GALENTINE’S GIFT GUIDE: FOODIES

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Galentine’s Day is a great tradition that allows us ladies to proudly share our love for one another. As a proud vina I get excited about this opportunity to show my my friends that I really do appreciate them and their place in my life. One way to show those special women that they really do matter to you is to find them a gift that honors a hobby they love. I consider myself an amateur foodie, in that I love cooking, failing at cooking, and then eating delicious things. If you happen to love a foodie vina, here are a few nifty gifts ideas.

FOR THE SWEET TOOTH FOODIE: TAFFY

 

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(Photo courtesy of Dewarscandy.com)

This one is a personal favorite of mine. My Grandpa Billy loved taffy of all kinds, and this is the tried and true family favorite. Located in Bakersfield, California, Dewar’s has been making amazing taffy since 1909. I could easily eat my body weight in their taffy filled with-sit down for this one-peanut butter. For that candy loving vina, order some of Dewar’s famous taffy and help her find new levels of food love. Unique and fabulous taffy is a tasty twist on those boring old boxes of superstore chocolates.

FOR THE BAKING FOODIE: BEER BREAD 

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(Photo courtesy of Williams-sonoma.com)

As a mediocre home baker and bread lover I find my heart growing three sizes whenever I get a chance to try a new bread product. If you have a vina in your life is enjoys being covered in flour, has no problem with gluten, and would never turn down a decent beer,  this set from Williams-Sonoma is perfect! Bake and then break bread together, all while enjoying the remaining beer as the loaf rises. Not to mention that the bowl that comes with the set is a really lovely ceramic keeper-and any baker worth their snuff knows you can never have too many bowls!

FOR THE BOTTLE POPPING FOODIE: MASK BOTTLE OPENER 

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(Photo courtesy of Katespade.com)

Let’s be honest, it is really hard to get gifts for someone who really knows their wine. I’ve bought bottles of things that I like for friends that I know turned into cooking wine (or at worst, drain cleaner). If your galentine has great taste in beer, wine, or other spirits and you’re just too unsure about what to buy, snap up this super cute Kate Spade bottle opener in the shape of a mask. It is adorable, wonderfully unique, and will surely see plenty of use during your ladies-nights-in. Alcohol is temporary, but this is forever!

FOR THE FERMENTED FOODIE: DIY FERMENTATION CROCK 

42526_1_640px.jpgPickled anything-YUM. Fermented foods are delicious and crazy healthy. Plus Gwyneth Paltrow, patron saint of new age-y foodie stuff, is totally in love with them, so there’s that. In college a friend and I went through a pickled garlic phrase, and as a kid my mom had a bumper crop of cucumbers that resulted in too many jars of homemade pickles. Anyone who pickles and ferments does know that it can take time and be a little more labor intensive than the average week may allow. Enter this fermentation crock that lets you make things in larger batches and takes a lot of the guess work out of the process. And who knows, your vina may gift you some treats in return. I wouldn’t say no to a jar of homemade pickled snacks!

FOR THE TEA LOVING FOODIE: DESSERT TEA 

011071418_teaofhearts_2.jpgSoothing tea and amazing dessert in one toasty mug. Sign me up! This sampler from Teavana includes Tiramisu, Chocolate Chai, Caramel Truffle, and Vanilla Crème teas, some caffeinated and some not. Each pouch is also made up for 1 oz of tea, which according to Teavana is about 7-10 cups of tea each. This will last way longer than that chocolate sampler box, and your vina may be more willing to share it with you on a rainy afternoon (no promises!). To top it off  it’s labeled Tea of Hearts! It’s cute without being mushy, making it a great galentine’s day present.

Do you have any ideas for the foodie loving vina in your life? Comment below.

(Feature image source)

Originally seen on Vinazine

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THE BENTONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL: A+ SHOWCASE OF WOMEN AND DIVERSITY

The Bentonville Film Festival is a diversity-focused yearly event founded by fem hero Geena Davis and ARC Entertainment executive Trevor Drinkwater.  In a surprising turn the festival is sponsored by Walmart in the small town of Bentonville, Arkansas. Geena Davis has long been a supporter of a fair and balanced showing of women in media, having found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media after she starred in the must-see Thelma and Louise. Um, we LOVE women advocating for women!!

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 3.33.07 PM.pngThe festival has had Advisory Board members that include Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, Bruce Dern, and Natalie Portman just to name a few. Each member of the board and the juries are vocal supporters of taking film beyond the realm of middle age white men. Plus, check this: ALL films that win the Audience, Jury, and Best Family Film awards receive guaranteed theatrical distribution (!!). Yup, you can see festival winners in  AMC Theatres, on Lifetime, or on a DVD or video-on-demand-released by Walmart. In 2015, 87% of the films shown were distributed – which is great because it means people like you and me can see tons of diverse films super easily! In a market where women and diverse voices are still struggling to be seen and paid equally, this is an industry changing movement. There is also the added perk that you can watch film festival worthy movies-maybe with your favorite vinas-from the comfort of you own living room.

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 3.32.48 PM.pngIf all of these things don’t get you super excited about the Bentonville Film Festival, just know that they celebrated the launch with an A League of Their Own softball game. Come on – that is absolutely amazing and I get behind anything that brings my most loved feminist movie back to life.

 

Head over to the BFF website (we’re a fan of this unofficial abbreviation) to see past winners, submission requirements, and other news. Feminists, film lovers, and anyone who thought Geena Davis was the real star of Beetlejuice should all get behind this movement to make the movie industry more reflective of our modern world.

(All photos courtesy of the BFF website)

Originally Seen on Vinazine

Poem for an Inaguration

There should be words today,

not these words,

not pussy not fear

we shouldn’t know

so much about emoluments,

or taxes other than our own.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong

we didn’t believe we still needed

these word, this voice

to debate if no always

means no safe means

home means equal

means fair means

the same in Ohio as

in New York as on

your street my street.

 

Trucker hats for buttons

for slogans for meaning

for a path without a map.

Is the road not taken

any better, it’s not our

only road. We can stand

together a thousand

causes single file forward

some shared belief maybe

to be a man be a woman

to check any box on any

form matters less than

the flesh we share the

earth we stand upon

the words we share.

 

Okay, Which One of These Iconic Duos Are You and Your Friend?

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Which duo reflects you and your vina the best? Share it with her and see what she thinks!

LUCY AND ETHEL, PARTNERS IN CRIME

This is the ultimate vina duo that most people think of when they think of BFFs. Lucy and Ethel are one rocking pair of gals have no problem getting into trouble, scheming their way out of it, and then donning pill box hats like no other.  If you and your bestie get busted in Target for acting a fool, if you fudge the numbers to have yet another Starbucks outing, or if you have, in fact, worn matching outfits to any public function you may just be a Lucy and Ethel.

work-hard.gifTINA AND AMY, WORK WIVES

They work together, they play together, and they kick ass together. Tina and Amy met while members of The Second City Comedy Troupe in Chicago. Over time they have stared on SNL together, made movies, hosted the Oscars, and written books that give shout outs to the others, all while being moms, wives, and total lady bosses. Even when they have been apart, Fey staring in 30 Rock and Poehler on Parks and Rec, I can’t image one not supporting the other. If you happen to have that go to gal at work, a vina who you see just as much if not more than your spouse, she may be your work wife. Sometimes you might bicker, but at the end of the day you get through the trenches of office life with the support of each other. And maybe the help of an after hours cocktail.

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150812132318-serena-and-venus-williams-2012-super-169.jpgVENUS AND SERENA, TEAMMATES

We all need a vina at our back, someone to push us, someone to support us. These ladies aren’t just sisters, they are best friends, world champions, and total icons. Growing up they trained together, pushing each other to be better from a very young age, eventually reaching the top of the worlds’ tennis ranking in both singles and doubles. Oh, and they’ve got Olympic Gold Medals to spare. Wonder if your vina is your teammate? Go for a run together and see if you don’t go just a little bit faster? Do you both like to put in hours together at the gym? Have you gifted each other workout gear? How many race medals have your proudly earned at the same 10k? Yup, you’re teammates.

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OPRAH AND GAYLE, ULTIMATE BFFS

Oprah and Gayle can do no wrong. These women have supported each other in business, out camping, in print, and on TV. Just read their interview on Oprah’s website and tell me you don’t have total BFF envy. While they might not be in the news as much together as they used to be, I totally believe that these too text on the regular. More than the best BFFs ever, they might even be long distance relationship goals. Do you and your favorite vina finish each other sentence? Take on any adventure with an open mind? Do you (only in your dreams) hang out with Beyonce? If so you two are the end all be all of BFFs. Can I hang out with you?

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Marily-and-ella2.jpgMARILYN MONROE AND ELLA FITZGERALD, CHEERLEADERS

This little know duo was a surprise to me, but also one that warmed my heart in this winter chill. While trying to make her name as a singer Marilyn started listening to a lot of Ella, hoping to learn from her unmatched skill. After becoming totally enamored with Ella’s voice, rumor has it that Marilyn was shocked that Ella was not allowed to perform at the most famous club in Hollywood, the Mocambo. Ella had struggled finding live gigs in the segregated South, but with a phone call Marilyn scored her a long running set in the same club that hosted Frank Sinatra. Marilyn was such a supporter she sat front row for ever single performance Ella did, every night, without fail. In an interview Ella calls Marilyn an “unusual woman,” but she clearly meant it with respect. If you’ve got a friend that you’d go to bat for, no matter what the odds are, you might be a Marilyn and an Ella. If you have mad respect for the others skill… you might be lucky enough to have found your Marilyn.

So, which iconic duo are you and your vina?? Send it along and see what she thinks!

Originally Posted on Vinazine 

Dog Eared Review: Only for a Moment

Pages: 79
Self published
Released:October 2016

 In this first collection of poetry from writer Tabitha Vohn there is a wide range of both skill and emotion. Known more of her prose, Vohn has ventured into poetry, which she says she’s been turning to since she was 15 years old. Unlike many collections of poetry this particular book includes a forward to put the rest of the writing into context. I personally have mixed feelings about the inclusion of the forward, which details the writer’s intention and her emotional connection to the work. I some books a forward is necessary, especially ones that work with historical events or obscure details, but on personal collections I tend to think they pull the readers out of the book. A forward for a collection such as this subconsciously tells the reader how to feel instead of allowing the reader to simply feel; it puts a barrier up between the writer and the reader, preventing the reader from seeing themselves in the poems.
But that is a lot of talk about a forward and not the actual poetry. Onward. The poems within the collection read in a very linear fashion, as evidence by both the evolution of skill and emotion. As informed by the forward the first section, titled “Every Word From Your Mouth is a Heart Song,” feels like juvenilia. Thematically the poet tackles the aftermath of a death that is close to her heart when she was a teenager. The poems themselves feel very much like they were written by a teenager. This may serve as a boon for the collection, helping to demonstrate sincerity, but it can also be a bit distracting. If you read with an open mind the raw youth of the poems is heartfelt, or you may find them distracting.
The later poems show more poise-it is clear that the writer’s skill grew other time. There is also a more nuanced use of imagery, especially in the section “Forest Tales.”
Overall I could go either way on this book. It’s decent enough and I enjoyed it, but not sure if I would dive in for a re-read.
Dog Eared Pages:
14, 18, 24, 27, 29, 35, 36, 38, 46, 48, 55, 57, 73

Dog Eared Review: Limousine, Midnight Blue

Limousine, Midnight Blue: Fifty Frames from the Zapruder Film by Jamey Hecht
Pages: 66
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Released: 2009

I am late to the game with this one- I found it buried in a pile of books I was organizing after my most recent move- and that is all the worse for me. This collection of sonnets is so so so worth your time. Each sonnet is inspired by, and titled after, a different frame of the Zapruder Film. Following the few seconds before, during and after President Kennedy’s assignation there is a lot of ground getting covered here. Yeah, I went there.
In all seriousness, each sonnet is carefully formed without being distractingly rigid, as is often the case with formal poetry. Within each poem there is a mix of the concrete details and this thoughtful, kind of trippy, existential look at death, American society, and personal relationships that is stunning. I could pick nearly any line from any of the poems to demonstrate this point, but my particular favorite stanza is “This is my song of promises and lies, making me deaf/to warnings and alarms. Shot one opened up my throat/so when the sudden angel came commanding me to sing/I could reply like Caedmon: I can’t sing.”
I dog eared most of this book, partially because of it’s excellent crafting, and partially because of the unique take on history. The emotional connection made between Jackie and JFK, between JFK and the time period, between the poet and the reader, between humanity and it’s struggles with death… it doesn’t often get better than this. I am a fool for letting this get lost in my hot mess of a home library, don’t make the same mistake I did.
Dog Eared Pages:
17, 22, 25, 31, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 56, 57, 60, 63, 65

Women From History We’d Swipe Right On (Part 2!)

Now more than ever, we need to look to our historical sisters for comfort and encouragement. Below are some of my favorite vinas from history (my dream BFF list, if you will). If any of these ladies faces could appear on my matches I would swipe right on them- twice for good measure! Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this series here.

FOR VINAS WHO NEED A SYMPATHETIC EAR: SYLVIA PLATH

Sylvia, or Syl as she used to sign herself in her letters, is that emotional friend every vina needs. This author from the 1960s penned classics like “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” along with the must read novel The Bell Jar.

She struggled with a public and messy marriage, but she was always in touch with what she thought and felt. On those rough weeks when you just need a pal to commiserate with over a drink, or you need a friend to put things in perspective, Sylvia would be the vina of choice. For those of us that are work at home moms, she would also be a must need connection –  we could maybe swap child care for a day, get some advice on some writing, or borrow a good book from her. I’d swipe right on my girl Sylvia any day of the week.

FOR VINAS WHO KNOW HOW TO RULE THE ROOST: ABIGAIL ADAMS

If you want to talk about an ambitious, intelligent, and unmatched behind these scenes operator, then Abigail Adams is your woman. In so many cases, she literally brought home the bacon (running the family farm, of course) and fried it up to feed the family’s five children.

And then, you know, in her free time, she advised her husband, second President John Adams, in some of the most amazing letters in history on all things political. Pick up a copy of her letters to her husband and you’ll be in awe, seriously. During the Continental Congress John Adams would ask her advice on everything from political bargaining to the plight of soldiers on the home front. She ran in the most influential circles overseas, and was such an active First Lady that she was often called Mrs. President.

You need a vina to help you get your life together, advise you on that promotion, or give you pointers on your next speech before the town council? You need to swipe right on Abigail.

FOR VINAS WHO WANT TO GET OUT AND EXPLORE: SACAJAWEA

This vital and impressive member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacajawe, a is a woman like few others. Having been captured, traded, and enslaved she became a valued and crucial member of the expedition that traveled across the American West.

I’m stoked when all my laundry gets put away while my toddler naps – she traveled the county on foot. With her knowledge and experience in the wilderness, along with a keen sense for trade and diplomacy, she helped keep the expedition alive and on track. Andshe did all of this with a newborn on her back. Yeah.

Her accomplishments were so impressive that she was taken on as a symbol for the National American Woman Suffrage Association, had her portrait put on coins, and probably has more statues in her honor than any other American woman.

FOR VINAS WHO WANT TO GRAB SOMETHING TO EAT: JULIA CHILD

Julia was a woman who knew how to cook, eat, and love. On an afternoon out with her you might find yourself in the kitchen, eating the best tasting cheese in town, or wrapped up in her L’école des trois gourmandes with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

These three did what few others had done: make French cooking accessible to American women. Then Julia pioneered cooking on TV, something so many of us and our vinas are addicted to right now. Oh, and she traveled the world working for the government (her kitchen is on display at the Smithsonian!). Basically, Julia is a B.A. and I would drop everything to hang out with her if she swiped right on me in return.

Now get swiping! Who knows, maybe you’ll connect with the next Sylvia Plath…

(Feature image via @alpha.whiskey_)

Originally Published on Vinazine!

Celebrating The One and Only Rosa Parks Today

A VINA GUIDE TO ROSA PARKS DAY

On December 1st, 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. You probably don’t know this, but Rosa Parks had a serious problem with driver James F. Blake, who had ordered her to board at the back door and then drove off without her. (JERK) Parks then vowed to never ride a bus that he drove because of this, but on December 1st she boarded the bus not realizing he was driving. And history was made.

“I BELIEVE WE ARE HERE ON THE PLANET EARTH TO LIVE, GROW UP, AND DO WHAT WE CAN TO MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR ALL PEOPLE TO ENJOY FREEDOM.” – ROSA PARKS

While sitting in the front row of the segregated section of the bus, because Rosa did not give AF, a white passenger asked that all the black passengers in her row move to the back. The other passengers complied but Parks, who just taken a race relations class about nonviolent civil disobedience, made her stand. As a result of her action she was arrested, found guilty on December 5th, and fined a total of $14. That’s a lot of cashola back then. Obvi, like the badass he is, she appealed the decision. From December 1st, 1955 to December 20th, 1956 the Montgomery Bus Boycott swept the state and resulted in a Supreme Court decision that made Rosa Parks LEGEN… wait for it… DARY.  Ever since then, it’s been declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional.

In later years she had contact with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches. She and her family faced A LOT of hardships for her activism, but she never ever ever gave up. Pretty cool, huh.

Rosa Parks Day was initially thought of by the California State Legislature, where they decide to celebrate it on February 4, Park’s birthday, in 2000. Missouri followed suit in 2015 and declared February 4th a state holiday. Ohio and Oregon each made their own moves to celebrate Rosa Parks Day on the day she was arrested, December 1st. These four states have made the move to honor Parks for her NAACP activism, her brave civil rights stance, and her sheer grit in the face of opposition.

We have a lot of crazy stuff happening around the world (and in the good ol’ USA) and as those changes happen, we want you to keep this amazing lady in mind —  take some time out today to share your hopes for equality in our society using the hashtag #RosaParksDay. Stand up for what is right, in whatever way that’s uniquely you, and look out for your fellow vinas.

We are all in this together ladies, or as Parks once said “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up, and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”

Thank you for being such a badass, Rosa.

How will you stand up for yourselves and your vinas today? Tell us in the comments!

Originally Posted on Vinazine

RECONNECTING WITH FRIENDS OVER THANKSGIVING BREAK

 

You’re taking a break from studying, globe trotting, grocery shopping, toddler chasing, and project managing to revisit your high school stomping grounds. With nothing to fill your hours but eating and catching up (and if you’re me, reading!) it only makes sense that you may want to track down some of your old squad. To make reclaiming your high school turf easier, here are a few tips worth filing away, just in case your rise to the throne proves a little bumpy.

GET UP TO DATE ON CURRENT EVENTS – THE FUN KIND

As a role model for all impeccable behavior look no farther than Queen Emily Gilmore. From season 7 (hear me out! I know you’re feelings about season 7) episode 3 Emily reminds us that “when the conversation lags, a good guest ought to be prepared to introduce a new topic. Keep it light — no politics, no religion. My little trick? Think of things in the middle three sections of the Sunday New York Times — travel, arts & leisure, Sunday styles — and forget the rest of the paper exists.”

Today we can sub in something from TMZ, Bustle, or of course chatter from your favorite VINAZINE article, but the idea is still the same. Those first few minutes of chat when you bump into each other at Starbucks may be dicey, so come with your game face on. What’s up with Brad and Angelia today? Have you tried an apple cider mimosa? Did you read Natashia Deón’s book Grace yet?

Keeping up today on random articles, books you’ve loved, and some reality TV gossip will save you both from conversation lags. And please, save the political talk for those extended family dinners.

MEET SOMEWHERE FAMILIAR

There is a lot of comfort in familiarity. Did you and your vinas hang out at a local indie coffee shop? Is there a one of a kind restaurant in your home town that everyone has always, always, always loved? I remember coming home one summer to find that the chairs at our coffee shop had been replaced. Sure, we were a bit sad they were gone, but we also spent a lot of that afternoon reminiscing and laughing about all the goofy teenage things we used to do while sitting in those chairs. This one silly change, these new chairs, also propelled us into talking about other new things in our lives- our kids and our jobs and the escapades of our families. With your besties, no matter how long you’ve been apart, a small thing like a familiar setting can quickly bring back some amazing memories.

DO SOMETHING WORTHY OF A #TBT

Selfies and #tbt’s are two things most vinas all have in common. If you’re scrambling around for plans with those old pals, trying something a little old school. Go see a movie together and sneak in snacks like some serious OGs. My BFFs and I saw every Harry Potter movie when they originally came out, so it would be amazing to see the newest film from JK Rowling together again.

Grab a selfie with a poster and it will seem like no time has passed at all. Brave enough to take this even farther? See if there is a high school football game on the calendar and don your letterman’s jackets like the lady bosses you’ve always been.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Do a run down of the whole graduating class. Where is that star football player now (last I heard he’s playing for the Raiders, FYI)? Or how about what’s her name, the girl who always had the best jeans in the world? Odds are with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram you have all kept up with someone. Not only will time fly by remembering so many people, you might also find yourself learning new stories about old friends. Time and perspective can open new doors you never knew existed. You may even find that someone you’ve lost contact with lives not too far from your new home- hello! Extra vina for a wine date! In the converse, don’t hesitate to be introduced to someone new. Everyone makes new pals, so open yourself up to your old friend’s new friend!  A trip back in time may just propel you in the future.

No matter who you want to connect with this Thanksgiving, be it favorite family members or old high school friends, just enjoy it. You’re only in town for a few days, so instead of stressing enjoy the opportunity!

