* * * * *
Every now and then I hear someone say that she is not a fan of “fantasy.” That always makes me chuckle, because I’m fairly certain that if asked, most of the people who say that would admit that the stories they most enjoyed (whether reading them or watching them in movie form) over the past years, will include a healthy number of stories with some element of fantasy/magic. (Examples include the Pirates of the Caribbean stories, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and so on, and so on!) In truth, these are the stories that seem to capture the greatest audiences. So it is that A Shift Toward Prey should certainly find its place among readers. This Literary Classics award-winner, provides a new world, a cast of intriguing characters, some political nuances, a healthy dose of life lessons, and more!
Natalie Allison introduces readers to a world divided into two halves—one forever enjoying the light of the sun, inhabited (for the most part, anyway) by humans, and one never enjoying the sun’s light—inhabited by the Shifters—those who may change back and forth between their human and animal forms. With war about to erupt on both sides of the divide, the adventures begin. The humans, looking for potential allies and acting on rumor, journey to the Everdark. Meanwhile, inhabitants of the Everdark prepare themselves for an invasion of a species that their legends warn may be incredibly dangerous. Caught up in the political machinations in the Everlight, is Matthias. His counterpart on the Everdark side, is Chiari. Each reaches for understanding of the world of the other, while being drawn into a series of dangerous and exhilarating adventures. Lovers of fantasy, take note. You’ll want to follow this series!
* * * * *
In my experience, the hardest age group for which one can find engaging, well-written stories, is middle-grade—and in particular for the third-fourth grade or so. These young people have moved beyond baby stories and picture books. They want magic and adventure—and their parent’s want things for them that are well-written, in full sentences and with the limited use of slang, and so forth. Well, young readers and their parents will be delighted to find The Six, by K.B. Hoyle. Drawing parallels with stories that came before, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, this adventure finds six young—new—friends off on an adventure. Unfortunately for Darcy, a recent reduction in her family’s economic situation means that she will give up her former summer camp days at Gregorio’s Equestrian Camp. Instead, her family visits a camp in Michigan. A couple of long time acquaintances of her, including Samantha, have vacationed there before. Sam intends to show Darcy around and introduce her to her other camp friends, but Darcy isn’t all that interested. As these things tend to play out, the two are thrown together, along with a few additional young ones, when they happen upon a magic place guarded by gnomes.
As a child, I loved mysteries, magic, and adventure stores. As a parent, I looked for those elements in stories for my own children. Often I found that the stories themselves were spellbinding, but they weren’t really written for young ones to read for themselves. Sometimes this has to do with the style of the writer. Other times, it has to do with a lack in subject matter—or at least in the “purpose” of the story. Not so with K.B. Hoyle’s works. Here young ones will find subtle, but powerful reminders about kindness, honesty, self-inspection, inclusiveness, and more. If you’re looking for a good read for your young one, look no further than the award-winning, The Six.
* * * * *
My 21-year old daughter mentioned to me the other day, the difficulty she has in finding “girl super-hero stories” for the little one she nannies. We talked about how girls will read stories with boy-heroes, but how if they never read those with girls heroes, the subliminal message seems to be that there are some things that will not be available to them in this life. Well, I’m happy to know that Carmela Dutra offers up a little girl “super” hero, in Little Katie Goes to the Moon. You see, Katie would love to visit the moon to find out if there really is a man there. Soon, she and her puppy, Smudge, prepare themselves for their trip, complete with space suits that will keep them warm and that will allow them to breathe. Then, comes the blast-off!
One of the things most fun about children’s books is what can be taught to inquisitive little minds while they are being entertained. With her award-winning Little Katie Goes to the Moon, Carmela Dutra teaches young ones some facts about the moon, comets and satellites; what the “ground” of the moon would feel like under your feet; lunar laser ranging experiments; some famous historical astronauts; distances and gravity; and even moonquakes. In the end, upon discovering that—of course—Katie and Smudge, were playacting in her backyard, I was reminded of a conversation I had (several times, actually) with my son some years ago, when he was a preschooler. He told me that he wanted to go to the moon someday. I smiled, nodded, and said, “That sounds good. Just don’t move too far away from home. Okay?” Likewise, Katie visits the moon, but she eventually determines that it is time to return home. Fortunately, along the way, she accomplishes what she’d first set out to do when she discovers that the dark spots on the moon do indeed make it appear as though there is a man in the moon!
