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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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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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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The Next Best Book Blog: Lindsey Reviews: Humanly

Humanly by Stevie Edwards
Pages: 113
Publisher: Small Doggies Press
Released: 2015

Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson (review contributor)

humanly

While I’m not a fan of the phrase trigger warning, I feel like I need to start with that when discussing Stevie Edwards new book Humanly, out from Small Doggie Press. Trigger for what you may ask? Basically everything, at least everything that can be held “deep behind the heavy velvet drapes of Klonopin,/Lamictal, Lexapro, Abilify, Propranolol—“ (83). This is an emotionally challenging collection of poems that face down suicide, rape, abuse, neglect, death, hospitalizations and more. Few punches are dodged and no details are spared. The speaker reads like the friend you have always wanted to ask the hard questions of, but never had the courage to do so; Edwards brings readers to the face of what so many try to hide from.

via TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Blog: Lindsey Reviews: Humanly.

9 Children’s Book Characters Who Really Love to Om Nom Nom

Sometimes you just want to snack; other times you’d like to sit down for a nice dinner. But for these 9 characters, the right time to eat is all the time. They can’t really be blamed for their love of noms though; when presented with a plate of warm cookies, a never-ending pasta pot, or a most glorious hot dog, you just need to go for it. In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, “There is a time for speech-making, but this is not it. Tuck in!”

9 Children’s Book Characters Who Really Love to Om Nom Nom.

via 9 Children’s Book Characters Who Really Love to Om Nom Nom.

7 Out of This World Reads for Budding Astronauts

Recently the news has been abuzz with the first photos ever taken of Pluto, the former ninth planet of our solar system. If you have kids who overhear the news, or if this is something that you’ve talked about at dinner, then you may also have kids with questions and a growing interest in space. These awesome discoveries may spark new conversations in school this year too. The limitlessness of space is a lot for anyone, of any age, to wrap their mind around, but these books are a great start.

via 7 Out of This World Reads for Budding Astronauts.

via 7 Out of This World Reads for Budding Astronauts.

8 Middle Grade Books to Get You Through that First Day Back at School

Starting middle school is hard, end of story. You have to find your way to new classes, with new teachers, in a new building, all while trying to not trip over your suddenly huge feet in front of someone really cute. Besides homework, hormones, bullies, and parents, middle schoolers also have to deal with the CIA, lightsabers, and a fake pickle club. (Or at least the heroes of these middle school novels do.) Let’s all try to put a more lighthearted, adventurous spin on what can be, really, a tough time in a kid’s life.

8 Middle Grade Books to Get You Through that First Day Back at School.

via 8 Middle Grade Books to Get You Through that First Day Back at School.

Celebrate Disney’s 60th with 8 Magical Books and Series

from Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

This year marks the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland which happens to be a really special place to my family. My husband and I got married at the Grand Californian, my baby shower was held there, and we actually took a Disney Cruise as our honeymoon. Needless to say I am a Disney nut, but I know I’m not the only one. Disney really does have a little bit of magic for everyone, and these books are no different.

via Celebrate Disney’s 60th with 8 Magical Books and Series.

Sci Fi Month

Over at The Next Best Book Club we are celebrating Sci Fi month with a post of our favorites! I’m not a huge Sci Fi nut, but I can proudly say I’ve read a zillion Star Wars novels. Here is my excerpt, plus a link to the full post if you are in need of some great recommendations.

From The Next Best Book Club

Lindsey’s Favorites:

The Thrawn Trilogy

I’m not so much a Sci Fi fan as I am a huge Star Wars fan; I’ve read nearly 70 Star Wars books and counting. The Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) by Timothy Zahn is truly a defining piece in the Star Wars Extended Universe (that Lucas Arts is now calling the Legends series). This series introduces not only a new key character to Han, Luke and Leia, but also a hauntingly unique villain. Every reader/Star Wars fan needs to get their hands on this series, whether in print our audio.

Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band Is Playing & Leviathan ’99

Or, The Martian Chronicles. Or basically everything by Ray Bradbury. I know he’s mainstream, not a hidden gem, but his science fiction is so well written, so clear, so inventive without being crazy. I particularly like Now and Forever, which is a set of two very different novellas. The second of the set, Leviathan ’99 is a retelling of Moby Dick, but in space. Enough said, right?