Tell us in the comments who you’re most excited to see when you go home for the holidays!

(Feature image via Urban Outfitters)

Posted First on VINAZINE

HOW TO BUILD THE PERFECT MOMMY GROUP

Your mommy group can become your best vinas, your comrades in arms, and that small sliver in sanity when your toddler is bouncing off the walls. Whether you are planning play dates or much needed wine nights, you need some wicked awesome moms by your side. In addition to those kid free vinas you’ve been pals with for years, every mom undoubtedly needs some ladies with kids around the same age in her life. It’s relaxing to hangout in another vina’s living room without fear of your kid breaking something priceless (it’s all been child proofed or broken by now- trust me) or being embarrassed by a tantrum. To quote Woody from that classic Toy Story, “Don’t have a mommy group? Get one!”

WHERE ARE ALL THE MOM’S AT?

We are everywhere, I promise you that. If you’re just starting on your quest to fill your Mommy Round Table, check out the local library. Story time is full of great stay at home moms who are looking for a little time away from the house with people who won’t judge their yoga pants. The closest park to your house is also a safe bet to find like minded vinas and their tots enjoying the sun. If your littles are in school chat up the pick up and drop off crowd- you all automatically have something in common to spark a convo. I really mean it, moms are everywhere, and unless the kiddos are melting down on the floor of the grocery store, we would love to talk for a minute.

CHECK EVERYONE’S SCHEDULES

Things totally change once you start making cute little human babies. Nap time, preschool days, and the availability of snacks become paramount to a successful day. Few things are more heartbreaking than meeting a great crew and then realizing that everyone has drastically different nap times/lunch times/witching hours (it is so a real thing, I swear it). A lot can be sacrificed for some much needed mommy breaks, but I for one won’t give my toddler’s nap. She needs her rest to avoiding acting like a banshee at dinner time, and I need to watch reruns of The Great British Baking Show. Now after dinner drinks are a different thing- there is always a way to make that work.

PLAN A PROJECT

Not sure how a new mom squad will mesh? Try planning a group project, like one of those nifty paint and wine outings. If chardonnay and a wonky painting of Hogwarts doesn’t help you bond I don’t know what will. If someone is feeling brave, try hosting it instead of going out. With mom’s flexibility is key, and a vina’s date night in just might fit the bill. A craft or a project will help give your night direction and smooth over any new friend jitters. Working on something together will also give you a chance to find more things in common than you expected. Maybe you all discover that Mod Podge decor isn’t your calling (but you can totally laugh about it), or you fall in love with the same six-pack of nitro stout. Or maybe you abandon the project half way and spend the night watching Outlander #sorrynotsorry.

SHORT ON TIME?

Try to set up a Facebook group together. I was part of a new mom’s group right after I had my daughter and we made ourselves a private Facebook group. We used our group to plan  outings, or at least invite any and all out for spontaneous coffee time. We shared recipes and photos of our kids. If someone got a duplicate of a book or a toy as a gift we could offer it to the others. Facebook is not a substitute for real time chat sessions, but it can absolutely make organizing them easier. Plus, having that safe space online is super helpful on those late mommy nights when you need a BFF. Or ten.

The first step is a smile though. Make eye contact with the other tired looking mom sitting with you in circle time. Offer a kind word the the kindred spirit who’s child has decided that the toilet paper aisle is a great place to pretend to be a snake. We are all in this together, so lets go hangout.

(Feature image via @livinglifesmoments)

originally published on VINAzine

Summer Must Read: Grace by Natashia Deon

Grace, Natashia Deon’s debut novel from Counterpoint Press, is an emotional tour de force and an absolute must read. That may seem like a bold statement, but when a book balances the Civil War, racism, abuse, and a ghost story with almost effortless beauty, it is an accurate one. The novel is told from the point of view main character Naomi as she navigates her terrifying life as a child living in slaves quarters, a runaway teenager working in a whore house, and an ever watchful mother. Her daughter Josie is both blessed and cursed because of her parentage, as she too finds herself straddling two different worlds. Despite being separated by Naomi’s death, and the collapse of the South, their two lives intersect in the most unexpected, meaningful ways.

Deon creates a rich and diverse world in the South both before and after the Civil War. There are no stereotypes here: not in the woman who comes to own Josie, not in the madam a who runs the whore house, not in the blacksmith, not in the piano player. Each character is far more than their race, their religion, or the job that they hold. Even the most passing character feels like a flesh and blood person, weighed down with their own past and their own failings. The issues in Grace reach right down to what it means to be good, to be human, and to overcome. Considering the fact that the story spans two lifetimes, two states, and a whole host of tumultuous events, it is quite an achievement to craft the many multidimensional characters that populate this novel.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the bulk of the story is told by Naomi after she has died, and it jumps between her actual life and her spirit life. Allowing readers to see Naomi’s life, her death, and her ability to reflect on both of them is part of what makes this story unique. Everything is convincing; it seems right and logical and necessary to see both Naomi’s life and to watch her watch Josie’s life. This is a tall order to juggle as a reader, and a writer, but once you get into the rhythm of the book, it sweeps you away. The story encompasses many small details — who lives where, who knows whom, who passes who else in the forest — all of which eventually build into a startling climax. I finished Grace in almost one night because toward the end, it was nearly impossible to stop reading.

Hearing the story from Naomi’s perspective allows readers to encounter a lot of period language and slang, which helps you get into the setting and the mindset of the time. She is a self taught woman, having had only life and the Bible to guide her, so her speech and thoughts evolve in an organic way as the story progresses. It may take some readers a few pages to nail that voice in their heads, but I found that it made the book even more immersive. The attention to detail, from the way cellars and floor boards creak, to the minutia of doing laundry and cleaning, help remind readers of the way so many of us used to live. With thoughtful use of historical facts and details, along with vivid descriptions of the landscapes, I was always surprised and engaged.

I was able to get a hold of an advance ebook copy, but I plan on heading out to add the hard cover to my shelves at home. You should probably do the same, since soon enough everyone should be talking about Grace.

Grace is available in stores and online now.

6 Awesome Middle Grade Dads

In honor of Father’s Day, lets celebrate our favorite middle grade dads, whether they be biological, adoptive, or living only in our memories. Many of us have a special bond with or memory of our dads, which has forever shaped us. My own Dad takes a lot of pride in doing things himself, and as I’ve grown older I find myself appreciating those same traits. He is also really great at backing a motorhome into any size campsite. These middle grade novels all feature special relationships with fathers, be they god, mortal or somewhere in between. No matter who they are, or what they do, let’s just all agree that we’re pretty lucky to have these guys in our lives.

The Hidden Oracle (B&N Exclusive Edition) (The Trials of Apollo Series #1), by Rick Riordan
Zeus is the father of Apollo, who just happens to now be trapped in the body of a regular New York City kid. That, on its own, is amazing and inspiring and everything that a dad/son story should be. Parents aren’t always easy people to get along with, I admit it, but when your dad happens to be the head honcho of all Greek gods, the stakes are that much higher. In another wonderful series from Rick Riordan (you’ve heard of Percy Jackson, perhaps? Magnus Chase, maybe?) kids pull out all the stops to save the world, prove their worth, and earns some serious brownie points for their otherworldly parents. Zeus is no one to mess with, and he knows it! Plus, he gives Dad Bods a good name.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II, by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
This whole series is jam packed with awesome dads, and The Cursed Child is set to be another great addition. Fans get reintroduced to Harry and Ron, this time as fathers to young Albus and Rose, who are embarking on their first year at Hogwarts. With their own awesome examples of fatherhood (Arthur Weasley and James Potter), as well the slightly reckless influences of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin over their childhoods, it will be fun for fans to see what kind of fathers these two have become. The even more pressing question may be: what kind of father is Draco, and does Scorpius follow in the Malfoy family footsteps.

Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi
In this classic story, Pinocchio lets his mischievous ways lead him astray from his loving adopted father, Geppetto (with more rule breaking and adventures than the movie, and also more heart and more love between Pinocchio and Geppetto). Readers also get a chance to think on what makes a family: is it birth, or is it unreserved love, or some combination? Pinocchio eventually learns to behave, attains some much needed-bravery, and finds that the one person who has always been true to him is his very own father.

The Little House series (9-Book Boxed Set), by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams
Pa, father to Laura Ingalls, is the perfect example of a pioneer days dad. He works his tail off all day in the the fields, or goes hunting, or sugaring, but he still has the time to teach his kids the life skills they need to survive on the frontier. Laura lovingly remembers all the nights he played the fiddle, the careful way he did his farm work, and the bravery he showed even when things got tough. Whether they are out riding horses, taking their first train ride, or raising the walls of a new home, Pa is absolutely a guy who should be celebrated on Father’s Day—but he definitely doesn’t need a tie, or a mug with golf jokes on it.

Song of the Deep, by Brian Hastings
In this soon to be released book (and video game!) twelve-year-old Merryn lives with her father, who is a deep sea fisherman. After a terrible storm, Merryn worries that he is lost at sea. Thanks to the courage and imagination that her father fostered in her, she builds her own submarine to find him. While traveling the ocean, she learns that her father’s many deep-sea legends just might be true, and also that she is stronger, braver, and smarter than she ever believed. Sometimes a father’s love, support, and encouragement can send us out on the most amazing journeys.

Captain of the Ship (American Girl Beforever Series: Caroline #1), by Kathleen Ernst, Juliana Kolesova, and Michael Dworkin
The American Girl books always have great, multidimensional relationships between their parents and their kids. Whether it is Molly’s dad being deployed during the war, Kit’s dad trying to work through the Depression, or Addy worrying about her dad as he escapes slavery, there is no shortage of important fathers. One of the most standout dads has to be Caroline’s father, the proud ship builder who is taken hostage in 1812. Caroline is so inspired by her father’s love of sailing and his ship building business that she can’t help by stray back to Lake Ontario at every opportunity. She braves the lake, and the British, in an attempt to rescue him, all because of their strong, reciprocal love.

What stories do you love to share with your dads?

Originally Published with Barnes and Noble

7 Awesome Audiobooks that Make for Awkward Road Trip Listening

Audiobooks are a great way to pass the time on a long drive or to make your commute a little more entertaining, but not every book is the best choice for every road trip. Whether you are out exploring with family, friends, or a caravan of adventure-seeking souls, carefully consider which books to load on your listening device. For example, each of the books below are fun and thought provoking stories worthy of the time spent reading them, but they might not make a great road trip audio fodder. Instead of listening to these with your kids, or sensitive friends and family, plug in your headphones and enjoy the thrill of hearing a good book alone. Maybe grab some jazzy soundtracks to sing along with on your trip with Grandma; that’s usually a safe bet.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades Trilogy #1), by E L James
While this is probably an obvious no-go for a trip with kids, also consider the adults in the car too. True story, my husband and I tried to listen to this while driving across the country…and we just couldn’t. We felt at turns silly, awkward, and extremely interested in the world outside the car. The book is a fun read, and the audio is super entertaining for a solo listener, but it might not be the group share you thought it was.

 

Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer, Ilyana Kadushin, and Matt Walters
While the Twilight series is a fun supernatural YA read, it gets darker as it goes along, and fourth (and final) installment Breaking Dawn might be a little blush-worthy with the kids in the backseat. So, although we totally understand your desire to the the “cool” parent who is into all the books that the kids are reading these days, spare your tweens the urgent need to avoid eye contact with you for the next few hours and instead let them enjoy this book with their headphones on. Then you can listen to new Justin Timberlake single by yourself without their judging. Win-win!

 

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1), by George R. R. Martin and Roy Dotrice
The TV adaptation is of course insanely popular, so it makes sense that fans of the show might be interested in discovering the books it is based on during a long road trip. And if all of your passengers are already familiar with the sex, violence, and dragons involved, then go for it! But if not, maybe spare that one rider who isn’t into all things Stark from a group listening session. Alternatively, send your outlier friend the books beforehand so they can prepare, or listen to the soundtrack on the road to make the ride seem more epic (and then binge watch every episode on the hotel’s free HBO channel).

 

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman and George Guidall
At turns thought-provoking, funny, dark, and unexpected, this unique book is a great reflection of American culture. But (or because of this), there are also some rather graphic sex scenes and a fair amount of profanity. A group of tight-knit, like-minded buddies will probably enjoy listening to this on a funky, soul searching kind of road trip, but American Gods probably isn’t your best bet for a family jaunt to see the grandparents. For younger kids, and some impressionable teens, not all of the characters are great role models, and a lot of the philosophy may be little overwhelming.

 

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
You might think that a book about soul-searching travel would be an amazing audiobook for a road trip. Well, if you’re on a solo excursion, definitely listen to this book; twice if you have the time. But since it depicts a struggle with depression and addiction, the passing of a beloved figure, and a bit of sex, this memoir might make an uncomfortable companion for a family trip. For a more all-ages appropriate chronicle of a long, life-changing walk, check out The Lord of the Rings (or A Walk in the Woods)and maybe save Wild for one of your own personal journeys.

 

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume and Laura Hamilton
This a YA masterpiece, but it is one of those important, find-it-yourself kinds of YA; not one that you listen to with your parents. Judy Blume is the queen of books that every teenager should read (and that maybe parents of teenagers should reread along the way, too). The main character’s self exploration, the talk of bras and puberty, the general teenage-ness of it, just oozes awkward family listening. Instead of spending quality time trying not to look at each other in the car while listening, leave the book (or a download of the audio) for your budding teenager as a summer gift. Later in life your kids will thank you for sharing, and for not listening to it in the car with you this summer.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike Series #1), by Robert Galbraith, J. K. Rowling, and Robert Glenister
Yes, this is the other fantastic J.K. Rowling series — but just because your family loved listening to the entire Harry Potter canon during your last road trip, does not mean that you should pick up the Cormoran Strike series next. Written as a classic crime thriller full of well-drawn characters and Britishisms, it involves is a fair amount of violence, profanity, sex, and discussions about all of the above. Like most of the other books mentioned here, a group of adult friends would probably enjoy trying to solve the murder of Lula Landry, but leave this one on the shelf when you head to Disneyland with the kids in the car.

Does your family have any favorite audiobooks for road trips?

7 More Sob-Inducing Books That Deserve to Be Made into Movies

Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, the emotional bestseller that brought countless fans to tears, hits theaters across the country this week. On June 3rd many of us will be seen walking out of movie theaters with red-rimmed eyes and all the feels, glad to have been able to spend some time with Louisa and Will and to witness their unexpected love story on the big screen. Books and movies that have the ability to bring fans to tears often stay with us long after we have experienced them. If you enjoyed the Me Before You or the book (or film adaptations of) The Fault in Our Starsor Wildyou may also find yourself hoping for movie adaptions a few of the books below as well. Make it happen, Hollywood!

 

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart
Everything changes for Cadence Sinclair during her fifteenth summer at her family’s beach. As Cadence struggles with memory loss, physical injuries, and a secret that no one is willing to share, she is also growing into adulthood. After spending the next summer in Europe, and then finally returning to the family’s beloved summer house on the island, Cadence has to face some harsh realities about herself and her cousins. In much the same vein as the twisty Gone Girl, readers will find themselves by turns sad, frustrated, amazed, and shocked. It’s nearly impossible to read this book without having some strong feelings, and a movie adaption would be irresistible.

 

A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive, by Dave Pelzer
I wept, a lot, while reading Dave Pelter series of memoirs. At turns devastating and hopeful, producers could film a heck of a tearjerking masterpiece of Oscar material with this set of books. Why this material hasn’t yet been tapped for a movie is almost inexplicable. Depicting Pelzer’s journey from an abused child to an adult who has to learn to cope with his terrible past, and eventually to thrive, is as heartbreaking as it is inspirational. A film that blends the realism of Wild with the elements of a damaged childhood like Room would no doubt rack up some nominations…and plenty of drenched hankies.

 

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
Granted, there is a Bell Jar film from 1979. There is also the Gwyneth Paltrow/Daniel Craig film Sylvia, which loosely covers the author’s more autobiographical material. But a real, gritty, earnest look at the health care system and the borderline torture that Esther Greenwood underwent during a mental breakdown in the 1950s would make for a devastating film. This novel, which explores the pangs of teenage love and rejection, along with the pressures to achieve perfection in a competitive world, is timeless — maybe even more so today.

 

Looking For Alaska Special 10th Anniversary Edition, by John Green
John Green is the brains behind many of our beloved sob-inducing books and movies like Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, and Looking For Alaskawas his first novel. Miles Halter is a high school junior, with a penchant for darkness, who is on his way to a new boarding school. As he takes on new friends Chip “The Colonel” Martin, and Takumi Hirohito, along with crush Alaska Young, the journey unfolds into a series of pranks and personal revelations. The more that each character reveals, the more readers begin to worry. The end, which I won’t spoil here, is a heartbreaking series of events that places it among the ranks of A Separate Peace (another must read weepy classic) and Me Before You.

 

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
Just ask any parent the last time they cried over a children’s book and you will mostly definitely hear someone say The Giving Tree. From the master of poignant children’s literature, this classic tale of self sacrifice to one’s children will make you cry every single time. And not just cry, I mean Dawson’s Creek ugly face cry crying. Given its brevity, the book may be hard to adapt, but if Hollywood can turn Where the Wild Things Are into an emotional film about parenting and birth, than I have faith that we will all be sitting together crying about The Giving Tree one day. I’ll save you a seat.

 

Wonder (B&N Exclusive Edition), by R. J. Palacio
A film based on Wonder is currently in production, and it is no surprise, seeing as this is a beautiful novel that is beloved by kids and adults alike. The story of middle grade boy with birth defects that leave him extremely disfigured, and the struggles he has while attending school for the first time, is a universal tear jerker. Who hasn’t felt out of place, or longed for acceptance in some way? Who hasn’t been betrayed, fought for, or lost a friend? Despite its middle grade labeling, all readers can find something of themselves in main character Auggie. In the same way that The Lovely Bones and The Fault in Our Stars touched fans of all ages, this movie could be popular among all ages.

 

The Still Point of the Turning World, by Emily Rapp
Emily Rapp’s second memoir is a book like few others. At six months old her son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs, an always fatal genetic disorder. In an attempt to find a path in a world that no parent ever expects to inhabit, Rapp takes readers through the emotional, physical, and intellectual stages of grief. Readers also are shown the absolute beauty in loving the small things, in embracing the entirety of life. More than story of grief though, this is a story of fierce — even staggering — unconditional love.

Which beautiful, sad, books do you want to see in theaters?

6 Books that Help Share the Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day originated during the Civil War as Decoration Day in 1868; the Grand Army of the Republic wanted it to become a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead. It wasn’t until 1971 that it became the familiar date and name that we all observe today. Despite the changes over the years, the purpose has stayed the same: to honor our military members who gave their lives for our country. Now, that may be a challenging concept for some kids, and some parents, but here are a few fantastic books to help bring home the meaning in a relatable way. During this holiday weekend, maybe while waiting for a parade to start, or enjoying the sun and BBQs with family, bring along some of these worthy reads to share with the kids.

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The Civil War: An Interactive History Adventure, by Matt Doeden
Since the idea of Memorial Day began during the Civil War, it makes sense to pick up some books set during the same time period. A unique choose-your-own-adventure format puts middle grade readers right in the middle of the battles, from Gettysburg to Chancellorsville; few things bring home the reality of a situation like being asked to make tough choices yourself, plus there is a lot of room for rereading and new discoveries in Doeden’s book. Another great Civil War choice for middle grade readers is The Last Brother: A Civil War Tale, where readers follow 11 year old bugle player Gabe into the The Battle at Gettysburg as he tries to protect his older brother and make sense of the fighting. (Ages 8–12)

0tequssdzfgwmy_yqSoldier (DK Eyewitness Series), by Simon Adams
The Eyewitness Series is a fantastic resource for introducing kids to realistic topics in an approachable, informative way. Memorial Day can be a difficult topic when kids want to know specifics. Using books like Solider, Vietnam War, and others offers kids enough facts that they can appreciate the holiday’s meaning without being overwhelmed by the details. The real pictures, maps, and true accounts can be super engaging for kids who always want to ask a million questions — and there may even be new facts for some parents too! (Ages 8–12)
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Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front, by Suzanne Collins and James Proimos
Year of the Jungle, a based on true-events story from the writer of The Hunger Games, follows young Suzy as her dad leaves for the Vietnam War. Collins writes in a way that is sincere and thoughtful, but that won’t be too much for little readers. The wonderful illustrations give the book some lightness and whimsy so that anyone can enjoy and relate to the story. Part of growing up is learning empathy and thankfulness, and stepping into the shoes of another, especially on a day like Memorial Day, can help families embrace those important ideas. Families can revisit this book, and the next one on our list, on Veteran’s Day as well. (Ages 4–8)

0kjjk7jqglwzsaklo Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops, by Jill Biden and Raul Colon
The Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, has also written a book inspired by her own family’s experiences. Told from the view point of Natalie, her granddaughter, young readers will be able to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by military service members and their families. There are also some really great ideas on helping kids, both your own and those of other military families, to celebrate and support each other. Memorial Day isn’t just about being thankful to those who have lost their lives in war; it is about supporting their families as well. (Ages 5–8)
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US History Through Infographics, by Karen Latchana Kenney and Laura Kay Westlund

Looking at the timeline of American history, and America’s involvement in combat, can be hard for kids to grasp. This visually interesting book puts nearly everything about American history into easy to understand and unique infographics. Sometimes a number, or a easy to read chart, can open up ideas to kids that they might not have understood before. Since the Revolution, America has fought in many wars, and many brave men and women have given their lives for our country. Books like this have the power to show kids what they were fighting for. (Ages 8–10)

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The Wall, by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
In another beautifully drawn picture book, this gentle story follows a young boy and his father as they search for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Using soft illustrations and a calm narrative voice, Bunting and Himler have created a loving book about a difficult topic. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is the simple way, as this book shows. During Memorial Day, or before any trip to visit The Wall in Washington DC, this book should be on everyone’s must read list. (Ages 4–7)

How does your family celebrate Memorial Day?

