Category Archives: reading
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven – but the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
4 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Historical fiction as a whole doesn’t really appeal to me, but I had to read this book after seeing recommendations for it everywhere. As a Southerner, I’m glad I did, but it didn’t quite blow me away as I expected.
The story begins with the recounting of how an African woman named Ajarry was ripped from her home and brought to the US to become a slave. This origin is important because it shows how it all began, but the main character of this novel is Ajarry’s granddaughter, Cora.
Cora is working on a cotton plantation in Georgia, and has been on her own since the age of ten when her mother ran away in the night without her. Ever since then, she’s been an outcast. So when a fellow slave called Caesar asks her to run with him, she considers it, then agrees. Their journey will bring them to many places, but it will never really stop–because as long as there is a runaway slave, there is someone waiting to catch them and return them to their former life.
As a main character, I’m not sure if I would describe Cora as compelling, but she has a quiet strength that is unlike any other I’ve encountered. She’s never one to complain, but as she learns more she begins to question the world and that gives her the courage and intelligence to see that she deserves a far better life than the one she was born into.
There are a couple of action scenes that put you on the edge of your seat, but for the most part the story moves along languidly. Cora passes months here or weeks there without anything happening, then time will skip forward until the action begins again. I was torn between wanting more to happen, and enjoying the fact that the sometimes slow pace allows the reader to truly see how much Cora is growing through her encounters with the wider world.
As a citizen of the South, I can’t say I read about anything I didn’t necessarily know pertaining to slavery, but a lot of its’ horrors are described in detail in this book, and for that reason it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s one thing to know about what the history books say, and another to hear about accounts of torture that happened to real, named people.
The Underground Railroad was a more introspective book than I anticipated, but I still devoured it pretty quickly. The ending is fast paced and leaves you with some glimmer of hope. Cora’s story is important in the realm of American history, and this novel has the perfect voice to tell it.
About the Author
Colson Whitehead was born in 1969, and was raised in Manhattan.
The Underground Railroad, a novel, was published in the summer of 2016. It won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, and was a #1 New York Times Bestseller.
He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, A Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Dos Passos Prize, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.
He has taught at the University of Houston, Columbia University, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, New York University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, and been a Writer-in-Residence at Vassar College, the University of Richmond, and the University of Wyoming.
He lives in New York City.
The Summer of Broken Things
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
From New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix comes a haunting novel about friendship and what it really means to be a family in the face of lies and betrayal.
Fourteen-year-old Avery Armisted is athletic, rich, and pretty. Sixteen-year-old Kayla Butts is known as “butt-girl” at school. The two girls were friends as little kids, but that’s ancient history now. So it’s a huge surprise when Avery’s father offers to bring Kayla along on a summer trip to Spain. Avery is horrified that her father thinks he can choose her friends—and make her miss soccer camp. Kayla struggles just to imagine leaving the confines of her small town.
But in Spain, the two uncover a secret their families had hidden from both of them their entire lives. Maybe the girls can put aside their differences and work through it together. Or maybe the lies and betrayal will only push them—and their families—farther apart.
Margaret Peterson Haddix weaves together two completely separate lives in this engaging novel that explores what it really means to be a family—and what to do when it’s all falling apart.
About the Author
Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.
She has since written more than 40 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Double Identity; Uprising; The Always War; the Shadow Children series; the Missing series; the Children of Exile series; the Under Their Skin duology; and The Palace Chronicles. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and numerous state reader’s choice awards. They have also been translated into more than twenty different languages.
Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio. They are the parents of two grown kids.
