Book Review

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Summary

Frida is a sleep-deprived single mom trying desperately to juggle the requirements of work and the needs of her toddler Harriet. On one very bad day she leaves Harriet home alone, just for a little bit, so she can get a coffee and a report from the office. She admits this wasn’t a good idea, but when you’re sleep deprived you do stupid things, and it wasn’t for long. But one bad day is enough to earn her the state’s attention.

The judge offers an ultimatum: lose custody of your child or attend a year-long residential program using the latest scientific techniques to turn bad mothers into sparkling specimens of devotion.

If Frida wants to see Harriet again, she must first prove herself at the school for good mothers.

Thoughts

In Good Mothers, the protagonist of a slice-of-life literary novel finds herself trapped in a bureaucratic panopticon written in the style of Philip K. Dick. The science fictional elements of the story introduce themselves slowly. By the time the android children programmed to feel pain and love in order to be better training tools show up, Frida is too numb to react with much surprise.

I have never before read a book which conveys in such clarity the feeling of living within the self-perpetuating logic of the carceral state.

The American justice system operates on the premise that crime is a failing of the individual whose proper antidote is punishment of the individual for their moral failing (denying systemic problems and those based on material conditions). Criminals are only eligible to re-enter society as citizens when they have “paid for their crimes” and undergone some sort of personal rehabilitation. This insidious reasoning has becomes so endemic in our society that many Americans would define justice as synonymous with punishment for crime.

So when single, working mother Frida fails to meet the exacting standards of motherhood mandated by the state, the solution is for her to be punished and then rehabilitated. That Frida will never be able to meet standards designed for stay-at-home mothers of petite bourgeois families only serves to proves that she is indeed a bad mother.

She has been put into a Sisyphean struggle. Society demands that she work in order to live, but society has also conveniently defined labor traditionally associated with women as not real work deserving of wages. Frida is therefore expected to excel at the labor of motherhood without payment and still work for a living in a profession whose labor is granted material value by society. When she fails to perform perfect motherhood according to these standards, she is punished.

And not merely punished. At the titular school for good mothers, Frida participates in her own humiliation. She repeats over and over the mantra “I am a bad mother but I am learning to be good” as if she were in a 12-step program. She doesn’t have to say it, but if she refuses, her noncompliance will be noted in the file which the judge will use to determine if she can ever see her child again.

Frida’s constant self-abnegation struck a familiar chord with me. To be poor or marginalized in America is to be constantly groveling. The service worker must apologize to the customer who screams at them or else lose their job. The poor student must right essay after essay flogging their personal traumas for the chance at a life-changing scholarship. The parolee is forced to act as their own warden, enforcing on themselves the onerous terms of their semi-freedom on threat of re-imprisonment.

To become an active participant in one’s own subjugation is the ultimate horror of the carceral state.

I won’t spoil how Good Mothers ends, but I will say that the final scenes are neither hopeful nor despairing, and more than worth the horror one must wade through in the preceding pages.

5 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for YA Lovers

Of all genres, science fiction and fantasy most closely match the wild exuberance and sense of wonder that makes young adult fiction so enjoyable. But when new readers are introduced to these genres, they are often recommended the first 600 page tome in a series written by an old white guy with a beard. And while there’s nothing wrong with those epics (if that’s your thing), they are certainly not the only books these genres have to offer.

Here is a list of science fiction and fantasy titles that explore the themes of self-discovery and growing up YA readers will find comfortingly familiar, but feature styles, ideas, and worlds that YA readers will find enticingly novel.

These are some of my very favorites, and I hope you enjoy them!


Spinning Silver—Naomi Novik. The winters in Lithvas are getting longer, the harvests poorer. But Miryem Mandelstam, despite her youth, is keeping her family fed, clothed, and sheltered. She has taken over her father’s failing moneylending business and rebuilt it. But one day, proud of her success, she unwisely brags that she can “turn silver into gold.” Word of this brag reaches the Staryk—the strange and cruel winter fae who inhabit Lithvas’ woods. They take her brag literally, and show up at her doorstep with fairy silver, expecting gold in return. If she fails this impossible task, Miryem knows the Staryk will kill her, but even if she succeeds, the strange kindnesses of the fae may be more terrible than their wrath.