From BN Kids 

5 Astonishing Reads for American Crime Story Fans

The thrill of celebrity, the intrigue of an unsolved crime, the search for closure and justice; American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson brought it all to TV and then some. While few things have the pop culture impact of that infamous glove, there are plenty of gripping crimes that are worthy of our attention. From stories as well known as Waco and Tupac to twisted tales of murder in the desert, international espionage, and cannibals, these five books all make worthy reads for American Crime Story fans, and fans of its inspiration, The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson.

 

Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines and the Mojave, by Deanne Stillman
In 1991 two girls were murdered outside Twentynine Palms Marine Corp Base. The Marine in question had recently returned from the Gulf War and found himself readjusting to life in another desert setting. But how did they all find themselves in the same apartment in the middle of the night in Twentynine Palms? Was there something in their pasts, their families, maybe even their cultures that brought this unlikely set together. And what ultimately sealed their fate? What is life really like for those who live outside military bases? What does this rootless culture do to towns, neighbors, even individual families? With so many questions, an amazingly vivid setting, and bigger — even national — implications, Stillman’s exploration is a must read.

 

The Waco Siege: The History of the Federal Government’s Standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, by Charles River Editors
People may mention the Waco massacre in passing, thinking they know the details, but this story is one that has changed law enforcement in immeasurable ways. With a paper trail running all the way from local law enforcement to then President Bill Clinton, there is much more to this 50 day standoff than meets the eye. With a mix of high profile government involvement, extreme beliefs, and terrifying violence, the Waco Siege is a gripping story of unanswered questions and the cult of personality. In the aftermath of David Koresh’s standoff with authorities, local and national law enforcement agencies have reworked how they respond to large scale situations and domestic terror attacks. This case shaped America, and it is fascinating.

 

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest, by Carl Hoffman
Travel back in time to the 1960s and the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, the son of New York Governor, and later Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller (and yes, a member of that famous family). The who’s who connections of the Rockefeller family, the remote terrain, and the still-unanswered questions about Michael Rockefeller’s death make this a most fascinating read. In the same way that most questions will never be resolved in the OJ Simpson trial, we may never know if Rockefeller drowned or was taken — and eaten — by local cannibals in New Guinea. The art that Rockefeller collected and can be found in some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the MET in New York, but this mystery may be his biggest legacy.

 

LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, by Randall Sullivan
Tupac and Biggie, two of the biggest names in the early LA rap scene, are also at the center of some of the most wide-spanning conspiracy theories and fan fantasies. Is Tupac living peacefully on an island somewhere? Were the two killed by rival gangs? The police? Their own label — or maybe a competitor? Russell Poole, a highly decorated LAPD detective, was called on in 1997 to investigate a controversial cop-on-cop shooting that turned into more than he could imagine. Eventually Poole came to discover that the officer killed was tied to Marion “Suge” Knight’s notorious gangsta rap label, and the Bloods street gang. The shocking crossovers between the police, gangs, and the rap industry are as as riveting as they are controversial.

 

Hard Drive: A Family’s Fight Against Three Countries, by Mary Todd and Christina Villegas
This more recent story is still playing out in three countries, yet no one seems to have the answers. Or do they? What appeared at first to be a standard tech industry job for Dr. Shane Todd turned into an international intelligence nightmare that caught the Chinese government, Singapore police, and one American family in the same net. Dr. Todd was found dead by apparent suicide in his apartment, but among his personal belongings his family discovered an external hard drive with thousands of files that called everything they were told by police into question. The information in those files transformed this story from a tragic suicide to an international saga of mystery, deceit, and coverup. What do you do when all of your attempts to get the truth are thwarted by every level of international government and no one wants to help?

What crime story do you think needs the American Crime Story treatment?

From Barnes and Noble Reads

The Best Honeymoon Destinations for Book Nerds

Wedding season is on the horizon, and with it comes some amazing honeymoon travel opportunities. In the quest to find the perfect spot to relax after the months of planning, family time, and the ceremony itself, consider hitting the country that best suits your literary tastes. Both coasts of the U.S. boast their own wonderful literary histories, or well read and adventurous couples can branch out into more far reaching countries, like Japan or Cuba, to find their literary loves. Of course, there are certain distant havens for the written word, like London and Paris, that should not be overlooked. Wherever you and your beloved decide to go, be sure to bring plenty of books for your downtime.

Washington, D.C.
Washington D.C. is a gorgeous city with amazing literary offerings. The Library of Congress can be an almost full day adventure for any book lover, with exhibits that highlight everything from historical maps to the origins of jazz. True must-sees include the Thomas Jefferson Collection, holding many of the actual books read by the third President. And along the National Mall is the Folger Shakespeare Library, home to one of the few copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio. The Library regularly hosts productions of Shakespeare’s plays, poetry readings, and exhibits relevant to Shakespeare’s world. Visit the city in spring for the beauty and romance of the cherry blossoms, and stay for the fantastic history and literary sights.

England
England’s literary bona fides are unending and make it a dream honeymoon destination. Take in one of Shakespeare’s romances at The Globe Theater, walk the moors so loved by the Brontë sisters, sit in the village of Haworth at dusk for an otherworldly view of nature. Take an afternoon turn in the gardens of Jane Austen’s house in Hampshire while chatting about the love affair between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Maybe you want to check out a tour of the Harry Potter sets; they were good enough for the royals to visit. England is an amazing country, full of more literary sites and romantic day trips than could ever be listed in one place.

Northern California
Stay at the Hotel Boheme, visit Chinatown and the Chinese Historical Society to relive the worlds of Amy Tan’s novels, and spend a day at The Beat Museum to immerse yourself in the writing of the Beat Generation. Travel farther down the coast that inspired so many writers and photographers, and take in the breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean before a stop in Salinas and the National Steinbeck Center. The dramatic contrast of the ocean and the redwood forest, the fertile valleys and the busy cities, are as interesting as any other characters in East of Eden, and time spent here won’t soon be forgotten. Whether you find the beaches or the forests, the cities or the open roads, California has a stop — and an author — for every taste.

Paris
Even without its astounding literary connections, the City of Lights can be the honeymoon of a lifetime. Make a reservation at Le Procope to eat like Victor Hugo, or drink 40 cups of coffee like Voltaire at cafés around town. A cemetery might not seem like a romantic stop, but Père Lachaise is the most visited cemetery in the world, with residents including Oscar Wilde, Honoré de Balzac, Colette, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, and Richard Wright, where a true book-loving couple will be glad to pay their respects. Or, if graveyards aren’t your thing, step into the 1920s and get a drink in the same speakeasy where Hemingway met F. Scott Fitzgerald in April 1925; Le Rosebud is literary destination like no other. From your perch atop the Eiffel Tower or at a sidewalk café table, drink in the city that was home and muse to centuries of revolutionary writers.

Cuba
Now that Americans can travel to Cuba to sightsee, the Hemingway House in San Francisco de Paula should be at the top of book lovers’ travel lists. Just outside of Havana you’ll find Finca Vigía, where Hemingway wrote his classics For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, and began A Moveable Feast. The house is on both the World Monuments Fund’s list of 100 Most Endangered sites and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places, so it is very much worth the visit. Nearby, visitors can see the National Museum of Fine Arts, the mosaic art at Fusterlandia, and grab something to eat in Old Havana. For a unique adventure in a country few have vacationed to, book nerds can immerse themselves in a culture we’ve only read about in books like Dreaming in Cuban.

Japan
A step outside of Western culture may bring book nerd lovers to Japan. The country is currently home to Kenzaburo Oe, Haruki Murakami, and Natsuo Kirino, among others, but these literary heavy hitters are just part of a long literary tradition. Plan your trip using this list of cities where famous Japanese stories take place, find a Tokyo jazz bar where you can whip out your favorite Murakami novel, and carry a tour books like Lonely Planet Japan to ensure you hit all the major points of interest. To see Western lit through an Eastern lens, check out a themed night at a restaurant, where they often take on classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

From Barnes and Noble Reads

Magnificent Middle Grade Poetry for National Poetry Month

Rhyme lovers of every age, rejoice, for April is National Poetry Month! We all know that little readers love silly sing song poems, and adults can get lost in the emotions of a good poetry collection, but what about middle graders? Wonderfully, middle grade readers get the best of both poetry worlds, with plenty of funny collections, serious books, and ageless crossovers that can enjoyed all month (and beyond!).

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Illustrated Edition, by T. S. Eliot, with drawings by Edward Gorey

 T.S. Eliot’s tale of stray cats and their nighttime wanderings has been retold for years, most notably as the Broadway show Cats. Made up of 14 poems, that are both very real and completely unbelievable, readers can enjoy the cat phenomenon the way it was before memes took over the internet. Books like this one are a great bridge between the funny sounds of younger books and the more serious fare of adult lit, but still 100% awesome poetry.

Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking, by Alan Katz, with drawings by Edward Koren

 A silly take on the mischievous, these poems are just plain fun. Katz is also the author of the charming The Day the Mustache Took Over, among many other books, so he definitely gets middle grade humor. Whether read out loud together, or alone while tucked away in a cozy spot, these bits of verse show that there is a lot more to poetry than serious thoughts and beautiful landscapes. Make sure you have some tissues on hand though — you will be laughing until you cry.

Because I Could Not Stop My Bike … and Other Poems, by Karen Jo Shapiro, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

 This super smart collection is a modern twist on classic poems. From William Shakespeare to Emily Dickinson, kids won’t even realize they are reading funny takes on the works of some of the world’s most famous poets. Faulkner’s zany illustrations take this book to a whole other enjoyable level. It won’t be until later, when your kids recognize the rhyme and meter of the poems in their textbooks, that they will catch on that you had them reading classic poetry in junior high. This book is so clever that you will probably find yourself reading it, and falling in love with poetry all over again.

Neighborhood Odes, by Gary Soto, illustrated by David Diaz

 Gary Soto and David Diaz take the small moments of childhood, the beautiful little event that stick, and present them in a way that readers of all ages can love. Parties and pets, family celebrations and long summer afternoons all get the thoughtful treatment that Soto is known for, and the simple black and white illustrations are frame-worthy. This book is a terrific addition to any middle grade reader’s collection, as it will probably turn out to be one of their favorite books — both now and later.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings, by Shel Silverstein

 An ageless classic that can be read in elementary school, laughed over in middle school, and reminisced about as an adult, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a childhood-defining collection of poetry. The rhymes are silly, the illustrations create a fully fleshed out world, and the quiet meanings can bring adults to tears. Shel Silverstein is a master like no other and the beauty of his writing makes him a must read, and not just in April, but all year long. After your kids have devoured this book, grab A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Everything On It for years — really, years — of amazing poetry experiences.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, by Billy Collins

 For a slightly different twist to your National Poetry Month reading, tackle Billy Collins’s collection, Poetry 180. Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001–2003, put together this collection, and its sequel 180 More, to introduce school-aged students to modern poets. His idea is that students should have a love of poetry first; poetry that is written in modern language kids can understand, before jumping into the classics. Given this idea, this book contains 180 poems, one for each day of the school year, from some of the biggest names in contemporary poetry. Before you know it your kids will have a new favorite poet, be it Lucille Clifton, Kenneth Koch, Philip Levine, or Naomi Shihab Nye.

What poetry does your middle grader love to read?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on April 7, 2016.

Presidential Reading: Hillary Clinton

In a continuing quest to ruin my eyesight and read a book from every 2016 Candidate I just polished off HillDogs Hard Choices. At 560 pages (1400 on my iPad… seriously) this is a beast of a book that covers a lot of ground, some of it serious and some of it kind of crazy.

Before diving into Hard Choicesit is important to revamp the reading list, given the state of the race. Off the docket is Chris Christie (we should #freechrischristie though, dude looks like he’s in trouble), Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee, Lindsay Graham, and Martin O’Malley. I am about 75% finished with Carly Fiorina’s book, so even though she is out I plan on finishing it. It is a decent read so I begrudge the time to read about her time at HP.

Still on the blocks I’ve got Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. If Michael Bloomberg has a become I might try to squeeze him in, even thought we all know he has a snowball’s chance in hell. Today I checked Bernie’s book out of the library. I also have the audio of Rubio’s book, but I keep finding my mind wander when I listen, so I need to commit to the print verison. The Douglas County Library is clean out of Cruz and Trump… which says a lot about the state of the area I live.

But enough of the house keeping. On to Hillary.

The book tries not to read like a resume for the job of President, but that is exactly what it is, let’s all be clear on that point. Having gotten past that, this is a truly interesting collection of stories from her time as Secretary of State, some flashbacks to her time as First Lady, and a few anecdotes in her downtime (if you can call it that). Told region by region, Clinton covers her knowledge of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe including their leaders and the US personnel stationed there. She goes to lengths to establish that was was as involved as possible, in as many ways as she could be.

The book is long, not for the faint of heart, and clearly vetted by a team to make sure all the facts add up. If you’ve got a question about Benghazi, she has an answer. Want to picture Hillary as a family person, she’s got details of her daughter’s wedding. Need a little insight into her marriage, she mentions her travels with Bill during his administration. Anyone who questions her experience before reading this book will have a hard time doing so afterwards.

Along with that level of polish does come a bit of phony. Or maybe it is just because her life is one that is so out of touch with the average person. She did work to earn her education, and she did put in her time with the Children’s Defense Fund, but she has also traveled the world three times over, lived in the White House, met some of the most famous people of our time, and is sitting on a vast amount of money that few can relate too. Yeah, sure, many polticians are rich, so we can overlook that for now, but do the other items make her interesting and qualified or woefully out of touch with the rest of us? I guess that is a personal decision that each person needs to make.

In terms of the issues themselves, she has no problem saying she takes responsiblity for the State Department’s failings and mistakes, but at the same time she may say it, but there seem to be few repercussions. I like her ideas on Smart Power, and working to include more women and children’s issues in her agenda. But at many times her stories feel as though she is treading in mud, bogged down by the systems that she has long been a part of. I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t impressed with the easy way she talks to, and about, world leaders. It is pretty cool that she knows everyone — 0r knows someone who knows everyone — but if you want an outsider candidate, someone different, Hillary just isn’t it.

But read the book. Read the book and make your own educated decision. I may jump into her other books when my Election 2016 reading list comes to a close, since she has made some impressive leaps for women and women’s rights about the world. Her memoir Living History, and her first book It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us will probably find their way to the library check out with me one day.

The Kingdom Keepers: The Return Series Continues with Legacy of Secrets

Ridley Pearson’s wildly popular Kingdom Keepers series is the story of five teenagers chosen to be Disney theme park “guides”, who discover that the gig is a lot more dangerous than expected; they soon find themselves battling against Disney’s own villains and witches to save the Magic Kingdom from destruction. The final book in that series saw them triumph against all odds, but every terrific series calls for an encore, does it not? The Kingdom Keepers: The Return series is the offshoot fans have been begging for, and it offers the brilliant twist of sending the original cast of characters back in time — to opening day of Disneyland, circa 1955! Featuring a genius premise and a perfect mixture of science fiction, history, magic, Disney trivia, and adventure, this middle grade romp is as tough to put down as a delicious raspberry Mickey Macaron.
The first book in the spinoff series, Disney Lands, was filled with riddles and puzzles, and ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger; luckily for us the second book, Legacy of Secrets, jumps in at full speed right where we left off. Our original five Kingdom Keepers friends (Finn, Charlene, Willa, Maybeck, and Philby) are continuing to follow clues left behind by their mentor, Wayne, which will hopefully help them protect the future of Disneyland. At the same time, unofficial Kingdom Keepers and Fairlies Jess and Amanda (Fairlies are humans with unusual abilities, but they are still “fairly” human, zing!) have their own dark and dangerous backstory returning to haunt them as they try to help the Keepers solve the mystery from their position within Disney’s School of Imagineering, in current-day 2016. Believing that the Overtakers they (presumably) defeated during the first series are gone, the Keepers try to keep the opening week of Disneyland safe, while hunting out the source of Walt Disney’s magic. Along the way they stumble onto the Legacy of Secrets, as well as a real life, flesh and blood villain who may do more than throw a hitch into Walt’s opening ceremonies.
In a succession of short chapters that keep the action always at the forefront, readers race alongside the characters to solve a series of clues woven into Disney history. As they zip from the fabled Lilly Belle train car, to Walt’s backyard, to deep in the rare books room at the Los Angeles County Library, and across more than 60 years of time and space, fans will find themselves absorbed in the magic and engaged by the mystery. Impressively, throughout all of the talk of technology and time travel, the book stays grounded; rooted as it is by characters that grow and change — people you care about and root for no matter what year it is.
Of course, the second book leaves us with nearly as many questions and cliffhangers as the first. Still, it answers many of the questions from Disney Lands, and reveals surprising facts from the original series, which will delight longtime fans. The real strength of Legacy of Secrets is the suspense that doesn’t let up. Each clue opens more avenues for exploration, and everything that you think you know about Disney is called into question. As a bonus, the Barnes & Noble Exclusive edition comes with a map that helps you navigate Disneyland circa 1955 (it would also look terrific in a frame for any Disneyland fan!), which is surprisingly different from the park we know and love today.
Fans of the series won’t be able to put this installment down, Disney lovers will adore the journey into Disneyland’s origin, and anyone who loves a good mystery will be engrossed.
Legacy of Secrets is in stores March 29.
Originally published at http://www.barnesandnoble.com on March 25, 2016.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start! And Other Parenting Tips From Kids’ Books

“The days are long, but the years are short” is possibly the most honest phrase ever said about parenting. Becoming a parent is one of the best, hardest, most wonderful, and most trying jobs there is. To help get through the long days, the short years, and the temper tantrums in between, during your next story time, take a look at the messages behind your picture books; you might be surprised at just how helpful (and prescient) they are.

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’” (Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak)

 This could be said about every single day of parenting, from those first kicks to the bladder during pregnancy, to the crayon on the walls of toddlerhood, to the tearful high school graduation. Every day is crazier than you’d planned, more fun, and more frustrating, all at the same time. Parenting is indeed a wild rumpus — and if we take it as such, then at least we’ll be more prepared for the absurdity.

“It has been a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.” (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz)

 There will be days when no one makes it out of their pajamas, the dog spills your last precious cup of coffee, and your toddler takes magic markers to the TV screen. It happens, despite our best efforts and our most carefully laid plans. No matter how the day unfolds, it’s comforting to know that it’s normal, and everyone has been there. File it away, have a glass of wine or a cookie, and remember it’ll be okay tomorrow.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A.A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard)

 When you get down to it, we’re responsible for teaching our children how to be good, kind, responsible human beings; that is a powerful mission, and we should take the time to recognize that, and to acknowledge and appreciate our own efforts, even though we often feel like we aren’t doing enough. Maybe your kids haven’t mastered shoelaces yet, but however far along you are in this endeavor, you are a superhero.

“I should count backwards from 5 to calm down.” (The Pizza Problem, by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson)

 When things do get too crazy, take some advice from Peg and count backward, slowly. A lot can be gained from not immediately reacting to a situation, instead stepping away and taking a breather. When you jump back in, you may be surprised at how much your perspective has changed. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so sometimes you need to catch your breath before pushing on.

“The truth is grown-ups often need some extra help. Baffled and befuddled, mindless and muddled, they sometimes forget what they know.” (Julia, Child, by Kyo Maclearand, Julie Morstad)

 With a focus on staying young, enjoying some freedom, and being yourself, this whole book is a gorgeous reminder to live in the moment. And, as a bonus, there are also fabulous pictures of food throughout. If we stand back and watch, we can learn a lot about how to live our best lives from our children. Also, it’s really about time the iconic Julia Child got a picture book of this quality. After all, what’s happier and more heartening to families than food?

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien)

 Speaking of food and happiness, take a page from The Hobbit. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of getting by we can forget to enjoy what we have. Instead of taking every overtime shift and letting that vacation time expire, take a day or two off to enjoy your kids, your home, and your surroundings. There’s more wealth in family and friends than we sometimes realize. Your sanity, and your children, will thank you for listening to Tolkien on this one.

“When they’ve finished reading, Olivia’s mother gives her a kiss and says, ‘You know, you really wear me out. But I love you anyway.’” (Olivia, by Ian Falconer)

 No matter how tired, filthy, or frustrated parenting can make you feel, try to remember just how much you do love that little person. Everything may feel like chaos, and your house may actually look like the definition of chaos, but if your family is more or less happy, healthy, and safe, pat yourself on the back and move on to tomorrow.

“Go the f**k to sleep.” (Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes)

 Sometimes the best lesson is the briefest. Everyone, get some sleep when you can. It can make all the difference.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 18, 2016.