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– 5 Winners will receive a Copy of THE SUMMER OF BROKEN THINGS by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
ENDS: APRIL 30, 2018
The Baby Plan
by Kate Rorick
Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit
In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries creator Kate Rorick’s first adult fiction novel, we enter the wild, bewildering world of modern pregnancies. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll shake your head as you wonder where everyone’s sanity went…
Meet the mothers…
Nathalie Kneller: Nathalie’s plan: to announce her pregnancy now that she’s finally made it past twelve weeks! But just as she’s about to deliver (so to speak) the big news to her family, her scene-stealing sister barfs all over the Thanksgiving centerpiece. Yup, Lyndi’s pregnant too, swiping the spotlight once more…
Lyndi Kneller: Lyndi’s plan: finally get her life together! She’s got a new apartment, new promotion, new boyfriend. What she didn’t count on—a new baby! She can barely afford her rent, much less a state-of-the-art stroller…
Sophia Nunez: Sophia’s plan: Once she gets her daughter Maisey off to college, she’ll finally be able to enjoy life as make-up artist to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and girlfriend to one of rock’s hottest musicians. But after 18 years she discovers the stork is once again on its way…
Now these women are about to jump headlong into the world of modern day pregnancy. It’s a world of over the top gender reveal parties (with tacky cakes and fireworks); where every morsel you eat is scrutinized and discussed; where baby names are crowd-sourced and sonograms are Facebook-shared. And where nothing goes as planned…
2 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Chick lit is a genre I don’t mind dipping into when I feel the need for some light and humorous escapism. This book though, made me frustrated and annoyed for most of the time.
The story centers around 3 connected women who all happen to be pregnant at the same time: Nathalie (I don’t care how you say it’s pronounced, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for be to read it without a TH sound), a 33 year old teacher, her sister Lyndi, and Sophia, a makeup artist in her late thirties who has another daughter getting ready to graduate from high school. Although the three women are pregnant, they are all at different places in their lives and dealing with the expectancies others push onto them.
I can’t say I liked any of the characters in this book. They all were rude or careless or just plain naive. And it’s an easy plot device that all three have baby daddies that start acting like jackasses. Nothing anyone did in this entire novel made much sense at all.
I have had 2 children, so I guess I am supposed to relate to what each character is experiencing, but I didn’t really. Though I had a lot of the physical symptoms mentioned, I don’t think I lost my sense of logic as these women do, and I believe that it’s really an overused trope to say that pregnant women are highly emotional and “crazy.”
Finally, and most annoyingly, there were several plot lines that just didn’t bother to get wrapped up at all. I can’t mention them specifically for spoiler reasons, but issues between Nathalie and her husband don’t get a sense of closure or a reason at all. The end felt rather sloppy.
If you like to read chick lit with humor, there are better options out there. Sadly, The Baby Plan stuck to cliches and predictable plot elements to tell its story.
About the Author
Kate Rorick is an Emmy Award–winning writer who has worked on a number of television shows, most recently The Librarians on TNT. She was also a writer for the hit web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and authored the two series tie-in novels, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet. In her other life, she writes bestselling historical romance novels under the name Kate Noble. Kate lives in Los Angeles with her family.
This is Not the End
by Chandler Baker
I wonder if for the rest of my life, I’ll be haunted by beautiful days.
On one cloudless, radiant summer afternoon, Lake Devereaux lost everything. The car crash claimed the lives of her best friend and boyfriend, the people who had become her family after her own fell apart. But she doesn’t have to lose them both.
The development of resurrection technology has changed the world. Under the new laws regulating the process, each person gets one resurrection to be used or forfeited on their eighteenth birthday. Mere weeks away from turning eighteen, Lake faces an impossible choice.
Envisioning life without one of the people she loves most is shattering enough, but Lake carries an additional burden: years ago, under family pressure, Lake secretly—and illegally—promised her resurrection to someone who isn’t even dead yet.
The search for answers about her future draws Lake more deeply into the secrets of her past until she begins to question everything about those closest to her. Betrayals and hurts both new and old threaten to eclipse the memories she once cherished.
Then Lake meets a boy unlike anyone she’s encountered before, who unflinchingly embraces the darkest parts of her life . . . and who believes that all resurrections are wrong.
Which path is the right one? And how can Lake start to heal when she can’t move on?
