Needing to believe, and believing to be needed

Growing up, my favorite Narnia book was easily The Silver Chair. I loved when Prince Rilian came out of his enchantment, slew the giant serpent, and destroyed the silver chair. I loved dear old Puddleglum. I loved the trenches that spelled out words.

But mostly, I loved Jill Pole.

Jill wasn’t a Pevensie. There weren’t prophecies about her. She was just a girl struggling through school the best she could.

But when Eustace told her about this magical place he had visited, a beautiful place far beyond the reach of bullies and gray English skies, she believed. She believed so much that she had to go there.

And when she got there, she found that she was needed. She alone heard the signs from Aslan. She was given the quest to rescue Prince Rilian with Eustace. She kept their little trio going with her fire and determination.

And she made mistakes. Oooh, she made mistakes. But she worked doubly hard to fix them and still saved the day in the end. And as a girl who was constantly making stupid mistakes, that gave me a lot of hope for myself.

I used to think that if I hoped and believed hard enough, I could get to the Wood Between the Worlds and travel to all the lands I had ever read about or imagined, as well as the ones I had never in my wildest dreams encountered. And in a way, I did. I believed in stories the way August Rush believed in music. I believed, like Uncle Hub, that good will always triumph over evil, that true love never dies.

And I believed, like Jill Pole, that there was a magical land out there that needed me.

And now I’m building my own Wood Between the Worlds, an already-enormous collection of places and people and powers, some of which will never be read by eyes other than my own, some of which are out there already. And I’m no Shannon Hale, but even with my small-but-growing readership, I’ve had kids tell me how this or that or the other part really meant something to them. And it makes me want to cry a little every time.

Because it means that I’ve reached my magical land, and I have found that I’m needed.

And I think that’s what life is. It’s believing in something–stories, music, business, people, math, whatever–and believing in it so hard that it (whatever it is) really needs you, even if it doesn’t know it yet. Charles Wallace didn’t know how much he needed Meg. Mount Eskel didn’t know how much they needed Miri. And Narnia didn’t know how much it needed Jill Pole. But all of these ladies believed in their it, and nothing was ever the same again.

So whatever it is you believe in, be it writing stories or teaching high school math, know that you are needed. Go forth and change the world.

Waiting waiting waiting

The launch party was a great success on Saturday! It was so fun to talk books and writing with so many readers.

And now Stone Alliance is out in the world, and I’m waiting for this baby to come out into the world too. Between being roughly the size of a rhinoceros and coming down with a ridiculous cold, it’s been increasingly hard to do anything remotely productive, so I’ve been catching up on some reading. Here’s what’s in my stack this week:

Beastly Bones by William Ritter
Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo
President of the Whole Sixth Grade by Sherri Winston
Nightmares! by Jason Segel
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (although I’m struggling to get anywhere with this one, short as it is)

What are you reading this week?

Why I love three-star reviews

The first days after releasing a book, it’s hard not to compulsively check Amazon and Goodreads every ten minutes to see whether there’s a new review. As a writer, I LOVE four- and five-star reviews. Let’s be honest. I like being told that I’m a brilliant writer.

But as time has passed, I’ve found that, while five-star reviews are the most encouraging and exciting, the most useful reviews, both as a reader and a writer, are the three-star reviews.

I know some people who get upset at three-star reviews, as if it’s a negative rating. It’s not. On Goodreads, three stars is described as “I liked it.” And you know, I’m okay with people liking my books.

And the thing about three-star reviews is, the reviewer is often much more fair about presenting the strengths and weaknesses of a book. It’s not nearly as fun to hear about my writing weaknesses as it is to hear about everything I did well, but it’s so necessary. If I don’t know what problems readers have with my writing, I don’t know how to polish it up, make my words smoother and more powerful.

I also appreciate the frank honesty of three-star reviews. Higher ratings tend toward effusive praise and lower ratings tend toward vague, snippy generalizations; but three-star reviews are (generally speaking) more thoughtful and complete examinations of a book’s merits.

How do you feel about three stars? Do you tend to rate books high, middling, or low?

