WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Book Challenge, Cary Elwes dishes on The Princess Bride & a Publishing Surprise!

It’s a freezing, rainy October weekend (thank you Hurricane Joaquin) so I’ve spent the day taking photos for the blog, making recipes for the you (prepare yourself for my attempt at food blogging) and realizing it’s been hella long since I’ve done a Writer’s Shelf feature and I’m overdue for some catch up.

Now before I jump into the books for my Popsugar 2015 Book Challenge, I have a big announcement to make. After forever and a day, (roughly), I have finally sold my first book! My middle grade fairy tale adventure novel, “The Ice Maiden’s Tale” will be published by Xist Publishing in 2016!   Prepare yourself for more writing features that will actually feature my own novel.

Because I’m behind, I’ll be grouping books together.

Book #6
Popsugar Slot: “A memoir”
The Princess Bride
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden
The Princess Bride is my absolute favorite movie, and coincidentally my soon to be published novel was inspired a lot by it. This book is about the making of the movie and it was fun, quick read. The highlights include that Robin Wright (Buttercup) and Cary Elwes (Westley) had a bit of a crush on each other, Cary Elwes actually was knocked unconsciously when he was hit on the head by the 6 fingered man, the swordfight scene took an epic amount of training, and Andre the Giant was the nicest, coolest dude ever.  (He really deserves his own book).  If the movie is one of your faves, add this to your must read list.
“As you wish” – Could I really choose anything else?
Apparently it took eons before someone could get the Princess Bride made into a movie and it didn’t find its audience until it was released on video after which it became a cult classic. The lesson I’ve learned from this and (my own struggle with publishing) is that eventually your story will find it’s way to the right audience. Sometimes you just have to wait it out.
I don’t read many memoirs but I was moved and intrigued by Ekaterina Gordeeva’s book, “My Sergei: A Love Story” which detailed her life in skating with her late husband. It’s an oldie, but still good.

Book #7
Popsugar Slot: “A book at the bottom of your to-read list”
Bel Canto
Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett
A classmate of mine in grad school, Morgan Matson, gave me this book to read. I started and for some reason I put it down and didn’t pick it up again. It’s been quite a few years since then and the books in my “to read” basket quickly covered this one up. It was literally at the bottom. It’s a beautiful, lyrical story about how humans behave and treat each other in extreme circumstances, using music as a link between them. As a musician,  that aspect was quite compelling and I found this book to be an inspiring read.
“She sang as if she was saving the life of every person in the room.”
Sometimes focusing on one sense (like sound or scent) can make compelling descriptions and are interesting ways to link emotions to the scenes unfolding.
I can’t really suggest something from the bottom of your personal “to-read” list so I’ll suggest a book I loved where music played an important part. “When Venus Fell” by Deborah Smith is one of my favorite romance novels and features heroine Venus Arinelli, a concert pianist.

Book #8
Popsugar Slot: “A book that came out the year you were born”
The Neverending Story
The Neverending Story
by Michael Ende
I was born in 1979 and before I started googling, I was concerned at what I’d have to choose from. Turns out, 1979 was a great year for books and included such gems as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, “The Dead Zone” and “The Elephant Man”. Because I am obsessed with children’s lit and fantasy adventure, I opted for “The Neverending Story”. This was originally published in German and follows the adventures of the chubby, bullied Bastian as he escapes to and out of Fantasia. I’m not sure if it’s the translation or the Germanic origin, but the book felt almost as though it were written more for an adult audience than for children.  That being said, I do think the world of Fantasia would be enchanting for all ages.
“”He didn’t like books in which dull, cranky writers describe humdrum events in the very humdrum lives of humdrum people. Reality gave him enough of that kind of thing, why should he read about it? Besides, he couldn’t stand it when a writer tried to convince him of something. And these humdrum books, it seemed to him were always trying to do just that.”
Never try to convince Bastian of anything.
But seriously, you have to be sneaky when you want to teach someone a lesson in your story. Nothing is worse than preachy prose.
1979 was a great year for literature both the highbrow and of the more sensational variety. “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews is my suggestion as it built an entire genre. Even if incestuous romance stories aren’t your thing, you need to read it just for the OMG factor.   (Plus it’s one of the few V.C. Andrews books actually written by her.)