Harry Potter; Star Wars; Blade Runner – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep; Hobbit; Game of Thrones; Handmaid’s Tale; Enders Game; Slaughter House-Five; The Road
Chandler Baker got her start ghostwriting novels for teens and tweens, including installments in a book series that has sold more than 1 million copies. She grew up in Florida, went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and studied law at the University of Texas. She now lives in Austin with her husband. Although she loves spinning tales with a touch of horror, she is a much bigger scaredy-cat than her stories would lead you to believe.
You can find Chandler as the books contributor on the YouTube channel Weird Girls.
– 1 Winner will receive a Copy of THIS IS NOT THE END Swag (Signed Copy and Stickers) by Chandler Baker.
by Chuck Vance
Chased Series, Book One
Could you sleep next to a murderer?
Luke Chase—yes, that Luke Chase, a modern hero ripped from the headlines—didn’t mean to get caught up in Mrs. Heckler’s murder. He just wanted to hook up with the hot new British girl at St. Benedict’s, and if that meant sneaking out to the woods after hours, then so be it. But little did he know someone would end up dead right next to their rendezvous spot, and his best friend and roommate Oscar Weymouth would go down for it. With suspects aplenty and a past that’s anything but innocent, Luke Chase reluctantly calls on his famous survival skills to find the true killer.
For fans of “A Study in Charlotte” and boarding school lit, “Sneaking Out” (book one in the “Chased” series) immerses readers in the privileged prep school world, with a mystery that exposes the dark side of life on a residential high school campus.
By the grace of God, he had fled the cabin in the woods that his kidnappers had locked him in for two days. He’d taken off in the early hours of the morning when the moon was filmy and the sun just a promise. But not before he snuck into the cabin, holding his breath, praying his abductors wouldn’t wake up, to grab some necessities for his escape into the dark woods. He had been well trained by his grandfather and knew what he needed to survive. He had stolen the thick wool sweater that he found dangling on a hook by the entrance and the large black-handled knife he had discovered in the top kitchen drawer. Luke had sifted through the cabinets, desperate to find any other portable provisions. A coil of rope, and a plastic bag into which he poured some household cleaning powder that he located under the sink. Ammonia. He had read about it in one of his grandfather’s military books. Ammonia can hide human scent.
And so like Hansel and Gretel, Luke left his own version of a bread trail as he moved through the woods. He would run for approximately half an hour before slowing for ten minutes and sprinkling ammonia to conceal his scent. The slobbering, sharp-toothed attack dog that his captors kept tied to the front door would have a harder time finding him now. He preferred his running escape to slowing down. It was when he was still enough to hear his heart beat that he felt the pounding sense of fear commingled with claustrophobia. He was angry. Why had he been torn away from his family? Was it all for money? But what made him the angriest was that they had made him view the woods, so poetic and magical for his entire life until that point, as something sinister and fearful.
He only realized he was hungry when he stumbled upon a patch of teaberries. He knew they were edible, and so he would plop down amidst the spicebushes and other shrubs and eat the sticky berries until they stained his fingers a light pink. He’d take a second to watch the salamanders slither under the rocks, and remain motionless enough to hear the rustle of skunks and other wildlife make their way through the thick brush. Fortunately, there were natural springs in the woods, and when he would come across one, he’d slurp as much water out of the palm of his hand, water that he’d scoop up fervently and drink until he couldn’t. Then he would continue on. There was never a second where he wasn’t aware that he was being hunted.
About the Author
Chuck Vance is a pseudonym for a bestselling writer of both adult mysteries and novels for young adults. Vance attended boarding school in Connecticut and graduated from Columbia University. Vance has lived in New York, Moscow, London, Paris and Los Angeles and is frequently on the move.
1 winner will receive a finished copy of SNEAKING OUT & a $30 Amazon GC, US Only.
