Thursday, September 3, 2020

Goin' to Minnesota in my Mind


Hi from Tim! I've barely been to Minnesota. I briefly crossed the Mississippi River into the Twin Cities a few times. So why do I seem to have this thing about reading books set in our next door neighbor's state? Maybe it's to balance the Boswell blog universe, which is weighted with Appalachian and other Southern fiction courtesy of our marketing man Chris. His Boswellians blog called 'The South!' shows his West Virginia roots and his bent toward quirky living, grit, and heat. So maybe my fascination with northern suppressed emotions and snow-covered grit and cold, ending with break-out intensity and mortality, is the balancing act? Nah! I just like the landscapes and the writers I've happened across from The North. My latest Minnesota read is what inspired this neighborly blog. If you appreciate great writing, you can watch our August 24th Zoom event (watch it here!) with Peter Geye (cohosted by Books and Company of Oconomowoc) and check out the follow-up to his novel Wintering, called Northernmost.

In Northernmost we see the members of one family, several generations apart, and find the connections between a man who becomes a legendary survivor in 1890s Norway and a woman looking for the meaning of family and happiness in present-day Minnesota. There's a humanity to this novel that runs deeper than most, a gradual but constant movement through the earthy details of life and love. It's powerful, like the glaciers that become a vital part of the setting, and the longer I read the more it overtook me. Their struggles are timeless and universal. We know the descendants will continue, their blood crossing generations in defiance of personal isolation and beautiful but treacherous landscapes. I wondered at times how they did it. So did they, but their love is the greatest answer to how and why. I understand Geye's characters, and I think they would understand me. What greater compliment could I give a novelist?

Marion Lafournier, the narrator of This Town Sleeps by Dennis E. Staples, left his small Minnesota reservation town. He keeps going back, and he’s not sure why. Maybe walking away from his first boyfriend in Minneapolis at 18 years old could explain it, but it’s more than that. He’s with guys he meets through an app who are hiding in the shadows, but he’s comfortable being out, and he wants a relationship. So why keep returning to a place where nothing happens? When he finds a Revenant, a spirit in the form of a dog with a bloody maw, being back starts to look like destiny. The kids always said the dog that died under that schoolyard merry-go-round was still around. Now it seems to be leading him back to the murder of a popular boy, and looking back might be a key to moving forward. Staples gives us a beautifully complex picture of family in its many forms. Ojibwe tradition is blended with modern America and universal humanity. The voices are strong. The stark honesty of Staples’ characters and the grace of his writing make this debut memorable.

"God Is A Tornado." With those desperate words, painted on the water tower for all to see, William Kent Krueger reveals twelve-year-old Odie in This Tender Land. Odie runs, along with three other children, from the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota, which trains children to give up their culture. Odie and his older brother are the only white students there, little Emmy Frost is the daughter of a beloved teacher, and Moses is a Sioux boy who lost both his mother and his tongue to an attacker at a very young age. They've seen cruel school leaders preach about a protective God who’s done nothing but deliver them loss. They all have reasons to flee. This is not a children's book, but rather a classic American novel of the Great Depression (1932) and a riveting story of kids trying to find their place in the world. They escape along Minnesota's major rivers in a canoe, headed for a possible home with an aunt in St. Louis, and along the way they meet a fascinating group of characters. The beauty of this novel is in the deep development of the children, who got into my heart and have stayed there.

I also like Kent Krueger's Desolation Mountain, an entertaining mystery and the 17th book in his series featuring Cork O'Connor, a former sheriff and private investigator in northern Minnesota. O'Connor's Irish and Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) ancestry is an interesting aspect of the novel. He works and has family in and around the Ojibwa Iron Lake Reservation, where many of the locals are eagerly waiting to meet with U.S. Senator Olympia McCarthy, who opposes a new mining operation which could potentially poison the land. She doesn't survive her trip to the meeting, which launches a complicated, frightening investigation by a web of government agencies and outside interests. Many people close to O'Connor are in danger. I enjoyed the descriptions of the autumn forest and how the land is woven into an engaging plot. When Kreuger was here for the book event, he mentioned that Ojibwe fans of his novels told him that he's not bad at portraying them, "for a white guy." I really liked the humor and candor of that.

Virg​il Wander
by​ Leif Enger is one of my all-time favorite novels! Virgil’s surname is ironic because he’s been in one place for a while, a beautiful but rugged Lake Superior town that’s well past its best days. Then Rune arrives, a magnetic man with a talent for making and flying wonderfully unusual kites, a man closely tied to everyone’s past, and a sign of their future. As he meets Rune, Virgil is recovering from a concussive near-death crash into the lake. It’s changed him; he’s more direct, more openly emotional, a little irreverent. He’s told to “watch out.” Maybe his name is a calling. It’s easy to like Enger’s characters. Their intelligence and sincerity make a Minnesota winter setting feel warm and open to unlikely renewal. And the story is engaging, expertly crafted for anticipation and suspense. If you want a great holiday read, and a welcome reprieve from negativity, Virgil Wander is perfect!

Tim Johnston is an excellent writer. The Current is a fine novel of suspense and an intricate study of how people react to tragedy and loss. Audrey and Caroline become close college friends after first trying and failing to be roommates. When Audrey finds out that her father's cancer is beyond treatment, Caroline decides to drive her back to her Minnesota home, and the two are caught in a frightening situation that reopens a ten-year-old crime. The past and present events happen in the same river across two states, and the story has the feel of a strong current. Johnston's descriptions of places in and around the river, where lives suddenly change forever, have a gravity like the flowing water, and he captures the survivors' struggle over what they can never get back as time pushes them away from what they had. His use of places and things to reveal characters' emotions is masterful, and his characters' direct, honest dialog about the most difficult problems is compelling. With very few words Johnston quickly shows us the thoughts and actions of people who seem real.

I'm liking the summer heat, but I love the seasons. I'll welcome our beautiful northern fall and winter, and these books can make them feel even better!
In my mind I’m goin’ to Minnesota.
Can’t you feel the snowfall?
Just leave your boots out in the hall.
Car gets stuck, and then it stalls.
Ya get hit from behind.
Yes I’m goin’ to Minnesota in my mind.
                                      - Sweet Baby Tim

Monday, August 24, 2020

Jenny Has Five Questions for Adib Khorram

I'm so happy to welcome YA author Adib Khorram to the Boswellians today to chat about his new shining star of a book, Darius The Great Deserves Better. I've been a huge fan of Adib’s writing ever since I read his debut novel as an advance copy before it was even published. (Booksellers are lucky that way.) Just like his first book Darius the Great is Not Okay, this follow up takes on essential topics like identity, depression, and finding connections not just among your peers but also within your own family. The result is a story that’s both fun to read and powerfully moving. Once again, I loved the detailed and laugh-out-loud observations Darius makes of the world around him.
Adib Khorram won the Morris Award from the American Library Association, which is given annually to a first-time author writing for teens. He also won the Asian/Pacific American Literature Association’s Young Adult Award and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor. Wow!

