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Writing Bloc’s Best of April 2019: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads April 2019 Edition. Welcome to our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of April, we hear from Michael, Jacqui, Becca, and Robert.

Michael’s Pick for April: The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Yes, I know, it sounds strange to recommend a popular series that sold over 23 million copies and was turned into four high-grossing movies, but hear me out. I first read The Hunger Games when the first wave of buzz crested, and when I read it, I lumped it in with the Twilight series (which I don’t personally care for). I think I did this because their popularity and their target audiences seemed to overlap, so I was curious as to what all the buzz was about. The buzz was probably part of what put me off. I think I was expecting a perfect novel the first time—my head wasn’t in the right place. I was ready to criticize the book at every page, and most of my criticism was undeserved, although, I still stand by my opinion that a lot of the names in these books are ridiculous. (I mean, “Peeta?” I keep hearing Lois Griffin’s voice from Family Guy saying this when she’s saying “Peter” in her accent.)

This time around, I picked up the novel because one of the stories I’m writing has a young female protagonist, and I was looking for recommendations for comparison novels. Enough people recommended The Hunger Games for me to give it another chance. And I’m glad I did.

Is it perfect writing? What is perfect writing, really? It’s told in first person present tense from the perspective of a teenage girl in the midst of a cruel dystopia on the brink of an uprising, so it’s written in an appropriate tone. I appreciated the writing this time around, enough to get over the horrible names. (Plutarch Heavensbee…for real?)

All in all, I fell into the story. It’s well-paced, gripping, and, once I finished the second book I realized that it’s also carefully planned out. The Hunger Games series has impressed me like no other story in that I’ll admit that I got it wrong the first time. I wasn’t in the right headspace to appreciate these books, and now I am, which is a much better and happier place to be. I’d much rather be a person enjoying stories instead of criticizing them. Suzanne Collins helped convert me from a critic to a fan. I’m happy to say I was wrong.

Jacqui’s Pick for April: Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn


“Why is it every time a madman’s prayers are answered, a witch burns?”

I’ll start with full disclosure: J. Danielle Dorn is a fellow Inkshares author, so I may be a bit biased. That said, Devil’s Call is sinister, satisfying, genre-bending read unlike anything I have ever picked up and I highly recommend it.

Billed as “The Revenant with witches,” Devil’s Call is part horror, part western, part feminist revenge soul candy that, if you are anything like me, will have you fully enthralled.

Written as a raw, first person confessional to her infant daughter, Devil’s Call follows protagonist Li Lian, as she avenges the death of the child’s father. I devoured Li Lian’s journey in just a few days, and can’t recommend enough this tale by a truly original voice.

Becca’s Pick for April: How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace

This tiny book is a quick, inspirational read, which started as a zine and sticks to its roots. I purchased this book after hearing Grace speak on the WMFA Podcast on finding balance in one’s life as a creative person. If you read this thinking it will be an end-all, be-all guide, you will be disappointed. If you read this like it’s a conversation with a kind, reflective friend, you will be thrilled.

The book includes some short exercises to help readers reflect on what in their life is work and what is relaxation, as well as the gray areas where those overlap. I found it helpful just to think about, which is Grace’s point– she’s all about the noticing. In line with its origins as a zine, the book includes some things that might seem random to those not familiar with the genre– a section on herbal infusions, an appendix with relevant poetry. I enjoyed all of it, though, as well as the feelings of nostalgia tat the format inspired.

This is a nice read for folks whose work and pleasure are overlapping, as many authors’ are. Come to it prepared to walk away without any conrete “answers” but wth a renewed commitment to self-care and self-compassionate productivity.

Robert’s Pick for April: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

Kate Harker and August Flynn’s families rule opposite ends of Verity, a grisly metropolis where violent acts summon real monsters: bloodsucking Malchai; clawing Corsai; and soul-stealing Sunai. The truce that keeps the families at peace is crumbling, and August is sent to spy on Kate. But when Harker’s men try to kill her and pin it on the Flynns, August and Kate find themselves running from both sides, in a city where monsters are real…

This Savage Song is another powerhouse from Schwab and I loved every second of it. Prior to this book, I’d read her Shades of Magic series, which is a stunning urban fantasy trilogy, and I was excited to dive into a different Schwab world. This Savage Song did not disappoint.

Set in a grim world of the future, where the US has separated into independent territories, the story takes place mostly within V-City; a territory divided in two by a shaky truce. It is a city where violent acts give birth to literal monsters. Where some monsters dream of being human. And some humans are… well, monstrous. In the middle of this we meet two youngsters on opposite sides of the divide, who despite everything, forge a connection and must learn to trust each other. The characterizations are deep and wonderful, the world gloriously dark and unique, and the plot sucks you inexorably toward the epic ending.

This Savage Song is the first of two books.

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Writing Bloc’s Best of February 2019: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads February 2019 Edition. Welcome to the seventh post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of February, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, Cari, and Michael.