The Wild Inside
by Jamey Bradbury
A promising talent makes her electrifying debut with this unforgettable novel, set in the Alaskan wilderness, that is a fusion of psychological thriller and coming-of-age tale in the vein of Jennifer McMahon, Chris Bohjalian, and Mary Kubica.
A natural born trapper and hunter raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Tracy Petrikoff spends her days tracking animals and running with her dogs in the remote forests surrounding her family’s home. Though she feels safe in this untamed land, Tracy still follows her late mother’s rules: Never Lose Sight of the House. Never Come Home with Dirty Hands. And, above all else, Never Make a Person Bleed.
But these precautions aren’t enough to protect Tracy when a stranger attacks her in the woods and knocks her unconscious. The next day, she glimpses an eerily familiar man emerge from the tree line, gravely injured from a vicious knife wound—a wound from a hunting knife similar to the one she carries in her pocket. Was this the man who attacked her and did she almost kill him? With her memories of the events jumbled, Tracy can’t be sure.
Helping her father cope with her mother’s death and prepare for the approaching Iditarod, she doesn’t have time to think about what she may have done. Then a mysterious wanderer appears, looking for a job. Tracy senses that Jesse Goodwin is hiding something, but she can’t warn her father without explaining about the attack—or why she’s kept it to herself.
It soon becomes clear that something dangerous is going on . . . the way Jesse has wormed his way into the family . . . the threatening face of the stranger in a crowd . . . the boot-prints she finds at the forest’s edge.
Her family is in trouble. Will uncovering the truth protect them—or is the threat closer than Tracy suspects?
2 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
The first half of this book was great to me, which is why it’s such a shame that the second half veered off so weirdly that I ended up having to give a less than stellar review.
Tracy Petrikoff lives in rural Alaska with her father and brother after the death of her mother a few years prior. The family raises sled dogs, and in past years Tracy’s father Bill has run the Iditarod and done pretty well at it. So, dogs and racing are in 17 year old Tracy’s blood…but so is something else.
Ever since birth, Tracy has known she’s different. She’d rather be in the woods than the house any day, and feels she has more in common with the squirrels and rabbits she comes across than other kids her age. As she grows older, the wild streak inside Tracy becomes harder to tame, and she sometimes finds it hard to have the self control not to harm other people. But, she is still a teenage girl, and butting heads with her father happens. He just doesn’t know why it’s so dangerous when she gets grounded to their house, but he’ll learn.
If I had been told that there was going to be a supernatural element to this novel, I probably would have picked it up a lot sooner than I did. The mystery lies around what exactly Tracy is and why she does what her instincts tell her, and it’s intriguing to see how she has to strike that balance between her humanity and her “wild inside.”
There are actually several secrets and mysteries throughout the book. At the beginning, Tracy attacks a man who tries to grab her in the forest. He then comes to her house and her father saves his life. An enigmatic teenage drifter named Jesse comes around looking for a place to stay, and Tracy is immediately suspicious and it turns out she has good reason to be.
The best parts of the book, in my opinion, are flashback that show conversations between Tracy and her mother. You can tell that the two were close, and it turns out it was because the two of them were the same in so many ways. Tracy’s mother understood her and tried her best to make sure she felt comfortable in her own skin and in her family. The loss of her mother was profound and Tracy finally sees how hard it impacted every single member of their household.
If you have a weak stomach, this book is not for you. There are many bloody scenes, some involving animals and some involving humans, and they’re described rather bluntly. There are a couple of other parts I can’t mention for spoiler reasons, but if you are easily disturbed I would again advise you to stay away.
In the end, I was too infuriated with Tracy and her bad decision making to be happy with how things turned out. I know she was probably never meant to be a main character a reader can root for, but there are things I cannot believe she intentionally did and seemed senseless. I get what Tracy did for her family and for herself, but I still can’t agree with it fully.
About the Author
Born in Illinois, Jamey Bradbury has lived in Alaska for fifteen years, leaving only briefly to earn her MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Winner of an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters, she has published fiction in Black Warrior Review, Sou’wester, and Zone 3, and she has written for the Anchorage Daily News, TheBillfold.com, and storySouth. Jamey lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
The Italian Party
by Christina Lynch
A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about “innocent” Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.
