5 Awesome Books for the End of Summer

Wow, where did summer go???

It seems we’re already halfway through August, and I’m a couple weeks behind in getting you a new blog post. My apologies! I could give you all kinds of excuses… or I could give you five fresh book recommendations?

Since we’re wrapping up the summer, let’s take a look at some good summer and end-of-summer stories. I have a mix of different genres here, so hopefully there’s a little something for everyone.

Without further ado, here are 5 great books to close out your summer!

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through these links. However, I have chosen these books because I read and enjoyed them by purchasing them myself or borrowing through the local library.)

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

This is a great summer contemporary! Meet Andie, a politician’s daughter who suddenly finds her summer wide open. So what should she do? How about start a dog walking business? And maybe meet someone new…

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Sticking with the contemporary theme for a minute, how about prankster Clara and her rival, Rose? When Clara takes things too far at their senior prom, both of them are sentenced to summer working her dad’s food truck. Together. Or else.

This was a delightful story of unexpected friendships and summer jobs.

One S’more Summer by Beth Merlin

Okay, so I may be light on fantasy this week. But we’re switching from YA to adult here.

Gigi is about to lose her crush to her best friend… and she has to be part of the wedding. So to get herself a little distance and perspective, she decides to sign up as a camp counselor at the place where she always felt she belonged: Camp Chinooka. But there’s more there than just an escape there, and Gigi has to find herself and come to terms with her feelings before her whole life unravels.

Of all the books I’m recommending today, this one gives me the biggest end-of-summer vibes. And I can almost smell campfires!

Laid Back Camp

Okay, completely switching gears here, I have a manga I just started. Laid Back Camp is exactly what it sounds like: all about camping, no drama, no stress. But a cute story and characters you can fall in love with.

Honestly, this is one of the most relaxing things I’ve read in a while. If you find you need a break, this may be the book you’re looking for.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

This one is a nonfiction story following Cheryl as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone. She talks about her life, what led her to the trail, the trail itself, and how she found herself again by hiking it. It’s a really fascinating story steeped in nature.

And if you like stories like this, I have a bonus story: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Like Wild, this book is all about a hiking trip, but it’s along the Appalachian trail and gives you some history of that trail as well. I really enjoyed this story, and it has a VERY unexpected ending… at least to me!

And Remember…

The second Seasons of Magic: Fireflies & Faeries book comes out on August 20th! (Any links to my own books, like Carnival of Curses below, are not affiliate links)

You can pick up your copy of Carnival of Curses on Amazon or these other retailers. If you want some summer fair fun (since all my local fairs were canceled this year), a vampire acrobat, a pegasus circus pony, and a frog-boy, you’ll adore this contemporary fantasy retelling of the Frog Prince!

I had a ton of fun writing it, so I hope you all enjoy reading it.

Until next time, happy reading! 😀

5 Great Beach Reads (and 5 Honorable Mentions)

Dreaming of the sand and waves? Take a step closer with some beach reads!

This has surely been a summer like no other, but somehow I still managed to make it to the beach (socially distanced, of course). But for anyone who’s dreaming of the beach and can’t get there, whether you’re landlocked or don’t want to take the risk heading out, I figured now would be a good time to share some books that will give you that beach feel!

So without further ado, let’s dive into some beachy reads.

(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through these links. However, I have chosen these books because I read and enjoyed them by purchasing them myself or borrowing through the local library.)

Top Picks

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

If you like a bit more literary fantasy, this is perfect! In this story, you follow Clara on her epic quest to save her mermaid sister’s life. It’s full of adventure, magic, peril, and found family. Lots of fun and very lyrical!

Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle

This is a YA contemporary that takes place in the Outer Banks, NC (if you saw my survival recommendations post, this book was on it). The main characters, Sophie and Finn, are stranded on the islands and must survive a hurricane and reunite with their families. A great tale of missed connections, survival, and the beach!

The Siren by Kiera Cass

This is absolutely one of my favorite mermaid books! Follow Kahlen and her siren sisters as they struggle with their call to kill humans. I’ve never read a book with a better ocean character – and yes, the ocean itself is a character – and such a deep moral struggle. Fantastic writing and such a strong set of characters.

Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

This is basically a river pirate book (and there is a second book out now; it’s a duology!). Caro sets off to rescue her father, who has a booming river trade and is favored by the god of the river, and finds herself embroiled in political intrigue and deep questions of her own destiny and desires. Also, the hardcover of this book has a really pretty cover: it’s soft and has streaks of GLITTER!!!