Still not sure what to read next? Check out Writing Bloc’s 2019 Writers as Readers Challenge.

Becca’s Recommendation – Lipstick Brigade by Cindy Gueli

In Lipstick Brigade: The Untold True Story of Washington’s World War II Government Girls, historian Cindy Gueli brings to life this important part of World War II history. I have a professional interest in these 100,000 women who moved to Washington D.C. to fill important clerical positions: my novel, Rock of Ages, follows a Government Girl. My interest is also personal. My beloved grandmother was one of them, classifying fingerprints for the FBI.I picked up Gueli’s book as research, hoping to make my own book as historically accurate as possible, but ended up feeling more deeply connected to my grandma, who passed away two months ago.

Gueli explains the political and personal forces which drew the women to the nation’s capital, an important government and military hub. She describes in detail their often monotonous jobs, the crowded and expensive living conditions in the bustling wartime city, the sexual and social traditions the women challenged, and the media portrayal of Government Girls that the real women contended with. She does it all with an eye to the influence of gender and race. Gueli is an excellent historian and an engaging writer.As I read about beauty seminars hosted for Government Girls, I began to understand my grandma’s fascination with Avon products and saw the time she took me for a makeover in a new light. She brought with her the experience of being a 19-year-old woman from rural West Virginia, on her own in a big city for the first time, learning beauty standards. 

Reading about the cost of various amenities in D.C. at the time, I was able to make more sense of the letter my grandma kept detailing her raise and of her story about her $25 a month room. My grandma’s independence, patriotism, resourcefulness, and fashion sense all make more sense to me after having read this book. At a time when feeling close to my grandma is especially meaningful, I am grateful. My novel, too, will no doubt benefit from Gueli’s extensive knowledge.Readers interested in 1940s history, labor history, and feminism will certainly enjoy this thorough, readable book.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Beartown by Fredrik Backman

“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil.”
― Fredrik Backman

Ever since reading A Man Called Ove years ago and absolutely loving Backman’s style, I’ve had several of his books on my to-read list, but they kept getting pushed to the back-burner for some reason. I think because deep down I knew that when I chose to enter another Backman book, I wouldn’t come out unscathed. There are certain authors that you know can wreck you, leave you reeling for days. Fredrik Backman is apparently one of them for me, and he is quickly becomming one of my favorite authors.

It’s hard to explain what exactly it is about Beartown that resonated so deeply. On its surface it’s a story about a hockey team and a devastating event that rocks a small town, but it is so much more than that. It is a story about the many, often contradictory, layers we have as humans. It is a story about the sometimes-toxic world of sports and tribalism. It is a story about snap judgements and self reflection. Highly recommend.


Cari’s Recommendation – Duped by Abby Ellin

Author Abby Ellin almost married a con man – she tells her story in this part-memoir, part-fascinating fact book about liars. While there are other books out there about liars and their motivations, this one stands out because of its strong storytelling and clear, engaging style. Highly recommended for writers – if you’re looking for a reasoning behind your deceptive character’s motivation, you’ll be able to find it here.

Michael’s Recommendation – Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I recently found Octavia Butler’s work thanks to friend recommendation. She was a powerhouse in science fiction, and all of her works are worth praise. Most of her stories feature complicated characters exploring issues that mirror current events, and her characters are rich and diverse, unlike the campy science fiction stories she fought to counterbalance. This recommendation is truly for Octavia Butler’s entire catalogue. From Kindred (1979) to Fledgling (2005), you can’t go wrong with any of her stories.

The reason for specifically pointing out Parable of the Talents is that it shows some of the author’s uncanny ability to predict future events by exploring her world at the time of her writing. Parable is actually a sequel to Parable of the Sower, and it was written in 1998. Part of the story features a dystopian take on a future America featuring a presidential candidate hellbent on controlling the population by use of virtual reality and shock collars. This power hungry candidate also used an interesting slogan to push his agenda: “Make America Great Again.” Yes, she wrote this in 1998. Now go read her work. Unfortunately, we lost this literary giant in 2006, but thankfully she left a lot of work behind for us all to marvel at and enjoy.

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Writing Bloc’s Best of January 2019: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads January 2019 Edition. Welcome to the sixth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of January, we hear from Michael, Becca, and Jacqui. Still not sure what to read next? Check out Writing Bloc’s 2019 Writers as Readers Challenge.

Michael’s Recommendation – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Black and white image with young girl levitating inches above the ground.I love weird stuff, I’ll admit it. And this book sounded weird from out of the gate, which made me surprised that it had become popular enough to not only become a bestseller, but to be produced into a Tim Burton film. There is something to the presentation of this book alone that piques the curiosity, and though the old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” should apply, I still knew I’d be reading this book as soon as I laid my eyes on it. It’s filled with odd and creepy old pictures that the author collected over time and strung together to make a story. I thought that was a cool and unique approach to writing a book, and I must say, it paid off.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children pulls off a haunted vibe without the story being horror. After his grandfather dies in a gruesome manner, Jacob, the sixteen year-old protagonist, is set on following clues his grandfather left behind to discover an old orphanage in Wales. At first, all Jacob finds is the bombed out ruins of the orphanage, yet there are indications that the children may somehow still be alive nearby. After hunting for clues and searching the small island, Jacob soon finds himself in an entirely new world confirming all the stories his grandfather told him – stories he was sure were nothing more than fairy tales.

