reading, Young Adult fiction

Things That Don’t Go Bump In The Night

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So, two weeks ago, one of my first tasks as a library clerk was to create a new display for the evening book club, reflecting next month’s theme. Since it will be October, the theme is spooky, ghost story, or horror, basically ye old “things that go bump in the night.”

This is one of the few literary genres I tend to avoid at all costs.

I have tried it. And I couldn’t handle it.

At least I am brave enough to admit it.

Unfortunately, seeing as I belong to this book club, I had to choose one of these selections for my own reading. And the covers alone freaked me out.

Here was me arranging the display: “No, no, no, NO, nope, nah, no way…GAH…ehhhh, no, no…Hey, HP Lovecraft, maybe I can do that?…A manga of Edgar Allen Poe? What the heck…No, no, no…”

Just putting up the books almost gave me a heart attack. That’s about how much scare I can take.

But, despite my better judgement, I checked out and actually attempted to read some Stephen King and HP Lovecraft.

Yes, you got that right: Attempted. I am officially throwing in the towel. Wimps R Us.

So be it. I finished Dracula years back. That counts. (Yes, it does, dang it.)

I am not a fan of fictional things that go bump in the night. Maybe it’s because I prefer to have a healthy fear of stuff that does, in fact, bump, and might get us. There is more than enough of that, between rare diseases, crime, natural disasters, and tiny creatures hanging out in your basement. We don’t need to add ghosts, demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, and whatever else horror authors have dreamed up in the last 50 years to the list.

But for some reason, lately I’ve been thinking (a lot) about a book I read as a tween that knocked my socks off — so much, in fact, that I returned it to the library after a sudden jump scare scene, and it took me nearly 2 years to go back to that spot on the shelf and retrieve it to finish.

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The story behind that is this: The book was called Urn Burials by Robert Westall, and it was a YA thriller. I honestly didn’t realize the category when I first checked it out. I was intrigued by the premise — the notion that ancient monuments, that Middle Age farmers probably wouldn’t have had the tools or knowledge to construct, were built by aliens — as I was in middle school and had yet to hear of this long-running niche theory. In the novel, it turns out the aliens are real, and they’re upright-walking-and-talking cats and dogs from rival races, and there’s a mystery plague involved. Now, for someone who had generally only read Beverly Cleary and EB White up to that point, this was a radical departure.

I was actually doing fine with Urn Burials until the chapter when the narrator is doing something incredibly normal, like washing dishes, and looks up at the nearest window…and there, staring at him through the dark of night, is an alien animal face.

The sun had set outside while I was reading, and as I looked up from the book, to my window with the curtains still wide open, that image was all I could picture.

I slapped the book shut, ran to the window — turning my head to the side, eyes down — and yanked the curtains closed.

The very next day, the book went back to the library. And it took me literal years before I could look out a window at night without feeling the hairs rise on the back of my neck.

So, seriously, explain to me why I keep thinking about Urn Burials and am honestly considering re-reading it.

I did my online research, and am pretty sure it’s out of print; so I’ll need to either acquire it secondhand or as a library discard. This means more time and effort on my part, and possibly more money. (I already checked, and it doesn’t seem to be in my local library system.)

All of this could indicate that this endeavor may not be an advised one.

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The major thing driving this idea is curiosity: Now that I know what’s coming, would I still be as afraid? Would my age and experience since the first time I read those words mean I don’t have the same reaction and feelings?

How important is it to prove this to myself?

Because the other side of the coin is: It’s worse than I remember. And I won’t sleep for a week, patrolling the house from dusk to dawn, carrying White Fang’s katana and shoving it past dramatically-whipped-open closet doors. In case of, you know, upright walking and talking feline and canine aliens about to unleash a mystery plague.

Um, yeah.

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Did you get over it or not?! Share your terrified thoughts in the comments below!

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Young Adult fiction

On The Come Up: The Racial Elephant in the Room, Contemporary YA trends, and Glimmers of Hope

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Okay, confession first: I do not like rap. I did not care for this author’s debut novel. The fact I even picked up Angie Thomas’ second release, “On The Come Up,” was a pure whim. It was in my local library, I walked by it, went back, read the inside cover, put it back on the shelf. That was a couple weeks ago. Then the other day, I was on my usual picture-book-acquisition-for-Muffin mission, and repeated the previous process. Except the outcome was different: I took “On The Come Up” to the checkout desk, and then brought it home.

I read it in about 3 1/2 days, which is very rare for me and a contemporary. Contemporary fic and I have a very tenuous relationship, and many modern, non-fantasy picks that wind up in my hands for one reason or another often get returned to the library unfinished. Not this one.

Well, damn, but that was impressive.

Necessary disclaimer: I am the whitest white girl there is. I can go to the beach in July, not apply sunscreen, and still not tan. My interests are strongly pulled towards British culture, language, and history. While I’ve had friends who weren’t Caucasian or straight or middle class, I simply am of WASP heritage, and I embrace that, just because that’s my people, my genes, my roots.

This is not to say, for a second, that I thought all of these things would disqualify me from potentially enjoying this novel.

And sure enough, none of it mattered a whit. From the first few pages, I loved Bri’s voice, loved her friends, her family, her relationships with everybody, and began to grow invested in their journey. The unfortunate fact of Bri and Trey coming from a single parent home, due to their father being killed in gang violence, was the backdrop of the story, but never once was this presented as a suggestion for the characters to wallow in self-pity or behave badly. (That in itself will set this publication apart from others of its genre and time.)