7 Children’s Book Characters Who Would Make Terrible Coworkers

The working world isn’t that different from the worlds within children’s books. There are plenty of nice people; those you can relate to and enjoy spending time with. Then there are those guys. Every office (and story) has a few of them — from the one who eats all the candy-dish candy, to the one who rolls in late and leaves early, to the well-meaning elder statesman who can fill an entire day with his stories. You may have a soft spot for some of them, but when you’re facing a tough work deadline you won’t want to have to rely on any of these shady characters.

Spot (Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire)

 Spot is the ultimate anywhere-but-here guy. He thinks he deserves the promotion, the better office, that last donut. You just know he’s at his desk checking out Monster Jobs when he should be working on that project your team has due before lunch. Sure, maybe he’s right, maybe he is special, maybe he does deserve something more, but maybe he should try putting in a day’s honest work now and then (and stop taking your parking spot). You can’t help but like Spot, but you also like not being the one stuck putting together his PowerPoint slides when you should have gone home an hour ago. (Ages 5–8)

Curious George (A Treasury of Curious George, by H. A. Rey and Margret Rey)

 Sure, George is a nice guy, and he really does try to get the job done for the team, but dude also likes to go rogue. There is an employee handbook for a reason, but it’s as if George has never taken the time to read it (sometimes you wonder if he can read at all)! Still, he always gets results, and the bosses seem to like his unique thought process and gung-ho attitude. But for the rest of the office, who spends their days filling out his TPS Reports and showing up on time, George isn’t the spunky guy with the out of the box ideas, he’s the guy eats all the snacks in the break room and strolls in late with all the answers. (Ages 0–3)

Max (Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak)

 If Max doesn’t get his way, he stops contributing during your weekly brainstorming sessions. His temper tantrums at the water cooler and his reluctance to ever go out to lunch with the group have made him the office loner. When Max does take the lead on a project, he has no problem ruling with an iron fist; the phrase “benevolent dictator” was made for someone just like Max. Things may run smoothly when he’s is at the helm, and one day he will probably make a great CEO, but when things go off the rails he is the first to bow out and sail off into the sunset. Secretly you hope Max gets promoted to another department, where you won’t have to deal with his attitude or listen to him brag about how he’s helping a buddy redo his Night Kitchen. (Ages 3–5)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle)

 Is this guy never not on a lunch break!? If he’s not in the break room pilfering someone’s sandwich, snacking on the granola bars from the community basket, or swinging by your desk to eat all of your good candy, he is asking where everyone wants to eat. Every morning the Caterpillar shows up with his breakfast, which he eats loudly at his desk, and he keeps a bag of chips in his bottom drawer to snack on all afternoon. Behind the apple cores and strawberry tops he does somehow get something done, but people mostly like him because he is the first one to yell out that it is Taco Tuesday. The only way you can get him to come to a meeting is if you promise pizza, and then he always scarfs down way more than his fair share, and everyone notices. (Ages 3–5)

Owl (The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard)

 Owl is experienced; he’s the oldest guy in any room. He seems to have connections all over the industry, and he has met his fair share of famous faces. When management brought in the new boss, Owl revealedd that he used to ski with “that young woman’s father.” You try to be nice to Owl, and often times you are impressed — maybe even jealous — of his stories. But when he tells you about his well-regarded Great Uncle So-and-So for the hundredth time, you just want to hide behind the copier. Still, Owl is a fine fellow much of the time, so you will be the first one who offers to pick up the cake for his retirement party. (Ages 8–12)

Flash the sloth (Zootopia Read-Along Storybook & CD), by Disney Book Group and Disney Storybook Art Team)

 Flash Flash Hundred Yard Dash may be great for a laugh (What do you call a three humped camel?), but the only thing he does quickly is bolt for the door at the end of the day. No email is every responded to in a timely manner, and schedules and deadlines seem more like suggestions than mandates. Flash knows he isn’t quick, so he takes his criticism in stride, but he also does nothing to pick up the pace. Sometimes his leisureliness seems admirable, and it might make him the most thorough guy on any project, but when time is of the essence, you don’t want him on your team. (Ages 6–8)

Minecraft Zombie (Diary of a Minecraft Zombie Book 1: A Scare of a Dare, by Herobrine Books)

 This guy is just begging to be let go, and everyone in the office knows it. Every Monday he drags his feet in the door, wearing what looks to be Friday’s clothes. He takes the phrase “business casual” to the most extreme level, and has never bothered to personalize his space. His Facebook page is jam packed with photos from all of his nightly party antics, so it isn’t surprising that he has been caught sleeping next to the fax machine. You’re not even sure what his name is, since he never comes to staff meetings, has never been assigned a project, and has no interest in group trivia nights at the local pizza place. All and all he isn’t a bad guy, since he has no responsibilities, but it is a shame he get the same paycheck as everyone else. (Ages 6–12)

What literary characters do you think would make horrible coworkers?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 17, 2016.

6 Things You Should Never Say to a Harry Potter Fan

Harry Potter fans take their love of all things wizarding pretty seriously, so when a Muggle questions their devotion, don’t be surprised if they get a tad prickly. Whether you are a member of the fandom or not, the staying power—and magic—of Harry Potter cannot be denied. And with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child debuting in London this July, the first film in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy hitting theaters this fall, and the opening of the Hollywood Wizarding World of Harry Potter in April, there are now so many more opportunities to fall in love with the Boy Who Lived. For Muggles unsure of how to talk to a Potter fan during the upcoming excitement, we’ve collected are a few phrases that you probably shouldn’t open with.

Aren’t those books for kids?”

Is the suggested age range the Harry Potter series 9-12? Well, sure. But in 2016, many adults proudly read children’s and teen fiction—because it’s great. Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildLady MidnightGlass Sword, and Pax are all current bestsellers that were written for middle schoolers through teens, but are loved by both kids and adults. And it’s not just 2016 titles that have broad appeal; The Hobbit was originally considered children’s literature. Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare’s classics, is listed as being for readers ages 12-17. What it all boils down to is that age ranges are subjective, even arbitrary: read what you want, and love what you love.

“I thought the Twilight books were better.”

Popular culture will always spawn these sorts of unnecessary rivalries: You can be a Trekkie or a Jedi. You can love Bond or prefer Bourne. Team Twilight; Team Potter. Of course, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone, especially when it gets people passionately discussing books. Having said that, the seven books in the Harry Potter series inspired a love of reading in fans of all ages, the movies became international sensations (and arguably began the trend of turning popular childrens’ series into blockbusters), and the first official Harry Potter story to be produced on stage, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, promises to be a West End phenomenon. Also, Robert Pattinson was in the Harry Potter movies first. You can love Twilight—we do—but you must respect the power of the Potter.

Magic isn’t real.”

Naysayers who have no love for a good fantasy are the first to jump on the No-Maj bandwagon. This debate really depends on how you define magic, though. Think it’s impossible to disappear for hours? Visit other planets without leaving your house? Travel through time? If you’re a reader, chances are you’ve pulled off all three feats in the last week alone. And consider the last time you sat down with a good book before bed and the suddenly realized it was after midnight. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

“There is no such thing as Hogwarts.”

Aside from the fact that there are now two brick and mortar Hogwarts Schools in the country (anyone else have their tickets to California booked?), Hogwarts is just as real as magic is. In the same way Narnia, The Shire, and Shakespeare’s love-torn Verona exist, so too does Hogwarts. To anyone who has ever needed an escape or an adventure, the wonderful worlds we visit in books are always there. “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it,” and those who believe in Hogwarts know where they can turn. If you can get lost in the feeling of a song, or the universe created by a movie, you can go to Hogwarts just as easily, all without the mess of owl droppings on your doorstep.

I would never want to be a Hufflepuff. Aren’t they supposed to be the lamest?”

Of the four houses at Hogwarts, three have wonderfully distinctive characteristics…and then there is Hufflepuff. Gryffindors are brave, Ravenclaws smart, and Slytherins cunning. Hufflepuffs are the nice ones who happen to live near the kitchens. Given their status as the welcoming house, they tend to be sadly overlooked and get no love in either the books or the movies. For a long time even a casual fan of the series could joke that they wouldn’t want to be in Hufflepuff. But J.K. Rowling has worked to correct this oversight, claiming that 2016 is the year of the Hufflepuffs, what with the rise of Newt Scamander and the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Real Hufflepuffs also know that Cedric Diggory and Nymphadora Tonks were Hufflepuffs too, and there are few characters in the series that are as awesome as Tonks. So before you casually indulge in Hufflepuff hate, check yourself.

“The movies were better.”

This is the hardest point to debate in the Potter universe. The eight movies are must-watch material for all fans, and the pending three for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them look terrific. The seven books, and Harry’s textbooks, are of course amazing. And don’t forget the incredible, and undersung, audiobooks. Jim Dale is a read-aloud wizard and everyone should fall under his spell. His performance of Goblet of Fire won a Grammy in 2o01, and he won again in 2008 for Deathly Hallows. No matter which medium you prefer, the bottom line is that there is no BAD Harry Potter.

What else should you never say to a Harry Potter fan?

7 Perfect and Unforgettable Quotes From Children’s Books

Children’s books often stay with us long after we have read them. There is always a quote that rattles around in our brains for years afterwards, or a moment that we just can’t wait to read aloud to our kids. Sometimes it is the quiet turn of phrase, other times it is the call to action, or even just the stick-in-your-brain rhymes, but kids’ books have staying power. Here are a few quotes that have a life far beyond their pages, ones that will stick with us for years.

“Always.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)

 If you haven’t read the books, or seen the movies, then I don’t want to spoil this too much, since it is pretty much amazing. Let’s just say it is one of the most unexpected, powerful, jaw-dropping declarations of love in the entire series. Just when you think you understand it all, you are swept away in memory, regret, and love. This simple sentence — it is a single word, really — has so much power to many Potter fans that it has become a popular tattoo, and was a rally cry after Alan Rickman, the fan favorite who portrayed Snape in the movies, passed away. (Ages 9–12)

“You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” (Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)

 Like J.K. Rowling does with Dumbledore, we find this line from Lewis Carroll calling for readers to be themselves, no matter how crazy, weird, or wonderful. These differences make us unique, make us who we are, and we should embrace that. One of the beautiful things about children’s literature is that authors seem to say the most challenging things in the most simple way. Embrace your madness. (Ages 8–12)

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss)

 On Earth Day every year I read The Lorax with my daughter. She doesn’t get the message yet, but she thinks it is hilarious to say “brown barbaloots in their barbaloot suits,” and of course the art is lovely. The message, though, is one we see repeated over and over again, in Facebook posts, social media gifs, and plastered all over Pinterest: do your part to protect the planet. Dr. Seuss can turn silly into poignant like no one else, and this quote is just one of his many moments of magic. (Ages 6–9)

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)

 It feels like a cheat, including two Harry Potter quotes, but of seven books how could anyone love just one line? In a line that is tantamount to Rowling’s love letter to reading, I think it should remind everyone to appreciate their imaginations. Reading, pretending, loving, so many of these things originate and live in our brains, but they can still grip our hearts and direct our actions. Dumbledore’s last lesson to us, as it was to Harry, is to value what we imagine and we believe. That is a pretty strong statement for a series of books meant for children. (Ages 9–12)

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.” (The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams)

 The Velveteen Rabbit always hits me right in the feels, without question. When you are struggling with life’s challenges, questioning what you are doing, or trying to explain to kids how important family and love is, just grab Willaims’ classic. Nothing says more about the importance of investing your time, and finding who you are, with those that love you. Go hug someone you love, right now, and just see how real and wonderful that makes you feel. I’ll wait. (Ages 3–7)

”Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.” (Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd)

 This line, when whispered at bedtime, is magic. For such a small, simple, picture book, it has an amazing power. We have all had this book read to us, and we have all read it to our children, and that in and of itself is astounding. But when you look at the meaning of that quote, the enormity of what it is saying, especially when you are reading it to someone every small…wow. The world is huge, the universe is so much more than us, but for right now everyone is going to bed, and it is ok. (Ages 0–2)

“I guess it simply goes to show that stuff will come and stuff will go. But do we cry? Goodness, NO! We keep on singing.” (Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, by James Dean)
This musical series is full of great lines, all of them positive and innocent, but there is just something special about Pete and his buttons. It is so easy to get caught up in our belongings, be it a phone or a special stuffed animal, but Pete is right, as always. Let’s not get hung up on our possessions and instead enjoy life, enjoy our surroundings, or, like Pete, enjoy some sun and surf! (Ages 4–7)

What are your favorite quotes to live by from children’s books?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 7, 2016.

A Beloved Game Comes to Life on the Page in Poptropica: Mystery of the Map!

Poptropica: Book 1: Mystery of the Map is the first in a new series of graphic novel-style chapter books based on the uber-popular online game of the same name. Author Jack Chabert and illustrator Kory Merritt have taken Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney’s concept of a time-traveling, globetrotting, adventure-gaming world and transformed it into a fun new book series that is quickly going to turn into a must-read. Expect to see Poptropica front and center at the bookstore, as well as in every elementary school kid’s backpack.

Main characters Oliver, Mya, and Jorge begin the story by going on a hot air balloon ride, but soon things go from peaceful to adventurous when they soar out of range and onto an island, where the balloon crashes. The trio quickly realizes that they have been double crossed by the balloon’s pilot, who is on a mysterious quest that involves a magical map. Along the way Oliver, Mya, and Jorge are use their own talents to evade saber tooth tigers, escape Vikings, and explore the ever changing tropical island they are stranded on. With the help of the magical map, which seems to operate like a cell phone, GPS device, and mind reader all in one (who needs Siri anyway?), they work to find the balloon pilot and their only way back home. The story ends on a great cliffhanger, which I won’t spoil, that begs for a sequel — and so will young fans. When kids get done reading (and rereading!) Mystery of the Map, preorders are now open for Poptropica: Book 2: The Lost Expedition

What helps make Poptropica stand out from many other chapter books is its graphic novel style. A mixture of traditional story telling and in-depth comic strip art, graphic novels are the perfect combination of storytelling and visuals. The genre appeals to all ages, from fantastic adult fare like Alan Moore’s superhero thriller Watchmen, to the YA essential Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, which presents a vision of childhood during the Islamic Revolution. These types of book are a worthy alternative to traditional novels and should be part of every home library. For kids who love art and pictures as much as they enjoy stories, younger readers who aren’t quite ready to jump into full chapter books, kids who are just too active to sit and read for long periods, or for the kid who devours books and is looking for the next new thing, graphic novels are a fantastic choice.

With smart, funny characters and beautiful art, the first entry in the Poptropica series will be loved by both kids who are fans of the game (who will be excited to see the universe they already love expanding into print), and those who are brand new to the adventures. And yes, parents are going to love these clever and brave kids (Mya especially is a delight), who face impossible challenges with humor and heart. I can’t wait to see where this series goes — but in the meantime, grab the first book, enjoy some fabulous matching stickers (or more books from Jack Chabert and Kory Merritt), and get ready for some great spring break reading.

Are there Poptropica fans in your house?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 1, 2016.

Rob Roberge’s Memoir Liar Offers a Raw and Unfiltered Look at Mental Illness

“You are diagnosed as bipolar with rapid cycling and occasional psychotic episodes,” novelist Rob Roberge is told early in his memoir, Liar. Roberge’s fiction, including the novels More than They Could Chew, and The Cost of Living, and the short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, have dealt with depression, addiction, and darkness before, but this time readers are given a searing inside look at the life of a complex and talented man. Roberge is a college professor, plays in a successful band, and helps support his wife who suffers from debilitating pain. However, he is also a recovering drug addict who struggles with mental illness, has strained relationships with nearly everyone, and is terrified of being alone. At turns while reading his memoir you will find yourself wondering how he is still alive, whether everything he chronicles actually happened, and what will happen next.

The second-person narration in Liar gives readers little option but to explore up close what it must to be like to live in Roberge’s shoes. Instead of presenting his story in chronological order, as many memoirs do, everything is recounted in correlating snippets, further underscoring the author’s chaotic thought processes and frequent roller coaster of emotions. Add in drugs, sex, rock ’n’ roll, a stint in jail with Paul Reubens, and AA meetings, and Roberge has created a perfect storm of self destruction meshed with self exploration. Liar isn’t an easy memoir to read, and readers are spared very little, but coping with mental illness or addiction isn’t easy either. Roberge’s fearless look at a life that spirals out of control is all the more compelling because of his unflinching attention to detail.

“Using addicts know how they’re going to feel in five minutes,” Roberge writes. “Mental illness, on the other hand, is the ultimate loss of control.” As he grapples with the prediction that he will lose his memory as a result of the multiple concussions he has suffered, or that his body may not hold up to the years of abuse he has subjected it to, readers will in turn appreciate the dark humor and warped view Roberge brings to things like his hoarder grandmother and his many failed relationships. Along the way there are events that the reader will question (did he really wake up hungover in Canada?), and there are moments that the author himself questions, which raises interesting questions about the art of storytelling and truth. How can we believe memory? Do our pasts dictate our futures? Can we really rise above our mistakes? More than anything, during the thrilling twists and turns (and highs, and lows) of Liar, readers are given the opportunity to take stock of themselves and their own histories.

For a book that deals with so much trauma, Liar is beautifully written and thoughtful. It is a challenging memoir to read, but that is part of its indelible power.

Liar is on sale now.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 24, 2016.

Quiz: Who is Your Ultimate Fictional Valentine?

Real Valentine’s Day dates are often disappointing, which is why when the going gets tough, the tough turn to fiction for a truly satisfying, lasting relationship with someone who will never arrive 30 minutes late to a dinner reservation you made two months in advance, ahem. In any case, our quiz below will help you sort out which fictional paramour you should pick up this February 14.

1. What is your ideal Valentine’s Day date?

 a) A proper meal with serious, earnest conversation.

 b) Whatever you can grab at the local cantina.

 c) You’re not much of a cook, it wasn’t something they taught in school. A nice restaurant with some dancing wouldn’t be too bad.

 d) A big party, with drinks and appetizers passed around on trays.

 e) A night on the couch, with some belly rubs.

2. How do you prefer to spend your free time?

 a) Caring for your family members, or looking out for your dearest friends.

 b) Usually you end up in some far flung corner of your city or town, helping a friend.

 c) In the library.

 d) Watching polo matches, or spending evenings with the best of society.

 e) Out on a walk. With you.

3. Favorite Valentine’s Day candy?

 a) You’ve haven’t much use for such trifles.

 b) Nothing special, sweetheart, but you will take a drink.

 c) A chocolate frog, and then you can share the card with your date.

 d) A box of Conversation Hearts; they are just such a laugh at parties.

 e) Anything in white chocolate, your diet can’t handle the richer stuff.

4. If offered an all expense paid vacation, where would you go?

 a) A long weekend at your estate, to be near only your closest family and friends.

 b) Not the desert. Or anywhere cold. Maybe not the jungle either. Somewhere out on your own seems best.

 c) You would love to use the time to help others, or reading some fantastic new book.

 d) Let’s go everywhere, as long as we can drive, and celebrate, and be happy.

 e) The beach. No, the woods. No, a long car ride. How about the park…

5. What song best describes you?

 a) “Lush Life” by Joey Alexander

 b) ”Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson

 c) “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend

 d) “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey

 e) “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley

6. Which reality show would your binge watch?

 a) Again, this type of frivolousness doesn’t have a place in your life.

 b) Deadliest Catch

 c) You’d prefer a book, actually. Maybe some nonfiction.

 d) Real Housewives

 e) Dog Whisperer

7. Perfect Romantic Movie?

 a) Pride and Prejudice. Now there’s a couple that gets it right.

 b) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Come for the danger, stay for the romance (and the danger).

 c) Shakespeare in Love. When it comes to romance, you can’t top The Bard.

 d) Titanic. It isn’t romantic if it ends happily.

 e) Marley & Me. The perfect movie to cuddle up to.

Are you in love yet? Add up those answers, put on something fancy, and head out with your perfect match.

Mostly A’s: Mr. Darcy; Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

 You admire those who lead a proper life, with a hint of sass of thrown in for fun. Your friends and family come first, and you hope to find the same in your true love.

Mostly B’s: Han Solo; Star Wars the Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster

 A scruffy rogue who will constantly keep you surprised might just be your soul mate. Travel the world — or worlds — together, either running for your lives, or saving someone else’s.

Mostly C’s: Hermonie Granger; Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling

 You spend afternoons in the library, and evenings helping out those less fortunate. Your match always has the best intentions at heart, along with a bit of a rebellious streak.

Mostly D’s: Daisy Buchanan; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 Beautiful, frivolous, and out for a good time, Daisy Buchanan will help you see the best in life. There may be some ups and downs, but she is your shining green beacon (with a side of tragedy).

Mostly E’s: Your Dog; Dog Songs: Poems, by Mary Oliver

 What else to you really need besides unconditional love, a few face licks, and a good long walk? A dog is just about the ideal companion, 365 days year.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 10, 2016.

7 Classic Children’s Books that Modern Kids Will Adore

As long as there have been books, there have been parents who can’t wait to share their favorites with their own children. When my brother and I were small, I remember my mom reading her favorite Nancy Drew mysteries to us one chapter at a time, and us begging her to read just one more. What else can a parent ask for than that; the chance to share the gift of a good story and to bond over a classic? (Or, you know, maybe the occasional chance to take a bath without someone knocking on the door.)

