Reviews (Plus: What Should I Read Next?)

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | As the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn series, I was so, so, SO excited to read her next series. Flame in the Mist is a re-telling (of sorts) of Mulan: although this book is set in feudal Japan, not in China. Mariko is on her way to be married to one of the princes when her caravan is attacked. She ends up cutting her hair, dressing as a boy, and joining a group of outlaws, a la Robin Hood style.

This book was super interesting and very romantic. One of the things I liked best about it was that it was not immediately apparent to me who Mariko’s love interest would be. Indeed, she and that person had such a unique relationship that was so not stereotypically romantic that it made it all the more hot when they fell for each other. Very excited to see how this story ends. It’s a duology and the second book doesn’t even have a publication date listed yet. (Patience is not my strong suit.)

5 to 15 to 1 by Holly Bodger | This book was so unique! I purchased it after I was on a writers panel with the author, and when I finally had the chance to read it, I tore through it so fast! Set in the future in India, it takes India’s current issues with gender selection and female infanticide and reverses them: now that there are 5 boys to every 1 girl, society is run by women and men must compete to be worthy of marriage. The book is told in alternating chapters: poetry for the young bride watching the “Tests” and prose for Contestant 5, who is competing– but who does not want to win.

I enjoyed the story very much, and it definitely made me think!

art of writingThe Art of Writing and the Gifts of Writers by C.S. Lewis | This was an audiobook collection of Lewis’s shorter essays and talks on writing, and it was super enjoyable! Ralph Cosham/Geoffrey Howard, the narrator, is the familiar voice from the audio versions of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and so it’s easy to feel like you’re listening to Lewis himself. This was an intriguing and useful set of essays, advice, and criticism on various aspects of writing, including fairie stories, writing for children, and thoughts on his friend J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If you’re a fan of Lewis (or any of the Inklings), this will be a fun and fast read for you!

the names they gave usThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord | In this book, Lucy– at her mother’s request– agrees to spend the summer as a camp counselor for kids from at-risk backgrounds. This is a deviation from her usual: the Bible camp just across the lake, where her mom and dad will be. What makes it even harder is that Lucy’s mom’s cancer has just come back, which has shattered Lucy’s faith and has her living in fear.

There were so many things that felt SO familiar to me, who was a volunteer camp counselor (at a Bible camp, no less!). I really liked the ending, when ends (that I didn’t even know were loose!) started getting tied up. The ending is also abrupt, but in the best way.

shrillShrill by Lindy West | This book. This. Book. I loved it. So much. It spoke to me on so many levels– as a woman, as a curvy girl, as a feminist, as a writer. I laughed aloud. I cried real tears. I felt empowered.

I went to my therapist on Thursday, and– no joke– spent about 90% of the time talking about this book and how it impacted me, all the things I am learning.

Please. Read this. Then let’s get coffee to discuss.

 

Here. Have some reviews.

A few books I’ve read recently …

emotional craftThe Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass | Oh man. This is changing my life, guys. Hands down, it’s the best craft book I’ve ever read on fiction. A week ago, in an email to my editor, I described myself as having “a novelist’s heart but a poet’s education.” (Don’t get me wrong– I adored my education! But I focused on poetry, not on fiction, so in some ways, I am learning as I go.) This book is helping. A ton. (I also recommend The Anatomy of Story by John Truby.)

gap lifeGap Life by John Coy | I was lucky enough to share a stage with John Coy earlier this year, and the man is just so wise and well-spoken and lovely. In the green room, he selflessly doled out advice to this newby from the perspective of a man with something like sixteen published books to his name. Gap Life was an interesting read about Cray, a boy finished with high school but not yet ready for college, who is figuring out how to navigate his own pursuits versus the dreams his father has for him while working at a home for adults with development disabilities and while falling head over heels for a girl unlike any he’s ever met before.

whisperThe Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski | Man. This book. It’s a children’s book with the most incredible illustrations (Zagarenski is a two-time Caldecott winner!) and the … plot … I guess … is also so lovely. A girl borrows a book from her teacher, but the words spill out on the way home, so she has to come up with the stories. This book is a must have for every creative child, itty-bitty through age 100.