I LOVED Bri’s mom, Jay. She’s a former drug addict — former — who is doing her danged-est to provide for her kids. Trey went to college, and still can’t get a decent job (God, do I feel that in my bones), so he’s living at home and working in a pizza parlor to help make ends meet. Bri is in high school, and knows her mother wants her to get an education, but she really wants to be a rapper, like her father was.

No spoilers, I promise (it’ll be hard this time!), but one thing leads to another, and Bri has a song go viral, and there’s a backlash of controversy and racial issues and problems for Bri at school and in her neighborhood. And here’s, for me, where OTCU is so radically different from The Hate U Give (the author’s first book) — it’s clear from the get-go where the misunderstanding begins, what Bri’s true intentions are, and that her somewhat hostile lyrics are the result of experiencing a bunch of crap due to racial profiling and authorities’ preconceptions about a black girl from the ghetto attending a mostly white, mostly middle class school.

Considering that my family and I recently suffered a truly traumatic and unjust incident regarding misconceptions of autism and how mental health concerns should be handled by authorities, I strongly related to this perspective. For decades in this country, autistic individuals have been seen as outsiders, treated poorly, and not given a chance to stand up for themselves. While my sons and I look like the majority of our community, we are not granted the same benefit of the doubt based purely on the fact we think differently.

Bri’s anger, panic, frustration, and fear are all palpable while you’re reading. She’s caught in a world that she alone can’t change, and she hates it and loves it at the same time. She tries to avoid the world of crime and drugs just down the street from her own doorstep, and yet her own aunt is embroiled in it. She loves her aunt, but hates the dangers the family can be opened up to by her aunt’s decisions.

Bri’s grandparents come from the other side of the community: They make money legally, they go to church, they don’t approve of the gangs. They helped raise Bri and Trey while Jay was in rehab. YAY FOR FUNCTIONAL MINORITY FAMILIES IN YA FIC. Jay and her partner, Bri’s dad, were teen parents — but they stayed together and made it work, and when he died, it was sudden and tragic, and afterwards Jay focused on getting off drugs and raising their kids. She works as a secretary, and even wants to finish college to become a social worker. What an excellent role model for such a novel.

Bri’s best friends, Sonny and Malik, and later love interest, Curtis, were a lot of fun, too. I have to admit, there was a lot of slang in the text that I didn’t quite follow, so I’m sure I missed certain things, but the connection between these kids, from long-time association and personally, was tangible. Sonny is gay, but he didn’t feel like a “token” gay character; there was more than that to his role. And Malik may possibly be a sort of, kind of, perhaps one day love interest, but there’s no actual love triangle (thank heavens). In every place this novel could’ve hit on the cliches, it didn’t in my view.

And the discussion on racism is realistic, relatable, and where our country needs to be right now. Instead of becoming the stereotypes — “once an addict, always an addict,” “once a criminal, always a criminal” — break the mold. Speak up, like Bri does. Don’t accept other people’s expectations of you, like Jay doesn’t. Use your God-given rights to express dissent against an unfair status quo, and do it peacefully, like Malik and his girlfriend Shana, pushing for conversation, not more violence. The prevailing message throughout the book is striving forward, refusing to give up hope.

While some of the parts devoted to rap/hip-hop were a struggle for me (I don’t even know who many of these performers are, sorry, everybody), overall this was a great story that sucked me in and really spoke to me. The unexpected ending totally hit its mark as well. Kudos, Ms. Thomas. Writers, editors, publishers: Can we see more of this in contemporary YA fiction?

Fantasy fiction, Young Adult fiction

My Love for the Undersung Stiefvater

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In the last 10 years, I’ve only discovered a handful of new authors who really excite me. Maggie Stiefvater is one of them. I adore her flowing, lyrical prose, her in-depth characters, her willingness to try new takes on common mythos or story forms. I have read almost everything she’s published, and been severely impressed by nearly all of it.

Which is why it’s a source of ongoing irony and bittersweet realization for me that I cannot stand The Raven Cycle. When people ask if I’ve read it, with a heavy heart, I roll my eyes and answer, “Yes…and I wish I liked it.”

Why didn’t I like The Raven Cycle? Well, several reasons. One: It relied too heavily on archetypes — the special snowflake (Blue), the tragic star-crossed lovers (Blue and Gansey), the apparently fruitless quest for a lost king. And I thought that wasn’t really a Stiefvater trait. Two: It had wayyyy too many throwaway secondary characters and subplots — again, that felt out of character (for me) for this author. Three: The pacing felt totally off. I honestly thought she could’ve written one novel detailing, start to finish, Blue and Gansey’s particular journey, and then spent the other 3 in the series focusing on all the subplots, like all the psychics and the lost Welsh king and the Raven Academy and dream thieves. Everything seemed to go on tooooo long.

So, in short, her bestselling series is not for me, and it kind of made me sad.

But, the biggest disappointment — in my opinion — was the fact that I was constantly comparing The Raven Cycle to her other books…and found it continually lacking.