When Scottie’s Italian teacher–a teenager with secrets of his own–disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.
Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America’s role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.
2.5 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
Ehh, this one was kind of a mess for me, and not what I was expecting. The book’s description bills it as “fun” and “funny” but it was really neither of those things for me. I didn’t catch the spy angle that much either. Yes, one of the main characters is a spy…but he seems like Spy Lite compared to others like James Bond or Michael Westen.
It’s the mid 1950’s, and Scottie and Michael are a recently married American couple who have moved to Siena, Italy to sell Ford tractors to technologically impaired Italian farmers–or at least that is the husband’s cover story. In reality, Michael works for the CIA, and he’s on a mission to make sure Siena isn’t taken over by communist factions in the delicate wake of WW2. Scottie, for her part, is intent on being the perfect housewife, because she is concealing a secret of her own. Until the day her teenage Italian tutor goes missing, and she feels compelled to spring into action.
The part of this novel that was kind of funny to me is also the part that’s true–the fact that Michael is trying so hard to live his American life in another country. You can’t just move to Italy and expect that you’ll be able to have instant dinners and fast food and other American conveniences. But America was so afraid of anyone other than themselves after WW2, this was the attitude a lot of people had. Michael’s higher ups send him copies of American magazines like Life and Time and encourage him to leave them around for Italians to find. Scottie is requested to make dinner one night and she has to scrounge around the city to find American ingredients, because Michael is afraid of becoming “too Italian.” It’s all a ridiculous notion but rooted in fact.
The characterization in this book is good for some, and basic for others. It’s true that almost no one you meet in this novel can be trusted at face value, and some that you might have preconceived notions about are actually hiding much deeper issues than you would have thought.
There’s not very much action, to be told, and the biggest mystery of the plot gets solved rather accidentally. The end is also kind of bittersweet. Although Michael and Scottie are not the best people, you end up kind of rooting for them and wish them the best.
About the Author
Christina Lynch is a professor of English at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California. A former Milan correspondent for W and Women’s Wear Daily, she has written on staff for television shows such as The Dead Zone, Encore! Encore!, Unhappily Ever After and Wildfire. The Italian Party is her first novel.
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How to Love the Empty Air
by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Airexplores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like… laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”
- Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. I’m the author of seven books of poetry, including How to Love the Empty Air which is coming out this Spring, and two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue of Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller list. For most of my adult life, I lived in New York City, but fell in love and now live with my husband and our family in Austin, TX.
- What made you want to become a writer?
My mother. In fact, the very first poem in my very first poetry collection is about that very subject, and you can watch a film of my performance of that piece online here:
- Who or what gives you inspiration?
As writer of nonfiction and of poetry, I love true stories told by the people who lived them. My husband is a fiction writer, and so our house is filled to the brim with books. Whenever I feel lost, inspired, or confused on where to go next with my writing, I just pick up a book and see what it can tell me. For poetry, my go-to poets of late have been Kevin Young, Bob Hicok, Hanif Abdurraqib, Sharon Olds, Danez Smith, Denise Duhamel, and the poets I am lucky enough to be touring with this spring: Sarah Kay, Anis Mojgani and Derrick C. Brown.
- Please give us some insight on How to Love the Empty Air.
My books are all autobiographical, all attempts at trying to capture what life is like for me at whatever time I am living it. The first poet who made me realize I could be a poet was Jim Daniels, who wrote lovingly and honestly about his working class upbringing, and his time as a worker in an auto factory. Until then, I didn’t realize you could be working class and a poet. I wanted my work to do the same: honestly depict what life was like for a college student (my first collection), a writer for porn (my second collection), an office worker by day, performance poet by night (my third collection), etc… However, choosing to record your life in this way means also having to shine a spotlight on the tougher parts. How to Love the Empty Air is my attempt to capture the before, during and aftermath of the loss of my mother.