* * * * *
C.M. Huddleston, a retired Registered Professional Archaeologist, treats middle grade readers to another adventure in her Literary Classics award-winning, Greg’s Second Adventure in Time. A time traveler by virtue of his DNA, Greg travels back to 1778. There, he learns about the hardships of the early settlers who traveled beyond the Alleghenies, as well as about Native Americans, including raw information about where they lived and what they ate. But this is not a “history” book. It is not a story centered around dates and places of past events. Rather, it is one that engages the minds and hearts of young readers as they can imagine hardship, loss, accomplishment, danger, and ultimately, the exhilaration of a victory that will allow them to live to see another day. With the story centered in large part around Daniel Boone and the Siege of Boonesborough, Greg’s adventures introduce readers to a variety of interesting characters while also, along the way, offering interesting facts about the science of archaeology.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: it is difficult to find engaging reads for middle-graders that meet all the requisites of the readers themselves, and of their parents. C.M. Huddleston’s stories offer up a witty and sometimes “mouthy” main protagonist, in the form of Greg. At times he talks too much, he’s startled by the changes he is beginning to experience (at age 13) in terms of the girls he finds interesting—and he still finds “potty humor” to be engaging. (Case in point: Greg’s definition for “guano,” the excrement of bats—from which saltpeter, used for making gunpowder, may be leached, is “bat poop.”) I find Greg to be a genuine representation of a 13 year old, with the added benefit of having an intact family (notwithstanding that “Dad” is almost never home!). Young ones who love adventure will find just that, in Greg’s Adventures. Along the way, they’ll learn take in a healthy dose of some good history!
* * * * *
Author Steve Wilson delights readers with his fourth Michael Neill Adventure, the award-winning, in Eye of Charybdis. When Marine Corps Lieutenant Michael Neill and his love interest, Marine Staff Sergeant Christina Arrens, struggle to find a way to come together in an organization that forbids their union (at least as things stand), Neill prepares for another clandestine operation. He is named part of a team that seeks to solve the mystery of a downed commercial airliner. Given the resulting death of all of its passengers, governments around the world, including the U.S. government, wonder who is responsible, and what political and/or military actions may be appropriate to take in response. Before long, evidence suggests that the Russians are experimenting with a massive airplane that flies just above the ocean, and that is outfitted with a weapon that can send an electro-magnetic pulse to disrupt, or even to destroy, the electronics used to operate surrounding air- and sea-craft.
As is the case with the earlier Michael Neill Adventures, Steve Wilson offers readers in Eye of Charybdis interesting historical details, a peek into the workings of the U.S. military, a variety of interpersonal relationships, and a man of faith at the center of it all. Also, as he has done before, Wilson brings together players from various backgrounds, each of whom hopes to thwart the Russians' efforts, including Dr. Taylor Brisbane, an Australian physicist; Bailee Russo, her research assistant; a few Ukrainians with an historical relationship to Neill; and Neill himself, along with his team. Once it is determined that the flying weapon they seek may be hidden along the Russian coast, Neill’s team sets out to find it and, hopefully, to destroy it. Soon, they are faced with a dilemma. Will they get the assistance they need from the brains behind the weapon, the Ukrainian scientist, Dr. Zhukov, and his daughter, Tanya?
Eye of Charybdis by Steve Wilson offers numerous examples as to why Americans can be proud of their military and grateful for the sacrifices of its members. Men are sure to enjoy the background and the military mission. But women, too, will enjoy this book, as Wilson introduces a number of critical female leads. These characters are scientists, military specialists, and more. It is a tribute to the author that he has done this, as women play such crucial roles in so many areas in this day and age. Of that, we can all be proud—and of this installment of the Michael Neill Adventure stories, Wilson can certainly be proud.
* * * * *
In Criminal, Book 2 of her award-winning The Breeder Cycle series, K.B. Hoyle leads readers through the continuing adventures with Pria and her new found friends, members of The Freedom Fighters, a group of those who refuse the ways of the Unified World Order. Having determined that they need more information, as much had been lost of the Great Destruction of Information that occurred when the UWO took over, plans are made to send Pria from Asylum, back to her former life in the city, where she’d been kept as a Breeder for the UWO. But when she arrives, not all is as she’d expected, and once more, her friend, Pax, must help her to find reality and to assist her in her fight for survival.
The Breeder Cycle provides readers—and in particular, young adult readers—an interesting glimpse into another world. The dystopian story comes complete with intrigue, a bit of mystery, and even a potential traitor or two. But it is the interpersonal dealings that make Criminal, Book 2 of the series, so special. As Pria had grown up separated from those around her and ignorant of the ways of men and women, she is confused when she discovers her growing feelings for Pax and the physical reactions she feels when near him. Though she is surprised to learn the particulars about human intimacy, K.B. Hoyle actually impresses upon young readers the mystery that can result from the “coming together of two souls.” The subject is handled with understanding and beauty and respect, in stark contrast—and as a welcome difference—to much of what society currently offers our young people.
* * * * *
Hayley Rose does it again with her award-winning Fifo “50 States," illustrated by Jessie B. Orlet. In its pages, Rose takes young readers on a journey across the continental 48, with a jaunt to Alaska in the far northwest, as well as one to Hawaii in the far southwest. Set out in alphabetical order, the information for each state includes the number of its entry into the union, the name of its capital, and details about its state flower, tree, bird, and slogan.
The illustrations in Fifo "50 States," provide added details that emphasize what each state is best known for, ranging from unusual weather, to natural wonders, to industry. It will open doors for parents to discuss the details with their children, helping to acquaint them with the states and with interesting tidbits about each, perhaps preparing them for their own journeys of discovery in the future.
* * * * *
C.M. Huddleston has hit upon the secret of good reading for middle-graders in her award-winning Greg’s First Adventure in Time. The formula includes taking a respectful but sarcastic 12-year old boy, an adult ready to share an interesting life calling—such as Greg’s own mother’s career in archeology—a magical travel in time, and the discovery of a new land that comes complete with some soon-to-be new friends. In Greg’s First Adventure in Time, Greg travels from his mother’s worksite at Cresaptown, on the edge of the Potomac River in Maryland, to a time with some native Americans who once called the area “home”—at least for a part of their year. Young readers will learn something of the lingo of the archaeologist, some facts about the scientific process a dig requires, and some details about those who’ve gone before.
Greg’s First Adventure in Time is sure to be enjoyed by young readers. Greg has just the right amount of sass to keep him interesting. But parents, too, can appreciate the series, as Greg also shows respect for his elders, for information, learning, and history. He is a ready student—and sure to encourage other young and ready students to keep reading, as they’ll find many adventures through the leaves of the pages of a book, to faraway times and lands, just as is presented in C.M.Huddleston's tales.
* * * * *
The cover of Beauty and the Beast offers the single word that best describes the adventure to be found within its award-winning pages. You see, this telling is one that is “reimagined” by Rebecca Hammond Yager. So it is that through Yager’s re-imaginings, readers will enter into a world of mystery, a land that is forever night, but that is lit by the magic of flora and fauna. The base story of Beauty and the Beast is, of course, well-known. But Yager’s rendition shrouds the Beast’s kingdom in new mysteries. As Beauty dreams of the Prince, she becomes convinced that the man she meets in her sleeping hours is one-and-the-same as the Beast whose castle she now shares. Surrounded by wild animals, and stories of spells cast that leave others crying for her to free them, Beauty is reminded, time and again, to: “Take not counsel from your eyes alone.” Indeed, some truths are deeper than the surface might suggest.
The world Rebecca Hammond Yager creates in Beauty and the Beast is colorful and magical. The story itself is “new” and different in the midst of the retellings that have gone before it. But it is the insight—the bits of wisdom Yager offers that set her reimagining apart. For example, concerned for Beauty, as she intends to marry the Beast, her father tries to warn her off. But Beauty knows something more. She knows that many men are beasts that “hide behind masks of gentility and civility,” with “handsome faces and impeccable manners,” yet “their true natures will eventually be revealed by all their ugliness.” By contrast, Beauty’s Beast also “wears a mask,” but she tells her father, “I have already seen behind it, and what I saw was beautiful.” And because Beauty is able to see beyond her own eyes, to take counsel from her heart, she’s able to reveal a genuine traitor before it’s to late, opening the way to follow her heart.
With the rockets red glare of July 4 behind us, we Quills focus this month on “people, news stories, or current events” that play a role in the construction of our stories. Do authors really do that? Use the stuff of real life in their stories? Oh, to be sure! Now, let’s hear what my fellow-Quills have to say on the subject.
Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, is first up.
Use people? And places? And stories?? I’m innocent!
Well… mostly innocent.
Maybe “unconscious” would be a better word, because while I don’t (usually) intend to put current happenings and humans in my stories, I’ve had people point out that this is like that, or this person is just like that person.
One of the most frequent questions I get as an author is…
Now, let’s turn to P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero’s Curse.
Stories inspired by a specific person, news story or current event can be fascinating. Of course there is the historical fiction category, but there's also the plain good fun of fiction or fantasy that incorporates timely and relevant news. Godzilla, (2014), references and borrows from the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.
I'm sure you have a favorite cultural or newsy reference in story. (Comment on Parker’s site if you like, linked below, or share your favorite there). Alas. I don't usually write that way. A quick review of my short stories, screenplays, and novels reference nothing about today's trending topics. But my stories may have something to say about today's topics, without mentioning them directly.
Find out more.
And now, for my thoughts.
An author writes what she knows—whether she knows it or not. By that I mean that when she writes, her knowledge, awareness, and/or understanding of the things she writes about shows. So, if she tries to write on a topic of which she knows little, that lack of knowledge will shine through just as clearly as if she writes about a field in which she is an expert. But as to her use of specifics from the world around her . . . now that makes for an interesting topic.
Of course, I use information from the real world in my stories. I also—quite intentionally—create “faith” or “belief system” allegories between the fantasy world I’ve created in The Oathtaker Series and the real world. When I do so, I use real life issues not in the micro-sense so much as in the macro-sense. Oh, yes, of course, I do use character traits and idiosyncrasies of people I know or have met—or have simply run into and found particularly amusing—but the most frequent use I make of real people, places and events is with regard to the big issues: worldwide power struggles; border control issues; the persecution of groups of people based on their beliefs; and so on.
From time to time, a reader of The Oathtaker Series will mention to me an issue she identified in my work that compares to the real world. Those “in the know” on the issues seem to readily identify what I’ve done. Sometimes they even have a sincere appreciation for why I’ve done it. But I also look at my writing as an opportunity to offer an—admittedly long—“parable” of sorts. I look at Biblical parables as the means by which Jesus offered truths about fundamental life and faith issues. He drew people in with his stories—because when he separated his listeners from the particulars of their own world, they were able to more readily grasp the truths of the principles he illustrated. Once done, his listeners could see the issues presented in their own world more clearly and they were better able to apply the wisdom gained from the parables, to those issues. (This really is the stuff of "fantasy" as a genre!)
When I started writing, I knew there were some truths—some things I regard as fundamentally true principles—that I wanted to illustrate. For example, in Oathtaker (Volume One) one “fundamental principle” I address relates to the power of the spoken word, the importance of a person’s following through with what she said she would do, the pain that may come of it—and the glory that is sure to result from that sacrifice. The principle I’m illustrating? Well, I believe that when we sacrifice something, God (or for you unbelievers, the "Universe" or whatever you like) redeems that loss. (“Redeem” here is defined as "to compensate," or "to gain or to re-gain something lost in exchange for a sacrifice or payment.") I decided to use the fantasy genre to illustrate my ideas because (like with the use of a parable), I thought people might be more receptive to the ideas than they might be if they thought I was commenting on their own lives in the “real” world.
As The Oathtaker Series progresses, more macro-world issues come to play. One will find parallels to worldwide terrorism, the dilemma of a nation’s protecting its citizens by potentially refusing entrance to outsiders (including innocent children), and more.
What do you think? What parallels to the real world, or “faith-based” allegories have you discovered in The Oathtaker Series? How about in your other readings? Please, do share!