The first Stiefvater book I ever read was The Scorpio Races, and from then on, I was hooked. Her style, her characters, the way she slowly unwound a story, so that one could simply enjoy the path she took the reader down, was so glorious and mesmerizing. Since making the transition from juvenile to adult fiction, I’d found myself more and more let down; genres were leaving a strong impression of cliches and worn-out devices; I prayed there had to be more to it than this. When I picked up The Scorpio Races in the library, I didn’t even notice, or care, that it was marked as YA. I was just sucked into the world of man-killing horses off a remote British island, and didn’t want it to end.

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More than re-igniting my love for reading, Stiefvater prose and concepts hinted to me there may be different (better) ways of writing.

While The Scorpio Races is far from a forgotten novel, many fans of The Raven Cycle either aren’t aware Stiefvater wrote other titles, or they haven’t been read. Whenever I see Scorpio getting love on social media, I do a little happy dance.

Ms. Stiefvater has amassed a good bibliography for her age. While her most recent release, All the Crooked Saints, has been getting a bunch of attention, and Raven fandom is definitely going strong, I’ve seen my other favorite of hers, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, sadly sliding into the background.

A few months ago, I introduced White Fang to the catalogue of Stiefvater, and it was such a brilliant experience — for both of us. He fell in love (a bit literally in terms of Isabel Culpepper) with Shiver, then raced through the rest of the series. He was awed by the ending of All the Crooked Saints, and ate up The Scorpio Races. And he wholeheartedly agrees with me about The Raven Boys.

So, what makes this author’s earlier works truly stand apart? Considering that, at any given time across the last year, all 4 books of The Raven Cycle are somewhere on the bestsellers list, why is it that this quartet falls hopelessly short for these bookdragons?

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The Wolves of Mercy Falls is written so compactly; no, it isn’t an action-packed, quick-paced page-turner. It focuses on a character-driven plot, and if you’re after lots of explosions, you’ll need to try something else. But there is such beauty in this slow and relaxed unfolding of the tale of Sam and Grace, Isabel and Cole. And there isn’t a single secondary character or subplot that doesn’t seem to fit or becomes an unnecessary tangent. Stiefvater remembers all these little references and mentions from earlier, and keeps going back to them. She knows just who’s important to each main character, and why they need to pop up again at this point, and why it will matter later to the individual arc. By the last page of Forever, I didn’t think there were any loose threads (apart from one minor niggle, which she then addressed in Sinner).

The characters are not trope-y. Grace is an ordinary teenager, who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances; she isn’t a special snowflake, she doesn’t have a quest, the fate of the world doesn’t rest on her overburdened shoulders. As much as I love Harry Potter, we need to move beyond The Chosen One. It was sooooo refreshing to read about normal adolescents concerned with normal things: their parents, their significant other, friends, teachers, college, if they remembered to charge their phone. It’s real, it’s relatable.

Yet while most of the characters are teenagers, the focus isn’t on high school drama, another huge plus. Grace and Isabel know there are more important things in life, and they want to concentrate on them, rather than get swept up in hystrionics that won’t matter worth a speck in 6 months. Even as an adult, these girls were highly sympathetic.

Successfully writing deep first person POV is tough — and Stiefvater pulls it off. Switching voices and getting the reader to believe you’ve changed narrators is even tougher. She manages this, too. Usually switching narrators trips me up when reading, but not with Wolves. I know Grace, and Sam, Isabel, and Cole, and how they understand each other. I get a look at the relationships from both sides. It’s such a well-rounded portrayal.

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I just didn’t develop the heart for the Raven characters that I do for Wolves and Scorpio. And while Crooked Saints didn’t frustrate me, I simply wasn’t as impressed as I hoped to be. While I’ll happily look forward to what Ms. Stiefvater produces next, I’m rapidly coming to peace with the fact that, for me, her works are in two camps.

Literature is completely in the eye of the beholder. Readers shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that. I believe this is a perfect example of “it just wasn’t my cup of tea.”

And I have honestly tried all of her novels that I’ve read with an open mind. My favorites will remain my favorites; my reasons will stay the same. But this doesn’t discount me from wanting to dive into whatever is printed in the future with her name on the cover. Regardless of the premise, tale, or potential tropes inside.

That’s probably the highest compliment we can give an author.

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Fantasy fiction, self-publishing, Young Adult fiction

Spotlighting Masters and Beginners!

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One year ago today, I officially put my baby debut on sale, thrust the result of my hard work and long wait to be published into the world, for public consumption. Wow, that makes it sound not quite as pleasant as it actually was. Well, I have to admit, seeing Masters and Beginners on Goodreads, seeing the ARC reviews on blogs, was almost terrifying at first. In a good way.

Anyway, since this is my “bookiversary” (yes, anniversary of the book’s release), I wanted to mark the occasion with the fanfare it deserves! Seen above is the redesigned cover of the first installment in my fantasy series, The Order of the Twelve Tribes, created by Kyle Robert Shultz. The story inside either the first or second edition cover is the same; I switched printing companies, and wanted to do certain things announcing my establishment as an author — like secure a cover designer for the whole series, really increase my presence on Goodreads and Twitter, and build a solid foundation of loyal fans who would move mountains for me. Okay, I’m being slightly facetious on that last bit. But the fandom part is important. To those of you who have been around since the beginning, I want to say (again, but it never gets old) THANK YOU, for all your support and participation and faith in my writing.

So, today I want to go a little nuts, waxing lyrical on my own title, and we’ll celebrate Masters and Beginners: Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes!