The story is mysterious, creepy, unique, and downright strange. It has its own brand of thrills I’ve never encountered in another book. I’m not saying this book is the peak of every aspect in its story, but it is definitely effective in its choice of storytelling elements. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing the series. The fourth book, A Map of Days, was just released.

Becca’s Recommendation – How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

George and Irene’s mothers created them to be soul mates– but are they? This is the central question of How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky, the second novel from the author of Shine, Shine, Shine. 

The book explores the ideas of fate and compatibility through George and Irene’s story, from before their births until they meet again as adults, when they are both astrophysicists. What results is an enjoyable, smart romance novel, though Netzer’s approach is a twist on the genre.

Unlike other books which on their surface appear pulpy and end up having a deeper meaning (I’m thinking Laney Wylde’s After Twelve series–legal dramas that surprise readers with a deeper theme of racially motivated police violence), How to Tell does the opposite. On its surface a deep artsy book, at its core, Netzer gives readers a satisfying love story.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

“We have an obligation to read for pleasure. If others see us reading, we show that reading is a good thing. We have an obligation to support libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not support libraries you are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.”

– Neil Gaiman

When this little number arrived in my mailbox, and I promptly curled up on the couch and read it in about thirty minutes. Neil Gaiman has held onto his place as one of my favorite authors for over fifteen years (so much so that my son is named after one of his characters in Stardust). Art Matters is a collection of Neil Gaiman quotes and longer passages, accompanied by illustrations from artist Chris Riddell.

It is enchanting from start to finish, and a must-read for all writers and artists out there who have ever struggled with imposter syndrome and how to define success. A wonderful book to keep on the side table for those times when you just need a few words of encouragement to put you back on the right path and to remember that what you are doing matters.

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Writing Bloc’s Best of November: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads November Edition. Welcome to the fifth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of October, we hear from Jacqui, Robert, Michael and Becca.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – The Humans by Matt Haig

Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

I was first introduced to Matt Haig when I read his book of essays, Notes on a Nervous Planet. I instantly loved his writing style, and wanted to give one of his novels a try. I’m thrilled that I did, and I’m sure I’ll be reading his whole arsenal in the future.

I read The Humans in about three sessions, and it was a blissful combination of raw emotion and comedic timing. The Humans tells the story of an alien who takes over the body of a mathematician who is on the brink of a life-altering discovery. His mission? To stop this discovery from getting out to the general public by silencing anyone who knew of the breakthroughs that the mathematician had made. .

Through the lens of this extra-terrestrial, the reader views the human species – quirks, faults, and all. Through this novel we answer the question – why would anyone ever choose to be human?

 

Robert’s Recommendation — Redshirts by John Scalzi

Cover of Redshirts by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:

  1. every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces
  2. the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations
  3. at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

At first glance, Redshirts appears to be a simple spoof of Star Trek, specifically, “What would happen if the often-memed ‘redshirts’ realised their only reason for existence was to die dramatically on an away mission?” This alone would make the book worthy of examination, but I came to realise it was more. The premise may be whimsical, but Scalzi has written a solid narrative that stands alone, even if you’ve never watched an episode of Star Trek.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel, narrated by Will Wheaton (Will-Friggin’-Wheaton narrating a Star Trek spoof people!), and it was brilliant. You can read more of my thoughts here.

 

Becca’s Recommendation — The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas took over my mind for the two weeks it took me to listen to the audiobook. Every night at bedtime, I would eagerly plug in my headphones, excited for the next chapter. It was hard to turn it off to go to sleep. Thomas brings the realities of police brutality to life through the eyes of Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl who witnesses her childhood friend killed during a traffic stop.

Starr confronts the arguments we hear all the time– her friend’s life didn’t matter because he was a drug dealer, police officers are scared too, if people just obeyed the law, things like this wouldn’t happen, and more. And through Starr, we see incredibly clearly the fallacy in all of these.
Thomas shows the complexities of Starr’s life in the hood, and the codeswitching she must perform to assimilate in her wealthy white school, in a way that helps white readers like myself challenge their assumptions about race and poverty.

Especially moving is the tribute at the end to real victims of police violence. Viewing this major problem in our country through the eyes of a relatable young character makes the serious subject matter digestible and approachable This book should be required reading at every high school and college, and really, for every person in the U.S.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Wow. I was blown away by this book, and I have no idea why it took me so long to read it. Not only is this a jaw-dropping analysis of the human condition, the role of free will versus societal blending, and evil itself, but the novel is written in an amazing and unique form. Written in first person, the story takes you through the perspective of Alex, who is a fifteen year-old in a dystopian future in which he and his “friends” get together and commit crimes and perform acts of violence on random people. When Alex’s friends turn on him and leave him to be caught by police, he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the murder of the woman whose house he was caught at. Interested in a shortened sentence, Alex agrees to be the first in an experimental “Ludovico technique” in which he is trained to be physically repulsed by violence and acts of criminality.