The danger of reviews

I recently reread a trilogy that, aside from an abundance of teenage romance, I thoroughly enjoyed. It had a complex and engaging plot, varied and developed characters, and a villain who gave me nightmares. Granted, it wasn’t a literary master piece or anything, but it was fun YA sci-fi.

When I posted my rating on Goodreads, I happened to glance at the other reviews on the page. I was surprised to see a number of fairly negative reviews, in spite of a decent overall rating on the book. Glancing through them, I found that I really didn’t agree with most of the reviews, and the bits that I did sort of agree with weren’t a big enough deal to me to lower my four-star rating.

This is the down side of my up-down relationship with Goodreads. I love seeing what my friends are reading and their reviews–but I hate seeing reviews from total strangers, because I can’t put it in context of their personality.

Book bloggers are a step up, because I feel like I do get some sense of their personality and their perspective after a bit. I can tell where our tastes meet and where they diverge. Usually. If it’s a good blogger.

But my top source of book recommendations is still my circle of bookish friends. We know each other well enough that we can say, “I liked this book but don’t think it would appeal to you” or, conversely, “I didn’t like this book, but it’s right up your alley.” Not only that, if I read a book on a friend’s recommendation, I already know that I have someone to talk to about it when I’m done. Because, seriously, what’s worse than loving a book and having NOBODY to talk to about it? I’m still trying to find someone to squeal about A Corner of White with, by the way, if any of you have read it. The last book in the trilogy is coming out next month and I’m dying here!

So how do you feel about online reviews? Do you check out Goodreads before you pick a book? Any favorite book bloggers?

Reading books five times a day

I have a two-year-old who LOVES reading. Our “library” room is constantly layered with books because she’ll pull them one by one off the shelves, flip through them, and grab another one. She’ll grab an armful and dump them on my lap–then say, “I’ll get fwee more, Mom.” “Fwee” (three) usually ends up being four or five or six.

She goes through phases of which books she likes best, but there are a few that she will consistently pick above all others. Here are some of the favorites in our house:

 

paper bag princess

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustr. Michael Martchenko. She loves the dragon, and I love Princess Elizabeth, who is clever, determined, and confident.

 

 

naamah

Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustr. Holly Meade. We picked this up by happy chance at the library. The illustrations are beautiful, and I love the simple story of Noah’s wife.

 

sheep in a jeep

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw, illustr. Margot Apple. Simple, catchy rhymes, clever illustrations. This one’s just fun.

 

moose a muffin

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustr. Felicia Bond. Honestly, I love all the “If you give a . . .” books, but this moose. It’s adorable.

 

harvey potter

Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm by Jerdine Nolen, illustr. Mark Buehner. I remember getting this from a book order back in elementary school, and it was one of my favorites as a kid. Now Scout has latched onto it. She calls it “Harry Potter” (that might be confusing later on), and she is in balloon heaven every time we read it.

***

What picture books do you remember from your childhood? Or what books do you read to your kids? We’re always looking for new recommendations!

 

Top reads of 2015

I shared my complete Goodreads list from this year’s reading in my last post, but I wanted to take a minute to highlight some of my favorites. Because, you know, everyone needs a few more books on their to-read list. 🙂

This was apparently a big year for reading/finishing series, so we’ll start with those.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (series, graphic novel): I picked this series up when I was exploring the world of graphic novels and loved it. Great story for young readers.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood (series, MG fantasy): The final book in the series, Jinx’s Fire, came out this year, and I loved it every bit as much as the first two.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (series, classics): I had never ventured beyond the first book before this year, but I devoured the other seven in just a couple of months once I got started. Some are better than others, but all are worth the read.

The Casson Family by Hilary McKay (series, YA contemporary): This is one I’m kind of hesitant to recommend to everyone, because I’m not sure everyone would appreciate the family dynamics. But I picked up Indigo’s Star by chance at the library and had to read the rest after that. I’m a sucker for properly quirky characters, and the Casson family fits the bill.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (series, MG family): Another series that wrapped up this year with the publication of The Penderwicks in Spring. I adore the Penderwicks, and while I struggled at first with the leap forward in time between the third and fourth books, I still loved the final installment.