incarnadineIncarnadine by Mary Szybist | This collection of poetry as hailed as a best book of the year by NPR, Slate, Oregonian, Kansas City Star, Willamette Week, and Publishers Weekly. It was full of poems whose forms pushed the envelope, all while having the utmost care put into every line. There was a theme of annunciation running throughout the book, and I found it stunning.

literary sextsLiterary Sexts: A Collection of Short & Sexy Love Poems edited by Amanda Oaks and Caitlin Siehl | Don’t be flabbergasted by the title; this was a fun and interesting collection of short love poems written in the form of texts and meant to read like one long texting conversation between lovers. Some were, of course, far better than others. Some were outstanding. Many were average. For the outstanding ones, though, I say this was worth it.

spare georgiaSpare by Georgia Lundeen | I will post about this what I shared on Instagram: “OMGOSH, I have been waiting for this for YEARS.
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I began following Georgia’s blog, knowing nothing about this anonymous poet who had this incredible rawness and total command of language. She had one photo on her site, tinted green, a girl in sunglasses.
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Then one day I ran into her on Facebook. No joke. We had a mutual friend and I definitely recognised that photo. I tentatively messaged her to say hello and found out we were practically neighbors. WHAT!!
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These days, I consider her a friend. Georgia’s poetry is best described as TAKE NO PRISONERS. I love it, ruthless and unassuming.
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So I’m not joking when I say that I’ve been waiting for this book for years. I love poetry that doesn’t apologize for itself, and I cannot wait to dive into Spare! (!!!!!!!!!)” Guys, I loved it. Of course I did.

pipers sonI’ve also been re-reading the Narnia books (this is an ongoing thing, for any of you who are new to the blog and didn’t know) and The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, which is just about as close to perfect as I think a novel can come. I’ve talked about Marchetta pretty extensively on the blog (here, here, and here) and never hesitate to call her my favorite writer. If nothing else on this list catches your eye, then why not read The Chronicles of Narnia, a Marchetta book, or one of my other favorites?

What have you been reading, peeps? Anything incredible??

Reviews-A-Plenty

Hi folks, so I’ve been keeping up with my creative goal to read a book a week! Thought I’d better catch you up on the wonderful things I’ve been reading.

caravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber | Scarlett’s grandmother has told her and her sister Tella stories about Caraval since they were young– an audience-participation game that is like a magical carnival. Scarlett has always longed to go, but getting tickets now— less than two weeks before her marriage to a mysterious count she has never met– is not the ideal timing. At Caraval, Tella goes missing, and the game revolves around the sisters. Julian, the young sailor who brought the girls to Caraval, is shrouded in mystery too, and Scarlett can’t tell who is friend or foe, or whether the game is really just a game.

It’s intense, has gorgeous imagery, and keeps you guessing the entire time. I am happy to say that I did not figure the ending out ahead of time!! This is a must read, folks.

cursed-childHarry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany | I think I went into this screenplay with reasonable expectations. I waited quite a while to read it because I knew that it was not going to be like “the 8th Harry Potter book,” as some stores touted. First, it’s a screenplay, not a novel; I knew I couldn’t expect the same thing. Because I went into it with realistic expectations, I loved it!

The story picks up about nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts took place; Harry’s youngest son Albus is headed to Hogwarts for the first time, and it is hard living in your father’s shadow, especially when your father is Harry Potter. Albus isn’t like his dad, and they butt heads, which leads Albus and his friend Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son!) on an adventure that gets worse and worse and worse … until it all comes together in J.K. Rowling fashion. I loved getting to revisit the characters. The important thing, I think, is not to treat it as the 8th book but as what it is: the script for a play that takes you back to the wizarding world for one more adventure.

poem-she-didnt-writeThe Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis | This one was staggering. I absolutely adored it. It was like e.e. cummings had become a female spoken word artist. The rhythms were impossible to miss, even without hearing them, and I was exposed to a new vocabulary. I thought it the poem topics were really brave, and there were quite a few that she approached from such a stunningly unique perspective. The title poem, in particular, was mind-blowing. I will be purchasing her other books.

chinoiserieChinoiserie by Karen Rigby | This was the 2011 winner of the Sawtooth Poetry Award– and well deserved. Beautiful writing, rich imagery, the poems took me to other places, something I always love. I was happy to let this collection sink into my bones.