A new take on a classic fairy story, Spinning Silver is equal parts clever, romantic, and terrifying.

Trigger Warning(s): This book is written from a Jewish perspective and deals frankly with the history of antisemitism in Eastern Europe.


Parable of the Sower—Octavia E. Butler. In a future United States ravaged by climate change and capitalism (not too dissimilar from our current reality), teenaged Lauren Oya Olamina keeps a journal of her life. She had been blessed (cursed?) with the ability of hyper-empathy, which forces her to share the sensations of people around her. Hyper-empathy can be quite deadly to those who suffer from it in this violence-plagued world. Lauren must struggle to survive and grow, always seeking a place where she and her loved ones can be safe.

A decade before dystopian novels would become a trope of YA fiction, Parable of the Sower invented many of the conventions that would later become staples of the subgenre.

Trigger Warning(s): This book depicts a collapsing society. It contains depictions of violence, including racist and sexual violence.


Trail of Lightning—Rebecca Roanhorse. After a great flood, most of the world is underwater, but Dinétah—traditional homeland of the Diné (Navajo) bordered by four sacred mountains—has survived, becoming an independent nation in the post-apocalyptic world. The flood that obliterated most of the world brought back magic with it, and monsters. On Maggie Hoskie’s sixteenth birthday her grandmother is murdered and her home destroyed by a witch. This traumatic event activates her magic powers, inherited from her ancestral clans. Her magic attracts the attention of the demigod monster-slayer Neizghání, who agrees to train her in his craft. Filled with sorrow and a lust for vengeance, Maggie sets out on a quest to defend the people of Dinétah from monsters, by any means necessary.

A bold work of fantasy that blends tropes from the mythic and urban subgenres in a way I’ve ever seen before, Trail of Lightning is unputdownable.

Trigger Warning(s): This book deals frankly with violence and its aftereffects, including PTSD.


An Unkindness of Ghosts—Rivers Solomon. The survivors of Earth set out many years ago on the colossal spaceship Matilda towards a new planet. In the generations since its launch, society in the Matilda has stratified into a racial caste system reminiscent of an antebellum Southern plantation. Aster Gray is a healer born into a life of slavery on the lower decks. From her secret laboratory in a long abandoned part of the ship, she researches the journals her mother left behind before her death 25 years ago. Hidden in their pages may lie the secret to understanding her own history and how it entwines with the future of this broken ark. Or perhaps all she will find are ghosts.

A bleak, lyrical meditation on intergenerational trauma and claiming life amidst a system of racial oppression, An Unkindness of Ghosts is heavy and rewarding.

Trigger Warning(s): This book examines a system of slavery much like Southern chattel slavery of Black Americans. It contains depictions of the racial and sexual violence and the consequences of said violence.


Assassin’s Apprentice—Robin Hobb. FitzChivalry is a bastard. That’s what his name means: Prince Chivalry’s bastard. Royal bastards are considered dangerous in Buckkeep Castle—left unchecked they could become rivals to the true princes for the throne. Accordingly, royal bastards are never allowed independent lives, but are kept as servants and wards of the crown. They are trained as diplomats, magicians, and even assassins. Assassin’s Apprentice chronicles the childhood and young adulthood of a lonely boy caught up against his will in a political system much bigger than him. He is passed from faux father figure to tutor to liege lord, searching for an identity of his own and people who love him for more than the power he represents.

A tender, character-driven fantasy, Assassin’s Apprentice has the most memorable characters of any book I’ve ever read and a hero you can’t help but root for despite his flaws.

Trigger Warning(s): A dog dies in this book.

Book Review

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Publisher: Tordotcom
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

What if you were a killer cyborg—built to be the perfect murdering machine—but all you wanted to do was watch soap operas?