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams and William Nicholson
Originally published in 1922, this ultimate tale of love and hope will show kids the magic in their toys. And it will bring parents to tears. With gorgeous, gentle illustrations and a story that is just as accessible today was it was in the ’20s, this is a bookshelf staple. Kids who are attached to their toys, kids who have to let go of something, and kids who have experienced a lengthy illness will especially find happiness and comfort in Williams’ must-read classic.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A. A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard
No childhood is complete without Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet. The sheer number of revisits, movies, and other related media (including the 2016 Caldecott Medal-winning Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear) that have come from the original publishing of Winnie-The-Pooh are testament enough to the beautiful staying power of the Hundred Acre Woods. Pooh’s charming innocence and naiveté, Eeyore’s grumpiness, and Tigger’s boundless energy all reflect attitudes and emotions that children can strongly relate to. This series began in 1926 in England and has never lost its magic.

The American Boy’s Handy Book, by Daniel C. Beard
The ultimate 1882 handbook for outdoor adventures is a fit for every rough and tumble kid in 2016. The title may say that it was created for boys, but with instructions on how to build and fly kites, go fishing, blow soap bubbles, and track animals, there is a something for all children. Even if you are raising a future outdoor aficionado in a big city, kids will still love to read about all of the possible adventures out in the big wide world. We may not be hunting and trapping today, but our love of nature and adventure hasn’t changed.

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, by Carolyn Keene
In 1930 publisher Edward Stratemeyer created Nancy Drew, and ever since a series of authors has taken this intrepid detective on countless mysteries under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Major female figures have cited Nancy as a role model in their childhood, and critics has applauded the series’ staying power. This early feminist idol, her tenacity, and her brave adventures, is just as exciting for boys, girls, and parents today as she was over 80 years ago.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard Atwater, Florence Atwater, and Robert Lawson
Mr. Popper came back recently in a live action movie, but his original story was published in 1938. The tale of a painter, his dreams, and his growing brood of penguins that came to live with his family is an all time classic. Kids of all ages love penguins, that seems to be a universal fact, and everyone loves it when penguins get into mischief. The funny wordplay, the silly situations, and the dreams of Mr. Popper are infectious, and this story will easily become a bedtime favorite among modern children.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
If The Velveteen Rabbit doesn’t bring you to tears, then this 1964 classic will. The story is a stunning metaphor for generosity, love, and the power of selflessness, and parents will see themselves on every page. Kids may not be as deeply affected by the metaphor as parents, but they will understand the power of the tree and the amazing transformation it undergoes. This timeless story can also be used to discuss the evolution of fruit trees, the uses of wood, and the cycle of life. Basically, Shel Silverstein is a genius.

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery, by Deborah Howe, James Howe, and Alan Daniel
This 1979 chapter book was personal favorite of mine when I was a kid, and I can’t wait to read it to my daughter. Chester the cat and Harold the dog have to work together to solve the mystery that is causing the household food to turn white, and contend with the family’s new pet rabbit. The four-legged sleuths will become your young readers’ favorite heroes as they work to get to the bottom of the mystery. The series continues with Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, and others, so you are absolutely going to have hours of pet detective work ahead of you.

What treasured childhood books are you excited to share with your children?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 4, 2016.

6 Books for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Lover In Your House

Everyone rejoiced when the 10th Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel, Old School, hit shelves last fall. But after speedily devouring that series’ newest title, Wimpy Kid fans were left wanting more — that is, more scathing observations, more loopy humor, and more family hijinks. To tide them over until author Jeff Kinney gives us book 11 (we’re ready any time now!), here are some readalike crowd-pleasers, and a couple of brand new novels with real crossover appeal.

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson
Like the Wimpy Kid books, this coming of age junior high tale (and 2016 Newbery Honor book!) helps middle grade readers embrace, and find the awesome, in the crazy whirlwind their lives have become. The heroine, Astrid, realizes that her passions aren’t the same as that of her elementary school friend anymore, and as she comes to love roller derby she learns who she is, and just how strong she can be. This fantastic new girl power read will help anyone see that being themselves is the best.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
A giant imaginary cat named Crenshaw helps a boy named Jackson find the courage to overcome challenging times as homelessness looms in his family’s future. As he helps him find beauty and love in the little things, Crenshaw brings Jackson hope, and may just save him and his loved ones. A truly heartwarming story that helps remind us that love and hope are everywhere, and that everyone has value.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander and J. K. Rowling
Written as if this were one of Harry and Ron’s textbooks from Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts is filled with clever “handwritten” notes from characters, fabulous descriptions of magical creatures, and wonderful illustrations. As an added bonus, there is a new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Themmovie coming to theaters next fall. Potter fans will love the references, Wimpy Kid fans will dig the illustrations and the funny marginalia, and everyone will be excited when the movie comes out. Get out in front of the excitement early — you won’t be sorry!

Tales from a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter (Dork Diaries Series #10) by Rachel Renée Russell
Written in a similar style to the Wimpy Kid series, the diary of self-proclaimed dorky girl Nikki Maxwell will thrill readers as she takes on seven adorable puppies in this newest adventure. With her friends at her side, and her arch-nemesis at her back, Nikki has to keep these puppies out of everyone’s — and she means everyone’s — way. If your reader isn’t up to speed with the series, they can kick things off with a box set of the first three, and then they can dorkify their own diaries! Fans of the series will also be excited to pre-order a copy of the first book in a brand new diary-style series by the same author, The Misadventures of Max Crumbly.

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
Looking for another story of acceptance and perseverance? Middle grade readers have been flocking to the tale of August Pullman since it was first published in 2012. Auggie is a middle schooler who suffers from a rare craniofacial deformity, but he manages to attend school for the first time thanks to a push from some fantastic adults, and a few new friends who believe in him. Author R.J. Palacio even includes a few Wimpy Kid references in the book — just another reason that fans of one will joyfully fall in love with the other. If your young reader already loves Auggie, pick up Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, a collection of stories centered around the characters from the iconic novel.

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier and Doug Holgate
Jeff Kinney, the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, has called The Last Kids on Earth “Terrifyingly fun” — and what bigger seal of approval can a book get for Wimpy Kid fans? It’s perfect for kids who want a humorous introduction to zombies that is more about laughs that thrills. There is also the promise of more books to come, so hang onto your braaains.

What books are on the list for your Wimpy Kid fan?


Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 29, 2016.

Poetry Reviews: Bad Baby

Bad Baby by Abigail Welhouse
Pages: 28
Publisher: Dancing Girl Press & Studio
Released: 2015

If a book could be a best friend, I’d want this one to be mine. This succinct chapbook is able to create a fully realized personality, one which is wholly enjoyable. With each page readers are introduced to a multidimensional speaker, who is both relatable and as unfathomable as all human beings are.

The title poem shows up first in the collection and establishes the strong, self-reliant, feminist theme. Stating “That’s not a rattle. It’s my scepter./You will obey me or else/I will make a noise/you will never forget,” the final stanza should really be a rally cry for anyone (and everyone) who is looking to make themselves known. Later in the collection “Dawson Gets A Haircut” is a coming of age ode to all 90s babes, saying “I don’t want to relax./I just want to huff ocean./I skipped church in favor of baptism./This is the new holy water.”

Not all of the poems follow this personal journey, or this call to action. Several seem to mirror the way the mind works, with wandering paths that are both tired to the concrete and surreal. “Cows, Mad” and “Q&A” are two examples where, literary, there are times the reader may be lost, but emotionally every word makes sense. Often times this is how the human mind, and heart work; a flowing mix of memories and imagined scenes that form who we are and who we feel.

Of all the poems I can actually see myself framing “Hell Is” and hanging it over my desk. I don’t want to spoil the poem, since I think quoting any of it would pull the beauty out of context. Let’s just say that hell in Welhouse’s world is a scary, caffeine free place. I also would not be supposed to see the closing poem, “Stable,” show up in an ode to Plath collection, given the lovely similarity to the poem “Ariel.”

Basically, hunt down this collection, grab a cup of coffee, and meet your new best friend.

Dog Eared Pages:
1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27
Originally published at thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.com on January 27, 2016.

5 Series For Young Readers Who Can’t Wait For Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo Series

 

Rick Riordan knows how to craft an otherworldly adventure that spans space and time, with mythical heroes, and storylines that celebrate the power that comes from learning about who you are and what you are capable of. Riordan’s page turning novels, from his Percy Jackson series to his Magnus Chase series, are essential middle grade reads (and fun for adults, too!). To help keep the adventures going even when you’ve finished his current canon (and while you’re waiting for The Hidden Oracle to drop on May 3!), hook your young reader on a few of these other adventure-filled series and help them welcome in a new year of reading!

Secret of the Forbidden City (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Treasure Hunters Series #3), by James Patterson, Chris Grabenstein, and Juliana Neufeld
In the third and most recent installment of the Treasure Hunters Series, the Kidd siblings continue their rapid around the world adventures to save and find the greatest treasures imaginable. Now they are off to Egypt and China to find priceless art stolen by the Nazis. Fast paced, filled with action, and loaded with cool historical and geographical features from every country, the Treasure Hunters series is a classic, page-turning, highly illustrated adventure that young readers will love.

Kingdom Keepers Boxed Set: Featuring Kingdom Keepers I, II, and III, by Ridley Pearson and Tristan Elwell
This sci-fi Disney themed adventure novel series seriously has something for every reader. Love danger? Wonder how movie villains who have come to life through technology might sound? Ever dream of getting trapped in the park overnight and fighting to save the Magic Kingdom? Each book gives you the sense that this could really happen to you, which just makes the adventure more fun for readers who want to be fully absorbed in the story. Fans who dig this series will definitely want to check out the first novel in the new Return series Disney Lands (Kingdom Keepers: The Return Series #1).

Warriors Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6: The Complete First Series,by Erin Hunter
Hunter’s spellbinding series tells the story of several clans of wild cats who have long shared the forest according to the laws laid down by their ancestors—until a new player, an ordinary house cat, steps in and changes everything. With a richly developed world, unforgettable characters, and tons of imagination, this series is especially perfect for animal lovers.

Wings of Fire Box Set, Books 1-5 (Wings of Fire series), by Tui T. Sutherland
After years of war between dragon tribes, a prophecy tells of five dragonets who will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. Drama, intrigue and action follow as everyone takes sides and fights for what they believe in. Fans of the mythology and fantasy aspects of Riordan’s books will feel right at home in Sutherland’s world of Pyrrhia. This box set is a great starter for those new to the series, and longtime fans can pick up the newest novel, Escaping Peril (Wings of Fire Series #8), in stores now.

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka and Phil Noto
If you’ve just seen the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, happen to love a thrilling space saga, or just want to get young fans of the film franchise to lose themselves in a book, there are a number of great new middle grade novels that fit the bill perfectly. Each story in the Journey To Star Wars series follows a character who has to deal with their past, live up to their potential, and take on overwhelming odds (like Riordan’s heroes!). The novels Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure,  Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure, and Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, follow the beloved characters from the original trilogy, while the newest book, Star Wars The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening introduces readers to the stars of the new film. Kids and adults alike will want to unwrap any and all of these, no doubt.

What adventure series are also beloved by the Percy Jackson fan in your house?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 21, 2016.

Leave the Books at Home While on Your Honeymoon

In response to a heated debate on our Facebook page over whether newlyweds should bring books on their honeymoon, we’ve asked two writers—one for honeymoon reading, one against it—to make their case. When you’re done getting convinced to leave your books at home, check out our argument for bringing them along.

Like many of you, I’m a huge fan of books. There is truly a book for every occasion, but that doesn’t mean you must bring a book to every occasion. On many trips we’ve taken, my husband and I bring books to get lost in. But on your honeymoon, instead of reading, why not take the opportunity to get lost in each other’s company, instead? Later on in life you may find these chances few and far between.

One of the best parts of a honeymoon is finding new inside jokes and stories only you and your partner will share. On ours, my husband and I found a rug with the name of our hometown on it. Now, considering we come from a town so small even our fellow SoCal residents can’t find, it’s something we still laugh about. Without our noses in books, we also used our time together to take classes (including ones in cartoon drawing  and napkin folding), and to hit the all-you-can-eat soft serve machine more times than was reasonable.

If you can’t take a trip without some kind of media, bring something you can share. Bring along a new record, like Adele’s 25 or the Ultimate Sinatra collection. Sharing an old favorite album, or experiencing a new one together, is a great way to bond without a book. If your honeymoon involves a long drive, you can even invest in an audiobook of a romantic novel neither of you has read yet, like the first book in the Outlander series. Enjoying audiobooks together could even become a new tradition; a special “just you two” activity you look forward to. A joint listen, like a record or an audiobook, can inspire hours of conversation, speculation, and connection.

Are you a couple that’s into shared activities? Toss a couple of adult coloring books into your carryon to make the plane ride more fun. A book or a DVD can be isolating on a long trip, but spending time coloring together might help relieve stress from the wedding, and may even provide some unexpected laughs. Another fun idea is to pass the What I Love About You Little Gift Book back and forth over the course of your trip. You can get your reading fix in, while sharing how much you really do love each other’s quirky ways.

The biggest perk of not bringing books with you on your honeymoon? You’ll have plenty of space to buy book souvenirs along the way! Toss a tote bag into your luggage and make it a game to get a new book from every place you visit. Perusing a phrase book or a local guide to the area together can be more fun (and interactive) than staring at your own books in silence. Let serendipity be your guide, not your preplanned reading list. With an open mind, and lighter luggage, you’ll be amazed at all of the ways you and your spouse can have fun on your honeymoon when you leave the books at home.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 20, 2016.

An Interview with Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey on Their Picture Book, One Today

At President Obama’s second Inauguration in 2013, Richard Blanco debuted his poem “One Today,” a tribute to America which examines the beauty and heartbreak that are a universal part of the human experience. Around the same time, author and illustrator Dav Pilkey was working on new books for his Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta series. In what may seem at first like an unlikely collaboration, the two have crafted a beautiful picture book version of this unforgettable poem. The combination of Blanco’s poignant language with the touching visual world that Pilkey’s illustrations have created, make One Today a book that belongs on every child’s shelf. After reading it with my daughter, I just had to know more about the story behind how these two artists came to collaborate, what each hopes readers will take away from the book, and what we might see from them in the future.

How did you two end up working together? It is quite a unique pairing, a poet and a children’s author and illustrator.

Dav Pilkey: It was all our editor, Susan Rich’s idea. She loved Richard’s poem, and believed I would be a good fit as an illustrator. Susan and I had both worked together at Orchard Books in the early 1990’s when we were both starting our careers, and she remembered the painterly picture books I did back then (ie. The PaperboyGod Bless the Gargoyles, When Cats Dream).

Richard Blanco: Susan Rich shared The Paperboy with me and I immediately fell in love with Dav’s work—so rich, lush, evocative. I knew in an instant he was the right artist for the poem.

I was lucky enough to be among the million people standing on the National Mall to hear the poem’s debut, and it was a truly amazing day. Can you tell us how this went from a poem to a picture book?

DP: Susan acquired the poem from Richard, and approached my agent, Amy Berkower. Amy agreed that Richard’s words and my paintings seemed like a good fit.

I was a huge fan of this poem, but initially I felt I might not be the right person to illustrate these words which were so deeply personal to Richard.  I felt like my background (basically a “Brady Bunch” kid from the Midwest) was too different from Richard’s background, and that my vision might not mesh well with Richard’s vision.

 I spent several weeks reading and re-reading Richard’s other poetry, and it was when I came across a poem he wrote about his grandmother that I began to believe that, perhaps Richard and I might be a good match after all. Even though our childhoods were very different, I think we both grew up feeling like misfits. And for some reason, this seemed like the key to creating images for this poem: America is filled with multitudes of people who may seem very different from one another, but there are still things that make us all the same. That idea made me want to paint this book.

RB: In the poem that Dav mentions about my grandmother, she ridicules me for loving my cat because that wasn’t manly. And so, I love that Dav “gave me” a cat that follows me throughout the entire book! Indeed, Dav and I share a strong connection as “misfits” who turned to the arts as a way of making our way through life and the navigating our worlds. The longing to belong is apparent in our respective work, including the illustrations and the poem, “One Today,” which at its heart is about inviting all of us—the whole nation—to have a place at the table—to understand that each of us is an important part of the collective that is our country.

What was it like to try to bring a visual element to the poem, especially one that was initially read on such a large scale?

DP: I felt both intimidated and unnecessary. Intimidated because of the historical significance of the poem, and unnecessary because Richard’s poem was perfect just the way it was. It didn’t need illustrations, and I knew that adding my paintings to Richard’s words would make his poem into something different than he had intended. Fortunately, Richard was OK with that. It is my hope that the picture book One Today, even though it has become something new, still embodies the same message of hope and humanity that it did when it was first read in 2013.

RB: Dav was very respectful of the poem, but I was more than “OK” with his illustrations—I was ecstatic! They added dimensions to the poem that my words could not do on their own.  The poem came alive in a different way. And that’s truly what collaboration is all about:  creating something that stands stronger together.

While the text speaks of everyone, of the universal elements of life, the illustrations appear to follow a few people in the course of their day. What do you hope kids and their parents are able to take away from the book?

DP: I hope that children will see the larger picture Richard has painted with his words. One Today isn’t just about America—it’s about humanity.

RB: Indeed, although the poem was written in celebration of our nation, I think it also reaches beyond the occasion. That’s the power of poetry—and all the arts, really, which connects us to our common shared humanity—no matter the color of our skin, what language we speak, what gender we are, or what culture we are rooted in.

You both have been open about the challenges you’ve faced. What would you like to say to those kids who maybe feel like they don’t fit in?

DP: I always tell kids what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid—especially on days when my challenges seemed overwhelming. She used to say, “everything happens for a reason.  Maybe something GOOD will come out of all of this”. I think her constant reminders to look for the good in ALL situations helped to shape the life I have today.

 RB: I would say to try and look at it as blessing. If you don’t fit in, that usually means there’s something truly unique, different, special about you. Just be patient…it will blossom in time and everything will make sense. What makes you odd today will someday be exactly what makes you great.

Dav, the style in One Today seems to deviate from your other popular books, namely Captain Underpants; was it tough for you to step out of that mind set? Do you see more books like this, or The Paperboy,  in your future?

DP: I never intended to stop doing picture books. I hope there will be many more painterly picture books in my future. I’m so grateful to Richard and Susan Rich for giving me this opportunity, not just to paint again, but to be reminded of what I loved so much about this genre.

In the ideal world, who else would you want to collaborate with? Any dream books you want to illustrate? Or visual artists you want to see interpret your writing? 

DP: In the “ideal world” and if we could turn back time, I would love to collaborate with Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Do either of you have something new in the works that we can look forward to?

DP: Next year, I have a new graphic novel series debuting. It’s called Dog Man, about a police officer who has the head of a dog and the body of a human. He’s got all the raw materials to be a great cop, but he must constantly fight against his canine nature in order to be a better man.

RB: I’m working on another collaboration with a photographer on the theme of borders—physical, imaginary, cultural, psychological, virtual borders. Or—looking at it another way—pulling about the narratives and fictions about borders and thinking about how the world is becoming borderless.

When you are not writing, doing readings, or illustrating, what do you read just for fun? 

DP: I enjoy reading graphic novels, children’s books and autobiographies. I just finished Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, and Richard Blanco’s autobiography, The Prince of Los Cocuyos. Both books are fantastic, beautiful, and inspiring.  If you’re looking for something hilarious, I highly recommend Kirk Scrogg’s new series, Snoop Troop.

RB: I love taking long walks with my dog, Joey. Or lounging around with my cat, Sammy! But I love reading, too, especially books about science and psychology.  I find they inspire my poetry in unique ways.

One Today is on bookshelves now.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 5, 2016.

Mike Lupica’s Newest Novel Goes The Extra Yard

The second book in Mike Lupica’s Home Town Series, The Extra Yard, is a fantastic follow up to The Only Game. The first book follows Jack Callahan as he overcomes a family tragedy and leads his Little League team to the World Series. This new book focuses on Teddy Madden, the team’s catcher from the first book, while he tries to make his dream team — the local competitive football squad!

For the first time in his life Teddy is super physically fit, has a great crew of friends, and he is excited to be starting junior high. He has gone from the kid who was constantly picked on at lunch, to the one who stands to be the first player picked for the team. The only hang up to what could be a banner year in Teddy’s life is the return of his dad, who moved away eight years ago. With the help of his friends, Teddy tries to make his football dreams come true and build a relationship with the dad he has never really known. It will be a year fraught with drama, on and off the field.

What makes the Home Team series, especially The Extra Yard, stand out from other sports middle grade novels is the rich, interesting characters and the meaningful family relationships. Not only do you get tons of football facts, games, and play calls, you also get to spend time with characters that you care about. Beyond the main characters Teddy, Jack, and Teddy’s family, you will also find yourself loving Cassie, the softball star who knows more about sports than nearly anyone (and who can probably play them better too), kind-hearted Gus, and Gregg, the owner of a surprising talent. Middle grade readers will surely see themselves in these characters, or at the very least they will find someone they want to be friends with.

For the football fanatic, Lupica does include loads of references to famous games, impossible to forget throws, and modern controversies (Deflatgate, anyone?). Though I’m a football novice, I found myself excited to learn about the art of the slant, the importance of knowing when to hold the ball and when to take a chance, and the family atmosphere that is built within a team. Given Lupica’s career at ESPN, and his many books for readers of all ages, it isn’t surprising that he knows how to craft a detailed sports novel that is also tons of fun to read. You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to love this one.