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

This is what I’d call a science fantasy (and it is a long, scientific one!). If you like science and sirens, like I do, this is the perfect read for you! Imagine that a ship goes to the middle of the Mariana Trench and all hands disappear. Then imagine you’re part of the expedition that sets out to find out what happened. Just be ready for some mermaid horror.

Honorable Mentions

Say It’s the Sea by Kristina Mahr

This one is an awesome poetry collection by a very prolific poet. I put this one in honorable mentions because while it does include some oceanic vibes, those poems don’t make up the entire collection. But there are some real gems in here!

Tears of the Sea by Savannah Jezowski

This is yet another mermaid story (I’m sensing a theme), honorable mention because of the length. It’s only a short story, but the writing is so clear and beautiful, and it evokes such strong emotion as we watch LeRae yearn for humanity from her place in the water.

Lake Silence by Anne Bishop

This one isn’t the ocean, but it is a resort on the edge of a lake…in a world run by terrifying supernatural creatures. It’s book 6 in The Others series, but it absolutely stands on its own. I fell in love with these characters so much, and it was such an amazing read, just like all the other books in this series.

A Chance for Sunny Skies by Eryn Scott

This one is honorable mention because it also doesn’t actually have ocean. What it DOES have is an adorable romance, lots of weather talk, and such a lovable, feels-filled story! I love the What’s in a Name series by this author – it’s full of adorableness, humor, and feels!

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

This is the only nonfiction selection on this particular list, but it’s a good one. If you’re interested in surfers looking for the wave of a lifetime or learning how waves (and rogue waves) work, this is a fantastic read! There’s lots of science and human interest in this, and it was a super fun read.

Closing Thoughts

There are plenty more books I could put on this list (like more mermaid stories because mermaids), but I think this list covers it pretty well! I hope I’ve provided a good variety of reading material, with nonfiction, poetry, contemporary, and, of course, fantasy.

There’s also that book actually titled Beach Read…def on my list, but I have not yet acquired it. Has anyone read it yet?

Do you have other suggested beach reads? What stories make you think of the ocean? Share them in the comments, I’d love to build my list and help you build yours as well!

Until next time, happy reading! ❤

Happy Book Birthday!!!

IT’S RELEASE DAY!!!

Happy book birthday to This Cursed Flame!

This book is finally out in the world and touching people’s lives! It’s been such a long journey, and I am so so thankful for all the people who have contributed along the way. There is a full list of people who have helped me in the acknowledgements section of my book, but I absolutely want to take a minute to thank my husband, family, friends, and all the professionals who have worked with me since the book’s story seed in 2011.

And thank you, readers, so much for taking this journey with me. I hope this book means as much to you as it has to me! And I promise, now we are back to our regular posting schedule (until the next release!).

Don’t forget to jump over to Facebook for the party tonight from 4-7 pm eastern, and put in your entries for the giveaways! I have hand-painted genie bottles, signed paperbacks, and signed bookmarks, all just waiting for a new home. Giveaways will be open until Monday April 29th, and then I will be choosing winners!

And finally, This Cursed Flame is available on Amazon (search This Cursed Flame if the paperback isn’t yet linked) and any other major retailer!

And now, your final excerpt…

Janan and Safiyya appeared in a shadowed corner of a loud, crowded city. Cars sped by with alarming disregard for pedestrians. People rushed about, some intent on the sidewalk ahead of them, some entirely engrossed in their phones. No one seemed to take notice of their sudden appearance, and, oddly, Janan couldn’t see any of the other djinn pouring through the portal with them.

Had the portal dropped everyone in different sections of the city?

They plunged into the sunlight outside the alley, and finally people jumped back. It wasn’t every day that humans saw an ocelot and a purple-eyed girl covered in blood and dressed in what looked like a costume. For all they knew, she was a struggling actress in a remake of Aladdin in her loose violet dress, embellished with gold embroidery and gemstones.

Janan looked around, trying to find someplace quiet, somewhere away from prying eyes.

“Janan!” Safiyya said, drawing a few puzzled and concerned looks. They ducked back into the alley before she continued. “Do you still have that bottle?”

Janan placed a hand on the wall of the building to steady herself and opened the bag slung across her body, feeling around for the wrapped bottle. It felt whole, somehow unbroken. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good, I have an idea! Put the bottle on the ground.”