Review [via Insta]: Best Thought, Worst Thought by Don Paterson

This has been on my radar a while. Starting tonight.

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought by Don Paterson

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought Man, I need a new phone with a better camera. I shouldn't even be allowed on insta.

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#BestThoughtWorstThought

A post shared by Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleasommers) on

#BestThoughtWorstThought

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All that to say, read it! Paterson’s aphorisms are a cross between poetry and personal essay, and I gobbled it up.

Review: When You are Happy by Eileen Spinelli

when you are happy.jpgEveryone needs a copy of this book in his or her home.

I’m a fan of Eileen’s husband Jerry (Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Maniac Magee, among many others). In a recent interview with Shelf Awareness, Jerry answered one question like this:

Book you are an evangelist for:

When You Are Happy by Eileen Spinelli. Yeah, I know, she’s my wife. But this 32-page picture book hits my trifecta: language, illustrations, message. Never before has so much humanity been packed into so few pages.

I thought, I need that.

I was right. This is what I posted on Instagram in the moments after finishing it.

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Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Even though I really loved Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology (spoiler-free review), his new series wasn’t really on my radar. Then the first book– Scythe— kept getting rave reviews from my favorite book bloggers, so I knew I needed to read it.

scytheIT. WAS. SO. GOOD.

Here’s the set-up: it’s the distant future, and the internet “cloud” has accumulated all knowledge and become the nearly sentient Thunderhead. Because the Thunderhead now prevents things like disease, war, and even death, the only issue left is population control. There is a worldwide network of scythes who are given the power to glean life and to grant immunity. They are highly respected and rarely challenged. Citra and Rowen are two sixteen-year-olds chosen to become scythe apprentices. Then things get crazy.

I’m hooked. Just like the Unwind books, this series is so thought-provoking. I was especially captured by the question If men become immortal, what will inspire them to create? There is a scene where Citra and Rowen are taken to museum. These days, art has all been perfected via the Thunderhead, but they find that they actually like the “Mortal Age” art better … it is imperfect, but there is passion to it that is rare in their time. I have maybe 70 or 80 years on earth. In what ways does that drive my art?

That’s just one of the questions raised by this incredible book. It’s full of twists and the stakes are high. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Series Review: The Heirs of Watson Island (No Spoilers!)

Last weekend I finished Illusion, the third book of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy by Martina Boone. This book, of course, builds on its two predecessors, so– in order to avoid spoilers– I just want to share with you what this series is about and the things I like about it.

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

Barrie Watson is a girl who, newly orphaned, moves to South Carolina to live with her Aunt Pru. There, she finds family secrets she never knew; magic that is hard to understand; and a super-cute boy who knows what she wants better than she knows herself.

heirs-trilogy

What I liked:

Eight. My gosh, dream boy. Eight Beaufort is sweet and thoughtful and gorgeous and funny and smart. Love him to pieces.

Barrie. She’s sassy and brilliant and refuses to be trampled on. My kinda girl!

The writing. It’s gorgeous. English is Martina Boone’s second language, and yet she has total mastery of it. The descriptions are to die for.

The south. Southern culture infiltrates every part of this book– but in a totally natural, not-at-all-distracting way.

The cultures. The book has stories and legends from diverse backgrounds, and they make the series so rich. I really appreciate that Boone did her research, and she even includes additional details in the pages after the books end.

Also interesting to note, the second book was my favorite one of the series– which is really unusual for me! Usually the second book in a series is my least favorite, as it often seems to just be a bridge. But Persuasion was my favorite!

Have you read this series? What did you think?