JENNY CHOU: Welcome Adib. I’m feeling so lucky today! I get to chat about one of my favorite YA characters, Darius Kellner, with the author of his books. I always like to start off my interviews by talking about all the challenges the main character is dealing with as he makes his way to the end of the book. On the surface, a cute boyfriend (who can cook!) and the internship of his dreams should be making Darius super happy. So tell us what’s going on in his head and in his life that’s tripping him up.

ADIB KHORRAM: Thank you so much for having me! I think that Darius has set goals for himself and achieved them and is now experiencing that feeling that I’ve had in my life (and I think a lot of people have) of: now what? And, is this all there is? So he’s grappling with the idea versus the reality, and trying to figure out if what he said he wanted is what’s actually good for him.
JC: Your writing wields such a powerful impact that reading your work is both a joy and a journey back through the emotionally draining days of high school. And I mean that as a high praise! For readers who are still in high school, this is an author who gets who you are now and who you are endeavoring to become. Adib, what do you hope readers, and especially teens, take away from Darius’s story?

AK: I hope they take away a sense of agency over their own lives. And a sense of freedom to change their minds, if what they’ve chosen isn’t making them happy. And hopefully also a little bit of comfort, too. Life is pretty tough right now.

JC: For your day job, you work as a graphic designer. What was your first inkling that you might be a writer?

AK: When I was in seventh grade, me and my friends went to an afterschool writing club, and basically wrote thinly-veiled self-insert Star Trek fanfiction. I’ve loved writing ever since. I don’t really have a moment when I decided I would try to be a professional writer; sometimes it feels like it accidentally happened. Sometimes I still don’t feel like a professional writer, to be honest!

JC: I’m hoping for lots more books about Darius in the future. Maybe ten or perhaps an even dozen. Can you tell us what’s up next for you? Did I hear something about a picture book?

AK: I do indeed have a picture book! It’s called Seven Special Somethings: A Nowruz Story, about the Persian New Year, and it’s very adorable. It comes out February 16, 2021. I’ve got some other irons in the fire but nothing I can really talk about yet!

JC: Let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! Are there any new releases you’re excited about and would like to suggest to YA readers?

AK: The quarantimes have been really hard on my reading habits. I’ve switched to audiobooks in large part, because I can listen to them while I play Animal Crossing. But I’m constantly recommending Martha Wells’s The Murderbot Diaries to anyone that comes near me. The latest came out a few months ago. This summer has seen some great releases, too, like Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me In a Crown and Kacen Callender’s Felix Ever After.

Thank you so much for joining me on the blog, Adib! To keep up with all of Adib Khorram’s publishing news, follow him on Twitter and on Instagram @adibkhorram.

And here’s some exciting news: Boswell Book Company will host Adib Khorram on Friday, August 28th in conversation with New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin, Nic Stone. Register here to join us on Zoom.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Chris Previews Emma Jane Unsworth's Virtual Visit

From Chris: As you perhaps know by now, I'm super excited for my virtual chat with Emma Jane Unsworth this coming Sunday afternoon - August 23, 1 pm - to interview her about her brand new novel, Grown Ups - released as Adults in the UK, for those of you who like to know those titles from across the pond. Speaking of the pond, that's the reason for the afternoon event. Unsworth joins us all the way from London for this special event. How'd we convince her to? With not one, two, or three, but four glowing staff recommendations. More on those below. To whet your appetite for this interview, I sent a few preview questions off to EJU this week, and here's what she had to say:

CHRIS LEE: Grown Ups is so much about the dark, toxic places social media obsession can take a person and the very real mental health disasters it can cause. When we first meet Jenny, she’s trying to get the perfect picture of a croissant to post, and if she can’t get that photo, it’s going to ruin her day, her month, maybe her life, regardless of how good the pastry actually tastes. That said, do you see any positives that living online bring into Jenny’s life? 

EMMA JANE UNSWORTH: To Jenny’s? I think she might be past positives. Certainly when we meet her. She’s spiraling. She has to be. That’s the drama; that’s where it’s going. But I think by the end of the novel she is finding ways to interact healthily online, and keep it fun and purely recreational. I don’t hate social media. I just think it can be a dangerous place for a vulnerable person. It can be a lifeline. But it can be a toxic hellhole, too.

CL: Speaking of the internet and croissants, you’re pretty online yourself, and there is evidence there that you’re pretty into croissants. So – is it life imitating art or art imitating life here?

EJU: It’s art imitating art and life imitating life. It’s a bit of everything I felt between the years 2011-2014 and also nothing real that actually happened. It’s semi-autobiographical fiction and if that sounds like a cop-out, that’s exactly why I write it! There was a period of time in my mid-thirties when I drove my friends mad because I was obsessing over how I presented myself online. It was an ugly time. A vibrant time. I have never been addicted to alcohol or drugs, but I definitely came close to something resembling addiction with the internet. One friend in particular gave me a really hard time about it. But she also pulled me out of the hole. 

I suppose I write what scares me, and the internet scares me, or it did then, and I wanted to capture that fear and make it abstract. It works, too! Putting your fears and heartbreaks into fiction. It’s the best. The croissant scene with Jenny makes me cringe because it is the most ridiculous thing. I never posted a croissant, but I agonized over similarly trivial things. I still occasionally do, but usually it’s a sign to me to check in with myself and do some meditation or just take a walk without my phone. We all need time away from our phones sometimes. Phones are fickle lovers.

CL: From the coming to terms with her mother to the almost breakup-story way another friendship is going, you write amazing, complex, super real relationships between Jenny and the other women in the book. Is there a relationship in the book you most loved exploring?

EJU: Jenny and Kelly, definitely. Jenny and Carmen was fun, but for me the real meat of the book is in the friendship story. I wanted to write a complex friendship story about two friends who broke up and got back together again. I feel like I’ve seen that story so much with romantic relationships, but never with friendship. In my previous book, Animals, it was more of a straight break-up. But this time the relationship felt more complicated, older, more mature. What if friends got back together? How would that work? How would it feel? How do you win a friend back like you might win back a lover? For me, Jenny repairing her friendship with Kelly is the main way we see how she has grown, and how she has started to learn about boundaries and forgiveness. 