Janan pulled it out of her bag and placed the unwrapped crystal on the cement between them. Icy fingers of fear clawed at her heart—fear for her family, fear for herself. She would never be safe. Never.

Safiyya sat next to it, turning serious eyes on Janan. “We have to do the Binding.”

“What?” Janan exclaimed, unable to control her reaction. Too much had happened, and she was past her limit. Her stomach turned at even the thought of using her magic, and she wasn’t sure she was capable of such an extensive spell. And Safiyya certainly couldn’t do it alone. “Isn’t that too extreme?”

“Extreme, yes, but what choice do we have? The others will find us, and this is our best chance to evade Ahriman.”

“But… here?” Janan looked around the trash-filled alley.

Safiyya also glanced around, glaring at a stray cat. The cat glared back at her with dull yellow eyes. “I can add a protection spell. Move the bottle somewhere safe.”

“Yes, please,” Janan said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Safiyya reached a paw over the bottle, and Janan grasped it. They closed their eyes, focusing all their energy, all their magic, on the bottle between them. Then, they concentrated on weaving their own energy into the crystal lattice.

As the attachment grew, their bodies phased out of physical being, becoming a light vapor that swirled in the weak air currents, mixing lavender and green smoke where they had been sitting.

Finally, the attachment complete, they became physical again and opened their eyes.

“We just need to hide long enough for the others to find us,” Safiyya said. “And you can get some rest in here. As soon as we’re inside, the bottle will take us somewhere safe.” Janan gave her a small smile, and they vanished in a swirl of smoke, disappearing into the top of the bottle.

This Cursed Flame Blog Tour: Behind the Scenes

Today I had thought about showing you the development of the cover for This Cursed Flame, but instead, you can learn all about that on Saturday with Savannah Jezowski, the wonderful cover artist who actually did the work, over at the Facebook party (PS don’t forget to RSVP)!

So that left me to wonder: what behind-the-scenes looks would you guys want to see??? What about the research process for this book?

I started this particular story way back in 2011, so my research methods have changed a lot. Back then, I didn’t use Pinterest or have a reserved notebook, like I do now. Everything was amassed in multiple fragmented Word documents and files of inspiration pictures on my hard drive. And I knew so little about photo attribution that I don’t even want to share some of those photos now!

So how did I actually research this book?

Google.

Yup, that’s it. I researched the history and mythology of djinn from Middle Eastern culture, I found pages about Aladdin and the magic lamp, I saw pages of people selling djinn trapped in rings (yes, people do sell these items), I saw warnings about how djinn could affect your life… there was so much out there from basic mythology to djinn in current culture. It was so much I never knew and had never realized, beliefs of people I had never heard before. It was a mountain to sift through and find what could be used for inspiration of my djinn culture.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the four base types of djinn I found during my research, the four that kept reappearing over and over throughout the more scholarly sources: ghul, marid, ifrit, and sila. These types of djinn are almost all used to varying degrees throughout other media and fiction also, but it was so interesting to see how everyone had their own take and their own creation based on the same central mythology. (And if you want to know more about these classes of djinn in my world, make sure to go to the Facebook party!)

And for me, I wanted to create a world separate yet parallel to ours where these djinn still lived and had lives just like we do. This also aligned with some of my research, stating basically that djinn do have their own lives, just like we do. They’re born and live and die. And so I thought: why can’t my djinn be just like us, only magic? And so the basic magic structure of the Djinn Realm was formed!

But I still had my genie. That very first idea. And I didn’t know how to fit her into this structure. The answer wasn’t easy, but somehow it worked its way into a sort of half-being. In my books, genies are not quite the same as djinn, having less control over the elemental magic but a wider range to choose from. Unlike the djinn, who could control a single element, my genies could access all elements, only to a much smaller, less powerful, degree.

And so, from all the research I did on the mythology, the countless Google searches and hours, I developed my own magic system influenced by all my research. It started with the idea, blossomed through research, and became an actual story.