The story focuses on the Driscolls, a pretty ordinary family that lives in a pretty ordinary town in Ohio. The reason we choose to follow their tale is because they’re actually descended from a secret organization called The Order of the Twelve Tribes, which knows the forgotten truth of the universe — that faeries, angels, and monsters are real — and the Order protects unsuspecting people from the more unsavory of these creatures.

Sophie Driscoll and her brothers, Flynn and Cal, and their parents, James and Kate, take over running the Annex, a local facility that stores documents and objects related to Order history and the fey. As they officially join the Order, they find themselves immersed in a world of literal magic, and danger.

As if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, the new neighbors are demi-fey (half human, half faery), their pets are talking, shapeshifting cats, and I leave Volume 1 off on a twist worthy of the most brilliant/evil author. It ensures that you’ll have to read Volume 2 (see, brilliant) to find out what happens.

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Classified as YA (because I wanted to write something my kids could read before they were all grown up), my contemporary-fantasy-blend series isn’t limited to the ages of 12 to 17. Scattered throughout the text are references to the art and entertainment that helped bring about my inspiration to write this tale, such as Harry Potter, Discworld, Warriors, Warehouse 13 and Doctor Who. My playlist during the writing part of this project also receives its credit, by appearing in the form of lyric snippets at the start of each chapter.

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There are still a few copies of the first edition available, which can be acquired through me (though I only accept cash, check, or gift card, sorry). The redesigned cover/second edition can always be found at Barnes & Noble:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/masters-and-beginners-daley-downing/1126998956. (And they accept credit cards, and often have free shipping deals.)

If you enjoyed Volume 1 and feel inclined to post a review on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble.com, or a blog, that’s fantastic, and I espouse further thank yous still.

This last year has been quite the journey, and I look forward to what comes next! See you all there, moths!

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

My Love/Hate Affair with the World of Shadowhunters

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White Fang has entered the world of Shadowhunters. He finished reading City of Bones last week, and is now onto City of Ashes. He has NO IDEA of the massive plot twists that await before he finishes City of Glass, and I am DYING keeping the spoilers under my hat. But I will absolutely do so for his sake.

Last night we watched the movie of City of Bones, and he and I agreed (I’d already seen it) that most of the acting was great, the plot changes were acceptable, and it was worth viewing.

Without getting into a whole discussion on the book vs. the movie (personally, I liked the movie, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, so there), I will say that there were hints towards events portrayed in later books in what was hoped to be the first film in a series. Then production was switched to the TV series, Shadowhunters, which I cannot stand. Sorry, folks.

Anyway, my biggest issue with the foreshadowing is (again, NO SPOILERS, everyone, he reads this blog) is the reminder of the fact that Cassandra Clare repeatedly broke my heart in City of Fallen Angels/Lost Souls/Heavenly Fire. 

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The only reason I pushed myself to finish the whole series was the proverbial: to find out what happened in the end. Although I felt the wrap-up in book 3 was very nice and good and pleasant and fair, once I found out the author had written more, I couldn’t help myself.

Here are my thoughts of books 1-3: OH MY GOSH!!!! What a wild ride! Everyone who likes fantasy should totally read this! Wow, that ending!!!

Here are my thoughts of books 4-6: WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY?!!?!?!!

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I truly felt this was a perfect example of: When the publisher wants more, but the author is tapped out. Plots suffer. Character arcs suffer. Readers suffer. And then so do book sales. And possibly great movies get cancelled, and turned into lame TV shows.

Now, I’m well aware that authors are allowed to change their minds without asking the readers what we think. And some authors can pull off stunning twists that no one saw coming, and we haven’t all fallen down on the floor, crying. But when it comes to The Mortal Instruments, I — and thousands of other fans — firmly believe the series should have ended with City of Glass.

After how much I enjoyed the first couple of books, I felt betrayed by what the ultimate conclusion actually became. Yes, betrayed. I had a bitter taste in my mouth for WEEKS after finishing City of Heavenly Fire.

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I wasn’t even encouraged to try the prequel series, The Infernal Devices. Eventually I did take Clockwork Angel out of the library…and returned it within a week, unfinished. That was over 2 years ago.

The prequel felt so flat, so churned out to feed the demands of an ever-increasing fan publicity monster. At least, to me it did. The banter all felt recycled from The Mortal Instruments, the characters merely Victorian versions of Clary and Jace and Alec and Izzy and Simon. It did not float my boat.

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And then there are the spinoffs. I haven’t touched any of them. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I have touched them — the library copies, to very, very carefully take a peek at the blurb…and then return them to the shelf. Actually, I think I read the first 2 pages of The Shadowhunters Codex. But my enthusiasm for the world as a whole was already seriously waning by this time, so I don’t feel like I missed much by opting to pass.

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However, I caved when The Dark Artifices hit shelves last year.

And then I was back on the floor, writhing in agony. Because of reader’s remorse. Because I knew I shouldn’t have bothered with the 700-plus-page behemoth of confusion and lackluster-ness that was Lady Midnight. I ended up skimming the last several chapters, found out who the (cardboard cut-out) villain was, and didn’t even bother with the epilogue. I don’t care for the characters, or the new plot, and didn’t even see the need for this series to be written.

And, yes, all of this is just my opinion, and there are many happily carrying on with this world. But I am (long) done.