Book #9
Popsugar Slot: “A Pulitzer Prize-winning book”
by, Jeffrey Eugenides
Sometimes I think “real” literature is wasted on me and when I don’t love award winning books I’m afraid the Lit police are going to show up at my door and confiscate my writing degrees. I’d been wanting to read Middlesex for a long time and considering all the current discussion about gender and the role it plays in an individual’s life, this seemed a timely choice.   It had some great spots but I really wanted to hear more about our hermaphrodite narrator, Calliope/Cal and how she/he matured through adulthood  rather than hundreds upon hundreds of pages about grandparents and parents and even about sperm. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to finish it and when I finally did it felt like I’d been let out of jail.
I’m sorry. Please don’t take away my MFA.
“Jerome was sliding and climbing on top of me and it felt like it had the night before, like a crushing weight. So the boys and men announce their intentions. They cover you like a sarcophagus lid. And call it love.”
You can’t tell every story even tangentially related to your main story without losing something. Backstory is important but not at the cost of your main story and lead character.
I’ll admit I haven’t read tons of Pulitzer winners as a lot of the stories just don’t quite appeal to me. However, To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is perfection. I’m actually a little afraid to read “Go Set a Watchman” because I don’t want it to mess with my feelings for Lee’s first book.

I’ll be back soon with another bunch of books from my list.
If you’re participating in the challenge I’d love to hear your choices for the various categories and if you’re not, I’d just love to hear your recommendations for books!



WRITER’S SHELF: THE POPSUGAR 2015 BOOK CHALLENGE! Book #5: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

So it’s time again to take a break from subscription boxes and catch up with my Popsugar Book Challenge. I’ve been plugging away at my reading scavenger list and I’m long overdue for another book review.

Awhile back I reviewed the awesome YA book subscription box, OwlCrate which included was the fantasy book “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab. I opted to use this book to fill my slot for “a book with magic” (I know, you totally couldn’t see that one coming).
Book 2
This was a new author for me and I was intrigued by the Dickensian setting that felt simultaneously familiar and completely foreign. The book begins with Kell, one of the last of the travelers, a magician who uses his own blood to travel through the different Londons. Yes, Londons with an “s”. There are 4 different Londons: Grey London, dirty, boring and without magic, Red London, a place where magic and life are revered (and where Kell was raised), White London, where people fight to control magic and the battle drains the life from the city and the lost, Black London that was cut off from all the others and is never spoken of. You follow Kell’s adventures as he travels between the Londons and meets up with the crafty Delilah “Lila” Bard, a thief who dreams of far away adventures.

This book is beautifully written and starts off a bit slow, but picks up speed once we are introduced to the compelling Lila. I found her easier to relate to and more intriguing than Kell, but this is the first book in a series so the hero of the story still has a long way to go. Unfortunately, we don’t get to visit Black London (which I spent the whole book dying to see), but I guess that’s a story for later in the series.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a mix of Dickens and Harry Potter, and it worked well for the storyline.  The one thing that detracted from the story was that the pacing felt a bit uneven, however that’s often the case in books that start a series. They have to set up an entire world and introduce characters that will last for possibly thousands of pages but still have a compelling story. It’s a heavy burden for a book and V.E. Schwab handles it well.

It was Lila’s longing for a different life that made her character so endearing to me. “Lila knew what it felt like to want something, knew the way it whispered and sang and screamed in your bones.”….“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

In Fantasy, the world is another character. Fantasy stories, more so than any other genre, demand that the world and setting carry as much weight as the characters in the story. People want to visit these exotic and foreign destinations with all of their senses and it’s important to put in enough detail that they can touch, taste, see and hear the world.

For another great book with magic and a young hero, try John Connelly’s “The Book of Lost Things”.

Do you like books with magic? If so, what are your faves?

OwlCrate: Fantasy Box

If you’re a regular reader (or just a friend) you probably know that I have an MFA in Creative Writing focusing on Writing for Children, so you can only imagine how psyched I was when the folks at OwlCrate asked me to review their YA book subscription.
There is so much here to love. First, the name. OwlCrate. Even if I didn’t love Harry Potter and owls, their logo makes it adorable.

Second, their manifesto:
1) No one is too old to read YA.
2) We will not be ashamed of our TBR piles.
3) It’s okay to fall in love with fictional characters.
4) The book is always better than the movie (but the movies are fun too!).
5) Books have the ability to change our world.

I love their mantra so much that I want to run away and work for them (like people used to want to run away and join the circus, or gypsies, or a gypsy circus).

Now what you actually get:
Each magical box is tailored to a chosen YA theme (e.g. paranormal, first love, dystopia.) and will contain one new Young Adult novel, as well as 3-5 other bookish keepsakes to help set the mood for your literary adventure. OwlCrate ships out on the 20th of each month and only selects books that were published a maximum of 45 days prior to their ship date.