Murderbot is a SecUnit owned by a company that provides resources for planetary exploration. It has secretly hacked its governor module (the part of its brain that forces it to obey its corporate masters). It uses this newfound freedom to watch the 35,000 hours of television it has downloaded to its personal hard drives—or it would, if its human masters weren’t constantly getting into danger. If anyone finds out it is free, it will be hunted down and killed (because everyone just assumes rogue SecUnits are rampaging Terminators bent on eradicating all human life). And so it goes on doing its job, hoping to keep its humans alive long enough for it to finish the next season of Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.

Thoughts

At their core, The Murderbot Diaries are sweet, funny, and intensely personal stories about building a life in the aftermath of trauma and despite a society that wants you dead.

I instantly fell in love with the character of Murderbot. Books, TV, and movies are saturated with misanthropic, hyper-competent characters: your Tony Starks, Sherlock Holmes, and Mavericks. I normally hate these characters—I don’t want to read about übermenschen who can treat everyone around them like objects because they’re the Heroes (with a Campbellian capital ‘H’). But Murderbot takes this trope and flips it on its head.

Yes, Murderbot is misanthropic and hyper-competent, but it is also deeply moral. Despite having every reason to seek vengeance for the terrible violations society has inflicted on it, Murderbot spends All Systems Red carefully preserving the lives of the humans under its care. Murderbot refers to itself with a name that represents how society perceives it, but in actuality spends all its time making sure people don’t get murdered despite their best efforts to the contrary.

All Systems Red is not Martha Well’s first book by a longshot, but it is her first book to receive widespread critical acclaim. It swept the holy trinity of science fiction awards, winning the 2018 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for Best Novella. And Murderbot hasn’t stopped winning awards since. Network Effect—the fifth entry in the series—is poised to pull off the same feat; it’s won both the Nebula and Locus and is currently nominated for the Hugo. This is even more impressive considering that Network Effect is significantly longer than All Systems Red, forcing it to compete in the “novel” category which is (comparatively) more competitive than the shorter “novella.”

Never before have I wanted so badly for a character to make some friends and have a happy life. After all its been through, Murderbot deserves to be safe and cozy for a century or two. Fingers crossed that by the next book the humans will finally get their crap together and let Murderbot have some peace and quiet.

Book Review

Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon

Publisher: Ruby Dixon, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Georgie had a normal life here on earth. That is, until she was kidnapped by aliens who intended to sell her, and the other women they stole, as slaves. After a ship malfunction, Georgie and the rest of the women are dumped on an ice planet until the aliens can return.

Frozen and starving, Georgie sets out to find help and meets Vektal, a six-foot-tall blue alien with massive horns on his head and an instant attraction to her.

Together, they work to save the women from their captors and, maybe, fall in love in this spicy tale of fate and discovery.

Thoughts

The fun of Ice Planet Barbarians is the inherent lunacy of the story’s premise. The plot is insane, but Ruby Dixon’s willingness to embrace the madness allows the reader to do so as well, resulting in an adventure of a book where logic is abandoned and the reader can just enjoy the ride.

The book wastes no time getting to the story, opting instead to thrust the reader, along with the characters, right into the bizarre environment. This creates a fast paced and engaging narrative that draws you in almost as soon as you start reading. Not only that, it also forms a connection between the reader and Georgie as they are equally clueless to the world.

Speaking of Georgie, her and Vektal’s relationship is masterfully crafted. Ruby Dixon has a gift for creating romantic pairings that feel natural. Both Georgie and Vektal are remarkably similar and when paired together they strengthen each other, creating a positive and sincere romance. The book doesn’t shy away from steamy moments—in fact, it’s full of them—but they are well written and offset by scenes of casual affection and connection, creating a well-rounded romance that’s a delight to read.