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Last night, watching the movie again, I remembered anew what drew me to the books in the first place — the incredible worldbuilding, the intense potential for character arcs, the depth and breadth of backstory, the wonders awaiting around every corner, creepy and horrifying, or beautiful and admirable. The unwavering optimism of teens in a very challenging situation, sometimes in way over their heads, and how they faced everything with bravery and humor and teamwork — even when their personal feelings about who, or what, the team should consist of were complicated — all of this really won my heart.

Those are the feelings from reading the early books that I really want to hold onto. Let’s hope I can, in the midst of further releases and adaptations that are in danger of making me bitter.

Well, it’s still up to me, how much I take in, and what memories I choose to put front and center. Just like maintaining hope that Clary and company will defeat Valentine and retain the Mortal Cup. Not giving up even when it looks bleak.

Luckily for all of us this is just a fictional world, and we can decide to visit or leave whenever we wish. Though I must admit, I do still sometimes feel sad that I’ve decided to leave.

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

March Mini-Reviews

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Well, it’s a winter wonderland out there! At least for me — and if you don’t care for the snow and are ready for spring, then my apologies. Not too sorry, though — it looks wholly amazing, and I am once again awed by the splendor of Creation.

So it’s time for another round of mini-reviews! I’m already off to a raring start with reading this year (I guess setting my Goodreads challenge at 25 was laughable?!), which means I have more reviews to give!

Let’s start with a bit of nonfiction for a change — this I actually read years ago, but I’d forgotten how well-written it is, and my husband stumbled across it in a largely- unrelated Google search. So I decided to see if our local library still had it.

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Wicca’s Charm is an excellent, objective, and compassionate account from a Christian journalist who spent years researching the modern interest in ancient polytheism and the sudden surge in the practice of nature religions in the late 20th century. She never judged the many people she interviewed for their personal beliefs and customs, and while she found herself drawn deeper into her own faith, she also clearly saw a lot of the ways that the Church has let down so many of the people it’s meant to be building up. I highly recommend this one for anybody interested in bridging the gap between specifically Christian believers and those who are following non-Christian religions.

The next on this list will start a bit of extended whining. Sorry…

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I wanted to enjoy this. Oh, did I ever hope to open the cover and be swept away into a tale of magic and modern legend. Sigh. I’m afraid Enchanted Glass didn’t do it for me. Maybe I was still a little hung over from the anesthesia? But I had a very difficult time following the plot, and constantly got bogged down by the extremely similar names both the protagonists had (Aidan and Andrew), and felt frequently confused by the roles the secondary characters actually played. The housekeeper, Mrs. Stock, particularly was so irritating to me I wanted to chuck something at her, and began skimming the scenes she was in. And then the ending made NO sense to me, and I twisted into a bundle of discontent.

Unfortunately, my malcontent only continued with The Night Circus. Trust me, I’m aching, too…

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After hearing such great things about this novel, it’s been on my TBR (admittedly near the very bottom) for quite a while. I got to page 50 and just couldn’t get into the style. The prose felt neverending, and not really enlightening as to getting the plot going or establishing the character relationships. I struggled on as long as I could, then finally threw in the towel about halfway. When I had yet to reach any actual night circus action. (The auditions for a new illusionist don’t count, sorry, folks.)

At least I had saved my re-read of Shiver until now (after ordering it at Christmas). This will definitely perk me up.

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I read the whole trilogy (minus the “extra” wrap-up, Sinner) a few years ago. Recently, I decided it was time to enjoy The Wolves of Mercy Falls all over again, so I bought the first book. A few weeks ago, White Fang was literally moping (yes, quite literally — sorry, dude) over the fact he was AGAIN at the end of his TBR. (I swear he must be sacrificing cans of tuna on a scratching post altar under the full moon to a cat god who grants the power of speed reading, because he went through the 8 books I got him at Christmas in NO time.) Anyway, I handed him my copy of The Scorpio Races — and the rest, as they say, is bookdragon history.

So he has now completed all 4 of the Mercy Falls tales, and he is IN LOVE with the series.

No complaints with that. But what do I give him now?!

If you guys haven’t read “the other Maggie Stiefvater series,” what are you waiting for? The Wolves of Mercy Falls has definitely been eclipsed by the phenemeon The Raven Cycle has become, but I find the writing and plot and characters in Mercy Falls far superior. The protagonists are SO easy to root for, and I love the dynamics between the secondary characters in this quartet.

Well, that’s all for today! I’ll be back probably next week, as I put aside blogging for a bit in the pursuit of attacking fiction drafts (most likely with a flamethrower, or a live dragon). If you’re new around here, don’t forget to check out some of my more recent posts and some of my readers’ favorites! (Links are all in the sidebar.) Happy Wednesday, everyone!

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reading, Young Adult fiction

February Mini-Reviews

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Yes, it is February! (Cue the tortured screaming in the background.)

(Actually, at the time I’m writing this post, it isn’t in fact February yet. But when you’re reading it, that’s what the calendar will say. Ooh, look, I can travel through time!)

Ahem. Anyway, here we are with another round of mini-reviews!

January was a slightly slower reading month for me — hey, life happened, and there is nothing wrong with this. All it means is that there will be a few less books mentioned in this review. Deal with it, folks. (I know you all will, as you love me and want me to be my tip-top self more than a critiquing machine.)