- What’s the hardest part of being a writer?
I mean, honestly, it’s believing that you can do it and then doing it. As mentioned above, I came from a working class neighborhood: all cops, firefighters and sanitation workers. When I told folks that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I might as well have told them I wanted to be the tooth fairy. But being a writer means taking risks, writing constantly, risking failure, and navigating success. At each level, you are going to feel like a total fraud, but you need to push through and remember that it’s all about the writing, doing the work. After my mother passing, I was given her journals, I found a 4 item list in one of them that I use as my guide for life and writing, which I think is tremendously helpful:
1.) Know Your Purpose
2.) Be Present
3.) Act Decisively.
4.) Don’t be attached to the results.
She titled this list “True Work” and I can’t think of a better guide for writing.
- What do you need around you to write (special drink, lucky items, etc)?
No. I’ve written in coffeehouses, libraries, museum, trains, planes and tiny laundry-rooms-cum-offices. The only thing I need to something to record with – laptop preferred, but a sharpie and a stack of napkins have worked in a pinch too!) and I am ready to go.
- What are some of your favorite books?
I would wear out the battery of the computer if I listed them all, but since How to Love the Empty Air deals with processing grief, I will share the books I found the most helpful during that time in my life:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Dear Darkness by Kevin Young
The Art of Losing, a poetry anthology edited by Kevin Young
Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman
- Do you have any advice for up and coming writers?
My best advice for upcoming writers is to embrace the concept of “Horizontal Loyalty.” The traditional model for finding success as writer has always been identifying mentors – writers who have been there before and will help guide your career. And while mentors are absolutely important, it has been shown that the success of an artist can more successfully be tracked by their connection to other artists on their level who are creating work they admire. Meaning, identify people your age, or doing work on a level similar to yours, whose approach, style and work ethic you really like. Make a connection with those artists, and share resources, help each other cross finish lines, alert each other to great projects, and push each other to new heights. This is what is meant by the phrase “Horizontal Loyalty.” It means finding your kinship with your peers and developing with them. And this has certainly been true for me in my writing life. While I have had incredible mentors, so many of the artists I met and connected with when we were in our teens and twenties are artists who have helped shaped my career as an adult. The gondolier and amateur magician who I booked at the show I used to run out CBGBs in the early aughts later became my publisher… and the minister at my wedding! The tech support cubicle jockey who I helped book his first NYC poetry tour in 2001 would build my first website that year (the one I still use!), introduce me to my literary agent a decade later, and would become my husband in 2016! Which is all to say, instead of looking upward to help move your career forward, just look around. The tools for success are already around you, you just need to value them!
- What, if anything, are you working on right now?
This Spring I will be touring around the country in support of How to Love the Empty Air. So you live in LA, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and a half dozen places inbetween, please come on out and say hello. Tour details can be found on my website: http://www.aptowicz.com I will be performing along with some incredible poets, and we would love to see your face. Once my tour has wrapped, I will be getting back to work on my next nonfiction book. It’s top secret for now, but I can’t wait to share it with the world!
- Why do you love writing?
My love for writing comes from my love of reading. I love how connected I feel to the world when I read something written by someone else that truly resonates with me. The person could be very similar to me, or as different as can be imagined, and yet, we can share this same thing, this humanity. It’s humbling and affirming at the same time. I love writing because it allows me to join the conversation, and add my own stories to the mix. What greater gift could there be?
About the Author
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Year of No Mistakes, crowned the Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller List. Recent awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the ArtsEDGE write-in-residency at the University of Pennsylvania and the Amy Clampitt Residency. When not on the road, she lives in Austin with her family.
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Our Dark Stars
by Audrey Grey and Krystal Wade
While she sleeps, the whole universe changes.