While the book focuses on Georgie and Vektal, the other kidnapped women and the aliens are also well developed. Since this book is the first in series, each of the kidnapped women and aliens are fleshed out to some degree, to the point that observant readers may be able to determine the future pairings from their personalities alone. This not only sets up the future books, but also serves to create a really dynamic cast of characters who add another layer to the story.

Overall, I loved this book. It was a wild, outlandish romance with sincere and relatable characters. Ruby Dixon has a real knack for romance, and Ice Planet Barbarians is a perfect example of that. I have read six books in this series so far and, in my opinion, they only get better. If you’re looking for a racy romance, Ice Planet Barbarians is the book for you.

Book Review

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 496
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Ryland Grace has to save the earth. By himself. In space. And he doesn’t remember who he is.

Grace awakens onboard a spaceship many light-years and many literal years away from earth and from any other human. He has to learn not only who and where he is but why because Earth is in danger of being wiped out. Grace is their only hope for survival. And the clock is ticking.

Space is big. Really big. But Grace may not be as alone as he thought he was. With his unlikely partner and his memories slowly returning, he uses science to navigate his way through problems and challenges on an interstellar adventure filled with suspense, survival, and an unusual friendship.

Will he save Earth in time?

Thoughts

Project Hail Mary is my favorite book of the year. If you enjoyed Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian, you will enjoy his newest novel Project Hail Mary published May 2021. Think The Martian meets Interstellar. There are a lot of welcomed similarities to his first novel: cheeky humor amid a grisly survival situation, lots of fascinating science, and a lone astronaut trying to survive. Except this time, it’s not the whole earth trying to save one astronaut—it’s one astronaut trying to save the whole earth.

The science Andy Weir weaves throughout the whole book is intriguing and complex, yet it is never overwhelming for novices or distracting from the story. Like in The Martian, the protagonist uses his expert knowledge to problem-solve and the science always moves the plot forward in exciting and page-turning ways. Project Hail Mary brings in microbiology, astrophysics, the theory of relativity, and even communication theory. Woven together are two storylines—the current events of Grace aboard his spaceship and revealing flashbacks back to earth of Grace in his memories.

Despite all the science, Project Hail Mary’s real story is about connection. I won’t share any spoilers, but I will say that the strange partnership—and real friendship—Ryland Grace makes on his adventure is one of the best parts of the novel. The friendship invites intriguing questions about language, communication, life, possibilities, and what it means to be human. Or not human. Despite all the science happening in the novel, the emotional story is what really shines in this novel.

In addition to the novel’s exploration of beyond-human connection, it’s also about connection with our own planet. Project Hail Mary is a piece of speculative fiction. Speculative fiction… well, speculates. What if this happened? What would we do? Even through imagined stories, speculative fiction theorizes about our current world. These “narratives” [are] concerned not so much with science or technology as with human actions in response to a new situation created by science or technology…speculative fiction highlights a human rather than technological problem.” Project Hail Mary is ultimately an optimistic story about saving the earth, which gifts the same optimism to readers living in a very real world with fears and anxieties about climate change and environmental collapse. This story gives us hope.

Book Review

Mara’s Awakening by Leo Flynn

Publisher: Leo Flynn
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 44
Format: e-Book
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My Rating: 3/5 stars

Summary

Mara’s Awakening follows Mara Keres, a half-robotic peacekeeper who has fallen from grace. She has been kept in solitary confinement in a high security space prison for six years, but is finally released into the general prison population, her captors beliving she is finally broken.

Still a fighting spirit, Mara immediately teams up with her new cell mates, Ishali, a half snake man, and Mallory, a human woman with a secret, to escape the prison. However, that is easier said than done, especially since Mara has made some powerful enemies who would like to see her dead. But who exactly are these enemies, and what did Mara, a renowned peacekeeper, do to find herself surrounded by criminals and hunted at every turn?