Okay, a couple of standalone books:

As You Wish by Cary Elwes (memoir): I’ve always loved the movie The Princess Bride and finally read the book last year. So when I saw that dear Westley had written a memoir of the making of the movie, I had to check it out. It was a super fun read, filled with goofy stories and little snippets from other cast and crew members.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (YA historical fiction, WWII): This book is SO good for covering difficult questions that don’t have answers. A beautiful story of a black woman fighting for the chance to prove her worth.

There you have it! What were some of your favorite reads from 2015?

Another year of books

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

Another year of fabulous reading is almost at an end! I was wretchedly ill on Christmas, but still managed to enjoy the day reading (and rereading and rereading) Scout’s horde of new books (more just kept appearing under the tree, I don’t know how it happened). Once she went down for her nap, I pored over the absolutely stunning illustrations of my very own Illustrated Harry Potter, thanks to my wonderful husband who tolerates and indulges in my deeply rooted obsession.

I love that Goodreads gives me a visual at the end of each year showing which books I’ve read. If you’re interested, you can see my Year in Books here–not counting, of course, the scads of pictures books I’ve read aloud all year. Let me tell you, folks, I’m getting pretty darn good at Fox in Socks.

Here’s to all the books that will change our lives in 2016!

52 Books

I reached a point today where I thought I might die if I worked on my NaNo novel for another second. So in looking for a diversion, I found a list of 52 books on my phone.

See, a while ago, I was complaining on my Facebook page about how I hate those lists of “100 great books everyone should read before they die,” because 60% of the books on those lists I’ve either read and didn’t like or have zero desire to read. Maybe that makes me uncultured. I don’t know. I just know that I would be perfectly happy never to touch another John Steinbeck book in my life.

Anyway, several of my followers asked what books I would put on such a list. I was going to make a 50-book list, but I couldn’t decide which two to cut off of it, so it’s 52 books. Also, super heavy on MG and YA. That’s what I do. I understand that’s not for everyone, because honestly, there is no book on earth that everyone absolutely has to read (another obnoxious thing about those stupid lists), which is why this list is titled . . .

EMILY’S 52 BOOKS THAT SHE REALLY ENJOYED AND WOULD RECOMMEND TO THE WORLD.

(Out of curiosity, how many have you read? Any on here that you also loved? Any that you hated?)

(Also, I was too lazy to organize this in any way past Wunderlist’s automatic alphabetizer. I’ll repost this list on a separate page of my blog, organized by book type, on another day when I’m not totally Nano-fried.)

❏ A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
❏ A Corner of White (Jaclyn Moriarty)
❏ A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
❏ A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
❏ Al Capone Does My Shirts (Gennifer Choldenko)
❏ All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot)
❏ Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery)
❏ As You Wish (Cary Elwes)
❏ Because of Mr Terupt (Rob Buyea)
❏ Boys in the boat (Daniel James Brown)
❏ Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis)
❏ Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)
❏ Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
❏ Ender’s Shadow (Orson Scott Card)
❏ Enna Burning (Shannon Hale)
❏ Flygirl (Sherri L. Smith)
❏ Gathering Blue (Lois Lowry)
❏ Hamlet (Shakespeare)
❏ Harry Potter (JK Rowling)
❏ Inside Out and Back Again (Thanhha Lai)
❏ Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
❏ Jinx (Sage Blackwood)
❏ Killer Angels (Michael Shaara)
❏ Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) [so worth the time commitment]
❏ Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
❏ Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien)
❏ Maniac Magee (Jerry Spinelli)
❏ Much Ado About Nothing (Shakespeare)
❏ My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business (Dick Van Dyke)
❏ Number the Stars (Lois Lowry)
❏ Out Of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper)
❏ Penny from Heaven (Jennifer L. Holm)
❏ Princess Academy (Shannon Hale)
❏ Redwall (Brian Jacques)
❏ Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
❏ The Blue Sword (Robin McKinley)
❏ The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
❏ The False Prince (Jennifer Nielsen)
❏ The Giver (Lois Lowry)
❏ The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
❏ The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)
❏ The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster)
❏ The Silent Boy (Lois Lowry)
❏ The Spark (Kristine Barnett)
❏ The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare)
❏ To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
❏ Tuesdays at the Castle (Jessica Day George)
❏ Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy (Kate Hattemer)
❏ Wednesday Wars (Gary D. Schmidt)
❏ Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls)
❏ Wonder (RJ Palacio)
❏ Zita the spacegirl (Ben Hatke)

Let them die!

I have a few pet peeves when it comes to stories. Love triangles. Zombies. Unnecessary swearing. Insta-love.

And CHARACTERS WHO WON’T STAY DEAD.

This is a plague that runs rampant in stories today, be they in books, TV shows, or movies. If a character you like dies, have no fear! The writer(s) will find a way to prove that the character actually cheated death. Even if this character has “died” three or four times before, there’s no need to worry.

Last night, I watched the newest Doctor Who. They brought back a character who died at the end of last season (who, incidentally, has “died” at least three times in the new series alone). Thirty minutes later, this character was “dead” once more. And I had zero emotional reaction. Because, seriously, people–when was the last time a main character actually died in Doctor Who? (You may bring up a certain beloved character from season 8, but I’m not convinced he’s really dead for good, and I won’t be until Clara is long gone.)

(Which brings me to another obnoxious trend of the latest Doctor Who series–this stupid fixation on claiming that the Doctor is going to die. People. The ENTIRE STORY is based on the fact that the DOCTOR DOES NOT DIE. Cut the drama and find a more creative plot device.)

But seriously. If you’re going to kill your characters, make it count. Leave them dead and make your other characters (and readers) deal with the heartbreak. This is something I love about the Harry Potter series–even in a world of magic, characters who die stay dead. Not even the Resurrection Stone could truly bring someone back. The grief shapes the story and has a far more profound impact on the reader than a wishy-washy she’s-dead-but-no-she’s-not-just-kidding sort of event.

How do you feel about characters coming back from the dead? Are there any other plot devices that make you crazy?

Fireweed

Today, I’m pleased to present an excerpt of Fireweed by Terry Montague. Enjoy!

 

When I was
about three, my mom said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I think she was expecting me to say, “A mommy,
like you.”  Instead, I popped off with,
“I want to be a writer.” I can still remember her face.  She said, “Well, don’t you think you need to
learn to read first?” 
I didn’t
think so.
Terry Bohle
Montague is a BYU graduate and a free-lance writer, having written for
television, radio, newspaper, and magazines including The Ensign and Meridian
Magazine.  She has also been published as
the author of book length historical non-fiction and fiction.
Her
non-fiction work includes the book, Mine
Angels Round About
, the story of the LDS West German Mission evacuation of 1939
which occurred only days before the Nazi invasion of Poland. 
Her LDS
fiction, Fireweed, is loosely based
on her interviews with the evacuated West German missionaries and their
families.
Terry studied
with Dwight Swain and Jack Bickham, as well as David Farland. Her writing
awards include those from LDS Storymakers, Idaho Writers’ League, and Romance
Writers of America.

 Lisel Spann has dreamed only of wonderful things in her future.
Living with her father, sister, and brother in a cramped apartment in
Berlin, the small family shares what seems to be an unbreakable spirit
of love and security. However, with the rise of the Nazi party and
approaching dark clouds of war, any kind of future grows increasingly
uncertain. Knowing little of hate and destruction, Lisel is ill prepared
as the storms of battle erupt in full fury and loved ones are taken from her as her beautiful city is reduced to rubble.

With fear and despair rising within, it is through her quiet,
compassionate father that Lisel discovers faith and hope. Now, in a
desperate journey to find her sister, Lisel and her neighbor flee Berlin
and the advancing Russians for Frankfurt, a city under the protection
of the Allies. But their flight to safety is filled with pain, hunger,
and terror. However, with spiritual lessons and blessings from her
father, the support of departed loved ones, and her tried but undying
faith in a loving Heavenly Father, perhaps Lisel can emerge like the
fireweed—rising strong and beautiful from scorched earth —transforming
bitterness and despair into a charity that never faileth.



Pick up your copy today
www.amazon.com/Fireweed-Terry-Montague-ebook/dp/B013KWPB4O/

Excerpt
3

At the other corner, Frau Heidemann and Walter were collecting rubbish from
the street.  Lisel’s heart warmed toward the pair, up so early, working so
hard and with such haste. Walter turned toward her and raised his arm. Lisel
waved back.  Her heart still felt light enough to float all the way to the
apartment house. Nothing had changed at all.

Lisel was half down the block when she saw Papa come out the front door of
the apartment house.  He looked the same as he always did with his good
gray suit which was just a little baggy at the knees . . . his carefully
knotted tie . . . his frequently blocked hat.  Tears made of gladness
welled in Lisel’s eyes.

“Papa!” she called to him.  He always scolded Lisel for shouting in
public, but today she did not care if he scolded her. She felt like shouting
and singing and dancing in the street.  “Papa!” she cried again and
hurried toward him.

He opened his arms to her. “Lisel! We were so worried. I was on my way to
Wittenau to find you.”

“Oh Papa! I love you!” Lisel said and kissed his cheek.

Papa chuckled. “Yes, little one, you told me that yesterday.”

“But yesterday was so long ago and I was so frightened.”  Her voice
squeaked a little on the words.  “I was so frightened that something had
happened to you.

Papa patted her shoulder. “Nothing did happen to us and we should be
grateful, Lisel. The Lord has blessed us with great bounty.”

Lisel put her hand through the crook of Papa’s elbow and they turned to go
into the building.  Papa paused, frowning. “What are the Heidemann’s
 doing out here in the street?”

“The British dropped leaflets last night,” Lisel explained. “The Heidemann’s
were out here picking them up when I came.”

Papa bent and scooped up one of the pieces of paper.  He read, “The war
which Hitler has started will only go on as long as Hitler does.”

Papa’s frown deepened.  “It seems the British have an odd idea about
who has begun this war.” He looked at the Heidemann’s. “Perhaps we should
help.”

Lisel glanced up and down the littered street. She felt weary to the very
bone; but, at that moment, if her Papa has asked her to fly to the moon, she
would have found a way. “We can use my bag,” she said.

“Herr Spann! Herr Spann!” Frau Heidemann rushed toward them. An anxious
smile twitched at her lips. “What are you doing?” 

Papa straightened with a handful of leaflets. Surprise lifted his gray
brows. “We are helping to clear the street,” he replied.

Frau Heidemann stared at the paper in Papa’s hand and eyed Lisel’s bulging
bag. “We need no help,” she insisted. “No help at all.  You must be
exhausted. You should go lie down for a while. Walter and I will take care of
the paper.”

Something in Frau Heidemann’s manner puzzled Lisel. “You’re being very
helpful,” she said.  “But this is too much for you to do. Let me call the
Wrobels to come and help us.  The Schmidt family from down the street has
lots of children. If we ask them to help, this will be cleaned up in no time.”

Frau Heidemann’s pale eyes bulged.  “No! No! You cannot do that!” An
inner conflict showed itself in her face. At last, she grimaced with
resignation. “If you call them there will not be enough.”

“Enough?”  Papa questioned. “Enough what?”

“Enough paper,” Frau Heidemann hissed through her teeth and shook a fistful
of leaflets in his face. “Have you see the price of toilet paper lately? 
Why should I buy at such inflated prices when I can get this for free?”

Papa scowled with distaste at the leaflets in his hand. His lips twitched
beneath his moustache. The color of indignation stole up his neck and face.

Lisel had to suck in her lips and bite down to keep from laughing. After
seventeen years with Papa, she had learned there were times to laugh and times
to be silent. This was time for silence.

Papa made a growling sound deep down in his throat and, for an instant,
Lisel was sure he would throw down the paper in disgust. Instead, Papa stuffed
it into his pockets.  He reached down for another handful. “Well, will you
stand there with your mouth agape or will you help?”

“Papa, you do not actually mean you would . . .”

Papa jammed another handful of the leaflets into his jacket pocket. “Frau
Heidemann is right. The price of toilet paper is too high!”

 

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