CL: Normally I ask authors to do the Hollywood sell line – It’s ____ meets ____!  - but I think it’s pretty well established in the marketing package for Grown Ups that it’s Fleabag meets Conversations with Friends. So let me ask this – are there any heroes you’d like to say influenced this book? And of course, if you’ve got a second “It’s X meets Y” line, we’d love to hear it! 
EJU: Heroes! Oh so many. For this book: Carrie Fisher, Lorrie Moore, Lena Dunham, Douglas Coupland, Michaela Cole, Jennifer Egan, Martin Amis (sorry – purely for style), Mhairi McFarlane, Hilary Mantel, Long Island Medium, all of the friends I stole jokes from.

Can you believe it? I get a whole hour (okay, 45 minutes when you subtract a little introduction and perhaps even some audience questions, but who's counting?) to chat with this wonderful person this coming Sunday. And what's that I said above about other Boswellians loving this book? They do! Read on:

Madi says: "The anxiety is REAL. This book started out feeling like a phone-crazed Black Mirror episode but quickly turned into a mother-daughter relationship evaluation in the midst of a personal crisis. Jenny’s in her mid-thirties and wants desperately to actually live the life she presents on social media, but instead is spiraling into a mind-numbing, constant anxiety that sinks further when her extroverted, dare I say ridiculous, “psychic” mother decides to live with her. I was worried this book would be just another “the younger generation and those phones!” where our protagonist learns some kind of unplugging lesson, but it is so much deeper. Jenny deals with real problems women face, including the struggles of both motherhood and infertility, largely through her frantic yet comedic e-mails, social media posts, and inner monologues. I especially appreciated how it deals with infertility, as reproduction is so often considered a woman-defining ability, making it a silent struggle not often discussed. I cannot stress enough how well this book handles the stigmas and struggles that women face, including female relationships that are much more than catty bickering. Grown Ups makes you want to hug your best friends and call your mother."
Parker says: "Jenny McLaine's life is perfectly instagrammable. A nice photograph, with the right filter, and a witty caption, with the perfect amount of "!'s" and emojis. Well, most of her life anyways - she still has to deal with her complicated relationship with her ex-boyfriend, her crumbling friendships, her dying job, and worst of all, her mother. Grown Ups is a hilarious and scarily relatable novel that explores the complicated way that social media has begun to influence us and our IRL relationships. These characters and their antics made me laugh-out-loud, cringe, and shudder in horror when I saw myself reflected in them. Jenny and just about everyone else in this book seriously suck. But sometimes, so do we all, and maybe if we try a little harder, and post a little less, that can be okay. Unsworth tosses the falling tree and the forest aside and asks the question, "if I don't post about it did it really matter? And what happens if no one cares?"
Kira says: "Emma Jane Unsworth's Grown Ups is a quirky, she's-already-come-of-age novel with a cast of characters that you can't stand and can't believe you so clearly identify with. Reminiscent of Black Mirror's “Nosedive,” Jenny McClaine's perfectly posh social media feeds would have you believing anything but the truth - that is, her life is an actual bona fide mess, her relationship of nearly a decade just crashed & burned, and her neurotic, new age mama is moving in. Through Jenny's texts, emails, email drafts, and social media messages, Unsworth gifts her readers with a critique of the keep-scrolling-til-the-dopamine-hits culture of the 21st century that has every woman you know feeling like there's no damn way to keep up. Initially, more than a few of Jenny's actions come across as deplorable, but the deeper we dive into her psyche, the more understandable, and frankly, 100% relatable, she becomes. I want to give this book to all of the women I know, and I dare them to read it without checking their phone every couple of pages. #obsessed"
STILL NOT CONVINCED? Well at this point there may just be no hope for you, but here's my recommendation as one last try:

"This book is so good it’s giving me anxiety attacks. Jenny has a lot going – break ups, break downs, digital obsessions, maternal intrusions, maybe even a little growing up, and all of it rudely intruding from outside the edges of her phone’s screen. Told in a whirlwind of texts, unsent emails, Instagram comments, and Jenny’s mumbling, razor-tongued ruminations, which range from deadpan riffing to screaming-in-a-pillow angry crying, this is a sweaty palms, grinding teeth, visceral experience that’ll have you doing that taken-aback-laugh-rage-shaking thing – in a good way, I swear!"
Okay! Register right here for Emma Jane Unsworth's virtual event on Sunday, August 23, 1 pm, in conversation with me! You probably won't regret it. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Jenny Has Five Questions for Liza Wiemer

 Today is just a week away from the release of Milwaukee YA author's latest novel (and just a week away from her virtual release celebration Tuesday, 8/25, at 7 pm- register right here!) so Jenny has invited Wiemer to the Boswellians blog for a chat. From Jenny:

I’m so excited to welcome Liza Wiemer to the Boswellians today! Liza is a Milwaukee writer, a dear friend of Boswell, and the author of one previous novel for teens, Hello?, and several works of non-fiction. Her new novel, The Assignment, centers on social justice. School Library Journal called it, “An important look at a critical moment in history through a modern lens showcasing the power of student activism.” My own take-away from this powerful book is that yes, the story is disturbing, but Liza Wiemer’s heartfelt writing fills this novel with love and ultimately with hope. Don't miss Liza and I chatting over Zoom as we celebrate her book launch. Register above.

JENNY CHOU: Welcome, Liza! I’m honored to have you here on the blog today to tell readers about your new book. The Assignment feels relevant and vital during this summer of 2020 as people across the country are speaking out against injustice. Your two main characters, Logan and her friend Cade, show such admirable courage throughout the novel. Tell us about them, and explain what they face at school and in their community after a teacher assigns a chilling project focusing on Hitler’s Final Solution.

LIZA WIEMER: I love Boswell Book Company! Thank you so much for having me. Cade and Logan are high school seniors with very different goals. Cade plans to stay in Riviere, NY (a fictitious town) to help run his family’s inn and attend a local college. Logan is heading off to Georgetown. They’re best friends and are supportive of one another. (Spoiler alert: light romance) Cade takes History of World Governments so that the two of them will have one class together. Mr. Bartley, their beloved teacher, often gives out-of-the-box, creative assignments. Other than Cade and Logan, no one questions him about the assignment to recreate the Wannsee Conference. What’s wrong with pretending to be Nazis and coming up with reasons to murder Europe’s 11,000,000 Jews? After all, it’s history.