Girl Online #2: On Tour by Zoe Suggs

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Okay, I am a BIG bundle of disappointed on this one. “Girl Online” was one of my top picks for 2017, and this is SAYING something, because it was a contemporary, it was a romance, and when you combine those two, you very rarely have The Invisible Moth declaring, “Read this, it’s great!” (Honestly, I’m usually walking away from it in the library.) So, the fact that I’m gushing over the mental health rep and the friendships and family relationships and sweetness in “Girl Online” is a MAJOR deal… And then I found out there was a sequel, and against my better judgement, I picked it up.

Here’s why I disclaim with “against my better judgement.” In my experience, most contemporaries in YA (particularly romances) can be — should be, in my view — standalones. I truly feel that when an author gets sucked into the marketing side of creating a series, they can easily lose the heart of their story/characters/intentions (as I believe those murder mystery series with 20+ installments that all become the same plot with different methods of death after book 5 can attest).

When I got to the final chapter of “Girl Online,” I thought it was a very nice, neat wrap-up — there had been a lot of character growth, it was a fun and poignant story, with an important but not in-your-face message. AND THEN. Then I got to literally 3 pages from the end (I’m not kidding, the paper stopped after that), and there was a definition of last-minute twist, and the only purpose I could see it serving was to leave room for a sequel. Where a sequel was not needed. SIGH.

But, I decided to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Whoops. “On Tour” was a mega mess from start to finish. Apparently the characters had had brain transplants, because they acted nothing like they did in book 1, and the plot was a sloppy, cliche-ridden, dull and uninspiring babble that was — as usual — far too long. Hence, I am once again boycotting contemporaries as I feel they have let me down too many times since 2013.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black:

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Oh, my word, did I want to like this. I diligently avoided spoilers, I waited patiently for the release date, I nabbed the library copy the second it hit the stacks. However, before I even got to page 50, I knew there would be trouble.

“The Cruel Prince” was, for me, extremely disheartening. It reads like Holly Black’s work of 10 years ago (which I didn’t like), full of fairy cruelty towards humans, unnecessary sexuality, uncool bullying, and none of the characters having any clear motives for anything. Why in the world would humans who were treated so badly in the fairy realm be trying so hard to fit in there?? Why would they want to stay? Why was the whole political deception plot even included? It just felt like an excuse to throw in a homage to Game of Thrones, to be perfectly honest. It’s not fun, or intriguing, like The Darkest Part of the Forest was. I couldn’t find any reason to root for the narrator, or even care about her increasingly bad choices. After slogging through pages 1-150, I actually skipped most of the rest of the book until the last few pages, so I could see how it turned out. I was not at all impressed.

The thing I loved about The Darkest Part of the Forest was that it felt that Holly Black had finally nailed the dark fairy story she wanted to tell; the characters felt three-dimensional, the undercurrent of tension and people avoiding plot points they’d ultimately be forced to confront later was very real and pulled the reader in. “The Cruel Prince” reads like a cheap throwback to the “Tithe” trilogy (which I thought was pretty awful), and it feels much more like, rather than being a “new” series, “The Folk of the Air” will be a trilogy that an editor wanted Black to write, glorifying past successes.

Well, I won’t be taking part in it. I’m officially done with this author.

The Familiars books 1-4 by Adam Epstein and Andrew Jacobson:

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Hey, to finish on a more pleasant note… This is a cute series (categorized as MG, but I’d honestly recommend it for ages 12 and up), with overall not much violence (and it’s always to prove a point in the story, not just for shock value), very clean language, no physically intimate situations (just a bit of utterly innocent and sweet romance), and lots of good themes like friendship, loyalty, courage, and determination. White Fang loves this series. If you’re looking for a clean, action-packed fantasy romp for your younger readers, I’d suggest looking into The Familiars.

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family, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

Why Adults Should Absolutely Read YA

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Well, nothing like going in, guns blazing, with a hot topic discussion post at the start of the year!

First, how are you all? Did you survive the holidays? Thinking about emerging from the turkey dinner stupor to face the world? Still hiding under piles of discarded wrapping paper with bows and tinsel stuck in your hair?

Well, however you find yourself, I shall welcome you back! Let’s get right to it, then!

A few weeks ago, I read part of a rather irksome/disturbing thread on social media; the jist is that there are a lot of people over the age of 21 who strongly feel that anyone who is old enough to legally drink, get married, join the military, and live on their own should not be reading Young Adult fiction.

Excuse me?? Number one, when were the Reading Police established?! Number two, what is wrong with teachers, parents, pediatricians, school counselors and adolescent therapists knowing what our kids are reading?

And even more, what about those authors who write what our kids will be reading? How can they possibly know what their audience is interested in, or lacking, if they don’t connect with 12-17-year-olds?

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Years ago, parents could just let their kids pick up a novel from the YA/juvenile section in the bookstore or library, and be pretty confident that the content would be acceptable for their age. There were plenty of authors that tackled tough subjects like death, disease, drug use, sex before marriage with tact and in a way of presenting facts and both sides of the debate.

Nowadays teen readers are apparently told to go get stoned, get physically intimate, drive too fast, skip school, turn the air blue with their language. Don’t any of these authors have kids themselves?! Would they really want their own precious darlings behaving this way?

As a parent and a YA author myself, I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m not at all naive — I’m totally aware that nowadays many adults consider kids knowing all kinds of sexual lifestyles, swear words, and various political views to not be a bad thing. Well, I — an informed adult — disagree. It’s one thing to be well-educated; it’s another to instill harmful perspectives on young minds that are still forming their views and ambitions.

Warning: The Invisible Moth is officially jumping on her soapbox.

Encouraging teenagers to wait to have sex because they are too special to give their body to just anyone is showing we love them and believe in them to become solid, confident, well-adjusted future wives and husbands. Telling them the consequences of unprotected sex reinforces that we want them to remain healthy and emotionally whole. 

Warning them against using drugs and too much alcohol helps them develop self-care habits that could last a lifetime. Discipline and high self-esteem will provide our future doctors, teachers, parents, leaders with the power to change society, for the better, for generations to come. Showing them that a clean path can also be fun sets them on course for a productive, respect-filled life. 

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Okay, stepping off the soapbox.

Now, here’s why the idea of anyone “grown-up” reading YA is silly is just: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

1.) YA fiction is simply FUN. Since most children/adolescents aren’t past the point of wanting to believe — at least a little — in mythical creatures or flying cars or that you can access another world through your closet, the possibilities in a YA book are endless. 

What adult in the 21st century (with reality being so damn hard most of the time) wants to only read about fictional characters whining that they can’t get a date? Who cares?! Get out of your own grumpy head and go read about storming the castle and saving the endangered race of beautiful talking unicorns! Dream about being a hero! Don’t lose that passion!

2.) YA fiction provides an escape. Yes, most of us know very well that animals don’t really speak human, hypogriffs aren’t legal pets, and we’ll probably never get to live in a magical library. So?? Let us pretend for a few hours!

Children who regularly use their imagination often grow into big people who invent new technology, new medicines, the prototypes for hovercars, more effective academic systems, tools and inventions that make our lives better. LET US IMAGINE.

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3.) Parents and teens reading together is valuable. In recent years, too many high-schoolers don’t communicate or bond with their elders. Yes, this is a problem, trust me. Concurrently reading the same book or series with your 14-year-old is important. Find a subject that interests you both, and take it from there.

White Fang and I have both read and discussed Harry Potter, Warriors, The Illuminae Files, and Beaumont and Beasley, among others. This activity also gives you a great starting point for discussing tough issues, and encouraging your kids to do their research and develop their own points of view.

4.) Not all of us with a certain date on our birth certificates enjoy reading stuff aimed at that age group. I flatout find most murder mysteries/romances/spy thrillers downright formulaic and dull. Yes, I know that I’m somewhat of a square peg in a round hole in this instance. But it’s a fact, and it’s not changing anytime soon.

While I don’t necessarily want to read about being in high school, either, there are plenty more fantasy and speculative fiction choices among the YA sections than the adult. Plus lots of fantasy YA authors still take care to keep their language and explicit content to a minimum, whereas for adults, apparently ALL the barriers have come down. That just isn’t my thing.

5.) If you don’t have a long attention span or not much free time to read, novels aimed at juveniles are usually less than 400 pages long. This is a big deal for me, since my spare time is certainly limited, and if I can make it to the end of the paragraph without losing my place, then, wow, it’s an awesome evening!

Also, since I currently carry all my library books literally on my back, there is just no way in Hades I’m attempting to haul the latest 650-page New York Times bestsellers. No way, sir.

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6.) Whether it’s my personality, my mindset, worldview or whatever, I simply relate better to characters in YA. If you present me with an adult character who’s narrating about whether they can squeeze in an extra 10 minutes at the gym, or if they interpreted the fine print in their car lease properly, I will be either falling asleep or using the book as a footstool.

Whereas, show me the elf who’s hoping to return the enchanted sword to its sacred mountain before the kraken’s released, and I’m on the edge of my seat. Any night I spend reading Warriors will result in big stupid grins and lots of tears on my face. Finding out a secret about a beloved Clan cat will resonate with me for months.

7.) Reading about characters who aren’t jaded yet, full of hope and plans and enthusiasm, makes you want to have that again. Remember when you were in kindergarten, and making an extra blanket into a cape was the most natural thing? When you looked to the skies with an unending sense of wanting more?

Go for that, whether you’re 25, or 30, or 40.

Save the unicorns! Rescue the flying cats! Storm the castle!

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

How I Choose My TBR

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It’s a very simple system, really. It helps keep my stress down, by making sure my TBR doesn’t get too long or too unrealistic.

While I love to read, I am also a picky reader, so having a well-crafted TBR also helps to avoid disappointment (most of the time).

And, of course, spare time does not always exist in abundance in my life, so being prepared ahead of actually being in the library or on Barnes and Noble.com is quite handy.

I keep a list on Goodreads (come on, who doesn’t?), which works sooooo much better than my old method (which was scribbling down a newly-released title on a random grocery list and praying I don’t lose it).

Now, here’s how I decide what actually goes on that list:

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Criteria 1: It’s by an author I already know I like. Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Erin Hunter, Maggie Stiefvater, Holly Black, Charles De Lint, JK Rowling — these are all names that will make me sit up and take notice in a newsletter or article. Sadly, some of these folks are no longer with us or aren’t releasing new material lately. And the back catalogs of others I have ploughed right through. Still, it’s good to have a go-to (or several).

Criteria 2: It’s by an author that comes highly recommended (by everyone I know). After seeing the same authors constantly named in the same raving reviews, I feel compelled to give them a try. In some cases, this has not panned out. In others, it’s been a huge success. In others still, I have yet to get to said titles. (What?! Sometimes the library has a long wait list!)