Thoughts

Starting off with the good, I really enjoyed the mystery this story presents in regards to how Mara wound up a criminal. Throughout the story the reader is introduced to several people from Mara’s past, all of whom seem to have a great deal of vitriol towards her for quote “betraying them.” Likewise, Mara seems to believe that the government in fact betrayed her—specifically referencing a council that is implied to be in control of the entire galaxy. This framing provides an engaging dichotomy where the reader is unsure if Mara is indeed a criminal or if the government is behind something nefarious. This makes for a fascinating read where the reader cannot trust anyone and must piece together the story from context clues and hints in the dialogue.

A small detail I also enjoyed was how the author gave the main character a distinct way of speaking. Mara speaks with a twang in her voice that is reminiscent of the cockney accent. This distinction helps establish that Mara doesn’t belong, as she is the only character who speaks that way in the entire book. It isolates her from the rest of the world and really drives home how she is, in a sense, adrift and abandoned. I really appreciated how this detail was able to establish so much about Mara’s character without feeling forced.

However, where the book lost me was with the establishing of the setting. It’s important to note that this book is the first in a series of short stories that together tell the story of Mara. This means that the book had very few pages to establish the setting, the characters, and the plot for the entire series, and while the author did establish what the overarching plot of the book to be, the setting was underdeveloped. Through context clues the reader can determine that the prison is on some sort of spaceship, and that there are different species besides humans, but the overall universe where the characters live and the rules of said universe are left unexplained. This causes specific aspects of the book to feel disjointed and sudden. For example: when Ishali, the half-lizard man, is introduced the reader learns his species name, but not much else. The only way I was able to identify that he is a half-lizard man is by one sentence that references him having a lizard-like tail. However, the book doesn’t explain anything about his species nor does it clarify what they are, leaving me to guess that he is some sort of lizard-human hybrid. These disjointed pieces make the book feel like the first chapter to a book—which in a way it is—but since the next chapter would be found in the next book, it leaves the reader a little lost to the world where Mara’s Awakening takes place.

Overall, I loved the setup of the mystery and the characterization of Mara—especially in regards to Mara’s connection to the government—but was disappointed by the limited development of the setting. However, I do expect that the author will divulge more information in his second book, Mara’s Choice, so hopefully this limitation will correct itself with time. If you’re looking for a quick sci-fi read this summer with an excellent mystery and you don’t mind a little confusion, Mara’s Awakening is only 99 cents on Amazon and is definitely worth the read.

6 Book Series to Get You Back Into Reading

Are you looking for a new series to transport you back to the glory days of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Trust me, I’ve been there—worrying I’ll never find anything as good as the adventures I went on with Tris Prior and Percy Jackson. Procrastinating buying that new book in the bookstore because it could never give you the same feelings of nostalgia of reading Twilight for the first time? I get it, but it’s time to move on. There are bigger and better books out there; just as there are more characters to grow with and tropes to fall in love with. I promise. And with everything going on right now, a series is just the heavy duty escape into a magical world to occupy you for more than a few days. So, here are five book series to get your reading mojo back—adding a book to each series the further you read on.


Six of Crows—Leigh Bardugo. Starting off with this duology, Six of Crows introduces a slew of characters for you to meet: a witch hunter, sharpshooter, a former servant with a talent for stealth and knife-wielding, and many more. This character-driven plot consists of heists and cons against the Ice Court, wealthy merchants, and crime bosses. With only two books, it’s an easy way to ease back into reading.

This series is part of the Grishaverse, which means there is a separate series called The Shadow and Bone trilogy that you can read after! This series is also coming to Netflix April 23.


Caraval—Stephanie Garber. This is the first trilogy I read after my three year slump of reading, and it totally kick started my reading addiction again. These three books follow the two sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna as they find themselves at Caraval, an exclusive once-a-year performance in which the audience gets to participate to win a special prize. Things take turn, however, when the sisters end up in a sinister game fighting for love and family.

As you dive deeper into the series, you discover mysterious forces and secrets that go back to before they were even born—all orchestrated by the anonymous ringmaster and the all-powerful Fates.