Readers can come up to the line of scrimmage expecting just a football novel, but Lupica has thrown a welcome audible and presented a fast, fun, meaningful read that everyone can enjoy. Tackle the first two books in this series, and hang on for a long run, since I am sure we will be hearing plenty more from The Home Team.

What sports novels do your middle grade readers sprint through?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 19, 2016.

Q&A With Stephen Leather, Author of New York Night: The 7th Jack Nightingale Supernatural Thriller

9780956620378_p0_v1_s192x300Thanks to the team at BookBear I am happy to share this Q&A with Stephen Leather, author of the long running Jack Nightingale series. In this new addition to the series teenagers are being possessed but priests and psychiatrists can’t help. Jack Nightingale is called in to investigate, and finds his own soul is on the line.

What inspired you to write the Jack Nightingale series?

I always loved the Black Magic books of Dennis Wheatley when I was a kid and I’m a huge fan of the Constantine character in the Hellblazer comics (graphic novels as they prefer to be called these days). And I just love supernatural films, especially haunted houses and things that go bump in the night. With the Nightingale series I wanted to explore the supernatural world but with a hero who is very much grounded in reality. The first three books – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare – really explain his backstory, how he became the man he is. The next two – Nightshade and Lastnight – explain why he had to leave the UK and the subsequent books will be set mainly in the United States, hence San Francisco Night and New York Night.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try not to have a style. Like most journalists-turned-writers I try to tell my stories simply with uncluttered prose. If I find myself over-writing I tend to hit the delete key and start again. I try to write my books as if I was writing for a newspaper, where it’s the information that is being conveyed that’s important, not the style in which it’s written. I do like to write fast-paced books, with lots of dialogue and not too much descriptions. For me, the story is everything.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read. Read a lot. Read good books and bad books and learn from them both. Write every day if you can. I think though that real writers don’t need advice, not about writing. Real writers will be constantly reading because they love books. And they will be constantly writing because they love to write. You need to find your own voice, you need to write the books that you want to write, or that you feel you have to write, and I don’t believe anyone else should be telling you what sort of books to write or how to write them. I don’t think real writers need advice because real writers are self-motivated to improve their craft. They know what needs to be done! Self-publishing is a different matter, there you do need advice because you have to take care of covers, blurbs, marketing and so on. Google self-publishing guru Joe Konrath and read everything he has to say about self-publishing and you won’t go far wrong!

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

I read pretty much everything by Jack Higgins and Len Deighton before I started
writing, but I think I modeled my writing most on Gerald Seymour, who was also a journalist before becoming a thriller writer.  I loved all John Le Carre’s books back then, but always felt intimidated by his wonderful prose. I would finish a Le Carre book and feel that I could never write anything as good as that!  At least with Gerald Seymour I would think that I had just read a wonderful novel and that one day I might be able to produce something almost as good!  In terms of influencing my self-publishing, I have been inspired by self-publishing guru Jake Konrath.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?

The books published by Hodder and Stoughton are thrillers, pure and simple. The Jack Nightingale series – which Hodder and Stoughton originally published but which I now publish myself – are supernatural thrillers, though they sometimes get labelled as occult thrillers, which is fine.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

You know, I don’t think there is such a thing, not if you mean a writer who simply cannot write. Like all writers I sometimes have trouble with a storyline or a section I’m writing, but if that happens I simply switch to writing something else, either a different part of the same work or even a separate piece. I always have half a dozen or so short stories in mind so if a book starts to give me problems I might take a few days off and write one of those instead. But as I’m writing a book I usually have several sections already planned out so blocking doesn’t become an issue. My advice to anyone who does feel that they are blocked is to start trying to write something else, anything, just to start the words flowing again!

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  1221_leather-bg
Actually New York Night was an easy book to write, partly because Nightingale is such a great character to work with and partly because I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. It took about two months, from start to finish, and at no point did I hit any real problems. The ending didn’t come to me until the last week or so and I think that was probably the hardest part, coming up with a satisfying ending.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I just love the Jack Nightingale character. When Hodder and Stoughton decided they didn’t want to continue to publish the series, there was no question that the books would stop. Jack just wouldn’t allow it. I love his sarcasm, his slight air of pessimism, and the fact that he just takes whatever life throws at him. He’s smart and thinks on his feet, yet because the supernatural world is so alien to him it’s constantly catching him off-balance. Having the books set in the United States is fun, because he’s always a fish out of water. It gives me the chance to explore different cities, too, which I enjoy enormously. This one was good fun because I know New York well, it’s one of my favourite cities. The next one will be set in Miami which is also a fun city.


Do you write every single day?

I try to. When I’m finishing a book I’m usually so inspired 200px-Stephen_Leather_Profile-1that I write ten or twelve hours a day, producing maybe 3,000 or 4,000 words. But generally I try to write at least 1,000 words a day and am happier if I manage 1,500. A thousand words a day is a good target, assuming the odd day off that’s 350,000 words a year!  Obviously there are days when you simply don’t have the time to write but if I’m not at the keyboard for a few days I definitely suffer withdrawal symptoms. Writer’s write, that’s all there is to it. I’ve heard some writers complain that producing their latest book was like pulling teeth, with me it’s never like that. I love to write, it’s what I do.

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Thanks again BookBear!

 

Review: The Children of Darkness

the-children-of-darkness-coverThe Children of Darkness, the first book in The Seekers trilogy, is an interesting addition to the YA dystopian movement. Published in May of 2015, with the sequel The Stuff of Stars following quickly in November of 2015, there is a lot of to be impressed with in this first venture. Author David Litwack, who has also published the novels Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, does a capable job of building a grounded world and introducing three layered main characters.

The first book follows the characters Orah, Nathaniel and Thomas as they begin to realize that not only is there something wrong with the organization that controls their lives (the Temple), but also that they may be the ones who have to do something about it. Like so many books in the genre each character is tested in unique way, must learn about their inner strengths, and follow along a lonely and dangerous quest. The first in the series has a little bit of everything a reader could want in a piece of YA fiction.

What does set the book apart is how the style of the writing really does match the world created within the book. The characters are presented with a limited education from either their parents, or a group of men called the vicars. In both cases thing are formal, often stilted and focused on doing what is necessary. Children learn trades, like weaving and farming, and they talk as such. It cam make reading initially a bit more work, but the pay off is worth it. As the characters grow and develop (and uncover some nasty secrete the vicars want to keep hidden) the world-and the way the characters speak- blossoms. These really are teenagers who want to learn, who grow and change, and who strive to find away to change the world.

9780545596275_p0_v5_s192x300Another point that stands out, at least in the first book, is that the main characters often work to find non-violent ways to rebel. Unlike The Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, or even Harry Potter, Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas initially work to use language, art, science, and technology to lead their society into a rebellion, not fighting and killing. It was pretty refreshing to find dystopian YA that had such a twist to it. Of course, all stories evolve, so you’ll need to read the sequels to see how things turn out!

All and all there were places that felt a bit choppy in the narrative, at least to an adult reader. Having said that, their characters are admirable, they change over the course of the novel, and world is well developed with plenty of room to grow. Teens or adults who are looking for something familiar, but still unique, will surely enjoy these latest offerings to the YA field.

Personally I am intrigued and am looking forward to reading the next two installments. If you want to know more about David Litwack check out this interview too.

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This review was brought to you by the BookBear book tour. Check them out, they’re kind of rad.

Interview with David Litwack

Author David Litwack has published Along the Watchtower in June, 2013 and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky in May, 2014. The Children of Darkness, the first of the Seekers series, a dystopian trilogy, was published in June, 2015. It’s sequel, The Stuff of Stars, came out in November, 2015.

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Tell me a little about your book…
The seed of an idea is a curious thing. I went for a walk along one of my favorite places on Cape Cod. On one side was Vineyard Sound, with Martha’s Vineyard rising from the fog, and on the other a series of inlets of increasing size. The first  is called Little Pond and the next Great Pond. For some reason, I imagined young people growing up in Little Pond and envying those of Great Pond, wanting to find more from life than they had in their small village. From there, the story expanded. What if their limitation was not their small village, but a repressive authority that limited their potential to think and grow?

At the same time as I was developing this plot, the real world was changing. Increasingly, I saw on the news stories of oppression and rigid limits placed on freedom of thought: modifying school curriculum to restrict the sciences; rewriting history; destroying evidence from the past; restrictions on dress and diet; banning music and the arts; and severe punishments like stoning for daring to think differently.

Over time (several years), all these thoughts evolved in the Seekers dystopian trilogy.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Of course, everything I write has some basis in my own life. But fiction is less about recording reality than stitching together bits and pieces of things you’ve experienced and combining them with your craft to make a story—one that will hopefully let the reader add their own life experiences to it and be moved in some way. I’m not one to think a writer must only write about what they know (how else do you get alternate worlds?). But you have to write about things you’ve felt.

Out of all the characters in your book, who is your favorite to write? 

I used to say that my favorite was Kailani from The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. She’s so mysterious, but at the same time wise, naïve and vulnerable. Now that I’m nearly done with the Seekers series, I think I’d say Orah. She smart and passionate in her beliefs, and a natural leader, yet she always doubts herself and questions her decisions—a trait that would be a good thing in some of our real world leaders.

Is your book part of a series, and if so, how many will there be?

The Children of Darkness is Book one of the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The second book, The Stuff of Stars, has just published.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the finale of the Seekers series, to be titled The Light of Reason. If all goes as planned, it will come out in November 2016.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing a novel may be one of the hardest things you can do, so it’s all challenging. But nothing is harder than writing the first draft. I don’t yet know the characters that well and, while I have a general sense of where the story is heading, I can take a wrong turn at any point and have to redo months of work. When I hit that point where I’m terrified the story has gone off the rails, I take a break for a few days. Almost always, it’s not as bad as I feared, and I can fix the problem with a modest bit of work.

Once I’m beyond the first draft, the rest becomes just hard work. I do lots of revisions, but I find it easier to fix the story than to write it from scratch.

There’s a reason why Hemingway once said: “Write drunk, edit sober!”

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To each and every reader, we’re partners in the story. I use my craft, and you use your imagination to flesh out your own unique version of the story. If I’ve caused you to re-experience some of the most intense moments of your life, then I’ve succeeded as an author.

To quote Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do you plot your books completely before hand or do you let your imagination flow whilst in the writing process?

I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a  very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.

It’s a messy process in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.

How long did it take to get from the ideas stage of the Seekers series, to the publication of all three books?

The Seeker series started out as a standalone novel called There Comes a Prophet. The initial idea came to me about eight years ago, and it was published in 2011. After producing two other novels, I decided at the urging of readers to go back and turn this standalone dystopian story into a trilogy. Prophet became The Children of Darkness(with a changed title, cover and publisher) and I’ve just published the second book, The Stuff of Stars. I’m hard at work on the third and final offering, to be called The Light of Reason.

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it?

I sometimes think writer’s block is just another way of saying that writing a novel is really hard. I try to keep writing, even if I think it’s going poorly. Then I see how it looks the next day. I remind myself that I can always revise or just throw it away. Nothing’s worse than staring at a blank page.

Long walks are another good way to get the creative juices going. Whatever the case, I try to avoid just sitting there and staring at the screen. Write, read or go for a walk.

How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?

Names matter, especially for a SciFi/Fantasy writer building new worlds. The names need to be consistent and reflect that culture. For the Seekers trilogy, where the people have been forcibly returned to something like our 15th century, I found the passenger manifest for the Mayflower, and borrowed names, mixing up first and last names to get ones like Nathaniel Rush or Thomas Bradford. All except for Orah. I wanted her to be different, a rebellious throwback to an earlier time. So rather than picking from the Anglo-Saxon, I chose a name with Hebrew roots. As an added subtlety, the name Orah means light.

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More Essential Books that Almost Never Saw the Light of Day

The best, most beloved books often have one thing in common: a struggle to be published. Some of our most important stories, from Anne Frank’s unforgettable diary, to the wanderlust classic On the Road, and even early books by childhood idol Dr. Seuss, were passed over by multiple agents and publishers. Yet sometimes it’s those books that break rules, the ones labeled “too different” for a mainstream audience, that become the ones we really needed. Check out some of the books below, (or some from our earlier poston books that almost never were), and fall in love with something a little “different.”

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
Plath, the Pulitzer Prize-winning idol of many poets and readers in search of a coming of age story, had to publish her novel The Bell Jar under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel faced rejection because the publishing house saw it as “disappointing, juvenile and overwrought.” Now it’s compared to The Catcher in the Rye, (another frequently rejected title, ahem).

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
When T.S. Eliot was the editing director of Faber & Faber, he rejected Animal Farm because he “did not want to upset the Soviets in those fraught years of World War II.” There was no mention of a problem with Orwell’s writing, and he was already a household name with five other books in print. In this case, in contrast to other rejected writers, politics — not style — almost stopped this required reading staple from ever hitting bookshelves.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s dairy faced unusual hurdles on the road to publication. After her hiding place was discovered, the remnants of her notebooks left behind by the Nazis were kept hidden for years. Eventually her father reclaimed them and worked to bring her voice to light. Under his watchful eye, though, many of the teenage struggles he thought might offend more conservative readers were edited out of the book. A text with fewer edits was later released, giving readers more insight into this vibrant, inspirational young girl.

 

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
The jewel in the Beat generation’s literary crown, One the Road was initially said to be too provocative and nontraditional. In one very harsh rejection letter Kerouac was told, “this is a badly misdirected talent and…this huge sprawling and inconclusive novel would probably have small sales and sardonic indignant reviews from every side.” The passionate fanbase that exists to this day might disagree with that sentiment.

 

East Wind: West Wind, by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl S. Buck struggled to find an American publishing house for her debut. As one of the few Americans living in China, and one who had close relationships with Chinese writers, Buck was positioned better than anyone to bring China to America with her epic, cross-cultural coming of age story. She was told in a rejection letter that American readers “aren’t interested in China,” but clearly this proved to be untrue. Buck became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

 

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss
Pretty much everything Dr. Seuss wrote in his early career faced rejection. His first book was passed over 27 times before finally finding a home. Rumor is, he was told his books were “too different” to be published. The Cat in the Hat, Horton, and the Grinch may have never been, just for being different, though ultimately that’s what made them great. Considering the way Dr. Seuss has become a cornerstone of early literacy, a world without him in it would be one with fewer people whose passion for reading began with his giddy, rhyming tales.

What books do you love that were once overlooked by publishers?


Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on December 9, 2015.

6 Books to Help Your Toddler Say Goodbye to the Pacifier

Toddlerhood is a time of big and amazing transitions. Parents get that first sentence, the first public tantrum, the joys of potty training and eventually the grand farewell to the pacifier (not the Vin Diesel kind). Part of making the transition as easy as possible is to have the right supplies, and to stock with house with books that show kids that life without the binky is a beautiful thing.

Bye-Bye Binky: Big Kid Powerby Maria van Lieshout All little kids want to be big, to go on big adventures, and do what the big kids do. With that in mind, the Big Kid series is designed to help tackle the hard stuff that little kids have to go through. Show your little one, in a super positive way, that as they get bigger they do have to say good-bye to the binky. Being a big kid does come with its advantages though, and highlighting that might just be incentive enough for some.

Chupie: The Binky That Returned Homeby Thalia and Ana Martin Larranga With this witty, slightly quirky bedtime story, you can encourage your kids to send their binky off to a special Binkies-Only Land. Told from the point of view of a binky who just wants to go live with the rest of his friends in a place designed just for him, this story might encourage little kids who love the pacifier to set it free. This book is unique among binky books, in that it also helps promote a bit of empathy. As an added bonus, you can pick it up in Spanish as well.

Binkyby Leslie Patricelli One of many by the ever-popular and prolific Leslie PatricelliBinky helps kids deal with their emotions about losing their favorite nap time pal. As adults we can underestimate how important a pacifier is to little ones, but parents and kids can get through the difficult times by reading together. Patricelli’s art is also bright, welcoming, and always attractive to even the youngest readers. This might be the best first step in easing that binky out of your babe’s life.

No More Pacifier for Piggy!, by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams Instead of utilizing peer pressure, which is a common tactic in putting the paci aside, No More Pacifier for Piggy helps to show little kids that sometimes the pacifier just gets in their way. How can you yell, chat, or play hide and seek with a mouth full of pacifier? What is more important — and more fun: walking around with a pacifier, or having a great play date? Use Piggy’s tale to help encourage kids to make the decision themselves to move on from the binky lifestyle.

The Paci Fairy, by Melissa Burnett and Chrisann Zaubi The Paci Fairy, and the similar book, The Paci Pixieboth play with the Tooth Fairy model of moving on. The Paci Fairy helps kids prepare emotionally for the day that their beloved friend will be picked up by the fairy and replaced by a gift. The Pixie helps teach older kids (would be a great choice for older siblings) to pass their paci on to someone younger. Both books have sweet drawings and positive messages that add some magic to what could be a really tough time. Plus, everything is better with a little glitter.

Pacifiers Are Not Foreverby Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen Instead of focusing on not having a pacifier, the characters in this Best Behaviors Series book help kids see all the positives associated with moving on. The pictures are gentle and the words are kind and understanding. Toddlers, who often struggle with expressing themselves, will like the tone that validates their feelings and the pictures that show great paci-free activities. Another perk? This series can follow kids through other milestones, becoming a familiar voice as they grow up.

What books have helped your little one kick the paci habit?


Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on December 1, 2015.

Seven Superstar Sports Chapter Books Fit For Every Reader

Fall is the perfect time for sports, hands down. With baseball playoffs, Monday Night Football, and hockey in full swing, it is a veritable feast of athletic endeavors. Going for a jog in the changing leaves and cheering from the soccer sidelines might fill your weekends, but these series with sports superstars will occupy your young readers’ evenings.

Nancy Clancy, Soccer Mania (Fancy Nancy Series: Nancy Clancy #6)by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser In the popular Fancy Nancy Series, Nancy typically doesn’t like to follow the crowd, but a team effort can turn anyone into fan of groups. Nancy is a pro at painting her nails, cheering, and wanting to be good at soccer, but she is not quite there yet. This book is really great for that young soccer player who loves the sport but just isn’t ready for the all-star team.

Kickoff!by Tiki Barber and Ronde Barber Ok, this is super cool — a football chapter book series, written by football superstars. Based on the real life stories of its authors, the book features two boys, Tiki and Ronde, who are getting ready to start junior high with a new team, new rules, and new challenges. Hard work and perseverance will become their best friends as they navigate this unknown world on their paths to NFL glory. Your gridiron fanatic will want this book with them on the sidelines.

Diary of a Basketball Hero by Shamini Flint and Sally Heinrich Fans of basketball and the Wimpy Kid series will find their new hero in Marcus, a math whiz with zero sports prowess. At his dad’s encouragement, Marcus is thrust on the path of basketball superstardom, or at least on his way to dribbling without falling. Kids who are torn between the court and the bookshelf might be swayed to sit down for just a bit longer with this witty story, which is filled with engaging art.

Alice the Tennis Fairy (Rainbow Magic: Sports Fairies Series #6) by Daisy Meadows Even Fairies can get downright competitive, especially when it comes to the Fairy Olympics. In a series of seven books, fairies Rachel and Kirsty have to help each athlete get their equipment back from the evil Jack Frost and his horde of goblins. This time around the girls have to help Alice reclaim her tennis gear before she is due on the court. Part sports chapter book, part mystery, all adventure, parents of fairy loving readers and athletes will really hit a magical home run with this series.

Willie & Me by Dan Gutman One of many in the Baseball Card Adventure Series, main character Joe Stoshack travels back in time to investigate the “Shot Heard Around the World.” Will he accidentally mess up the career of Willie Mays in the process? Can the other players he has met in his travels help him avoid disaster? Time traveling with baseball cards and famous players has never been so much fun. Superfans will especially love the black and white photos and the player stats that are included in each book.

Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills and Rob Shepperson Each student of the Franklin School Friends series is a stand out at something, and Izzy Barr is the best runner around. Unfortunately for her, her brother is also a great athlete and possibly the apple of their father’s eye. Will things turn around for Izzy when the big 10k comes to town? For the budding track athlete or distance runner in the family — or for the kid who wants a fun way to pass the time while mom and dad run, pick up Izzy Barr!

Face-Off by Jake Maddox and Sean Tiffany With jealous teammates, including his own brother, Kyle Parker has to balance becoming a hockeypowerhouse while keeping his family — and teammates — on his side. This book is a great choice for anyone who is hesitant to read, loves hockey, or needs a slim fun book to pop into their stick bag. If you are new to hockey there is also a glossary of terms in the back to get the whole family up to speed.

What do your young athletes like to read when they aren’t at practice?


Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on November 30, 2015.

6 Must Read Books for Fall TV Lovers

Fall isn’t just changing leaves and pumpkin spice everything, it’s also a chance to get neck deep in some new TV shows. And the excitement that comes with a new show doesn’t have to end when the credits roll. There are plenty of fantastic books out there that dovetail nicely with your favorite new superhero tale, police drama, or Muppet singalong. Check out a few of our suggestions, and stock up that bookshelf for the cold months to come.

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If you’re loving Narcos, try Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, by Mark Bowden
Netflix’s newest series, Narcos, follows the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, one of the most famous drug kingpins. For fans of the show who want an even more in-depth, no-holds-barred look at the life of this infamous criminal, Killing Pablo is a must read. True crime fans and students who’ve studied the situation all turn to Mark Bowden for his unparalleled account. Sylvia Longmire’s book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, will also help readers get a better sense of where the cartels started, and how they affect us today.