The issue is not learning about it. The issue is debating whether sterilization, ghettos, and work camps is a better idea than straight out extermination. In other words, this was a debate on whether to enslave the Jewish people and work them to death or kill them immediately. Cade andLogan refused to do this assignment on moral grounds. They will not defend the indefensible. When two students give the Nazi salute in class, it solidifies Cade and Logan’s decision to do everything they can to end to the debate. But they face ridicule from classmates, a principal who will only accommodate them on his terms. Unfortunately, things spiral out of control when a reporter interviews Cade and Logan about the assignment.

Hopefully, readers will put themselves in this novel, thinking about what they would do in similar situations. Would you have the courage to speak up? You’ll just have to read the novel to decide what you would do.

JC: I love the story of how this novel came to be. Can you talk a bit about that? And how challenging was it to keep the heart of the story but fictionalize the people involved?

LW: Great questions. Without a doubt, the experiences that led me to writing this novel are extraordinary.

On April 4, 2017, I was visiting Oswego, New York, for a book signing at River’s End Bookstore for my debut young adult novel, Hello?. Before the event, I stopped at a local grocery store and was unable to exit my car because of a downpour. To pass the time, I went on Facebook. That’s when I saw the horrifying headline “Homework? NY Students Debate Exterminating Jews.” The first line announced that this took place in Oswego. I was shocked. I remember wondering how I ended up in a town where people saw no problem with an assignment asking students to advocate for the Holocaust.

I was in awe of the two teens who spoke out against the assignment, Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff, and really wanted to say thank you and let them know that their actions were brave and heroic. The problem was that I had no idea how to get in touch with them.

I decided to purchase copies of my novel, include a personal note, and ask the bookstore owner if he would help me send them to the teens. Turns out that the plan was unnecessary. Four steps into the bookstore and there was Jordan! Amazingly, she worked at the bookstore. Later that evening, we had a three-way call with Archer.

Soon after I returned to Milwaukee, I wrote about the experience, which was published as an op-ed on several sites. An author friend then suggested that I write a novel. I knew it was something I had to do. Readers might find it interesting, however, that the night before I met Jordan and Archer, I had decided that I was done with writing. I’d received my sixtieth agent rejection for a manuscript I’d worked on for six years. I saw that rejection, along with one of the worst teaching days of my career, as a sign to do something else with my life. The only way I can explain the series of the incredible events that has led to the publication of this novel is Divine Providence.

About how difficult it was to fictionalize the story...

From the very beginning I made the decision to write a fictitious story, so it wasn’t hard to imagine my own characters. They became very real to me. The novel required a lot of research—reading about similar assignments, researching the Final Solution, the Wannsee Conference, Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter. I watched a lot of original footage from World War II, YouTube videos, interviewed students, experts on the Holocaust, survivors, and so much more.

JC: What do you hope readers, and especially teens, take away from The Assignment?

LW: When it comes to speaking up and taking a stand against an injustice, you are not alone. It’s not easy, especially when adults are involved. Sometimes, you have to look for that support. There are many different ways to be an upstander instead of a bystander. I think the vast majority of us can think of instances in our lives where we stayed silent instead of speaking up for ourselves or others. I hope that after you read The Assignment, the experience will stay with you for a long time. I hope that it will be an example to draw strength from, so that when you face an injustice you’ll be able to recall the experiences in this book and find the courage to speak up. Your voice matters. You can and will make a difference. Stay strong!

What foreign rights have been sold, and when will the book be available in other countries?

LW: So far, the novel has sold in Italy, Russia, Poland, and South Korea. Most likely, we won’t see those versions until 2021.

JC: Let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day here at Boswell! Are there any new releases you’d suggest to YA readers? What are you excited about for this fall?

LW: If I had the opportunity to work at Boswell Book Company for a day, I’d love it. I’ve been known to recommend books to shoppers at my favorite Indie!

This is a tough question, because I normally ask each person what they enjoy reading and make recommendations based on their likes. Regardless of this, I would highly recommend Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. They share American history that very few of us know. It’s an important book and should be read by all teens and adults.

And since I’m working, I am certain I’d meet people interested in excellent books for middle graders. Here are two that recently came out that I’d recommend. Turtle Boy by Evan Wolkenstein. It’s an emotional novel dealing with family, friends, turtles, identity, self-esteem, life and death and so much more. Evan grew up in Wisconsin and the novel is set here, so extra bonus. The Dream Weaver by Reina Luz Alegre also kept me turning pages and will have readers thinking about what dreams to hold onto and which ones to let go!

I’m looking forward to Dear Justyce, the sequel of Dear Martin by Nic Stone, which comes out September 29th. (Note from Jenny: Boswell is hosting Adib Khorram, author of Darius the Great is Not Okay, in conversation with Nic Stone on Friday, August 28th! Register HERE.) For fantasy lovers, I’ve heard wonderful things about Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift. I’d also love for our YA readers to put American Betiya, by Wisconsinite Anuradha D Rajurkar, on their to-read list. It doesn’t come out until next March, but it will be worth the wait. It’s a book about a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries and the complications of a cross-culture relationship. I was fortunate to read several versions of the manuscript. This book is fantastic!

Thanks to you, Liza, for joining me today! Liza Wiemer’s virtual release party on Tuesday, August 25th at 7 pm is sure to be fun! She’ll be joined by me, asking questions about all things YA and writing The Assignment. Ready to pre-order a copy of The Assignment? Anyone who preorders will receive this decal along with a bookmark, and they can fill out this form for the chance to win 3 Delacorte Press books of their choice for themselves and 5 books for a classroom or library.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Chris Interviews Lee Conell about The Party Upstairs

From Chris: I'm feeling quite lucky to have this chance to sit down - or rather, since that's out for a while, exchange emails - with Lee Conell author of The Party Upstairs. Some of you know that aside from being a bookseller, I'm a writer as well, and this is the kind of first novel that’s so good it makes me, when I've got my writing hat on, super-duper jealous. So it's pretty great to have a chance to get the author on the other end of the old typin' machine to dig a little deeper into what makes this book tick.

Here's the elevator pitch (a phrase that will have even more relevance as you read on): Conell takes on an upstairs-downstairs-in-NYC premise centered around the brewing fight between back-at-home-swimming-in-liberal-arts-education-debt Ruby, her meditating-birdwatching-trying-to-avoid-a-mental-breakdown-building-super father Martin, and her grew-up-in-the-penthouse-but-definitely-doesn’t-think-she’s-better-than-you oldest friend Caroline. Over the course of a single day, these tensions boil into a crisis that leaves everyone scarred and changed in one way or another.