Criteria 3: White Fang may be interested in it. Yes, it goes on my TBR, even though he’ll be reading it. Why? Because otherwise I will very promptly forget that he mentioned that series or author or genre. Yup, mum of the year award for short-term memory does not go to me!

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Criteria 4: It’s likely to show up in my local library. Not that this is a strict rule, but it is a pretty regular guideline. Since the ratty old wallpaper peeling off my living room walls is not made of dollar bills, I need to save my money for things other than buying books. Hence, if I can’t get it for free, it will either be waaaaay down the TBR, or not turn up on it for a few years.

Criteria 5: It’s not coming out until next year, but it does sound really good, and I don’t want it to slip my mind. Take Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince and Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes as Exhibit A. The former has been sitting on my list for about 3 months, and finally it’ll hit stores sometime in January. The latter won’t even be out until sometime in 2018 (it’s so far away I can’t even remember without Googling it), but I will kick myself if the fact of its very existence just slips out of my brain.

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Autism, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Tantalizing Tidbits

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This is a new way of saying I have more sharing to do about my plans for the upcoming year. (By the way, if anyone can tell me just WHERE 2017 WENT IN SUCH A HURRY, it would be appreciated.)

So, remember when I said that there are going to be 4 volumes in the “canon” series for Order of the Twelve Tribes, followed by a “field guide” of sorts, and then a companion novel, i.e. most likely a prequel, and then I may attempt to write something else (or run away to New Zealand)? Well, here’s what happened with that:

I had originally decided to make a draft of Volume 3 my NaNo project. Then I scrapped that idea and wanted to try writing a contemporary for NaNo. Then I found out that I am not set up to write a straightforward contemporary, and proceeded to die a little bit. And two things kind of smashed together…

At approximately 5 a.m. one day in early November, I had an idea for a spinoff story (from the Twelve Tribes world), that had nothing to do with anything else I’d already developed. But it was too good to pass up. So I started developing it further — and as I was telling White Fang about it, he decided he wanted to join in.

So, we’ve put together a character/plot arc for a brand new, standalone sequel (that I anticipate starting on after the holidays). My goal is to release it sometime next summer.

This new character will be introduced in the “canon,” so I’ve given you a ton of stuff to look forward to!

Now the goal for the prequel is: It will become part of the field guide. I hope to answer all of your questions that any of you had that would’ve been addressed in a prequel (help a writer out, fill the comments with them!), as well as have fun with a few little notions that crossed my mind while planning out the canon.

Still more to do the happy dance of anticipation about!

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The other part of the smash was this: In about a 24-hour period, I went from nearly scrapping my entire NaNo project (yes, 35K words at that point), to figuring out how to 98% rewrite it.

This, obviously, will take time to explore and expand and make, well, not rough draft-y. But I love my new concept, and am excited to work on it.

Most likely I’ll get it ready for release after I finish writing/planning for publication the Twelve Tribes series (as I already have enough on my plate regarding the completion of my magnum opus).

The working title is “How To Be A Savage,” and it’s about… (drum roll, please) …

Autistic superheroes.

Yes, actual people on the spectrum who are also superheroes. They won’t be your standard fare along the lines of Superman, Batman, the Green Arrow, or Wonder Woman, either. They won’t wear those ridiculous spandex suits. They won’t be so foolish as to think no one will ever not recognize them if they wear a mask that only covers their eyes. They’ll have trouble creating and executing highly-sophisticated weapons or tech. Their chosen missions and reasons for fighting those battles may not make sense to anyone but them.

I am enthused.

Are you enthused?!

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Anyway… So, those are my writing plans as they stand at present.

Finish Volumes 3 and 4. (Okay, start and finish, in this case.)

Complete the field guide, along with its prequel-ish (and some sequel-ish) excerpts.

Work up White Fang’s character arc/plot arc more fully.

WRITE ABOUT AUTISTIC SUPERHEROES.

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I am also not planning on committing to anything else under the sun in 2018. I mean, that I wasn’t already expecting to do, like clean my house and feed my children and cat.

My Goodreads challenge for next year will probably be a very easy 25. I won’t be starting a newsletter or a Wattpad account.

My blog will stay pretty much as is — reviews, discussions, announcements, lots of cat pictures.

Hopefully, my fame will continue to spread and people will flock to my art like — ha, ha, I have to — moths to a flame.

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There are also local opportunities most likely opening up for me in the new year. I’ve been invited to speak at different readers’ and writers’ groups in town, through my local library, and this is exciting, too.

How can you help this little moth’s grand ambitions? Well, you can spread the word about my publications, my blog, my Twitter and Goodreads existence.

I now have 3 books available for purchase, Masters and Beginners, Rulers and Mages, and Dreamings and Muses, my short story collection. All can be found on Barnes & Noble.com, at:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/masters-and-beginners-daley-downing/1126998956?ean=9781538033111

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dreamings-and-muses-daley-downing/1127168779?ean=9781538036631

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rulers-and-mages-daley-downing/1127527926?ean=9781538056752

It’s coming up to the holidays, so take advantage of those coupons and free shipping offers!

AND…I will be giving away a free e-copy of Rulers and Mages! Just mention in the comments if you’d like to enter, and I will ask my trusted Hat of Randomness to select the lucky winner!

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