Princess Talia Starchaser has it all. Wealth. Status. Adoring citizens. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she’s forced to publicly betray her best friend, a companion mock she’s had since birth, setting events into motion that lead to the destruction of the humans, and the princess floating through space, a remnant of a time when humans ruled over droids.
One hundred years later, half-mock captain Will Perrault and his ragtag crew discover a device floating in space. When a very human Talia emerges from its depths, Will suspects she’s the key to buying his way back into the regiment he once commanded against the last remaining rebel humans—and the ruling mock queen’s good graces.
Both Talia and Will would rather get space-tossed than trust one another, but with the queen’s forces chasing them across the galaxy and the fate of both worlds hanging in the balance, they’ll forge the unlikeliest of alliances to survive.
“She knows my every move!” Talia growled, pitching into a steep dive that brought them back into the bowels of the city. In open space, the queen could best Talia any day of the week, but here maybe she could even the playing field.
Sweat slicked her fingers as she guided the steering wheel, working to calm her breathing. The quiet inside the cockpit was an illusion of safety. Up above the queen stalked them from the clouds, waiting to strike.
Talia peered up at the sky, the sun’s glare crippling her vision. “I can’t see her.”
“Me either,” Will confirmed. Judging by his leather seat groaning, he was twisted around trying to find her. “She’s using the sun to her advantage.”
Of course she was. That was one of Ailat’s favorite tricks. Talia dove lower until she skimmed the turquoise waters around the palace. They’d made an entire loop through the city. What was the queen’s plan? Ailat had always been a better pilot, a better tactician. She could toy with them for hours until they ran out of fuel—but that wasn’t what she wanted.
No, she needed to prove once and for all she was better than Talia.
“Here she comes!” Will warned.
The queen’s Starfighter dropped from above in an aerial attack, and the water below exploded in a straight line toward them as she strafed it with bullets. Ascending from this level would make the ship slow and decrease her power, so Talia cut toward the palace, hoping the queen wouldn’t sacrifice the bystanders on the bridge with those bullets.
Talia was wrong. She flinched as the hail of firepower chased them into the courtyard, cutting down the crowds still stuck there.
“Oh God,” Talia cried, wishing she could shut her eyes.
“Look out!” Will shouted as they careened between two archways.
Last second, Talia banked sideways, and the ship slipped through the opening by a whisker. The queen climbed back to her perch in the clouds, safe from Talia’s guns while waiting to swoop down again.
The maneuver was called a high-sides gun pass, and Ailat had done it to Talia a million times before in training. Never once had she recovered after Ailat got her in this position. Growling, Talia swiped sweat-soaked hair from her forehead and then banged her fist on the dash.
“You okay, there?” Will called.
“We’re not going to die today!” She repeated it, louder, for good measure. No way in hell would she let the queen kill them.
“Does this all seem familiar, Tal?” the queen purred over the com, the pleased tone in her voice riling Talia’s blood. “There’s nowhere you can hide now. No safety. You know how this ends.”
Talia grabbed the radio. “I am Talia Starchaser. I fear nothing. I own the stars and the planets and the galaxies, and I am not afraid of you, Queen.”
About the Authors
Hi! I’m an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including the Moonbeam Children’s Award bronze finalist, SHADOW FALL. I live in the charming state of Oklahoma with my crew: one husband, two little people, four mischievous dogs, and one poor cat. You can usually find me hiding out in my office from said crew, surrounded by books and sipping kombucha while dreaming up wondrous worlds for my characters to live in.
In between the chaos—What’s for dinner? Stop pinching your sister! Homework! Dishes!— and my writing, I make time for various projects. An admitted paintaholic, I’ve painted, sprayed or transformed nearly every piece of my house at least once. I even painted my husband’s beloved fabric chair. Oops!
I thrive on creation: starting from an idea, a blank canvas, or perhaps an outdated room, and using my imagination to create something new and emotionally engaging that’s all my own. But stories have always been my first love. Weaving together complex worlds full of flawed, conflicted characters allows me to express myself in a way I could never do otherwise.