Chris Lee: Thanks so much for taking the time for this chat. I love that your book is super focused on economics and the realities of how money influences every part of peoples’ lives - these are the big questions of the book, right? - but the at the same time, you’re able to fold that influence really deftly into the character’s lives and relationships – so much so that the realization of it creeps up on them and the reader. How much were you thinking about economics and money as you wrote? What sort of “ah-ha!” money moments did you set out to write about, and did any creep up on you?

Lee Conell:
Those are definitely the big questions of the book, but I think I found those questions as I went. I started with just really wanting to write about the small little power dynamics in an apartment building, hoping that those dynamics might speak to bigger things around class and money, but trying to not pay too much attention to those bigger resonances right away. I knew less about exactly what I was setting out to write than about what I didn’t want to do: As a kid and a young adult, I often felt that a lot of stories and movies around money seemed to deal with either 1) genteel poverty (sorta like “We once had money, now we don’t, but our former wealth makes our story worth telling”), 2) immediately life-threatening poverty (often shown in dramatic, peak-grit fashion), or 3) enormously rich people behaving badly. It felt like, in talking about class and money, certain types of stories were favored or let through over others.

I knew that what I was writing didn’t quite seem to fall into those three categories, and that the novel seemed to have a lot to do with the shame and anxiety that sometimes occurs when people try to pretend that class tension doesn’t exist or doesn’t affect them. Ruby and Martin don’t aspire to be like the wealthy tenants in the building, but they still have complicated feelings and fears concerning how these tenants view them, feelings that they are trying to sort out throughout the novel. The big questions of the novel were probably borne in part out of some of my frustrations with how class is often talked about (or not talked about), but the shape of the questions themselves emerged through these two characters.

One ah-ha creeping-up-on-me moment I do remember: As I went along, I saw the novel was interested, too, in the way stories around poverty and financial struggle sometimes get kind of co-opted by those with more power, as a display of moral goodness. At times, those kinds of displays themselves wind up being a sneaky form of conspicuous consumption. This wasn’t an initial concern of the novel but it wound up intermingling with a lot of the earlier money anxiety stuff I knew the book would deal with and proved surprisingly crucial to a lot of the novel’s action.

CL: Martin - father, super, watcher of birds, which I love, especially as, through the story, he gets tenser and tenser, we see him juxtaposed at the birds staring back him, impassively. How did birdwatching make its way into the book?

When I was a kid in the city, I was part of this NYC parks department group called Junior Rangers—every Saturday I’d go on these hikes led by city park rangers and learn about birds or plants or city geology. It always felt like a kind of secret to me, that all these different birds existed and made their life in the city. It was such a part of my experience of the city. And I wanted to give Martin another set of creatures to interact with, to watch, to respond to. I’m glad that you mentioned the birds staring back! That’s an important part of the whole dynamic—not only is Martin watching the birds, but he recognizes that he can be seen by them, too. A lot of the book wound up being about characters’ trying (and often failing!) to really see each other.

CL: The building itself is a character in the book – there’s the shabby comfort of the old blankets and couch in their basement apartment home, the terror-inducing childhood memories of the elevator-motor room. Can you talk about creating that space? If you were to take someone into it for the first time, what would you want to point out to them?

LC: This is a great question! (ed. note - thanks!) I’d probably want to show them the elevator-motor room, or maybe the boiler room. It’s something that I still find so wild, that residential apartment buildings contain these spaces that residents are supposed to forget exist—if the boiler room is functioning, you, as a resident, should never think about its existence. Creating the building space was a lot of fun and did involve a fair number of conversations with my father, a super himself, to make sure the details weren’t off. Thinking about the building’s physical spaces and how they interlock helped me to think about the interlocking parts of the novel, too.

CL: With the building’s residents, from Caroline’s penthouse-owning father to the homeless woman sleeping in the foyer to the pigeons nesting in the façade and everyone in between, you’ve created almost a whole city of social strata in miniature. Was it important to you that the building and characters that people the book be representative of a wider world?

LC: If I’d thought too much about the building and the characters representing the wider world, I probably would have become totally paralyzed during the writing process. If anything, I worried that I was describing something too specific to have much wider resonance at all. But I love the idea of the building being a social strata in miniature, that in paying close attention to small things, all sorts of bigger resonances are achieved.

Ruby’s dealing with what I’d call some pretty archetypal millennial guilt – her parents have worked hard so she could get an education, and so she’s clearly feeling the pressure of expectations, but at the same time, the world just doesn’t have the opportunities it would have had for her 20-30 years ago, and so she’s confronting this tough truth that in spite of that education, she’s maybe not going to wind up that much better off than her parents. And there’s also the moments of “why-oh-why did I go into the arts?” regret. Can you talk about how you see her dealing with that squeezed-from-all-directions pressure?

LC: So much of Ruby’s movement in the book is about her traveling from a place of non-dealing to maybe-dealing-a-little-bit. And part of that move toward dealing, I think, concerns her becoming more cognizant of the way the rage and shame she’s been directing toward herself (and in some ways toward her father) needs to go in other directions. Only then Ruby’s anger starts ricocheting off individuals she views as privileged, rather than the systems that give them privilege (though of course these individuals are often supporting those same systems). Ultimately, a lot of her dealing seems to be reckoning with her anger and learning how to begin to… not exactly release… but redirect the squeezed-from-all-directions pressure you mentioned.

CL: In another article you wrote, you made it clear that much of the novel is based on experience – your father was the super of the building you grew up in – which makes me wonder if there’s anything in the book that you find readers are surprised to know is totally, 100% true-to-life? Or something that’s completely fictional, that came entirely from the characters, that everyone thinks came from your life?

One question I’ve been getting a lot is if I had any long-term friendships with others in the building like the one Ruby has with Caroline, in the penthouse. I’m happy to report that I did not! For the most part there actually weren’t many children my age in the building, though there were a lot of babies around the time I was twelve. So, if I’d been born a little later, who knows! The part of the book most based on my experience is probably the setting itself, the ecosystem of the building. Hearing calls on the answering machine, as Ruby does, was a big part of my growing up. I had a kind of constant awareness of the various needs in the building, and expended a fair amount of energy trying to squash this awareness. When I began to write the novel, I didn’t know much about what was going to happen, but I did know that I wanted to inhabit that setting again, to think about it from a different angle, one where I was permitting myself to be more aware of the building and its inhabitants.

As he mops, Martin sees the whole world in terms of wet and dry. Ruby tends to reframe the world around her into the kind of dioramas she studied and created in school. I love how your characters sort of reinterpret the world around them through the concrete things they’re doing. Was that a trick you used to get inside their heads?