And that’s that! Do you have your own stories of book research, new or old, to share with us? Tell me in the comments, or talk to me about djinn! Let me hear from you! 😀

~~~

This Cursed Flame is available to pre-order on Amazon and any other major retailer! Also, if you prefer a paperback, those will be available through Amazon. And once again, be sure to head over to Facebook on Saturday for the Launch Party! (and your chance to win your own hand-painted genie bottle, just like in Janan’s collection!)

Interacting with Authors 101

Ever wonder how (and when) to contact an author? Wonder no more.

Okay, so this week I had a lot of feelings. Maybe it was because I turned 30 (that milestone of birthdays). Maybe it was the stress at work (hello, mountains and hours of data analysis!). Maybe it was things I read online (isn’t that everyone?).

One of those things I read online was an article articulating all the things I have been observing online for years, but to an extreme degree. You see, a writer friend sent me this article by Jesse Singal. You should definitely give it a read. And as a result, this blog post happened. There is so much fear in the YA writing community that people can’t express any kind of dialogue regarding diversity or the witch-hunting mentality at work for fear of losing their fans or careers. If they do, swarms of angry internet users descend on them.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t call out problematic things when we see them (and I’ll come back to that in a bit). But I am saying that this bullying behavior is dangerous and toxic. It is a suppression of ideas when books should be making us think, making us question things. It is censoring the spread of ideas and information and killing the opportunity for open discussion and growth. And it doesn’t solve the problem; it only serves to foster hurt feelings and bitterness.

Is that really healthy? No.

But how do we interact with authors in productive, healthy ways?

First, let’s start with things to remember about authors:

  1. Authors are people, too. They have just as many feelings as everyone else. They really exist, and the things people say about them and their work really do affect them.
  2. Most of the time, they’re doing their best. Yes, sometimes they don’t succeed. But that is an opportunity for growth, just like every other mistake or less-than-perfect attempt out there. They grow and learn with every book they write. If they’re given the chance.
  3. Authors are not the books they write. Their characters do not necessarily represent their personal views of the world, and their stories may not have the meaning you think they do (though half a book is the reader’s experience, so that does matter, and hopefully the author has taken that into consideration during edits).
  4. Authors, and their books, are not perfect. They do everything they can to make it shine and polish it up, but there is always going to be something that someone will hate or disagree with. And that’s okay. We seem to be stuck in a climate where disagreement is obscene, and it is leading to an atmosphere that stifles creative and personal growth as well as diversity.

Now, there are a few different situations in which a reader may want to interact with an author. Let’s start with the simplest scenario.

You read a book. You fall in love with it. And you just can’t keep it to yourself.

Should you contact the author? YES!

It is incredibly encouraging to authors to hear positive feedback on their writing! This is a good time to let an author know you’ve enjoyed it, and it will put a smile on their face, guaranteed. Spread the positivity!

You read a book. You hate everything about it. You didn’t click with it, the story was derivative, and you frankly could have written something better yourself.

Should you contact the author? NO!

Why? Because they are people. Sure, leave your review as you see fit (as long as it’s about the book and not the author… don’t make it personal), but don’t tag an author or otherwise direct their attention to this negative review. They don’t need to see it. It doesn’t encourage them, it can hinder their creativity, and it can do a whole lot more harm than good.

And finally, the idea that brought me to this post in the first place…

You read a book. It has problematic elements that are pretty insensitive and offensive.

Should you contact the author? MAYBE.

Let me explain.

If you feel you can discuss the matter with a calm, level head and have an open discussion, then by all means, contact the author. But if you can’t, leave it to someone else. Write your review, do NOT tag the author, and move on.

And if you do contact the author, here are some tips:

  1. Contact them privately. Do not make a public post to shame or call them out. Oftentimes, the problem you see may be unintentional, and the author is more than happy to hear the feedback and fix the problem, or to correct it in their future writing if the book has already been published and can no longer be changed.
  2. Remember you could be wrong… and accept it if you are. I have seen people shaming and tearing apart books and their authors when they think it has crossed lines of culture and history when in reality it had nothing to do with the problems these hunters are shouting about.
  3. Be kind and tactful. Instead of yelling at the author or shaming them, which can automatically put a person on the defensive and make them less receptive to what you have to say, use phrases like, “I liked your story, but I think [this particular element] may be offensive to some people. Would you be willing to talk about it?” Be honest, but don’t let that make you rude or hurtful.
  4. Offer to be a beta reader or sensitivity reader. Obviously, if you are not in the demographic for which the problematic element is problematic, do not offer to sensitivity read. But you can still suggest that sensitivity readers will strengthen the book. Either way, continue to remember to be kind.
  5. Don’t make it personal. This is about the story, not the person. An author is not their book.

But what if the author is not receptive to your feedback? What if they’re downright mean or argumentative?

  1. Do not engage. Thank them for their time, then stop responding. Some authors just will not be open to a discussion, and it’s better to walk away than to try to argue with a fool.
  2. Leave your review of the book. Don’t make it personal, just like I mentioned already. Keep it focused on the book. Call out the problematic elements or what you didn’t like. But keep it professional.
  3. Don’t start a mob. There is so much mob mentality on so many of these topics online, particularly Twitter and Tumblr. It’s so easy to get caught up in it, but it’s not productive and only hurts more feelings. Again, keep it professional. Even if the author looks like a fool, make sure people can’t mistake you for one, as well.

If you remember nothing else…

…just remember that authors are people with feelings and failings, just like you and everyone else. Treat them that way, the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. And keep in mind…

Someone else’s behavior never gives you permission to be cruel.

Now, I want to hear from you. Are you an author? A reader? What are your thoughts? Tell me below, and let’s talk about talking.

Until then, happy writing and happy reading!

Six Relationship Tropes I Hate in Fiction

I don’t know about you, but I have very specific tastes when it comes to fictional romantic relationships, particularly the “I never want to see this” kind. These are definitely personal preferences, and if you like one or more of these, I’m certainly not trying to convince you not to or belittle you for something you like. To each their own! But these are the romantic relationships I could do without in my books.

  1. Student-teacher relationships. Example: Pretty Little Liars
    Especially in YA, I really, really despise these kinds of relationships. In fact, let’s extend this out to any kind of relationship with a dangerous balance of power issue. Student-teacher or student-coach or student-parentofafriend or student/employee-boss. Why, you may ask? It’s gross (if it’s a child or teen and an adult), it’s not legal (or ethical), and I really feel like it gives young readers in particular a skewed idea of healthy relationships. It can blur the lines of right and wrong or safe and unsafe. Any kind of relationship where the balance of power is off (one person has more power than the other, like one controls a job or grade) can be incredibly dangerous and unethical, if not illegal, and it is just as dangerous to idealize or romanticize this abuse of power (as many books do).
  2. Love triangles. Examples: The Infernal Devices, Twilight
    I am so over this one. Particularly as a person who never had more than one crush and never more than one person (if that) interested in her, I find these kinds of stories dull, self-indulgent, arrogant on the part of the one caught in the middle, and unrealistic. That whole “Oh no, two boys like me, how will I choose when I like them both!” thing just grates on me. Yeah, maybe some people can relate to the situation, and that’s fine. And I know enough people like them for it to have become a trope in the first place. But if I never see another love triangle again, it will be too soon.
  3. Distant “family”. Examples: Born of Earth by A.L.Knorr, Newsflesh trilogy (to be clear, I LOVE both of these books/series…except for that relationship)
    These are the romantic relationships that also toe the line between legal and illegal, just barely on the side of “this isn’t actually taboo.” For example, a girl falls in love with her adopted cousin or brother. Yeah, they’re not specifically related by blood, but they are still legally related. It just bothers me.
  4. Actual family. Examples: Flowers in the Attic
    Speaking of family, how about actual family? Like, surpassing the normal family relationship to become romantically involved. It’s just another relationship that weirds me out. I don’t like reading about it. I find it unenjoyable and awkward, and that’s not something I’m looking for in my fiction.
  5. Bad boys/girlsExample: The Infernal Devices and so many others
    I will never understand the books that romanticize falling in love with a guy or girl who treats the other person like dirt. Why would you want to be around someone who is mean all the time or acts like they don’t care about you? A real, good relationship is one where both parties feel valued and loved. Anything otherwise is modeling poor relationships. It’s not as dangerous as the power balance issues, but it can still lead to some bad times for actual humans.
  6. Abusive relationshipsExample: 50 Shades of Gray (I didn’t read it, but I know enough)
    Much like some of the above relationships, abusive relationships are difficult. They can model dangerous roles and choices to impressionable people, particularly if the relationship is romanticized. Personally, unless it is incredibly important to the story, I don’t really want to read about it. Especially with something like 50 Shades, where the characters seem ignorant and tolerant of such behaviors and it is never addressed. Abuse is never okay, and a lot of times it is lazy writing. I will be more okay with it if it is addressed or necessary, but it’s a hard balance, and I’ll need convincing.

So these are my most hated romantic relationships in fiction. Again, please remember that if you happen to really enjoy one of these kinds of relationships in your reading, I’m not trying to dissuade or belittle your choices and your enjoyment; I am merely pointing out the relationships I dislike and find particularly worrisome or troublesome.

Now that I’ve shared with you, it’s your turn! What are your least favorite romantic relationship tropes in fiction? Why? Share in the comments!