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If you’re digging Supergirl, try Wildflower, by Drew Barrymore
CBS debuted Supergirl this fall, joyously satisfying our need for smart women in capes. The show’s star is charming, grounded, but determined to prove herself and protect those she loves—while also balancing a nine to five job with a hard-nosed boss. Drew Barrymore’s newest memoir hits quite a few of those same notes, minus the cape. Moving from homelessness and near illiteracy to a champion of women and women’s roles, Barrymore can be pretty super. And if Hollywood isn’t your thing, then look no farther than Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, by an author who deserves her own superhero label along with that Nobel Peace Prize.

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Fans of Blindspot will enjoy City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg
Fans ans are talking about NBC’s Blindspot, the amnesia-driven whodunit that mixes personal drama with over-the-top crimes. Jane Doe struggles with her tattoos, her ties to horrible crimes, and her identity. Garth Risk Hallberg’s stunning debut, City on Fire, features the same air of personal drama, seemingly unsolvable crime, and a search for identity. Set in NYC in the 1970s and filled with gritty realism and tons of music, this one will be hard to put down. Or if the memory gaps and unreliable narration are the real draw of Blindspot, than grab The Girl on the Train for a mystery fix.

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Watching The Muppets? Check out Jim Henson: The Biography, by Brian Jay Jones
ABC has brought The Muppets back to TV for the first time since the 70s, and with them an enthusiasm for all things puppet. This renewed love for these iconic characters will hit a high this May with the publication of a new biography of Jim Henson, the ultimate puppet master. Written with the help of hundreds of hours of interviews, and with cooperation from his family, this could rival the Steve Jobs biography. If waiting until May is a stretch, then find comfort in It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider while you wait to see what happens on Up Late with Miss Piggy.

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Those watching Heroes Reborn will love Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Set in the future, when a virtual world has all but superseded the real one, brilliant outsider Wade Watts struggles to solve a video-game puzzle that will reward him with unheard of riches and glory—if he can survive against a gang of ruthless competitors who will stop at nothing to win. In the same way the characters in the revamped series Heroes Reborn must decide who to trust, the isolated Wade struggles to find allies in a world where he doesn’t feel like he belongs. Fans of the show’s action, the weapons, the time travel, and the manga-inspired filmography might also love The Multiversity Deluxe Edition, a supersize graphic novel in which many DC and Justice League superstars show up.
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If you’re enjoying Quantico, read Gangsterland: A Novel by Tod Goldberg
In the ABC series Quantico, new FBI recruits deal with interpersonal drama and a possible terrorist in their midst. Who’s dating who, and who’s trying to attack them from within? On the flipside, in Tod Goldberg’s newest novel, Chicago-based Sal Cupertine is a hit man targeting the FBI, who is now leading a double life as Rabbi David Cohen in Las Vegas. Intrigue, crime, and the Torah have never been so thrilling. Not into crime stories with two-faced agents? Pick up Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner, to get an inside look at the history of our preeminent investigation force.

Originally from Barnes and Noble Reads

10 Must-Gift DVD Boxed Sets

DVD boxed sets provide fans with exciting behind-the-scenes details, expanded binge-watching opportunities, and often even charming and collectible keepsakes, which make them the perfect holiday gift. And as luck would have it, we’re living in the golden age for DVD collections. Whether your loved one prefers to time-travel in a TARDIS, learn about time and space, or be immersed a period drama, there’s something for every kind of film and television viewer in the sets featured below.

Doctor Who Christmas Specials Gift Set
If you’re looking for a new holiday tradition, look no further than the Doctor Who Christmas Specials Gift Set, which features every single Doctor Who Christmas Special to date, all in one collection. How genius is that? And what could be merrier for a Whovian than watching the Doctor battle Santa Claus himself? There’s even a Twelfth Doctor Sonic Screwdriver included, so watch out, Daleks!

Outlander: Season One—The Ultimate Collection
Go beyond genre and explore the romance, science fiction, and history-spanning adventure of Outlander. What began as a beloved book series is now a must-watch TV phenomenon (which returns for its highly-anticipated second season in 2016). With this collection, old fans and new converts will enjoy not only all the drama and romance of season one, but an extended version of episode 9, “The Reckoning,” deleted scenes, and a gag reel, as well as an engraved flask, a collection of set photos, and the show’s exclusive soundtrack. All this, plus the special Outlander Yule Log bonus disc, which will add a little extra festive spirit to the season.

Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy
Great Scott! Johnny B. Goode! Save the clock tower! There is no better celebration of nostalgia, time travel, and Michael J. Fox’s undeniable charm than the 30thAnniversary boxed set of the Back to the Future trilogy. This collection contains all three movies, as well as the documentaries Outatime: Restoring the DeLorean and Looking Back to the Future, along with plenty of additional must-see footage. This will surely be on every fan’s Christmas list. Throw in the YAHTZEE: Back to the Future Collector’s Edition and you will be on the Nice List for the rest of time.

Star Wars: The Complete Saga
All six epic films are included this definitive collection. With hours of extra footage, interviews, and spoofs, even the most well-versed Star Wars aficionado will find something to love about this fantastic box set. Put a bow on a few extra books, especially Aftermath, in preparation for an all day viewing party before the next installment debuts, and the Force will surely be with you this holiday season.

The Godfather DVD Collection
Don’t be the Fredo of your family this holiday season; make sure the film buff in your life owns The Godfather DVD Collection. These films have withstood the test of time, and the director’s commentary and behind the scenes footage will immerse you in the Don’s world. Enjoy the pinnacle of mafia storytelling and the legendary cast in this classic collection of movies that have influenced every organized crime film since 1972.

Fast & Furious 1-7 Collection
“This time it ain’t just about being fast,” it’s about getting this action-packed DVD collection for your favorite family members. Vin Diesel is at his best in this series, and the nonstop pace of each movie is addicting. You don’t have to be a car fan to enjoy these either; anyone who loves a buddy movie, who likes a little romance, or wants a good heist will love these. Michelle Rodriguez is the ultimate tough girl, and The Rock makes a few great appearances, so this truly is a film franchise for everyone.

Abbott & Costello Meet The Monsters Collection
Take two comedy greats and pair them with the legendary monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy, and you have a guaranteed crowdpleaser. Actors Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr. reprise their famous monster roles for unexpected laughs in this genre-bending collection. The Abbott and Costello fan will love the commentary tracks, the comedy junkie will appreciate the laughs, and that impossible-to-shop-for relative will enjoy this a lot more than the sweater you were planning on getting them.

Foyle’s War: Complete Saga
This BBC staple is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part war drama all rolled into one. For the Downton Abbey fan who can hardly wait for the last season to air, or the Sherlock fan who needs more crimes to solve, the entire eight seasons of Foyle’s War will fit the bill. Satisfy your period drama needs with Foyle as he takes viewers from WWII to the Cold War, chasing down spies and solving international mysteries. This will quickly become the show you beg everyone in your family to watch with you.

Justified: Seasons 1-6
Over the course of six seasons, fans followed Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens as he dealt out cold hard justice. Now that the show is over, diehards can relive the experience with the 38 page Commemorative Book, the feature Leaving Raylan Alive: Making the Final Season, a gag real, and more than 24 hours of special features. Harlan, KY many be a place full of shady people, but you won’t get any shade from the person who receives this box set.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Neil Degrasse Tyson isn’t just the guy who shares all those amazing science facts on social media; he is also the host of this much beloved National Geographic series that aired in 2014. Based on the book Cosmos, and a follow up to the 80s series of the same name, everyone who is even a tiny bit interested in space found themselves glued to their TVs whenever it was on. Relive all the graphics, the swirling planets, the time travel, and the jaw-dropping realism that surrounds our beautiful blue marble. This is a DVD set that is as eye-opening as it is thoughtful; a moon shot gift for sure.

The Gilmore Girls are Back! 5 New Books That Should Be On Rory’s List

This fall marks the 15th anniversary of the first episode of Gilmore Girls, and the kickoff of the cult following that developed soon after. As a true Gilmore Girls aficionado, it’s hard not to wonder what Rory Gilmore would be reading today. Based on the massive reading list she accumulated over the course of the show’s seven seasons, here are some 2015 books I bet you’d find on Rory’s bedside table, off in her little corner of the world.

Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Because she mentioned Anna Karenina in her graduation speech, referenced Daisy Miller, and was seen reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950–1962, it’s easy to assume Rory would be one of the early lovers of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s carefully crafted, emotional, and tragic debut novel. Each turn of Anna’s sad, frustrating, sexual, and lost life is one that keeps readers up at night—hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, by Jimmy Carter
On Rory’s last day before she began at Yale, she and Lorelei spent the evening trapped in Emily’s spare room watching ballroom dancing. To make light of a tough spot, the two traded Jimmy Carter jokes. Given this, and Rory’s passion for all things politics, you can be sure she’d read this memoir, along with other books from former President Carter, while in the White House Press Room or on the 2016 campaign trail. Carter’s unflinching and emotional look at his personal life and tireless activism make for an inspiring read during these highly volatile times.

The Art of Memoirby Mary Karr
Since Rory wanted to become a journalist, was an English major in college, and was a fan of craft books by Henry JamesAmy Tan, and Joan Didion, it isn’t a stretch to picture a crisp copy of Mary’s Karr’s latest on her table, propped up against an oversized cup of coffee. Karr, the author of The Liars’ Club, Lit, and Cherry, wraps her writing, teaching, and diverse life experience up into an insightful guide to writing; fans also get some added behind the scenes details into Karr’s life.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan
It’s nice to imagine that later in life Rory became friends with her exes Jess and Logan, and they all happily traded books back and forth. William Finnegan’s surfing memoir is reminiscent of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk and Among the Thugs, both books Rory shared with her old boyfriends. In Barbarian Days, Finnegan provides readers with an opportunity to travel the Pacific, ride insane waves, stare down malaria, and become accustomed to hitherto unseen social customs with humor and a 1960s eye.

Notes on the Assemblage, by Juan Felipe Herrera
Not to be left out of current artistic events, Rory would have been an early supporter of Juan Felipe Herrera and his appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate. After all, Lorelei was a fan of Billy Collins, and Rory was known to read Walt WhitmanEmily Dickinson, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Herrera’s newest collection, with its socially conscious and welcoming themes, would be a no questions asked addition to her overflowing bookshelves. As the first Latino Poet Laureate, and one who began life as the son of a migrant family, Herrera writes poetry that’s as wise as it is encouraging—something everyone who hopes to achieve more should enjoy.

 What books do you think belong on Rory Gilmore’s bookshelf?

Tales from a 30 Year Old Feminist: Shorts

I’m not a shorts kind of person. The last time I slid into a pair of pants that hit me above the knee was after an ill-dated Nair episode. Turns out I’m horribly allergic and breakout in massive hives. I looked pretty boss in March, in the 9th grade, wearing faded denim shorts while covered in hives. #briningalltheboystotheyard

 
My daughter is getting ready to turn two and I have been thinking a lot about the kind of role model I want to be for her. That is a stupid thing to think about, since I doubt there has ever been a parent who wants to demonstrate a great way to be a scumbag, but these types of ideas come to you after you spawn. What do I want my kid to learn about life from me?

That is some heavy, heavy shit.

After years of being that chubby person who spends all summer sweaty, wearing skirts while fighting chub rub, or just generally being miserable, I decided to wear shorts. Why should I be uncomfortable and unhappy just because I think someone might be judging me and my weight? What kind of message does that send to my daughter? “Hey kiddo, why don’t you just worry what others might be thinking, and the slather someone ointment on that fat rash?” Nope, not what I am going for as a parent or as a female role model.

To be real, I’m a chubby girl. I top the scales at about 190 and am 5’9. I’ve run a half marathon and a 15k and a bunch of other things. I dance and tone and stretch and whatever else the government tells me to do. I am not Heidi Klum, at all.

Plus, those are men’s shorts I am wearing.

Yup. After weeks of trying on shorts at Target I discovered that I am too tall, and my thighs too big, for the average women’s shorts. I snuck into dressing rooms and three separate occasions, without my daughter, to find a pair of shorts. I didn’t want her to see mommy try and fail repetedly. No sense in showing her how unrealistic clothing standards are. Or how out of shape mommy is. I wanted her to see that wearing shorts is no biggie, just a thing that we do when it is hot. I didn’t want that loaded down with the baggage, with the ten different pairs in multiple sizes. In the welling up of tears. In the anger that not everyone is a size 6 and can, or wants, to show off their butt cheeks. Shopping to her is still an adventure of color and fabric and snacks. Crying in the dressing room and buying nothing should never ever be on her radar.

So instead of buying shorts, and thus admitting defeat, I found a pair of shorts in my husband’s drawer that he wanted to throw away. They were from a “White Trash” (just take the name at face value) party he went to in college.

I wore men’s shorts. That were part of a costume. And the theme was “White Trash.” Did I also mention that they are corduroy and frayed at the bottom? Yup, that happened.

Did I look amazing? Of course not. But even with my spotty shave job, lack of color, and cellulite on display, I hope I took one step forward for my kid. Mommy was comfortable. And maybe I took that first small step for me too.

I also ate a banana chocolate chip dessert waffle the same day I made my triumphant shorts debut. So there’s that…

6 Books to Read While in the Hundred Acre Woods

The Big Honey HuntBlustery days, changing leaves, and hats and scarves all equal Winnie the Pooh weather in our house. Now is the best time of year for curling up with a good book and a cup of tea, preferably on a blanket under a tree. In just the same way we like to enjoy a book and a few minutes of quiet, so too do Christopher Robin’s friends, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, Owl, and Kanga and Roo. This fall take the opportunity to read some of the books that are surely on the shelves of our favorite Hundred Acre Woods pals.

Winnie the Pooh
The Big Honey Hunt, by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain
If Winnie the Pooh isn’t eating honey, thinking about honey, or plotting to find some honey, then he is most likely reading about honey. As Papa Bear and Little Bear set out to find honey, they deviate from Momma’s plan for them to go to the grocery store. The two brave the woods and mischief follows. The Berenstain Bears are truly a bear family after Pooh’s own stout heart.

Rabbit
The Secret Garden: Deluxe Hardcover Classic, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rabbit enjoys the comfort and calm of his garden. An afternoon of fresh air and hard work, along with a hefty pile of fresh produce pleases Rabbit like nothing else. Like Mary, in her own special walled-in garden, Rabbit becomes his best self when surrounded by well cared-for plants. Within his picket fence Rabbit can make his own happiness, and maybe share some of those extra fruits and veggies with his friends.

Piglet
Coraline (Graphic Novel), by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
After sweeping clean his yard near the “Trespassers Will” sign, it is easy to picture Piglet getting some catharsis from his fears with Neil Gaiman’s classic Coraline, reimagined as a graphic novel. A blanket and some firelight, and maybe an evening visit from Pooh while the two imagine what Christopher Robin is doing, is just about the ideal Piglet night. Coraline lets Piglet imagine a more “perfect” world while also learning to appreciate what he has right there.

Tigger
Anna Banana: 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes, by Joanna Cole and Alan Tiegreen
When plain old jumping just doesn’t cut it anymore, Tigger can flip through this book of rhymes to recharge his battery. Another bonus? Instead of jumping alone, Tigger can invite his other Hundred Acre Woods friends to jump and rhyme too. Even Rabbit and Eeyore, who aren’t known for their jumping, will love to chant “Teddy Bear Teddy Bear” while bouncing around the woods.

Owl
A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
While Owl probably has tons of other books that cover so many subjects, this would most likely be on his bedside table. Owl loves facts, stories, and figures so Bill Bryson’s Really Short History scratches his information itch. Unlike when Owl reads his family histories, I am sure that his friends would enjoy sitting with him as he read aloud about the dinosaurs, the oceans, and the expansion of the universe.

Kanga and Roo
Mama Says: A Book of Love for Mothers and Sons, by Rob D. Walker, Leo Dillon, and Diane Dillon
Kanga, who is always so warm, would love sharing this gorgeous book about kindness, faith, courage, and trying your best with Roo. The art is so bright and unique that Roo’s imagination won’t be able to stay still, but he will remember with every reading the importance of his family and friends. When Roo runs off to play with Tigger and the others, while Kanga finally enjoys some peace and quiet, both will have this story on their minds.

What books do you think the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood might enjoy?

From Barnes and Noble

The Fixer: The Naked Man Review

Front Cover THE FIXER-THE NAKED MAN-1The Fixer: The Naked Man, the first in a new series of novellas by author Jill Amy Rosenblatt, follows main character Katerina Mills as she embarks on a new career as a fixer. The book, which feels like part crime drama part Scandal, quickly introduces readers to a fairly large cast of characters, all with shadowy motivations.

For readers who want answers, and want them now, this book may seem frustrating given the amount of information that is withheld. But for those of us who like a bit of suspense, and are willing to hold on for a long ride, this series has all the ingredients to be a fun one.

In addition to Katerina, readers meet an old love, a
potential new love, her parents and their extremely dysfunctional relationship, and the elusive employees are MJM, the firm that has taken Katerina on. During The Naked Man, Katerina has to learn to use her contacts from previous jobs in new and inventive ways to help stalk a wife and retrieve a piece of incriminating evidence. Murder, theft, sex, and lies all follow, and not in ways expected. With such a large array of characters to follow, and so much groundwork in a series that promises to be 10 to 12 books long, in addition to the twists that MJM will provide, there is a lot of territory that can be covered in equally engaging ways.

If you want to follow as an average college student turns into a potential life long fixer, then jump on the bandwagon for The Fixer series now.

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Thanks to BookBear for bringing this tour our way! Check out their website or twitter feed to find more books, authors, interviews, and awesome content.

Meet Jill Amy Rosenblatt, Author of “The Fixer: The Naked Man”

Jill Amy Rosenblatt, the author to two previous novels, Project Jennifer and For Better or Worseis back with a new novella series, The Fixer: The Naked Man. You can pick up any of her books now!

Can you share the inspiration for The Fixer Series? What was the research process like for getting into the woJill webrld of theft and deceit?

The Fixer came at the e
nd of a very bad bout of writer’s block that had been a problem for quite a while. After a sleepless night, I had an idea of a young woman in a cat and mouse game with a very powerful man. She needed something from him (I didn’t quite know what) and was trying to negotiate to get it. I thought about who this young woman wa
s and what she might do for a living that this was happening. I had heard of the term “fixer” and I investigated a little more. Since there are already TV shows that deal with this profession, I decided to go with an origin series, to show how Katerina wound up in this line of work.

I love research! I enjoy digging in and looking up everything down to the last detail. The funny thing about research is the more you look up, the more ideas and questions it raises. So I wind up having a lot of material to pick and choose from. I use books, magazines, and the internet but I also have been so lucky to have found some wonderful individuals who are willing to talk to me and answer my questions.

What’s the deal with MJM, Katerina’s mysterious new employer?Front Cover THE FIXER-THE NAKED MAN-1

I would love to tell you but I don’t want to spoil the surprise!! There will be a lot more revealed about MJM in future books so please be patient and all will be revealed.

Right now is there a plan for how long the series will be?

I am planning for roughly 10-12 books in the series but I’m working pretty loosely to allow flexibility for that to change.

Maybe it’s just me, but I felt sparks between Katerina and Alexander Winter. Potential love triangle? Friends with benefits? Am I completely off track?

You are exactly on track! There will be much more to come with Katerina and Alexander Winter. Stay tuned for more developments.

What can readers expect for the second book?

More of everything! The Killing Kind will have more assignments, more danger, and more mysterious men. The plotlines left open in The Naked Man will continue. Katerina’s situation will become more desperate and that will require her to take more risks.

I saw on your website that your mom is your editor. What is that process like, working with your mother professionally?

It works really well. My mom is amazing. She is incredibly smart and talented. Writers are always too close to their work. It’s not always possible to be 100% objective. When Judith edits, she sees the work objectively, makes suggestions, and will always ask the tough questions and tell me the truth.

I know we’re talking about The Fixer, but give new fans the basics of your other books, For Better or Worse and Project Jennifer.

Project Jennifer was my first book. It’s a chick lit romantic comedy that asks the question, “If you had a different name, would you have a different life?” Joan Benjamin loses her job, fiancé, and apartment, all in one week, all because of women named Jennifer. Convinced that Jennifers have all the style, charm, and grace, when Joan finds out she was almost named Jennifer, she decides the Universe made a mistake. Even if she can’t change her name, she’s going to change her life.

For Better of Worse was my second book. It’s women’s fiction, set in New York City. It’s the story of three friends, Elizabeth, Karen, and Emily and their relationships. I wanted to explore power structures. In every relationship, does one partner always have the upper hand? Over a one year period, I explore how the lives and relationships of these women change, with their men and with each other. I mixed humor, drama, and of course, romance.

For all the unpublished authors out there who are sitting on ideas for books, what tips would you give them? You earned your Masters in Literature and Creative Writing from Burlington College in Vermont, is this a path you would recommend for others?

My first tip would be to read as much as possible. Reading makes you a better writer. Then, write as much as you can. It’s tough to write every day because of commitments and schedules but do the best you can. Some days I would only write a paragraph because it was all I had time for, but I did it. Most important, don’t give up. If you love writing, pursue, practice, and persist!