LC: Definitely! It’s a useful way for me to try to get out of my own head. As a writer, I tend to see a lot of world stuff—probably too much world stuff!—in these arc-y narrative ways. I see a lot of patterns and almost-symbols and connections that feel like stories. Really, what I’m noticing is my obsession with storytelling imposing a kind of selective order on the mess of details I could draw from at any given moment. My characters often think in ways that feel very different from my own usual thought patterns, but having them reframe the world through their activities and obsessions is very familiar for me—and is a way into their minds.

CL: Be the bookseller for the day here, fill in the blanks – The Party Upstairs is the perfect mix of ____ meets _____ !

LC: Mrs. Dalloway meets Heathers! (I don’t know if this is true, but someone said it to me about The Party Upstairs once, and I’m clinging to it as a descriptor forever. Also, I know Heathers is a movie, so I’m maybe missing the bookseller point of the question! Ahh! I’m so sorry!)

- The point is definitely not missed, just like many of them in the book. Here comes the hard sell: snag a copy of The Party Upstairs right here from Boswell!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Jenny Has Five Questions for Author Rachel Lynn Solomon

Okay, I admit that lots of YA authors have earned the title of my favorite, depending on what book I’m reading at the moment, but today I’m thrilled to welcome one of my super star favorite YA authors, Rachel Lynn Solomon, to the Boswellians Blog! The stories Rachel creates are always rich with a complexity of emotions, meaning you'll be thinking about the choices her characters make long after you've turned the last page. Her lovely and expressive writing caught my attention in 2018 with the publication of You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, a heart-wrenching story of a messy sibling relationship that left me in tears (always a plus!) She followed up the next year with Our Year of Maybe, which has a fabulous new cover in paperback. When Sophie’s gift of a kidney frees Peter to follow dreams that don’t include his best friend, Sophie is devastated and forced to rethink everything she’s expected and planned for. 

I’m so excited to chat about Rachel’s new book Today Tonight Tomorrow, which takes her usual complicated, beautifully drawn characters and blends in cleverly written, laugh-out-loud banter. High school rivals Neil (valedictorian) and Rowan (salutatorian) have no idea how adorable they are together (or that everyone assumes they’re hooking up). The two go all out to best each other one last time before college in an all-night journey of self discovery, non-stop bickering, and something that might be simmering passion (or just close proximity in too many dark places) as they race through the streets of Seattle to win a senior class scavenger-hunt known as Howl. Publishers Weekly gave Today Tonight Tomorrow a starred review, saying, “This funny, tender, and romantic book is fresh and wholly satisfying.” 

JENNY CHOU: Rachel, thank you so much for joining me on the Boswellian’s Blog! I always like to start by finding out about the problems the main character is facing, because it doesn’t matter if an author is writing picture books, middle grade, or YA, every protagonist stumbles over some sort of obstacle on her way to the end of the book. I adore Rowan, and she sure has a lot going on! Tell us about her. 

RACHEL LYNN SOLOMON: Thank you so much for having me, Jenny! You’ve been such a champion of my books, and I’m tremendously grateful. Rowan is probably my favorite character I’ve written. She’s a Type-A overachiever, co-president of the student council, and secretly: an aspiring romance novelist. I’m always drawn to ambitious characters, and the challenge here was writing someone with this very clear goal who’s also deeply afraid of people judging her for it. Rowan is optimistic, a bit of a dreamer, and sometimes she’s so enamored with her vision of the future that she struggles to slow down and enjoy what’s going on right in front of her. 

Over the past four years, she’s also maintained a rivalry with Neil, her co-president and perennial headache. She’s convinced she despises him, even though she texts him every day and thinks about him constantly. Spending so much time in close proximity during these last twenty-four hours of high school causes a lot of new feelings to develop (or maybe latent feelings to surface) as they shed their insecurities and question what the future holds for them, both separately and together.

JC: What do you hope readers, and especially teens, take away from Today Tonight Tomorrow?

RLS: At its core, this is a book about being open and honest -- with yourself, with your friends, with the enemy who maybe isn’t an enemy anymore. It’s about embracing what you love without shame, which society unfortunately, unfairly, and disproportionately attaches to the interests of teens and women above all other groups. Mostly, though, I hope Today Tonight Tomorrow brings readers joy. It’s the most fun I’ve had writing a book, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.

JC: Your writing in Today Tonight Tomorrow feels like a love letter to Seattle, the city where you write, tap dance, collect red lipstick, and live with your husband and your tiny dog. While reading about Rowan and Neil and their internal journey of self-discovery, I was just as fascinated by their literal journey to Seattle’s one-of-a-kind, sometimes kitschy landmarks. The Gum Wall. Orange Dracula Dimestore. Rainbow crosswalks. The Red Hall. The not-to-be-missed Best View in Seattle. What advice do you have for writers trying to create such an evocative setting, the way you did?

RLS: I’m so glad to hear that! I’ve always been drawn to stories that are love letters to cities, and from the beginning, that was what I wanted this book to be. There’s much more to a city than its geography - there’s a feeling you get when your heart pulses along with downtown traffic or a raspberry sunset caps off a perfect summer day. Exploring how your characters relate to their setting also helps it become a character itself. What do they love about it? What annoys them? What would they make fun of about it? What would only a local know about it?

Rowan in particular is terrified of leaving Seattle and everything she knows, and though she has a summer ahead of her before she goes to college, this night sort of functions as a goodbye to this place she’s spent her whole life.

JC: If you could tell your naive, unpublished past self anything about querying agents, selling your novel, working with an editor, or anything else about the sometimes mystifying world of publishing, what would it be?

RLS: The goalpost is always moving. I used to get trapped in thinking that if I just made it to the next step of my career, whatever that happened to be, then I’d feel professionally fulfilled. But as soon as you get to that next step, there’s something else you want. I was a little like Rowan in that way - I thought so much about the future that I struggled to celebrate my successes because I was always playing the comparison game.

It took me a while to accept this aspect of publishing and to even embrace it. Yes, the goalpost is always moving, but that also means that as a writer, I’m always improving, always pushing myself. It’s still surreal that I have my dream job, and I want to enjoy the writing itself as much as I can.

JC: Let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day! Are there any new releases you’re super excited about and would like to suggest to YA readers?

RLS: Ooh, this is a fun one! Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan - the first chapter is the most adorable meet-cute I’ve read in YA, and the book contains so many important conversations about mental health. (The author includes content warnings on her website.) And then I’ll cheat a little with something that isn’t out yet - I loved Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, a delightful contemporary YA romance that reminded me of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and releases at the end of August.