The novel is beautiful in that it includes Alex’s own dialect and slang, called Nasdat, which incorporates a wide enough vocabulary for some versions of the novel to include a glossary. However, the way the story is written and the events are described, there is no need for a glossary while reading. The character’s actions and perspective are clear enough that you can finish an entire page and look back at it realizing that you aren’t entirely sure of the meaning of half the words on the page, yet the understanding of what was written is clear as day. It’s a short book, and a real horrorshow to read.

An extra bit worth mentioning if you read A Clockwork Orange…

The version I got was at a secondhand store for a dollar. It was printed in 1972. The book is split into three parts, each consisting of seven chapters, or so I expected, but the third part in my version stopped at chapter six. I was curious about this and found out that copies of the book printed in the United States prior to 1986 omitted the final chapter, and this is the version Stanley Kubrick’s film is based upon, as well as the version Anthony Burgess loathed. I hopped over to the library and read the last chapter, and I can say that both versions of the novel are quite interesting. If you pick up a copy with the 21st chapter, stop at 20 and consider your thoughts before finishing the book as the author intended. Interesting stuff, indeed, and worth a conversation over. Either way, read this book.

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Writing Bloc’s Best of October: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads October Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of October, we hear from Jacqui, Michael, and Robert.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Women Like Us by Jason Pomerance

My recommendation this month is Women Like Us, an endearing debut by author Jason Pomerance. Pomerance’s writing is rich and engrossing, and he draws you into the world he has created with a gentle ease. I truly enjoyed his style and will be picking up anything Pomerance comes up with in the future.

Women Like Us follows the story of a woman in her 30s who is re-examining certain choices she made in her past. She then sets out on a mission to reconnect with her teenage son, who is being raised by her ex-mother-in-law.

Each chapter of Women Like Us was so packed with self-reflection-inducing emotion, that I found myself feeling a bit like a freshly squeezed orange each time I closed the book for the day. There were multiple times I thought the story was veering towards a cliche, but Pomerance time and again flawlessly weaved in a different direction. I found myself wanting to know more about what inspired Pomerance to create these deeply-developed and refreshingly-human characters. A breezy but powerful read that suggests it is never too late to right past wrongs and encourages expanding the traditional definition of family.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Respect the children’s picture book genre.

I have read a couple of other books this month, both of which left a great impression on me, but neither could compare to this incredible piece of literature. I have a couple of young kids, and we picked this up from the library based on a librarian’s suggestion (can never go wrong with that, in my experience). After the first reading, we almost immediately popped over to Amazon to grab a copy for ourselves. The love for this book swelled within us that quickly.

Yes, I know, you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t get a children’s book unless you have children, but I urge you to at least give this book a chance by reading it in your local library, kids or not. Its images and art are unique and wonderful. The perspective is brilliant. And the message is urgent.

It’s not what you’re probably expecting, either. It’s not a book about environmental issues. It does mention to take care of the place, as it’s all we have, but the end message is all about humanity and how we carry on through generations. I’m being intentionally vague so as not to spoil the book for anyone.

But it is as advertised: notes for living on planet earth. It’s a welcome. And its simple messages and reminders are worth revisiting, even as adults. So treat yourself to a children’s book this month, especially if you haven’t read one in a while. Aren’t some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned encapsulated within a book you cherished in your youth?

Robert’s Recommendation – Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Cover image from Lifelike by Jay KristoffOn an island junkyard beneath a cigarette sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Seventeen-year-old Eve isn’t looking for secrets; she’s already too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she spent months building is a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her grandpa alive was the handful of credits she just lost to the bookies. Worst of all, she’s discovered she can destroy machines with nothing more than her mind, and a bunch of puritanical fanatics are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

This is my first Kristoff novel and it will not be the last. Wow. This book was so good it blew my mind. There’s a lot of Idiocracy in the world, but… darker. Much darker. In inexperienced hands, this could have come off cheesy, but it doesn’t. The characters are a sarcy delight and the story is an intense rollercoaster. And that ending… Holy Hell.

(Also, Kristoff just recently tweeted he’s finished the sequel.)

Check it out on Amazon and Goodreads.

 

 

 

 

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Writing Bloc’s Best of September: Contributors Share Their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads September Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of September, we hear from Michael, Jacqui, and Robert.

Michael’s Recommendation – The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty

“‘I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, red, green, or purple.’ We’ve all said it. Posited as proof of our nonprejudicial ways, but if you painted any one of us purple or green, we’d be mad as hell.”

This novel is one of the newest novels I can say changed me. I remember these books growing up, and I’ve had a few claim the “changed me” title within the tail end of my twenties, but it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit back after closing the back cover of a novel and say honestly to myself while tapping the center of my chest: “Something’s different now.” And I’m still processing what, exactly, has been changed by The Sellout, but that’s the beauty of it: There’s no way I can process it all in one reading. This is definitely a book to have on the shelf and read annually.

But don’t take that as to mean this book is unapproachable. It’s truly the opposite. This story is incredibly approachable, engaging, entertaining, hilarious, and one of the most wonderful pieces of satire I’ve read in my life. Written from the perspective of Me, a black man on trail at the Supreme Court for owning a slave, the novel rushes, ducks, and weaves in between nearly every bit of racism experienced in the past few centuries with incredible wit, insight, intelligence, and flow. Paul Beatty is a master of language. He chucks it around with a curve I’ve never read anywhere before. This novel is equal parts biting satire, concussive commentary, and historically accurate mayhem. I could not recommend this book more.

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

My recommendation this month is for Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel. I’ve been powering through a lot of heavy reading material lately, and this smart, timely romantic comedy was a breath of fresh air.

I devoured this quirky, delightful story that followed socialite Maxine Simmons from Palm Springs, CA to Scottsdale, AZ. Mr. and Mrs. American Pie was satisfying from the first page to the last and, in several instances, I found myself awkwardly laughing out loud while reading it in public places.

I was hooked into the self-discovery journey of Maxine, a car-crash-that-you-can’t-look-away-from of a character. I’m beyond excited to see this gem adapted to the screen, as it has recently been optioned by Lara Dern and Platform One Media for a TV-series adaptation.

*Disclaimer – Juliet McDaniel and I are both Inkshares authors.

 

Robert’s Recommendation – Space is Cool as Fuck by Kate Howells

I found out about this book randomly through social media when an author posted about the advanced review copy they’d received. I instantly knew I had to have it and was surprised that (at the time) it was a little hard to track down. Since then it seems to have become more readily available, so you’re all in luck.

If you grew up with a love of space, you’re going to want this book. Gloriously irrelevant yet chocked full of amazing facts and artwork, it is a joy to read and looks stunning in its oversized hardcover format.

Taking all the best bits of science and fusing it all together, Space is Cool as Fuck will be finding a permanent home on living room tables around the world. With a brief history of the whole universe, you’ll be left scratching your head and gazing up in absolute wonder.

Everything you thought you could never understand about the universe is explained in plain-old filthy English. Giving you a little taste of the glorious reality you inhabit by providing an introduction to some of the incredible stuff out there.

I mean, look at this thing!

Pick it up from Amazon (or your favorite book retailer).

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Writing Bloc’s Best of August: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads August Edition. Welcome to the fourth post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of August, we hear from Robert, Becca, and Michael.

Robert’s Recommendation – Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Cover art for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiMy audiobook this month has been Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi and narrated by Bahni Turpin. The novel is a fantasy that draws on African culture to give us a wonderful new world to explore, full of beautifully realized people and places. It tells us the story of Zélie Adebola, a young Diviner whose birthright was to become a powerful magi — until magic inexplicably left the world.

Read the official synopsis:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Everything about this novel is captivating. The characters are deep and complex, the world is detailed, and the plot sings. This is further enhanced in the audiobook by Bahni Turpin’s narration, which is flawless. Children of Blood and Bone has already earned a lot of hype, and been optioned for a motion picture, so you’ve likely heard the title before. If you haven’t read it, I recommend picking up a copy.

You can add it on Goodreads here or order it from Amazon here.

Becca’s Recommendation – Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

My pick this month is Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Midnight at the Electric. This book follows three protagonists, Adri, a young woman who has been selected to colonize Mars in the year 2065, Catherine, who dreams of escaping the Dust Bowl with her ailing sister in 1934, and Lenore, who plans to leave post World-War I England for America.

Anderson’s story navigates between these three women, revealing their connections through letters, stories, and a tortoise named Galapagos.
Midnight at the Electric is a page turner that had me invested in its characters from the first chapter. Anderson somehow manages to seamlessly weave themes of humans’ role in climate change, American and British history, family, and friendship into one epic tale. I found it pretty impressive that she created a story that effectively appeals to fans of sci fi and historical fiction, often blurring the lines between the two.
This book stands alone easily, but I am dreaming of ways Anderson could turn it into a sequel.

Michael’s Recommendation – Calypso by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is a national treasure. I realize that it’s odd to say this, as he usually lives in England. However, Calypso renewed my confidence in his national treasure status, as most of the book follows events surrounding an oceanside home he and his husband bought in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. And in true David Sedaris style, he christened said home the “Sea Section.”

If you’ve read Sedaris’s previous work, then you know what you’re in for. It’s embellished memoir pulled from bits and pieces of his life told in a style that is easy to fall in love with, soothing to read, and laugh out loud hilarious. If you haven’t read any of his work before, then what are you waiting for?

While the “Sea Section” is the thread pulling each story together, Sedaris fills the book with wonderful stories following such topics as adopting a fox, saving a tumor to feed to a sea turtle, how people cuss each other out in traffic in different countries, and oh so much more. Despite the seemingly disjointed and bizarre topics I just listed, Sedaris has a talent for pulling everything together to make you smile on every page. He’s a master of his art; one of those writers who can move from silly laughter to heartache in moments while allowing you to enjoy it all. If anything, this book, like all of David Sedaris’s books, is so amazing simply for its sweet, brutal honesty.

Now go read.

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Writing Bloc’s Best of July: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads July Edition. Welcome to the third post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. For the month of July, we hear from Becca, Jacqui, and Michael.

 

Becca’s Recommendation – We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I came across We Are Okay on a list of the best young adult books of 2017. It lives up to the recognition.

 

Most of the book takes place over the course of three days as Marin, a young woman struggling with the passing of her grandfather, is visited over winter break at her college by her best friend Mabel, who Marin has ghosted– left behind without notice, ignoring all her texts.

 

I didn’t know this was the premise when I downloaded the audiobook, and if I had, I would have been even more eager to check it out. My own best friend of over 20 years “ghosted” me, leaving me grasping for music or literature that describes the painful experience. We Are Okay conveys the situation from the point of view of the person ignoring her close friend, which I found strangely comforting. It is not, the book makes clear, about a lack of love for her friend. It is actually the opposite, as Marin loves Mabel so dearly she aches.

 

My only complaint about We Are Okay is that it didn’t explain clearly how Mabel planned her visit to Marin. LaCour makes it seem like Marin has ignored all of Mabel’s attempts at contact and yet they somehow coordinate a cross-country visit. In spite of this, though, LaCour has crafted a lovely, moving novel.

 

We Are Okay explores themes of grief, loss, family, and home, in a touching and realistic way, and for many, these themes will shine most brightly. For someone who is grappling with the loss of a friendship and coming to terms with that relationship ending without answers,  LaCour has created a novel that allowed me to do vicariously what I have imagined so many times– show up on my friend’s doorstep, not to demand an apology, but to tell my friend that I love her.

 

Jacqui’s Recommendation – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood has been on my to-read list since it hit shelves in 2016. The story delves into some intense and eye-opening subject matter – taking place in South Africa during the fall of apartheid and educating the reader on the complexities of politics of South Africa and race relations during that time. Trevor Noah’s father was Swiss, and his mother Xhosa, and Trevor’s very existence was considered illegal at the time of his birth, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Noah delivers his story of struggle and navigating a dangerous society with a brilliant mix of comedy and humility, bringing the listener from laughing to crying and back again many times over as he tells tales of kidnapping, abuse, pirated music, and celebrity impersonation.
 
The book is laid out as several personal essays and Noah’s relationship with his mother is a continuous thread throughout the book. It is heartwarming and inspiring what the two of them made it through together, and through many of the events are atrocities that none of us would ever hope to live through, Noah delivers his story without bitterness and instead fills it with strength, comedy, and hope.
 
While I almost always opt for reading a physical book over listening to an audiobook, I generally make it through about one audiobook a month. This is one of those rare stories that I have to recommend experiencing in audiobook format. If you are a fan of Noah, you won’t want to miss him narrating his own story.

 

Michael’s Recommendation – Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

I first heard about this book from author Peter Ryan, who said that it was one of his favorite science fiction stories. Fast forward about a year later, suddenly I’m having people ask if I’ve seen Altered Carbon on Netflix. Trust me, I’d like to, but I promised myself I’d read the book first. And I just finished it. Wow. This book is no joke.

Hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and thrilling, Altered Carbon delivers. Written in a fast-paced first person from the perspective of ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs, Altered Carbon presents a unique and haunting future in which consciousness itself is transferrable between bodies (or sleeves), making death itself something of the past. That is, if you can afford the procedure.

The story takes place in a 25th century San Francisco (now dubbed “Bay City”), where Takeshi Kovacs wakes up in a new sleeve hundreds of light years from his home. He was brought to Bay City by Laurens Bancroft, a wealthy man who has re-sleeved himself enough times to live for hundreds of years. Laurens hires Takeshi to investigate his “suicide,” as he is convinced he was actually murdered. Under circumstances that make it difficult to refuse, Takeshi Kovacs takes on the assignment, and is launched into a dark conspiracy he never could have anticipated.

The story is compelling, violent, and incredible. I enjoyed reading it even more than I anticipated. And now that I’m finished, I can watch the show and see what everyone is talking about. But, probably not before I read the next novel in the series…you know, just in case. I hate spoilers.

 

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Writing Bloc’s Best of June: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads June Edition

Welcome to the second post in our ongoing best of series, in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. Robert Batten, Becca Spence Dobias, Michael Haase, Christopher Lee, and Jacqui Castle have a few titles to test the strength of your to-read shelf.

Becca’s Recommendation: Sorcery for Beginners by Matt Harry

I was perusing my local independent bookstore last month, when I saw something that made me literally squeal—the first book from Inkshares, the publisher my own novel is in production with, in the wild. It was Sorcery for Beginners by Matt Harry, and I bought it immediately, gushing to the owner about how excited I was.

Though it clocks in at over 400 pages, I finished the book quickly, partly because of its status as a middle grade novel, but mostly because of how fun and engaging it is. Sorcery introduces itself as a guide to the world of magic, explaining that it provides this introductory lesson through the tale of another young sorcerer.

That tale is heartfelt and believable. At 31, I still wanted to suspend my disbelief so young readers are sure to be even more enthralled. When the book explains that adults can’t learn sorcery, I tried to convince myself that perhaps I still count as a kid. Though it is intended for younger readers, Sorcery does not dumb itself down, and there are several references that adults will appreciate.

At times it is emotional and suspenseful, as the author explores themes like family, friendship, and moral responsibility with compassion. The characters have depth, and several have the potential for growth, which I hope we will see in sequels.

Sorcery for Beginners makes several nods, both direct and indirect, to Harry Potter. It’s clear that Matt Harry is influenced by his love for the series, and his debut book is one he could be proud to show Rowling.

The end of the book sets readers up for the follow-up, Cryptozoology for Beginners. I am looking forward to its release and another adventure with the young sorcerers.

 

Jacqui’s Recommendation: Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration

My recommendation this month is for a collection of essays from prominent YA authors. Hope Nation contains essays from authors such as Atia Abawi, author of The Secret Sky, and Ally Condie, author of Matched. Readers will find a diverse range of voices represented within Hope Nation‘s pages, as each author shares an inspiring story from their own past, or simply a hopeful letter to YA readers. The stories within Hope Nation were compiled by Rose Brock.

So what is Hope Nation? Simply, it’s a collection of unique and personal experiences shared by some of my favorite writers for teens. Stories of resilience, resistance, hardship, loss, love, tenacity, and acceptance – stories that prove that sometimes, hope can be found only on the other side of adversity. I’m so grateful to each of these talented writers for sharing their own paths to hope.

As with any compilation, some essays hit harder than others, and with a collection like this one, readers will certainly find those that reach out and pull them for personal reasons. My favorites included The Kids Who Stick by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, Don’t Listen to the A**Holes by Atia Abawi, and Baseball Pasta by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

Michael’s Recommendation: Fool by Christopher Moore

I cannot get enough of Christopher Moore. He is a national treasure, in my humble opinion. He made his great break with the bestseller, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, and he has been owning the comedic novel scene ever since.

I love Christopher Moore for his comedy, his lack of restriction, and his ability to tell a story. With Fool, he riffs off of the master of storytelling himself, William Shakespeare.

Fool is designed to be a satire of King Lear, but it is oh so much more. The story follows Pocket, King Lear’s fool, as he finds himself in the middle of (and partially responsible for) an impending war between kingdoms. The story is expertly told with such great pacing and appropriate homage to Shakespeare himself, I can’t help but admit that I reread this book at least once every year. It is a great tale with an excellent protagonist (who earned himself a starring role in another one of Moore’s great books, The Serpent of Venice.

I’d go on, but I’ll let the book itself warn you of what you’re in for should you read it:

“This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank.”

Robert’s Recommendation: The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle

Book Cover: The Seclusion, by Jacqui CastleI’m going to have to call out something in the interests of transparency before I get into my recommendation. The Seclusion is written by Writing Bloc contributor Jacqui Castle, which may mean I approach this with some bias, but I just finished reading my copy and loved it so much I’m going to recommend it anyway.

The Seclusion is the debut novel from journalist Jacqui Castle and it’s a ripper. The story is set in a dystopian future America that has been twisted into an isolationist authoritarian nation, separated from the rest of the world by the enormous Northern and Southern Security Borders. All history predating the walls is banned and information is tightly controlled. In this new America, the people are ruled by a faceless board and mindless patriotism is favored above all else. Into this setting we meet Patricia. As an environmental scientist, she’s one of the few people permitted to roam beyond the city walls. It’s while on one of these research trips she stumbles upon a trove of forbidden information that triggers a harrowing sequence of events.

In the year 2090, America has walled itself off from the rest of the world. When her father is arrested by the totalitarian Board, a young woman sets out to escape the only country she’s ever known.

While on a routine assignment scouting the viability of dwindling natural resources outside the massive urban centers most American citizens call home, Patricia ’Patch’ and her co-worker Rexx discover a relic from the past containing dangerous contraband―unedited books from before The Seclusion. These texts will spark an unquenchable thirst for the truth that sees Patch’s father arrested by the totalitarian Board.

Evading her own arrest, Patch and Rexx set out across a ruined future United States, seeking some way to escape the only home they’ve ever known. Along the way, they learn about how their country came to be this way and fall in love. But their newfound knowledge may lead to their own demise.