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the path of a Masters degree. The Burlington College Masters program was great for me because it was an Individualized Program, so I had flexibility to help design and choose what I studied. I improved my grammar and spent time working on my essay skills. The Masters degree isn’t the only path and it’s not a fit for everyone.

What would be Katerina Mills Starbucks order? Her Netflix binge show?

Katerina is addicted to hot vanilla lattes with whole milk. That’s one thing she shares in common with the author. 🙂

I think her Netflix binge show would be a mix. A little West Wing for the quick dialogue, mixed with some classic romance like Moonlighting. Great question. I had to think about that!

bookbear badge-1Thanks to BookBear for bringing this tour our way! Check out their website or twitter feed to find more books, authors, interviews, and awesome content.

Hollywood Veteran, Writer, and Professor Trai Cartwright Talks Craft and Career

by Lindsey Lewis Smithson

originally posted on Castle Rock Writers

Colorado based writer Trai Cartwright has taught, produced, and learned her craft from nearly every aspect possible. She started her career at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, spent time working for Leonardo DiCaprio, founded a youth writing camp, and happened to work in Hollywood for nearly 20 years.  The Castle Rock Writers are proud, once again, to be able to bring Trai, her talents and her enthusiasm, to the Annual Conference at the PACE Center in Parker on November 7th.

Can you give us a little bit on your professional background?

I am a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, I was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. I currently teach creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor. www.craftwrite.com.

Education seems to be an important part of your message, what educational paths do you think are most beneficial for writers?

All educational paths are beneficial to writers. From classes and conferences to working with a writers’ group, to engaging the services of an editor, to reading reading reading, and then writing writing writing some more – all of this is going to elevate not only your skills, but raise your confidence and help you deliver work that you can be proud of.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most fun work there is.

Creatively you write across multiple genres, what advice do you have for writers who want to jump into a new genre?

My advice for jumping genres (or mediums, i.e., fiction to non-fiction or screenwriting) is to study your new element. Audiences have definite expectations, so it’s important to have a sense of what those expectations are so that you might serve—or bend them.  There used to be a marketing mandate that said a writer could only write in one genre/medium, as audiences would “get confused” if a different story emerged. The truth is, readers are by nature voracious and loyal and if they love your voice and trust your taste as a storyteller, they will follow you anywhere.

You mention genre and sub-genre when talking about finding power in your writing, how does writing, say Young Adult novels, play into this? Isn’t writing for teenagers the same as writing for adults?

This question leads me right to theme in writing. Theme works in stories in a number of ways, beginning at the general genre level (action = good vs. evil), and then at the subgenre level in even more specific ways (coming of age = rebelling against society until one finally takes one’s place in society), and so on.

So while teens can absolutely read at the level adults do and often there’s cross-pollination between these demographics, chances are stories geared toward teens, for example, are focused on issues that concern them, like rebellion, like first love, like identity.

The same can be said for the differences between, say, a Political Thriller and a Family Drama.  Political thrillers are, at their thematic heart, deeply concerned with politics and institutional corruption. Family dramas tend to peer into the history of the betrayals within that family. Oh wait, turns out Political Thrillers and Family Dramas have a lot in common!

This year you are presenting on genre, voice and tone as three key craft elements. If you could pick one area that many writers seem to overlook which would it be? How can aspiring writers avoid some of those common pitfalls?

Genre, voice and tone are all integral to the machinery. Genre tells you what kind of voice and tone is required. Voice informs your tone. Tone helps you make choices about your genre and voice. The lecture I’m presenting is about building the right voice for your book – it doesn’t happen accidentally. The best books feel like there’s an intelligent design powering them, and there is – a writer who knew the themes of her book well enough to be able to design all the elements to serve that theme. What could be more exciting than writing your book on the most subtextual, cellular level?

How can writers make the most of their conference experience?

Do not rest. Rest is for Sunday. Miss nothing, go to everything. Talk. Rumor has it that writers are painfully shy, insular creatures who cringe at human contact. Conferences are filled with your people, people who get it and get how hard this is. Be brave and reach out both to agents and editors and teachers, but to your fellow conference-goers, too. They could use the boost, and you’re gonna make a new ally.

What are you reading right now?

Mostly I read client manuscripts. Just finished a divine memoir about a couple who adopted two kids from Ethiopia, and a screenplay military thriller based on an isolated island base. I love this kind of reading – all the passion and hopes of writers putting it out there, being willing to share, and then to do the work to get their work to a publishing level. I’ve been in development for 25 years, and I absolutely adore the process, even if it means I don’t have time for the new Lev Grossman book.

You also do a lot of work with young writers through the Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp. How did you come to starting this group? Is there something you see in young writers that you don’t in adult writers?

I was a writer as a kid, as many of us were. I wrote seven books by the time I was 15 when I shifted my attention to theater. There was zero support for a weirdo like me. Explorati Teens is exactly the program I wish I’d had when I was that age. Members of our tribe, getting together to talk about the stuff that no one else gets or is interested in, a real opportunity to celebrate and affirm who we are, and to dig into the craft of our work.  Teens are my heart, and it’s my honor to bring Explorati Teens back to Denver for the 8th summer in 2016.

At the moment you have a campaign on Indiegogo.com for the Colorado Script Exchange. What are the aims of the Script Exchange?

Without screenplay agents in Colorado or any organized way to pass scripts around, Colorado writers are left without any means of showing their work. The goal of the Colorado Script Exchange is to create a platform where writers can post info about their work and media-makers can “shop” for their future projects. In short, we’re building our own screenwriting marketplace in the hopes of starting up meaningful conversations between writers and makers – and maybe even spark a production or two.

In what little free time you seem to have you also helped found the Colorado Smart Film Investment Coalition. What draws you to these community based organizations?

Hollywood is community based, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Your network is your lifeblood, the people who support your career and even create opportunities for you. I worked with wonderful people there, and they taught me to always reach out a hand and help others. To my mind, the only way to thrive in a tricky business like the publishing world or the film industry is to do it together.  Be generous or be alone.

Beyond writing and community work you also offer freelance writing, editing and consulting services. Can all writers benefit from working with an editor? What are the perks to freelancing that other writing careers don’t offer? If someone wanted to get into freelance writing and editing do you have any tips?

All writers can benefit from working with an editor – but it’s important they are the right editor. Do your homework. Make sure there’s a personal connection there. Ask for testimonies if they aren’t readily supplied. The right editor can cut drafts (and drafts) out of the development process and make you understand your own writing better.

As for freelancing, well, isn’t for everyone. But for someone like me who is extremely self-motivated and, shall we say, has a problem with authority figures, it’s terrific. I like my boss. I love my “clients” whether they are in a classroom or on the other end of a manuscript. This job is the best I’ve ever had, and I fight every day to do it well and to keep it.

As for freelancing, well, isn’t for everyone. But for someone like me who is extremely self-motivated and, shall we say, has a problem with authority figures, it’s terrific. I like my boss. I love my “clients” whether they are in a classroom or on the other end of a manuscript. This job is the best I’ve ever had, and I fight every day to do it well and to keep it.

Tips to go freelance? You have to be seriously passionate about this space or you won’t have the energy to sustain a business.  You also have to be realistic about whether you can live with the financial ups and downs, and whether you have the temerity to constantly be looking for work. That part grinds. Try doing it part time and see if it’s a good fit. You’ll also be able to build your network during this trial period. Then go for it!  We need all the great editors and writers we can get!

Cartwright-Headshot-259x300

www.craftwrite.com

www.cosfic.com

www.coscriptexchange.com

Dinosaur vs… Everything! Discover Bob Shea’s Roar-Tastic Picture Book Series

Dinosaur vs Bedtime

Have you been squaring off with a headstrong, determined, and fiercely independent toddler whom you love more than you can possibly believe? Yeah, me too. Fortunately author Bob Shea and his leading man, Dinosaur, go through all of the same amazing up and downs we and our toddlers experience every single day. Even when the fight seems to sway out of control, you can relax in the knowledge that Shea and Dinosaur, with some fun and engaging art, will find a resolution that will satisfy everyone. Don’t believe me? Check it out!

Dinosaur vs. School
Preschool is amazing! There is so much to do and so much to see and there are so many people to play with! But then, out of nowhere, Dinosaur is faced with the dreaded clean up time. Who will win, Dinosaur, the teacher, or the class? Little readers will love to see someone who shares their feelings about cleaning up.

Dinosaur vs. the Potty
A Dinosaur afternoon filled with potty-inducing liquid-based fun and, wait for it, no need to rush to the bathroom! How long can Dinosaur hold out before he has to make the made dash to the bathroom? Will he make it in time? Can you handle the suspense? Potty training isn’t easy, but we all know it can be hilarious.

Dinosaur vs. the Library
Everyone loves story time, even Dinosaur. Dinosaur also loves to run, jump, ROAR, and hang out with all of his friends. Dinosaur does not like having to sit still and listen quietly though. There is no telling who will win this showdown, but my money is on Dinosaur. Added bonus if you read this book in preparation for a story time out on the town!

Dinosaur vs. Mommy
It is a tie between which battle is most epic, the one at bedtime or the daily fight with mommy. Showering, grocery shopping, and other daily tasks all are met with the overpowering “ROAR!” of Dinosaur. At the end of an exhausting day, Mommy and Dinosaur have one last showdown, one that will fortunately melt away all of the stress.

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime
Dinner, bath time, pajamas, and the toothbrush all fall before Dinosaur and his amazing powers! Can Mommy and Daddy, with the powers of exhaustion on their side, get Dinosaur into bed? Tired readers will sympathize with Dinosaur, Mommy, and Daddy as they snuggle up for one last read.

Dinosaur vs. Santa
The holidays are upon Dinosaur and his family. Together they decorate, shop and—shock of shock—behave themselves. When the jolly red-suited man makes his way down the chimney at Dinosaur’s house, he has to muster all of his self-control. Has he finally met his match?

What battles do you and your little Dinosaur have?

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is Your New Bedtime Best Friend

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, out October 2nd, is being touted as the magic bedtime cure all. Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, a new author out of Sweden who studied psychology, has decided to tackle the nightly battle that takes place in most homes with young children. Instead of just writing about the story and art, which are unique all on their own, I decided give this one a crash test in our house for a few months. It was this or read Go the F**k To Sleep(Just kidding, maybe). So grab your favorite snuggly and hunker down.

Roger the Rabbit, the main character, and the listener (the book asks parents to include their kid’s name, while the audiobook just says “You”) can’t sleep, so they decide to walk down to visit Uncle Yawn, a wizard, who will help them to go sleep. Along the way you get advice from Mommy Rabbit, the Kind Sleepy Snail, and the Wise Heavy Eyed Owl about the best way to fall asleep. Together you take a relaxing walk to and from your house, after which everyone snuggles into bed and goes to sleep.

What really makes the book magic is the imagery and the careful cadence that it is written in. Each character introduces another trick to sleeping, like visualization, guided relaxation, and compartmentalizing your thoughts. Little kids don’t see what’s happening, but as an adult you can see what Forssén Ehrlin is going for. Older kids might start to pick up on some of the tricks too, like learning to relax all of your muscles from your toes to your head.

What younger kids benefit from most is the cadence. The book comes with tips on how to read (taking long pauses, drawing words out, deliberately reading slowly, and finishing the entire book—even if your kid is asleep), and the audiobook takes its time, lasting over thirty minutes. Both versions actually have a warning not to listen to/read the book near anyone driving a motor vehicle. You’ve gotta love a bedtime book that warns you about drowsiness.

The book and the art are simple and calm, which are exactly what you need to sleep. Forssén Ehrlin wrote it to be like a meditation on sleep, told by a character who wants to go to sleep, to a kid who is exhausted and should go to sleep. I can say that on more than one occasion our entire family has fallen asleep listening to the audio version. Will it work for everyone? No idea, but it works for us. Plus, it never hurts to add another bedtime book to your little one’s library!

What are your foolproof bedtime reads and rituals?

WTF: THE WEIRDEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2016

okay-2016

There was no shortage of odd and unexpected in 2016. Some notable biggies include the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the Juno Spacecraft, and the final VCR production-so long Disney VHS collection. Here are a few favorites that my vinas and I chatted about while the kiddos conquered the playground.

STRANGER THINGS

This unexpected hit combined Sci-Fi, thriller, Winona Ryder, a girl who looked fab bald, plus a story that got everyone to ask “Are we in the Upside Down?” No one saw the 80’s throw back coming, but once you watched the first episode you just had to spend the weekend binging it – preferably with wine and vinas. Stranger Things was an unusual must-see.

RYAN LOCHTE VS. THE BATHROOM DOOR

We could have been talking about how amazing our female athletes did (Hello! Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky and the other 59 female medal winners – the most ever!), or about all those cupping marks on Michael Phelps. Or we could still be sharing photos of that hottie from Tonga. But no, the end of the Olympics was filled with talk of Drunk Lochte taking on his mortal enemy, the evil gas station bathroom door. Way to stay weird 2016.

CUBS WIN

Put this in the good-weird column. It has been a long forgone conclusion that the Cubs would never win the World Series. I mean come on, they kicked a goat out 108 years ago, so of course they would be cursed to eternal failure. But this out of left field year saw something that was absolutely worth talking about – a Cubs win. The Cubs hadn’t won the World Series since 1908, while their opponent, the Cleveland Indians, hadn’t claimed victory since 1948. To make that win even more amazing the series went 7 games, the final game had a rain delay, went into extra innings, and the Cubs retiring catcher David Ross hit a home run. Basically you needed your tissues handy as the Goat was finally put to bed. Plus, it turns out Parks and Recreation predicted the future??

POKÉMON GO

I’ll admit it, a few vinas and I spent the summer catching um all. Going for a jog to hatch a egg, hunting down that elusive Raichu at the Denver Zoo (ladies, they had a special Pokemon Go day, I kid you not), and spending way too much time at “the gym” were just some of the weird wonderful ways 2016 flew by. The fervor for the game has slipped away, but with promises of more updates, Pokemon trading, and some more battle options, I don’t plan on deleting my account any time soon. Oh, and it’s going to be on the Apple Watch too, so we can all look cool AF while hoping to stumble across a Mewtwo .

A GIANT SEA MONSTER

Maybe this one is just me, but a sea monster that stretch 5 stories long is pretty weird and amazing. Everyone has a favorite strange animal story that they repost on Facebook, but for me the giant sea monster found in Antarctica is just out of this world cool. It may have been the largest swimming creature, officially part of the mosasaur family, it is actually named Kaikaifilu hervei, after an almighty giant reptile legend from the Mapuche. Big. Weird. Amazing. Very 2016.

And there was something or other about an election this year. I guess there’s that too.

What do YOU think was the weirdest thing of 2016? Tweet us or tell us in the comments below!

Originally Published on Vinazine

A Letter to 13-Year-Old Me About Friendship

Dear Lindsey,

Hi, this is you. I’m writing you from 2016. We are almost 32 years old and we are basically awesome. We’ve got a house, a nice man, and a really cute kid. Sometimes we write, we almost always read, and we regularly fail at baking. Wine and coffee are our friends and we’ve moved across country twice. We’re mostly happy and we have quite a few things figured out, which is good. But enough about me, let’s talk about you. Thirteen is not easy, no matter who you are. Look up pictures of famous people at 13, you’ll see what I mean. I know you’re 13 and not keen on taking advice from other people, but just hear me out, please.

FIND GOOD PEOPLE BY BEING YOURSELF

This might seem frivolous, but just go for it in the make up department. Embrace that purple lipstick you keep hidden in your locker, even if you feel like you need to wash it off before mom picks you up. In the same vein, don’t shave your legs just because the other kids laugh at you. Yes, mom will make you wear the optional school uniforms (seriously, who has optional school uniforms?), and yes the other kids will laugh at you in your polos and khaki shorts. Here’s the upper, you will learn how to weed the bad people out of your life this way. The kids who comment on your hairy legs, creased blue slacks, and purple lipstick? Yup, trust your heart and cut them loose. You will always read people well, keep trusting that instinct. If shaving your legs makes you happy, go for it (but don’t steal Dad’s razor, get your own), if not, don’t do it. Dye your hair if you want, get neon bands on your braces, draw on your sneakers; you’re 13, it’s ok. Find people who like you for you. That’s the most important thing.

IT’S OKAY TO LET GO

On that note, it’s okay to let go of toxic friends, especially when you’re young. You’re in 7th grade and between this year and next some of your friends are going to be pretty mean. Take the advice from above and trust your gut – let them go. I know saying that doesn’t make it any easier, but it is the best you can do. The girl who finds “cooler” friends to eat lunch with won’t be as happy. The girl who calls your mom and lies and says that you’re self-destructive is doing so as a cry for help. You’ll have a bigger heart later and you’ll want to help her. For now pull an Elsa (that will make sense in about 20 years) and let it go. Embrace the new friends you make and be thankful that you’ve learned to how to be independent. It may be hard to learn in junior high, but independence will be a valuable skill when you’re grown up.

BE SMART ON THE WEB

The internet’s a brand new thing when you’re in junior high. You’ll spend way too long logging on to AOL, listening to that horrifying sound that is reminiscent to a monster living in your CPU, but stick with it. The internet is here to stay, and yes, it will get faster. I must be serious when I say stop talking to boys in chatrooms, though. They don’t like you like you think they do, and those flower doodles they make out of symbols mean nothing. You’re on there because you’re shy, naive, and those guys say nice things. You would be better served to try chatting with real boys, in person. Except Matt, he’s never going to like you. Just being real. Better yet, make online friends with other girls! The internet is great; it will play a big part in life later on.

DON’T BACK DOWN. EVER.

Yes, that first week of school you will correct your English teacher’s spelling error on the white board. He will never forget it, and he will yell at you when your Tamagotchi dies in class and you cry that you need to save it. That spirit though, that never back down thing you’ve got going, hang on to it. Go ahead and stand up for yourself against that boy who will make fun of you at soccer try outs, and tell that gym teacher where she can shove her scale when she wants to weigh you in front of the class (true story). Your biggest cheerleader in life will always be you, stick up for yourself. And on that note – stand up for your friends. Don’t let anyone bully your girls, and don’t bully others. Girls standing up for each other will get you through school and will be a valuable skill to have later in life. Try to live by this motto – community over competition. Always.

Teenage Lindsey just remember this: plenty of people love you. Some of them even like you. Be kind to yourself, and just as kind to those around you. This made sound cliché, but everyone is fighting a hard battle out there and a little kindness goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to be happy, or silly, or odd. Don’t be afraid to be tough.

Oh, and stop eating Funyuns at lunch. I love you, and I know they taste good, but they’re not making things any easier for you.

Love Always,

2016 Lindsey

What would you tell your 13-year-old self if you could? Tell us in the comments!

(Feature image via Free People)

Originally Seen on Vinazine

Hey! Holidays: Geek Out Over These Awesome Nerdy Gifts

Welcome back to Hey! Holidays. We’re comin’ atcha all month with AH-MAZING gift ideas for all types of vinas. No matter who you’re shopping for, you’ll find a perfect gift on one of these lists. Have more suggestions for gifts? Tell us by using the hashtag #HeyHolidays and tagging us @ilikevina.

Everyone has an amazing nerdy friend, that vina who is super comfortable talking math, Star Wars, or who knows all about the PH of their garden soil. To help make your shopping easier this season here are a few suggestions that won’t end up in the re-gift cycle.

jggv_caffeine_molecule_scarf

COFFEE-OBSESSED SCIENCE GEEK

For that vina in your life who loves science, coffee, and a warm neck, this gift is screaming her name! In a neutral white with a black caffeine molecule pattern, this scarf looks like abstract art at a distance but up close it shows you’ve got an impressive set of smarts and an addiction to coffee. Bundle this package with a gift card for methylated xanthine (AKA coffee) and everyone will have a happy holiday.

Screen Shot 2016-12-14 at 9.11.43 AM.pngMATH MAVEN

Dessert and math may not seem like the perfect mix at first, but one look at these bowlsand you’ll have to resist buying them for yourself. The classic looking set of four medium-sized bowls has a theorem written on the outside in a nice script and the proof is written on the bottom. The proof is literally in the pudding…if you’re eating pudding, that is.

42389_1_640pxTHE PHOTOG

If you vina group has a paparazzo who loves to document your outings, get her this projector to help share the memories. This nifty projector will work with any smart phone and it looks like an adorable old fashion camera. At a reasonable price you can treat your photo savvy bestie to something super cool without breaking the bank.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-9-12-22-amOUT OF THIS WORLD GAL

This is just the best. The absolute best. A set of nine bath bombs to match the planets and our sun, each with their own unique formula. Any vina can relax and contemplate the stars. My personal favorite might just be Mercury, with Moroccan Spices with Activated Charcoal. Put these in a basket with a bottle of red and some wine glasses and you might be the best gift-giver in the office Secret Santa.

Screen Shot 2016-12-14 at 9.12.42 AM.pngBOTANIST BABE

Dog lovers, peace seekers, and garden aficionados alike will all want to add this little guy to their yards. His peaceful presence will work on a deck or hiding under the shade of a tree. Is your vina more of a cat gal? Elephant? Michael Gentilucci has quite a large selection of other yard statues and zen critters that would look adorable with a bow under the tree. The frog is pretty lovable too, just a hint to all my vinas who still have some shopping to do.

What do you plan on getting your nerdy vinas? Tell us in the comments!

(Featured image via Today’s Creative Life)

Originally published on Vinazine