JC: Thank you for joining me on the blog, Rachel! To keep up with Rachel Lynn Solomon’s latest writing news, including info on her upcoming adult romantic comedy debut called The Ex Talk, blog readers can follow her on Twitter at @rlynn_solomon and Instagram at rlynn_solomon.

On Thursday, July 30th, our friends at Third Place Books in Seattle will host Rachel Lynn Solomon in conversation with authors Becky Albertalli (Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda) and Marisa Kanter (What I Like About You) for a free virtual event. Join in the fun by registering here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tim on Ever-Evolving History

Hi from Tim! It feels like an exciting time for teachers but also a daunting one. New and flexible teaching strategies are needed for the fall, no matter how many kids are back in classrooms, and a constant re-examination of our history is more urgent than ever.

I've always thought that history evolves. We can put up monuments, but there’s nothing permanent about the past because we keep learning personally, and historians keep uncovering new information. My 5th grade students learned about American history in detail for the first time with me. They were always shocked to hear that George Washington owned slaves his whole life, and we learned together that Thomas Jefferson had a child with a girl he owned who was 16 years old. American history can be tragic, confusing, inspiring, and funny, all at once. Before the United States was born, one Ohio Indian town apparently had a flagpole and kept both French and British flags on hand, flying a symbol of loyalty to whichever army was nearby as Europeans fought to control the continent. Our history presents teachers with an enormous challenge, to look at both the greatness and the horror of our nation from a racially diverse set of viewpoints. The good news is that our truth is certainly not boring, and also that we have a diverse group of skilled authors writing fiction and non-fiction history for children. These are just a few of those engaging books to help them as they begin understanding us.

Virginia Hamilton is a Newbery Award winner who isn't well know these days but wrote the greatest historical novel for middle level kids (ages 10 to 13 or so) that I've ever read. The House of Dies Drear is the story of a boy named Thomas whose history professor father moves the family into an Ohio home that served as a station on the underground railroad. From the moment they arrive, something is wrong, and the spooky plot takes on elements of mystery and suspense. This house must be haunted. The reason is amazing, and along the way we learn details about the subtle ways escaped slaves navigated to freedom.

Christopher Paul Curtis is one of our finest middle grade writers. The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963 is an excellent novel, funny, intense, a little raw, and climactic as the Watson family takes their troubled teenager from Michigan to Alabama in order to straighten him out at grandma's house. They end up in the middle of perhaps the greatest tragedy of the civil rights era. It's a story told with heart by 10 year old Kenny, so it was perfect for my fifth graders as they learned about America. Curtis also won the Newbery for Bud, Not Buddy, a depression era novel of a ten year old boy who runs from foster care looking for his father, and Elijah of Buxton, set in a Canadian town founded by escaped slaves from the American south.

Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963, by Sharon Robinson, is the story of the year Sharon turned 13, in January of 1963. It was a world-changing, heartbreaking year for the civil rights movement, and she lived at its center. Her father, the baseball legend and lifelong activist Jackie Robinson, was deeply involved with raising money for the cause, working side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King, so Sharon heard firsthand about the roller coaster ride of the movement. This is an enlightening story of the pivotal year in American history, but it's equally a tender story about the loving family of an American hero and the story of a girl just becoming a young woman. The book is honest and clearly explains ideas of racial inequality in ways that children will understand. It's a gift to lovers of history and baseball.

Joseph Bruchac was my go-to author for middle grade and young adult books written from a First Nations perspective. His exceptional writing ability and prolific writing production, along with his own Abenaki ancestry, gave his books the quality and credibility that made me keep going back. He's probably best known for the novel Code Talker, about a Navajo teenager who joins the Marines during WWII. It's based on a true top secret project. The Navajo's Indigenous language was used as a code so complex it couldn't be cracked by the Japanese. Bruchac's biographies, such as Sacajawea and Pocahontas, are riveting, and his horror stories based on Native American legend, such as Skeleton Man and The Dark Pond, were creepy enough to delightfully frighten my 5th grade reluctant readers. Look for his Peacemaker, coming in October, a story of how warring nations came together to form the Iroquois Confederacy because of one man's legendary persuasive power.

Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, is the beautifully written story of a girl born to wealth on her family's Mexican ranch, a girl accustomed to care from servants until tragedy changes everything. Esperanza flees to California with her mother during the Great Depression, and settles in a farm workers' camp where the labor and constant danger are like nothing she's ever faced. It's a story of survival by force of will and also a story of love for family above all else. Esperanza is an inspiration! My students also loved Muñoz Ryan's Riding Freedom, about a girl raised in a boys' orphanage during the mid-1800's who had a special gift with horses, and she wanted to do things which weren't legal for women of the time. She figured out a way!

Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park, is richly developed Americana, and I am deeply grateful! In her author's note, Park says it's a story she's been writing nearly all her life. "It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings." To reconcile the attitudes of Laura Ingalls Wilder's characters toward people of color while honoring the books, Park gives us 14-year-old Hanna, the half Asian daughter of a white father and a mother who was both Chinese and Korean. After her mother's tragic illness and death, Hanna and her father leave California in 1880 for the Dakota Territory, where four Little House books were also set. Hanna will need all the loving wisdom Mama gave her in order to be strong in the face of challenges and injustices from people who have never lived around a Chinese person and react very badly. Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park has given us a beautiful picture of a girl who is strong and determined, a girl who will search for ways to treat everyone justly, and to find just treatment for herself.

Who Got Game? Baseball: Amazing but True Stories, by Derrick Barnes, gives kids who love baseball a reason to get excited during a time when the game is on hold and also a way to learn important history. Barnes, the award-winning author of the picture books Crown and The King of Kindergarten, tells stories that are each brief but dramatic, and clearly laid out for understanding. It makes this a nice book to share with early readers, and it will also interest kids up to 12 years old. These stories are often not about the usual big names but rather about the underdogs who succeeded, the great comebacks, the courage of people like the Negro League players who were pushed aside but made it into baseball anyway, and of course the strange statistics that baseball lovers talk about endlessly. It's funny, and fascinating! Barnes belts it out of the park!

There are also many picture books which add to the study of history. The one I've loved the most lately is called A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation, written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, the brilliant children's book artist who has received far too many awards to list. It's a behind-the-scenes look at how Dr. King wrote and delivered the I Have a Dream speech, a visually spectacular and highly informative view of the historical context and the people surrounding Dr. King that day. With the depth of information, this is probably not for the youngest picture book crowd, but I feel that anyone interested in the topic will love it, at any age.

