either. A fun picture book, it includes, very naturally, an image of the instructions for care of Sammy's cast, plus a very realistic look at how a small child will struggle when unable to play, and how adults can help. Kisses help too!

"Talon: Flight for Life" is a relatively long children's novel filled with word pictures as small protagonist Matica walks through the rainforest with her father, and the beautiful condor meets her on the plain. It's a children's story, but one most likely to be read to the child at bedtime by adults, with wise messages for all.

But what about a book that simply "is" a picture book? "ABC of Sensational Silly Animals" is filled with great pictures, delightfully silly animal combinations, and every imaginable reason for a small child to delight in teaching an adult. After all, what do you get when you cross an alligator with an ant?

But is coffee for kids?

I wasn't allowed coffee as a child, and I loathed warm milk. But find some coffee for yourself while you click on the links above and see which books you'd like to share:

  1. Some bold dark intense five-star coffee with Beauty and the Beast - these legends aren't for the faint-hearted.
  2. a mild, crisp one-star coffee for the light and sensible (and fun) Sammy's broken leg
  3. some lively easy-drinking coffee for Flight for Life, and
  4. a balanced full-flavored three-star coffee to learn those ABCs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

To Kindle Direct Or Not To Kindle Direct

There's a fantastic kindle authors contest going on - kindle storyteller 2017 - and you can enter it any time up to May 19th. All you have to do is

  • release a book on kindle - at least 5,000 words and no less than 24 pages in print; all your own work; not violating any laws etc - 
  • create a print version - easy using the new kindle beta print, which looks almost the same as Createspace but without distribution to other vendors, 
  • make sure you use the right keywords (simple to cut and paste) and
  • enroll your book in kindle direct.

All of which should be really trivial if you happen to have a novella lying around almost completed on your computer. I had three, and I had wonderful friends encouraging me to try. So I published them all.

  • Obey the first rule - easy; 
  • obey the second - fine and a perfect chance to try out that kindle print - I LOVE the covers! (Not sure I like the fact that you have to pay full price to buy YOUR OWN BOOK, but they say they'll fix that when it's out of beta - DO NOT MOVE YOUR CREATESPACE BOOKS TO KINDLE BETA YET!!!)
  • obey the third - no problem
  • and then I forgot the fourth.

Somehow I'd neglected to check that creating a book on kdp is not the same as enrolling in kindle direct. So I followed the links, read the fine print, and panicked.

The question isn't so much should I enroll those three small books I'm so proud of in kindle direct. It's do I dare take the risk.
  • Do I know for absolute sure that no one will find more than 10% of one of the stories cached on, say, the now-defunct gather.com website, or on our (password protected) writers' group site, or in separate chapters posted as separate stories on one of my blogs, or ...? If I don't, I risk breaking the rules by enrolling in Kindle Direct. And if I break the rules, I risk Amazon closing my kindle account, which would remove a whole slew of non-kindle direct books. 
  • But that's not the only risk. What if someone accuses me of plagiarism? I won't know who accused me. I won't be guilty (I know that for sure). But how will I defend myself? - I have a friend whose kindle book was removed because of a false accusation; all his emailed proofs of innocence seem to be read and ignored by robots, not by real people who might understand. Do I want to take that risk? 
  • Then there's the fake downloads risk. Various authors have suffered this one, with strangers blighting their books by masses of downloads in a single day, resulting in Amazon deducing they've gamed the borrowers system and removing the book.

The more I look at it, the more I'm almost afraid to even publish. But for sure I'm scared of Kindle Direct, so I'll skip the contest (I wasn't going to win it anyway), ease my stress, and just enjoy the fact that it did inspire me to release:

Enjoy!

What's In A Mystery?

I read a book called "The Mystery Tomb" recently. Can you guess, it was a mystery? Characters had mysterious backstories. Locations revealed unexpected treasures. Desire and intention collided while truth slipped and slid, awaiting the final reveal. Mystery for sure. "Deadly Spirits" is a mystery driven by a wonderfully human narrator whose favorite spirits come in bottles, but whose life revolves around mysterious deaths. "Raining Men and Corpses"? has to be mystery and humor for sure. Meanwhile "Dead Shot" is a more juvenile mystery-adventure with deeply serious themes.

Then there's "Girl With All The Gifts." But it's that horror isn't it? Except it's also a mystery, filled with the question of how, why or what she is, and how, why or what she might hold as the clue to the future. A mystery that doesn't  resolve all it's clues, Gifts proves all the better perhaps for not doing so, and lingers in the mind. Does that make sense?

"Enemies of the Batsu" doesn't answer all its questions either, in this case because it's part of a series. Never quite revealing what created this futuristic Japanese culture, it drives another forward arc in the direction of finding out.

"Fever Tree" is literary mystery, starting with the curious question of who its protagonist might be, then wending its way to why he is there and where his path will lead. "The Coyote Hunter of Aquidneck Island" offers one mystery to its characters and a completely different one to intrigue the protagonist and reader--definitely literary mystery too.

But what's in a mystery.

The ones I loved most of the books above had great protagonists--flawed, but serious and caring; not too sure of themselves, so I might like them more than they like themselves. Their mysteries range from twistedly complex to simple human nature, but they're neither trivially resolved nor teasingly hidden away. I guess I might look for an honesty in the story that lets me believe it's worth my while trying to work things out as I read. And I like great locations too--as in locations sufficiently described as to seem real and great, not necessarily ones I'd want to visit.

My question, of course--as I contemplate writing mystery and decide I'm probably not good enough--is what's in a mystery for other readers? Why makes you choose one mystery over another, one mystery author, or one type of mystery?

I hope you'll find yourself a coffee as you follow the links above to my reviews on Goodreads:

  1. Mystery Tomb will be best with some complex four-star coffee.
  2. Deadly Spirits deserves a well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star blend
  3. Raining Men and Corpses will go well with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.
  4. Dead Shot needs a mild crisp one-star cup
  5. Girl with All the Gifts needs some rich dark five-star coffee
  6. Enemies of the Batsu probably merits a strong dark five-star drink too
  7. Fever Tree should be read with some elegant, complex four-star coffee
  8. As should the Coyote Hunter of Aquidneck Island.
Enjoy.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Are the Genders Equal in Childrens Books?

Today I'm delighted to welcome  Sonia Panigrahythe author of Nina the Neighborhood Ninja to my site. (Click on the link for my review, or find it on Amazon here). Lots of picture book and storybook heroes are boys, so it's nice to read this one with valiant Nina as the protagonist. And it's great to read how Sonia feels about those children's characters.

Gender Equality in Children’s Books, by Sonia Panigrahy


Over the past decade, I grew into the role of an aunt to my network of friends and family with children. Having been a book worm as a child, I was excited to share the love of reading with them, opening a new world of imagination and knowledge. We often say that a child’s brain is like a sponge and books are a wonderful way to help them absorb life’s lessons.

The books society produces reflects the lessons of what our society chooses to teach its members, including its youngest members. Progressive societies see education as a social equalizer, as noted by educational reformer, Horace Mann. However, browsing through the colorful spines of children’s bookstores, I found that the books on the shelves were perpetuating social inequality. I continually noticed that it was much easier to find empowering books for boys than for girls. There were plenty of adventurous male characters to choose from, but when I searched for similar stories for young girls, I found the selection dismal. It was heart-breaking knowing how empowering books can be for children, but realizing for girls, many books were doing just the opposite.

Plenty of children’s books, read by our society’s members with the most expansive, impressionable, and open minds, are in fact subtly telling little girls how to and not to behave. The girls I know are adventurous in the same way boys are. Yet, the children’s books available to them, while many portraying girls as smart, they will not put a girl as the lead strong character. What is it that our society is teaching our children by allowing children’s book to foster inequitable gender roles that don’t allow our girls to be both smart and strong?

We continue to lack enough books that allow all children to find universal and valued themes of confidence, curiosity, braveness, creativity, strength, intelligence, kindness, compassion, generosity, and resilience. Storylines are not representative of girls as they are, but rather, what they are told to be. Our literary orbit continues to revolve heavily around boy’s needs, but this needs to change. If the books that are published are about appealing to a mass market, then appeal more to the 51% of the U.S. population-- females. Girls need to have a place in the literary orbit, and that includes also being at the center of the superhero narrative. Children need to see themselves in books—it validates their value in society.

This inequitable portrayal of females in narratives detrimental to girls, but it is harmful for young boys to be taught and then reinforce narrow, limiting stereotypes. It was with this sense of inequity for young girls and boys that I decided to write my book, “Nina the Neighborhood Ninja.” It features a young girl of color named Nina, about 5 years old, who is the brave superhero courageously leading the way using her brains and strength to creatively and kindly rescue those in need. Just like most of the girls I know.

Thank you so much, Sonia, for writing the book, and for bringing the problem to our minds. You've got me thinking I really should try again to get my Hemlock stories published  -  their strongest protagonist is a girl, and she rescues the boys ... well, except for the ones who are teasing her. She makes them think they're frogs.

About The Author:

Author Sonia Panigrahy is a public health professional, world traveler, adventure seeker, and fitness enthusiast. She believes that life is too short to be bored! 
Nina the Neighborhood Ninja was created out of Sonia's lifelong love of reading. As her family and friends begin to have children, she looked forward to sharing this love with them. She believes that books are a powerful way to empower impressionable young minds. 
Sonia was surprised that she could not find books for girls ages 3-6 years that realistically identified females as intelligent, physically tough, brave, and adventurous. She was disappointed that girls continue to be excluded from the heart of the superhero story. 
After unsuccessful attempts to find a young girl superhero protagonist on the pages of a book, especially one of color, she gave up. Then she created her own. 

Follow Sonia on her Facebook Author PageTwitter @SoniaPanigrahy, and on Instagram



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Who do kids learn their lessons from?

Who do kids learn their lessons from? The obvious answer is from teachers at school. Perhaps from parents at home. But what about from teddy bears, dogs, birds or snakes? If they're reading books, they might learn lessons from all of these. And if they read the first book in my list below, the parents just might learn the odd lesson too. So from where or what did you learn your most important lessons?

Creature Comforts, the extraordinary life of Cassandra Jones, by Tamara Hart Heiner is the first in a series of novels for pre-teen girls, centering on the adventures of a very ordinary ten-year-old. She's a fairly observant 10-year-old, and parents would be wise to learn that their disagreements and distractions are easily visible to their kids. I'd like to have seen more resolution to the tale, but it looks like a good series with a very convincing character and voice. Enjoy with some two-star easy-drinking coffee.

Talon 2 On The Wing by Gigi Sedlmayer offers life lessons from a condor, and gentle wisdom from parents and friends. The tiny protagonist has a growth problem, but she learns to fly on her favorite bird - a really enjoyable way to make her handicap an advantage. The story touches on discrimination and loss, and doesn't sugar-coat its pill. But it soars with the birds and offers plenty of wisdom. Enjoy this modern story with an old-fashioned feel while drinking a balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Then there's the dog, Shadow. Lessons from Shadow by Shadow/Wally Bregman is a short large book, easy for children to hold while parents or grandparents read. The stories are told from the dog's point of view and include lessons on how to cope with bullying, how not to run away from home, and how to deal with loss. It's nicely presented, simply and briefly illustrated, and the sort of book parents and children will enjoy together - perhaps with a two-star easy-drinking coffee for the adult.

A teddy bear offers counting lessons in 12 Days at the Beach with Theodore – learn to count – by Ashlee and Trent Harding. It's short (12 days long) and fun. Each day has a two-line rhyming story, a counting puzzle, and a fullpage illustration telling the tale. Children will love to "read" the pictures, moving on to counting in answer to the questions, and then maybe counting even more (how many legs on a starfish perhaps). The colors are bright. The illustrations are simple and clear. The lessons are well-drawn. And it's a really neat book, to enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

As to where the snake is, you might have to read the books to find out, or guess from what these reviews don't say. That's your puzzle perhaps.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Different Genres, Different Names?

Some authors change their names when they write in different genres. Some change their publishers. Some publishers have subgroups for different genres. And some just ... publish ... write ... go for it.

I think I was trying to be "organized" when I "went for it" and tried to get different publishers for each of my genres. I didn't want to change my name - it's mine! But I didn't want to confuse readers, so I sent my children's Bible stories to a Christian Publisher, Cape Arago Press (actually, they asked me for them, which still fills me with hope). My contemporary novels went to a literary publisher, Stonegarden.net, who closed down. Then they went to a contemporary publisher, Second Wind Publishing, who slowed down. Now they're with another contemporary publisher, Indigo Sea, and I'm wondering if book 3 will ever be released. Meanwhile my speculative fiction went to Gypsy Shadow, who "released" me for lack of sales. Then they ... well, then they went to Indigo Sea which would kind of negate the one genre, one publisher idea, except IS doesn't seem to be in a hurry to release them. Meanwhile my children's stories are with Linkville Press which .., well ... doesn't just publish children's fiction. In fact, they might be better know for more adultly scary stuff such as ...

Purify My Heart by Ruthie Madison pits Christian, Wiccan and evil against each other, offering seductive temptation to a newly Christian woman whose husband is away at war. Lots of wise lessons, lots of backstory; coincidences that aren't all engineered by God, and wise advise lurks in the shadows. It's a slow read but interesting. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

Maya Initiate 39 by Mr Ben involves another young woman seduced by evil forces. Never quite resolving the issues it raised, the novel takes a teenager through to adulthood, and offers readers the hope of redemption despite bad choices. Read this dark tale with some more dark five-star coffee.

Then there's Psychotic State the Novel by William Pattison, currently out of print. This ones definitely a dark dark five-star coffee book, with gratuitous violence, complex backstory, and a mix or horror, don't bully, and don't go off your meds themes that never quite gels.

I'm not sure how my innocent puppies and kittens fit with these, but Linkville Press deserves to be known for a broad spectrum of different books, from the curious fantasy of Torii, to the deeply relevant real-world issues of Etched in History, and from crime-drama Jack Stenhouse mystery to sweet animal mysteries (mine) in Tails of Mystery.

Perhaps a publisher that publishes many genres has a better chance of making sales and staying afloat than one that covers few. But what about the writer? Should I have stuck to one name, stuck to genre, or just stuck to being me?


Friday, April 7, 2017

What's In A Title?

I got a book in the mail the other day. It's title was "This Book Needs A Title." I read a poem in the poem with the same title. And I pondered, what's a title there for anyway.

The author has now produced TBNAT 2. Meanwhile I struggle to write, struggle to get my publishers to release anything, and struggle to catch up with book reviews. The writing's fun - it's just a pain being squished into an ever-shrinking corner of an ever-more-cluttered bedroom when I HATE CLUTTER! (Pause while I dream of dry redecorated basement, maybe by Christmas if I'm lucky, but hey, I'm pretty lucky to even have a basement. Why am I complaining?) Pushing publishers to publish is less fun - my publishers tend to have babies, get sick, get overwhelmed, and even close their doors - please don't close your doors, PRETTY PLEASE! But the book reviewing is always fun and doesn't tie me to that cluttered bedroom. If it's a real book (the sort that can come in the mail) I can even read and review it when the power's out. (Yeah, the power's enjoying one of its it-a-bit, out-a-bit days and the wind's driving me crazy.)

But what's in a title? I posted a picture of spooky trees and someone said I should use it as a book cover - for the Hemlock novels perhaps? But they don't have a title or a publisher, never have had, probably never will. And besides, I need to work on rewriting them. Hemlock's not a bad title on its own though, is it? At least, not when paired with spooky trees (some of which happen to be hemlocks, but hemlock trees aren't the same as hemlock's poisonous plants ...  it's still a cool picture).


Does a title have to be paired with a matching cover? This Book Needs A Title has a cool, plain, white cover with clear black text. It fits the title perfectly. Is The Bible Good For Women (the next book in the list of reviews below) has a serious brown-shaded cover with thick book-ends, and the Bible's a thick book.It conveys serious and organised (did I mention, I HATE CLUTTER), and the words are clear and bright, so maybe it works. Certainly the title is one that would catch a Christian woman's eye, and that's the idea.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple is another book for women (and I hope today will be different!). The title's certainly catchy. The gray cover with everywoman hiding her face. That's catchy. That's me. I had to read this book! Then there's Movie Trivia Madness, a title that catches my husband's eye since he loves movie trivia. He's not read the book yet, and he'll probably just get his trivia from the internet. The cover's black and bright, has a movie reel (from a distance it reminded me of a skull, perhaps not the intent), and it includes popcorn, soda and movie tickets. I think the title would attract me first, before I look at the cover.

Anyway, you can follow the links below for the covers and reviews, and find yourself a coffee to enjoy while reading:

This Book Needs A Title by Theodore Ficklestein is a freeverse, enticing and easily read poetry book. Frequently stream-of-consciousness, by turns humorous, thought-provoking, memorable or silly, it's a surprisingly enjoyable read and I'd happily pick up book 2. Find some bright, lively 2-star coffee to enjoy with it.

Is the Bible Good for Women by Wendy Alsup is a kind of whole-Bible study, looking at the fate and redemption of women from Old Testament times to New. Insights from contemporary culture turn OT tragedies into surprisingly empowering stories, and I just wished the NT applications had been viewed the same way. That said, it's a really good read, and has great reader-questions at the end for small groups to share. Enjoy this one with an elegant, complex, thought-provoking 4-star coffee.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple is another book for women, fitting a lifetime of memories into a very ordinary day that turns out very different. The protagonist (most frequent narrator) is a fairly everyday mom, struggling with life, kid and spouse. There are interlocking mysteries - strange kid, absent spouse, imaginary sisters perhaps - and interlocking "stories" told in pictures, poetry, even a book within the book. It's intriguingly different and it works. Enjoy with some seriously complex 4-star coffee!

Then, for the man in my life, there's Movie Trivia Madness by Bill O’Neill and Steve Murray. It's got lots of movie trivia.  And it's surprisingly entertaining simply as a mad, fun read. Enjoy with some bright easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

So what do you think. Do titles matter as much as covers, more than covers, or not much anyway?


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Does the Real World Hide Behind Fictional Fear?

Fear wears many different faces in novels I've read recently. In one, a dying woman is afraid for the daughters she'll leave behind. Others fear revelations from the past and struggle not to touch its memories. One woman is convinced her memories are false because nobody believed them--now she calls herself insane. There's a man who fears, very sensibly, how misguided decisions will effect his land and neighbors. Another fears the end of the world; yet another, the end of the world as he's imagined it. Some take action to end their fears, others start more fear, and others hide. But all these fears can be seen as mirrors held up to the present world. Do we hide behind our fear? Do we hide our fears in fiction? Or does fiction help us explore and recognize fear so we can act wisely instead of hiding?

Find a mug, pour some coffee, and decide which fears and which books you'd like from these.

In South California Purples by Baron R Birtcher, rancher Ty Dawson can see trouble looming (and a gruesomely dead cow). The world of 1973 is changing, but he channels his fear for the future into wise care for the present, even taking on the unwanted task of preserving law and order for a fast-growing crowd of environmentalists, hippies and bikers. The story's told with unflinching detail, lyrical prose, fast action, and a wonderful sense for people, time and place. And it's set in my beloved Oregon. What more could you ask for? Some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee perhaps?

As Close As Sisters by Colleen Faulkner takes place on the opposite coast, where four girls who grew up together now face forces that might drive them apart. One might be dying. Another contemplates having a child. A third is entering a new relationship. And a fourth keeps secrets for them all. Fear of living, fear of dying, fear for the future, fear for the secrets of the past--all these are in this novel, where communication just might hold the key to moving on. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

More wounded women star in Outrageous by Neal Katz, the first in a sequence of books depicting the real life of Victoria Woodhull. Home life, filled with abuse, is truly terrifying, but Vickie learns to trust the company of women over that of men, and finds solace as well as fear in spirits. The real world, life and scandals are truly outrageous, but the characters are achingly human. And fears are truly overcome. I wish it was more than just part one of the story though. Well-balanced with well-told research, this is one to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Play House by Saikat Majumdar is set in India. The Play House in question might be the theater where a boy's mother works as an actress. It might be the home run by his grandmother, where mother is soon unwelcome. Maybe it's the apartment, never quite a home, where the mother plays at being mom. Or is it the house in the young boy's mind, where he puts together half-images, draws half-conclusions, and brings the whole construction down on everyone? This is a truly absorbing haunting novel, filled with the fears of adolescence, and best enjoyed with some dark five-star coffee.

Nos4a2 by Joe Hill is meant to scare you, of course. It's horror fiction at its best, building terror on a seriously cool premise, and contrasting good and evil in the form of a woman who thinks she's crazy but dearly loves her son, and a man who truly is crazy and loves all children. I was lost from the very first mention of a bridge between lost and found, and didn't find myself again until the end. Enjoy with some seriously rich, dark, five-star coffee.

Similarly, 1999 by Stanley Baldwin is meant to scare readers. Of course, the dreaded Y2K has been and gone, but this depiction of religious fervor and fear remains as a haunting warning against seeing answered prayer in the temptations of success. A father is drawn into the web of a charismatic teacher. His wife is subtly torn down and driven to despise herself. And his career, his work for God is blooming, except... Well, you'll have to read it if you can find it. I really enjoyed how1999 is simultaneously wise, scary, entertaining, non-preachy, and a really good read. Pour some dark five-star coffee to go with it.