And, in a stroke of wondrous, awesome luck my box theme was Fantasy. It was like Christmas in Spring.
Open Box

A Darker Shade of Magic
by V.E. Schwab
(Estimated Retail: $17.76)
Description: Kell is one of the last travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic…Red London, where life and magic are revered…White London—a place where people fight to control magic..And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.”
Verdict: Love!
I love Fantasy books that aren’t part of a huge series, or where I have to memorize long lineages and many, many names. I’m super intrigued by this concept of different Londons and of course, I must find out the ultimate fate of the mysterious “Black London”. This book is going to fit perfectly into my 2015 Popsugar Book Challenge under the category of “book with magic”, so be sure to come back for a full review.


Enchanted Unicorn Bandages
(Estimated Retail: $6.09)
Description: “Cover your minor scrapes and scratches with these Enchanted Unicorn bandages and pretend that you’re in a magical land where pain doesn’t exist.”
Verdict: Love! Because unicorn tears are the best medicine.
Cuts suck and when you need a bandaid, why the hell shouldn’t it have a unicorn on it? These are even better than my mustache bandaids.

Action Figure
Game of Thrones Vinyl Figure
Edition #1

(Estimated Retail: $7.24)
Description: The Game of Thrones Mystery Mini Figure features some of your favorite factions and mythical creatures from the Game of Thrones TV series on HBO – stylized and measuring approximately 2 1/2-inches tall. Don’t miss out on these amazing mini-figures you could get- Stark Direwolves, Daenarys’ Dragons, King’s Guard Soldier, Night’s Watch Soldier, and so much more. The figure you get is a Mystery! Collect them all!”
Verdict: Gift
So I’m pretty much the last person in the world who doesn’t watch Game of Thrones. I know, I know, but I tried, really I did. I gave it like 3 episodes and it was so slow and there were so many names to remember. It felt like I should take notes and draw a chart. I know a ton of folks that love the show though, so I’ll be passing this cute little guy to one of them.

Craftedvan Set of Mini Bookmarks

(Estimated Retail: $7.54)
Description: Designed, printed, hand-cut, and assembled with lots of love! Created using durable photo stock and magnet.”
Verdict: Love!
These were handmade exclusively for OwlCrate (how cool!) so I couldn’t find this exact set on Etsy, but I linked to a comparable 3 piece one. These bookmarks are adorable and fit the fantasy theme perfectly. I also love that they included something handmade and unique.



Pin Poster

The poster is dual-sided and includes Cover Art for both the US and UK release. For some reason I stupidly only photographed one side, so apologies there. Both the pin and poster were given to OwlCrate by the author herself, which somehow makes it that much more cool.

Also included was this bookmark flyer that offers a coupon code for Geekycon. Just use the code GEEKYCRATE before May 15th for $25 off. I noticed right away that Jenny Han was on the lineup. She was a year ahead of me at the New School and I remember when she sold her first book. Ah, memories. (Don’t mind me I’ll be in the back, drinking tequila and trying to sell a few novels).


Owl Crate

I don’t know if it’s the writer in me or the geeky chick, but I loved this box so hard. The fantasy theme was evident in all the items and they were a perfect mix of cute and practical.

I didn’t pay for this one, but if I had it would have cost me $36.98. Excluding the “extras”, the value (with Amazon discounts) came out to $38.63. I’m fine with those numbers because this isn’t the type of sub you subscribe to in order to get a bunch of stuff on the cheap. You get it for the fun surprises and the interesting curation. If I’d paid full price for this box, I still would love it and feel I got my money’s worth.

If I had more space in my apartment for hardcover books, I’d probably treat myself to a few months of OwlCrate, but unfortunately for me, space is at a premium, so I mostly stick to ebooks. Still, cracking open an actual hard cover book feels like going home again, so this sub calls out my name. I’ll probably break down around my birthday and treat myself to a few months because as you know I have no willpower.

Do you read YA books? What’s your favorite author?

Every month OwlCrate will send you a magical box tailored to a chosen YA theme (e.g. paranormal, first love, dystopia.) Each box will contain one new Young Adult novel, as well as 3-5 other bookish keepsakes to help set the mood for your literary adventure. Don’t forget to document and share your experience with others in the Owlcrate community! Every once in awhile they may include an Adult novel that is being embraced by the YA community. They promise that it will always be suitable for ages 16+, and that it will be a fantastic read!
Subscription: $29.99 or pay upfront for 3 or 6 months (with discounts applied). Please be aware that renewal is automatic until you cancel your subscription.
Shipping: Right now shipping to the US is $6.99 , to Canada is $10.59 and to anywhere else in the world shipping is $19.99 . (They are looking to find ways to make international shipping less expensive in the future!)

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