I also admire a more recent picture book by the team of Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, the pair who won both the Newbery and Caldecott Awards for a sweet story called Last Stop on Market Street. Their Carmela Full of Wishes shows us Carmela making birthday wishes, with the help of her brother, her birthday bracelets, and a fuzzy dandelion from a sidewalk crack. She's finally old enough to move through the neighborhood with her brother on an errand day, and her most important wish is that dad will get "his papers fixed so he could finally be home." It's lovely in every way! And we have lots of copies, with signed bookplates, of an important new picture book by the same illustrator, Christian Robinson, about life in all its forms, called You Matter.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Jenny on Christian Robinson's School Visit - You Matter!

You Matter.

These two simple words give Caldecott Honoree Christian Robinson's new picture book its title, but they also send an important message to readers: We are all connected, and we all matter. At the beginning of June, Boswell hosted the final school event of the semester with students from Elmbrook and Glendale / River Hills elementary schools, and Christian visited us virtually from his home in California. He started the conversation by telling kids that he wanted to say 'you matter' with words but also show it with pictures.

Christian has illustrated books by many authors, but only recently began writing his own stories. The result is a book filled with empathy for others, from the giant T-Rex who can't scratch his mosquito bite to an astronaut looking down at earth, far from home. The collage artwork is bright and cheerful and does a beautiful job capturing emotions familiar to all of us.

Through writing You Matter, Christian had a lot of fun finding his own voice. He went on to tell kids about his love for drawing and creating art, and how right now, with so much anxiety in the world, his studio is his happy place. next, we all got a virtual tour so we could see his paper for sketching and working his ideas out, and the pictures pinned to his wall that give Christian a sense of how a project is coming together.

Click this sentence to follow its link and watch a short video clip of Christian working on You Matter in his studio.

Christian told students about his background. He was born in Los Angeles in 1986. His grandmother raised Christian and his brother in a tiny apartment they shared with two cousins and his aunt. With all that family crowded around, there wasn't much room to call his own. Christian loved to draw pictures, and art was a way of creating his own space. On the page, he was able to have some say over what the world could look like. Now he lives in Sacramento with his boyfriend, John, and their cute but sassy greyhound, Baldwin.

Christian read his delightful book, You Matter, to the audience, too!

Then he talked about using a storyboard to create a book, because he likes to start small, with pictures drawn on Post-It notes. He doesn't worry about getting everything right in the beginning. The little notes are perfect for making lots of mistakes. He spent two years working on this book, writing and rewriting. He loves working with different materials. For his collages, he uses construction paper and glue.

After his presentation, Christian took the time to answer questions from the students. They had lots - a total of 1806, in fact! No, he didn't get to them all, but here's the first great questions he answered:

Q: What book are you working on now?

A: Christian just turned the illustrations for Milo Imagines the World (Coming in Feb, 2021!), a new book written by Matt de la Peña about a boy and a girl on a train who are going to visit their mother in prison. The boy imagines stories for all the passengers, and one of those stories has a surprising ending. Christian thinks, and I agree, that it's really important to tell the stories of kids going through all sorts of things.

Christian ended his presentation with a drawing demonstration and a reminder to kids everywhere that they matter. You Matter is now a New York Times bestseller! Follow Christian Robinson on Instagram and on Twitter.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Jen Finds Fantasy's Roots in Mythology, Fairy Tales, and Folklore

I’m more of a fantasy reader if I have to chose a seat under under the whole Sci/Fi Fantasy umbrella. I loved reading Greek myths when I was younger, and reading fantasy books that incorporate myths or folklore are my jam.

What do I think of as a myth? How about -  a classic or legendary story that usually focuses on a particular hero or event to explain mysteries of nature, existence, or the universe without much basis in fact. Myths exist in every culture; a culture’s collective myths make up its mythology. Here are some fantastical books that bring myths jumping right out of the page!

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty is one of my favorites. The first in the Daevabad trilogy*, this lyrical historical fantasy brings to vivid life ancient mythological traditions of an Islamic world. Set in the 18th century Egypt, a young woman with an uncanny gift for healing unleashes a supernatural being and sets in motion an otherworldly adventure.

*Side Note - Book 3, The Empire of Gold was just released June 30th.

Another example of mythology making its way into a fantasy novel is Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. The first in the Legacy of Orisha series that's set in a kingdom with traditions and mythology reminiscent of Nigeria and greater West Africa. Eleven years ago, Zelie’s mother was murdered on the night magic left her people, a night known simply as “The Raid.” The brutal King Saran ordered the slaughter of all Maji, thus keeping the next generation under his heel. But that was then, and this is now. By coincidence or maybe divine intervention, Zelie has a chance to restore magic to her people. It’s a long and treacherous journey - one that will change Zelie and her companions forever. A compelling tale filled with magic, betrayals, danger, and heroines who are forces to be reckoned with. Children of Blood and Bone is explosive, and I loved everything about it!

Next, is from Silvia Garcia Moreno. Her latest, Mexican Gothic is a Gothic novel and not a fantasy. But I enjoyed it so much that it made me want to read more of her works.

I think I’ll dive into Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is a fantasy steeped in mythology and is out now in paperback! The Mayan God of Death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore. The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. Yet a new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatâan to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

Moving on to Fairy Tales, which I think of as a story often intended for children that features fanciful and wondrous characters such as elves, goblins, wizards, and even, but not necessarily, fairies. Fairy tales are often traditional; many were passed down from storyteller to storyteller before being recorded in books.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (the first in The Winternight Trilogy) is an enchanting mix of fairy tale, fantasy, and historical fiction, set in medieval Russia. Nestled between the northern wilderness and civilization is a village where old and new traditions live side by side. Vasya, the last daughter of Pyotr and Marina, is born on the howling winds of autumn. She is different from the others in her village. Like her grandmother, she is gifted with powers that are her birthright. As time goes by, Vasya will be tested. Caught in the conflict between the old spirits and the new religion, Vasya must do everything in her power to save her family and village. Katherine Arden’s novel is a rich, mesmerizing novel. It’s the fairy tale you’ve been waiting for!

Another topic that interests me is Folklore, which refers to tales people tell. Traditionally passed down by word of mouth rather than written in books, though many books have been written with folk stories as their inspiration.

One awesome collection is A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman. It’s a collection of short stories by sixteen bestselling and award-winning authors who reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia. This collection has something for everyone, from fantasy to science fiction to contemporary stories of spirits, magic, family, love, and heartbreak are combined with elements from modern teens’ lives. In a starred review, Kirkus calls this “An incredible anthology that will keep readers on the edges of their seats, wanting more.”

The stories are endless when it comes to reading Fantasy books that draw from folklore, myths, and fairy tale elements, which can make for an enriching reading experience. Be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole.