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.
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
I’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.
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!