There’s no pretending The Seclusion isn’t political. It was written before the election of Trump, but many will see it as prescient, with the world it paints an extreme conclusion to the right-wing populism currently sweeping not just the USA, but many other countries as well. Basically, if you’re a racist, right-wing conservative who doesn’t believe in human rights, you’re probably not going to enjoy The Seclusion. Suck it.

I loved this novel. Patricia is a great protagonist who grows throughout as events spiral out of control. The world, though extreme, is well realized and the journey from present-day to dystopian future all too believable.

Disclaimer: I read an advance review copy of this novel. However, I had already pre-ordered and paid for a retail copy before receiving the version I reviewed. The Seclusion is out September 4th.

Christopher’s Recommendation: Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life by Douglas Wilson

The writer’s life is full of pitfalls and it is important to have an arsenal of strategies and solid framework in which to work. I myself am an obsessive reader of non-fiction, and one of my favorite nonfiction topics is about my craft. There are literally thousands of books on the craft for you to choose from and each one has at least one valuable lesson for writers.  I keep a couple of writing books in my laptop bag at all times for instruction or inspiration, one is Elements of Style, another is the Writers Boot Camp 2, and the third is Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson my recommendation for this month.

I chose Wordsmithy for this month because it is unique in its approach. Many writing books sugar coat the dirty details of the craft and Douglas Wilson does a fantastic job at not only revealing the truths every writer needs to know, but he also provides thorough, practical advice for how to address the most difficult aspects. I agree with Wilson when he says “Writers do not need another pandering, pat-on-the-back, feel-good writer’s manual.

While other writing manuals offer the same ten tips, Wilson digs deeper. His sage advice penetrates to the deeper matter behind the many points in which a writer can trip themselves up. It is a no-nonsense, practical guide to improving your craft, that I believe every writer needs to have in their toolbox. The best part is it is a very quick read! I suggest reading a chapter every day and installing the advice into your writing repertoire. The extended reading list that Wilson offers also packs a formidable punch!

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Writing Bloc’s Best of May: Contributors Share their Favorite Book of the Month

Writing Bloc’s Best Reads May Edition

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing best reads series in which a few of our Writing Bloc contributors share their favorite read of the month. This month, Robert Batten, Michael Haase, and Jacqui Castle all chimed in with their recommendations. Check out the first three books that made the cut.

Robert’s recommendation: The Fireman by Joe Hill

My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.

“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”

The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.

“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”

If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman.

Michael’s Recommendation: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I enjoy reading and writing humor and satire, first and foremost. Somehow, this book slipped through the cracks. I never had this book recommended to me, so I feel obligated to push it forward. Yes, it’s a little older, as it was published in 1980. But wow, this book is so interesting and unique, a tale woven like no other. I haven’t read anything so clever and unique since Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. 

This is an odd book, admittedly. Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist, is almost as antihero as they come. He is fractious, disrespectful, and flatulent. He is a highly educated man who manipulates his environment to appease his fastidious needs. Ultimately, he is a man who is unable to see his own difficulties, constantly diverting his problems onto others while scraping by ina strange, purposeless existence. He is thirty years old, living with his mother in the heart of New Orleans, and his antics inadvertently set in motion events that change the lives of all the other characters around him. His is simultaneously lovable and repulsive, and the balance is held tightly by the magnificent writing. Ignatius might be strange and difficult to visualize as a hero, but he is infinitely quotable. For example:

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

Ignatius, to me, is some of the most lovably worst parts of us with an unlimited vocabulary. The entire book is filled with oddball characters, each with their flaws and difficulties. But, in the end, you cheer for all. Go into it expecting a book like no other.

Jacqui’s Recommendation: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Okay, so I didn’t actually read this in May. I read it a few months ago. But, I wanted to start this series out by recommending this book because it had such a strong impact on me. The Knife of Never Letting Go is is one of those books that sticks with you, haunts you long after you’ve put it down. There are two other books in this series, and though I know I will love them, I haven’t picked them up yet for fear of what they might contain, whether I’ll be able to handle what comes next for our main character, Todd. I’ll get there…

In the town of Prentisstown, everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts. They refer to this as their ‘noise,’ and though the noise may get louder or softer, it never ceases. Every single person in Prentisstown is constantly surrounded by their own noise, and the noise of others, even the animals. If you think you have heard all the great stories there are to tell about a boy and his dog, think again. And have tissues nearby once you are ready to embark on this journey.

Todd’s world gets thrown upside down when he stumbles upon an area of silence. What is behind the silence, and where will it lead him?

I can hear it.

Well, I can’t hear it, that’s the whole point, but when I run toward it the emptiness of it is touching my chest and the stillness of it pulls at me and there’s so much quiet in it, no, not quiet, silence, so much unbelievable silence that I start to feel really torn up, like I’m about to lose the most valuable thing ever, like there it is, a death…

I hesitate to explain more about this story without delving into spoilers. All I will say is, read this immediately, and be ready to have it f#@k with your head long after the last page.

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