I started creating stories during the sweltering Oklahoma summers spent laboring in my father’s wheat fields. Alone and bored, I dreamed up wild fables of vampires (the Anne Rice kind), cave men, and love-torn ghosts. By college my tales had grown more persistent, and I started to actually write them down.
Now, fiction is my life, and I look forward to sharing my characters and their stories with all of you.
I’m happily married to the love of my life (don’t gag) and raising three beautiful children in the gorgeous state of Virginia. We live just outside Washington, D.C., and every day I wake up to find myself stuck in traffic trying to get there.
The horrid commute gives me plenty of time to zone out and think about my characters in full, brilliant details (I’m a safe driver; don’t worry). Stories give me a way to forget about the sometimes smelly strangers sitting next to me on the fifty mile trek into town (I pick up hitchhikers every day. True story. Check out http://www.slug-lines.com if you don’t believe me).
I’ve been a part of organized hitchhiking for nearly fifteen years, but that’s just one small aspect of my oh-so-large life. When I’m not working, commuting, or chasing after my three children (four if you count the man), you can usually find me outside talking to my chickens like they’re the cutest things in the world (they are), or training my amazing dogs how to herd said chickens (which they love), or curled up on the sofa with a good book (why can’t that be 100% of the time?).
I hope you love my stories (or just like them a little; that would be okay, too). And I hope that one day you find your passion, because there’s nothing in life better than doing what you love while surrounded by people you love.
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1 winner will receive a $30 Amazon GC and a hardcover copy of Cinder, US Only.
by Emma Donoghue
In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.
Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.
Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels–a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.
The latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room.
3 out of 5 FLEURS DE LIS
A little word of warning: if you are planning on listening to this story in audiobook format, as I did, then you should know that the narrator puts on a thick Irish brogue for some characters that can be hard to understand. For this reason, I kind of wish I had just read the book instead.
The story is set in August 1859, and is told from the point of view of Mrs. Lib Wright, who after becoming widowed set off to serve as a nurse under the training of none other than Florence Nightingale herself. Lib is sent to a private household in Ireland to maintain a two week watch on a little girl named Anna O’Donnell. Anna claims to not have taken food for the past 4 months, and Lib is being sent to confirm whether that is true.
Many of the people of the town and beyond its’ borders have come to view pious Anna as a sort of miracle child. Lib starts her job with a biased, skeptical mind but soon comes to know the child better and just how much her religious beliefs mean to her. When the truth behind Anna’s motivations for her fast are revealed, Lib is rocked and sets out to do what she can to help Anna realize the consequences of what she is doing.
I chose this book because of the mystery aspect of it–a child hasn’t eaten for four months? How is she alive? But soon, I was taken in by Anna and her congruous nature, both painfully innocent and wise beyond her years. The entire first half of the novel is basically laying the foundation for the reader to get to know Lib and the O’Donnells, and to see a sort of friendship grow between the nurse and the girl.
It’s frustrating, as a mother, to have a child that turns down food, so the idea of having to watch as your does this for four consecutive months is terrifying. It’s also terrifying that Anna’s parents believed so much in their daughter’s obsession with her religion that they allowed this to go on. But it was a different time, and a different country, so I had to kind of just go along with the fact that they did let it happen. So many people were complicit in Anna’s fasting and it was very disheartening to see that this child was continuously allowed to make her own decisions.
As far as the main plot, it started off really slowly but I was glad for the slow burn because when all was revealed towards the end, I was truly shocked at what had transpired. There’s a subplot with a romance angle, which was kind of OK but I did see it coming from miles away.
This is a difficult book to review without giving away the heart of the story, but I’ll say I think it will appeal to a large audience of readers. Whether you’re a believer or not, The Wonder will make you think about your own relationship with your higher power and how it has a hold on your life and the lives of those you love most.
About the Author
Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. Since the age of 23, Donoghue has earned her living as a full-time writer. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with her partner and their son and daughter.
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