 

A Handful of Book Reviews

I’ve been traveling for work, and that means plenty of time for audiobooks, hooray! Here’s what I’ve recently read:


Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo | This is the sequel to Six of Crows, which I thoroughly adored. It was great to be back with Kaz, Inej, and the gang as they sought revenge and justice after the events of the first book. The characters are just so layered and complicated, something I admire and appreciate. This novel was a little harder for me to get into than its predecessor, probably because the heist didn’t seem apparent to me at first. Another difficult thing was having so many narrators to the audiobook. There were at least six, and while I LOVED some of them, there was one I couldn’t stand. And they all pronounced things differently, which, in a fantasy novel with unique names of people and locations, was especially confusing. All told, I did love it though and think Bardugo is brilliant. I am plot’s antihero, and I so admire writers who master it


Kids of Appetite by David Arnold | I absolutely adored Arnold’s debut novel Mosquitoland. I’d honestly never encountered a character voice as unique as Mim’s. Then I was on a panel with the author and he is just a lovely, hilarious, amazing person, which permanently made me a fan. Kids of Appetite was great, somehow both tremendously ambitious but also simple and straightforward. How Arnold managed the paradox, I’m not quite sure, but he did it well. This is the story of a boy named Vic who falls into step with a group of misfits and together they set out to accomplish Vic’s late father’s final wishes. There is mystery, romance, and GREAT imagery. The novel covers just one week, but it’s not unrealistic to see just how much Vic’s life changes in that short time. Very well done


Tell the Truth Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta | My favorite author, all time, hands down, as regular blog readers know. This is her first book in four years, so I was pretty much salivating for it. Although Marchetta most often writes YA, this novel was an adult crime novel. Let’s be honest: adult crime novels are not really in my wheelhouse. But Marchetta is, so there was no doubt I’d read it. It. Was. Masterful. Of course it was, she is the queen! At its core, this was still a novel about family, her trademark. And it was perfectly executed and I love the characters and it made my head spin and inspired me and intimidated me. And OH how relevant it is for right now. The story is about a British inspector named Bish (Bashir), whose teen daughter was on a bus when it was bombed in France. His daughter is shaken but unhurt, and all fingers immediately point to a girl on the bus whose grandfather was accused of terrorism. Bish gets pulled into that family’s life as he attempts to figure out who was really behind the bombing. The characters, you guys. I’m so in love. I would honestly read this woman’s grocery lists.

Review (& Thoughts On) The Art of Slow Writing by Louise deSalvo

slow writingSo, this book is called The Art of Slow Writing, but the truth is that I read it very slowly. It’s taken me months to finish this book, not because it wasn’t good (it was!) but because I’ve been so busy and overwhelmed, plus it has content I wanted to take in over time.

I really enjoyed this book– it was a constant reminder to let art run its course, to let books reveal themselves in their own time, to embrace the uncertainty of the writing life, and how important persistence is to she who wants to be an author.

 

 

Loved this:

uncertainty writing

I’m writing slowly right now. But that doesn’t mean I’m not working hard. I spent last Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday doing research, hammering out details, brainstorming, plotting, and finishing up my VERY LONG AND DETAILED synopsis, which is now up to thirteen pages, double-spaced. I could NOT have created this synopsis early on. I needed to spend over a year with this story and let ideas build and build before I could pull this blueprint together.

But now that it IS together, I have a map from the beginning to the end of my novel. I have 60K words written already, but SO MUCH editing to do … plus I’m imagining about another 20K left to write.

This page from deSalvo’s book is Where I Am At:

slow writing quote

It is one thing to amass 50 or 60 thousand words of prose. It’s an entirely different beast to shape those words into a book. I learned so much while writing Lights All Around— and learned even MORE writing Truest— but there is still so much to learn. Every new book is a new mountain. Climbing one mountain does not mean I know how to climb all mountains.

It’s fulfilling work, but it is most definitely WORK.

Review: Dreamology by Lucy Keating

dreamologyAlice has dreamed of Max for as long as she can remember– in her dreams, they are happy and in love, going on the kind of crazy adventures that can only happen in dreams.

When Alice moves to Boston, though, Max is in her psychology class at her new school! Except this Max seems detached … and he has a girlfriend.

I really enjoyed this one! There were some really great lines, and I especially loved the character of Oliver, one of Alice’s new friends. I loved the dream sequences, and it was fun to tweet with Lucy Keating while I read it too. An interesting concept, though the conflict at the end confused me a little bit. All in all, an enjoyable, light read!