Crave—Tracy Wolff. A great recommendation for all vampire lovers, Wolff’s series takes place at Katmere Academy: a school full of shapeshifters, witches and vampires. For Grace, this is the last place she wants to be…that is, until she meets Jaxon, a charming vampire with deadly secrets. This young adult series is the next series to sink your teeth into.

The fourth book of this series comes out September 28th, 2021—plenty of time for you to catch up on this series full of twists, romance, and deep fantasy lore; so sit back, relax, and read as slow as you want to.


The Heroes of Olympus—Rick Riordan. If you took quizzes to see who your godly parent was, this five-book series is for you. Chances are, if you’ve already read the original (beloved) Percy Jackson series, then you’ve already heard about this series. Whether you brushed it off or thought it wouldn’t live up to its hype, this is your sign to finally read them. It mixes familiar faces from Camp Half Blood and introduces new ones from Camp Jupiter to unite seven half bloods to fulfill another prophecy and save the world.

The Heroes of Olympus series expands on the mythological world and gives the characters from the original series another chance to continue their story, set a couple months after The Last Olympian.


A Court of Thorns and Roses—Sarah J. Maas. Sarah J. Maas is taking the world by storm with her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. This is the first series in a long time where I’ve stayed up until two in the morning just to finish reading. Classified as a “New Adult” genre, this series can be described as Beauty and the Beast meets magical kingdom of faeries. If you’re into amazing world building and obsessing over characters, I highly recommend it, 11/10. While only four books are out on the market right now, Maas is under contract to write two more, ensuring the perfect amount of satisfaction and anticipation in a series. 

P.S. If you like this series you can level up and go for Sarah J. Maas’ seven book series, Throne of Glass. Psst…this series is completed. Yay!


The Stormlight Archive—Brandon Sanderson. Last but not least, we have Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re not afraid of commitment, I highly suggest it and I applaud you for diving head first into reading again. Although there are only four books out, there are ten planned.

So, if you’re ready to invest six to ten years on a series, this one is perfect to get you back into the reading saddle. Happy reading!

4 Binge-Worthy Escapism Reads

Now more than ever, many people are finding their way to books. As the real world becomes progressively more and more like a dystopia, books provide a welcome escape to the turbulence of our everyday life. If you’re anything like me, this past year has made you even more dependent on fictional worlds to help make sense of the real one. While this escapism if often found in books, it’s also commonly found in the world of film and TV shows. In the spirit of fueling your next binge-reading and binge-watching experiences, I thought I’d provide some escapism series that have a film counterpart (or, at least one in the works). These selections are all made up of at least three books in the core series, and many include spin-offs or related works.


Shadow and Bone—Leigh Bardugo. Soon to be a Netflix series, now is the perfect time to read the Shadow and Bone series. The first book in the trilogy follows orphaned soldier Alina Starkov, who unwittingly reveals dormant and powerful magic to save her best friend when her regiment is attacked. She begins training with the Grisha—the magical military elite—under the guidance of their infamous leader, the Darkling, who believes that Alina’s power might be the key to saving their war-torn country. As Alina trains, she makes a dangerous discovery that threatens those she loves and her entire nation.

In addition to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the Grishaverse also includes the Six of Crows duology and the King of Scars duology, whose final book was just released last month!


Dune—Frank Herbert. Lauded as one of the best science fiction novels of all time, you’ve likely heard about the adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya set to be released later this year. Dune tells the story of Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family on the desert planet Arrakis, who is tasked with ruling the desolate land and safeguarding the melange—a drug that is highly-coveted for its abilities to extend life and enhance consciousness. When Paul’s family is betrayed and destroyed, he goes on a journey to avenge his family and bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

As an added perk for those looking to escape in the barren deserts of Arrakis, the Dune series contains many prequels and sequels written by both Frank Herbert himself as well as his son, Brian Herbert. For a complete list of the books in the Dune series (both novels and short stories) in chronological order, check out the Dune website here.


A Darker Shade of Magic—V.E. Schwab. For those who have recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and have fallen in love with Schwab’s magical writing, I’d draw your attention to her older fantasy series, A Darker Shade of Magic. Schwab crafts a world of four parallel Londons: Red London, where magic and life are celebrated; Gray London, a poor land without magic; and White London, a city slowly losing its life force due to constant magical warfare. As for the fourth London, Black London, nobody speaks of it anymore. Almost nobody can travel between the Londons, as the magicians capable of teleporting between the worlds (the Antari) are all but extinct. One of the last remaining Antari, Kell, acts as a messenger between the Londons—as well as an unofficial smuggler of valuable artifacts, a side gig that often gets him into trouble. His misadventures cause his path to collide with Delilah Bard, a cutpurse looking for adventure.

The Shades of Magic trilogy, while not as well-known as some of the other series on this list, is also slated for a film adaptation in the (hopefully) near future by writer Derek Kolstad.


Outlander—Diana Gabaldon. Outlander follows Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, as she returns home from the war in 1945. While on a second honeymoon with her husband, she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles of the British Isles and finds she is suddenly an outlander in a war-ravaged Scotland in the year 1743. As Claire attempts to navigate this violent world, she finds a companion in the young Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser. As their lives become more closely intertwined, Claire finds herself torn between two different men from two irreconcilable lives.

The Outlander series is currently eight books long, with a ninth set to be released sometime this year and a tenth promised after that. The series has also been adapted into a TV show, with 12–16 episode seasons for each book. The show just aired its fifth season—based on The Fiery Cross—last year, and has been renewed for a sixth and seventh season.

Author Interview with Hunter Codner

During brunch a few weeks ago, I was gifted a new book by a friend for my reading pleasure. The New Deep by Hunter Codner was emblazoned on the front cover. Any day that begins with the collection of a new book is a great day to me and to many fellow bibliophiles, but what my friend said next changed the context of this particular book: it was written by a coworker of my husband.

It’s not unheard of for book lovers to be avid writers as well—for many it’s our dream to write that novel, build our own world, tell our own story, and the biggest step towards that goal, in the words of Stephen King, are to “read more books.” So I took a second long, good look at this new book in my possession. At the fabulous artwork on the cover, at the professional matte paperback finish of it, and finally at the name of the author, which suddenly rang a bell to me as an individual my husband had mentioned speaking and working with. For me, it hit close to home: it made the goal of publishing a novel so much more real and tangible. I took it home and, with a stack of TBR books on my nightstand, I devoured The New Deep in one evening, late into the night. I was enamored with the rich characters and sci-fi world of Hunter’s debut novel, and in addition to wanting to tell the world about the success and triumph of an acquaintance from our very own neighborhood, I had a need to ask him about how he went about making “the dream” happen. So as follows is my interview with the author of The New Deep, and I hope that his story provides some ideas for my fellow writers considering the avenue of self-publication, and inspires you to check out Hunter Codner’s excellent new addition to the science fiction genre.


  1. Did you always set out to write and publish a novel? 
    I’ve wanted to write a novel for a while now, but I never got past the world-building stage. I finally decided to push through and do it after I went to Gen Con last year and saw all the folk in author’s alley. From there, I knew that I wanted to write and publish a book.
  2. What was a big motivator for you to develop your idea and pursue a novel-length story?
    There were two enormous motivators for me to push through with the story. One was that I knew I absolutely wanted to write a book and share it with people. The second was that I had been working on my science fiction world for over a decade and finally had the drive to do something with it. Then inspiration struck—surprisingly, not from any science fiction source but from D&D. I had this idea of a spaceship that wasn’t really a ship but instead a giant mimic, and I went from there.
  3. What were some of your biggest challenges?
    One of the largest challenges was striking a balance between my job, my hobbies, and trying to write. After finding that balance, I hit a hard wall about fifteen thousand words into the story. I had to eventually just take time off work so that I could push myself over the wall and finally finish the story.
  4. When you finished, what were your first thoughts?
    I didn’t really believe it, but I was also super pumped—not as much as my husband, though. It was like being on a super tough hike, and finally, I had reached the first significant milestone. Right after I finished, I started researching about the next steps for the process.
  5. How did you begin the proofreading/editing process, and how did you get in touch with an editor?
    For an editor, I lucked out in that I had a friend who wanted to become an editor and was going to school for it, so I offered my book. Unluckily for her, I’m a new author, and at that time, I was even less knowledgeable than I am now and just sent her first draft, untouched. Bless her heart, she was patient with me and worked with me for almost an entire year and through many drafts/revisions until we had a workable product.
  6. What motivated you to pursue self-publishing rather than using a publishing company?
    I decided on self-publishing after I finished the first draft, and I saw it was only the length of a novella (after the editing process, it did reach novel-length). I didn’t think that a publishing company would want to take up a thirty-thousand-word story from a new author (and after some research, I was correct). After researching self-publishing, I realized that Amazon had made the process so easy that there was no real reason I shouldn’t.
  7. What was your biggest source of information for the process of self-publishing?
    Oh man, the site two sites I think I visited the most were Reedsy and the Kindle Direct Publishing main site. Reedsy is a great blog with articles about writing and publishing that really helped me figure out the process and things I needed to get done. The KDP site has an FAQ section that goes through everything. They cover not only the things you need for publishing through KDP, but also guides on typesetting, layouts, and cover design. Besides those two though, there are so many different sources of information for people wanted to self-publish: one quick Google search, and you’ll have a tsunami of useful info.
  8. How did you go about choosing the designs and getting copies of your book printed?
    Lucky for me, my husband is a graphic designer and artist. He insisted that not only did he want to draw the cover of the book, but also draw chapter art. Later, when I was typesetting and laying out the interior of the book, he also found me a great font to use for chapter headings and cover. As for physical copies, surprisingly, Kindle (Amazon) does that as well, and it’s pretty straightforward. While I highly recommend hiring someone to layout out your book, Amazon does have step-by-step guides on how to properly layout your book for print.
  9. What has been the most rewarding thing about self-publishing your first novel?
    The most rewarding moment was when I finally hit publish for the physical copies on Amazon. I had spent maybe a week and a half working on the layouts for the book, then uploaded them and ordered my proof copies to make sure everything was ready to go as we believed. Thank God we did. In the flurry of getting the book ready to publish, I had missed so many tiny things that it made the book look sloppy. My husband, editor, and I spent a weekend pouring back through the book—both digitally and physically—until we felt that we had caught everything. So, when I finally hit publish the next weekend, it was a sigh of relief.
  10. What advice do you have for other writers? Would you suggest for them to pursue self-publishing?
    My advice would be that no matter how ready you think that the first draft is for someone to see, it’s not. Don’t send anything before the third draft to an editor, and look for some good honest beta readers to look at your story, too. As for self-publishing, I suggest going through the process even if you don’t plan on hitting publish, just so you know each point of the process of publishing a book.
  11. Lastly, we like to ask all of our featured authors to share their current read.
    Sure, currently I’m listening to the audiobook version of the first Redwall novel.

You can purchase Hunter Codner’s debut novel The New Deep at Changing Hands Bookstore here.


Thank you to the author for providing this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book Review

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 517
Format: Hardcover
Buy Local
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Summary

As I’m sure many of you know, this novel is the prequel to the Hunger Games series. It is set 63 years before Katniss’ Games and follows President Snow, known at this time as Coriolanus Snow.

Snow is only 18, and his family is facing hard times as the effects of the war play out. The story begins the morning of the reaping for the 10th annual Hunger Games. Snow is determined to get into University, and needs to mentor a winning tribute to help solidify his spot. The odds are not in his favor when he is assigned the girl tribute from District 12.

Much to his surprise, his tribute wows the crowd all on her own. Determined to win, no matter the cost, Snow takes a chance on her. He grows close to her as their fates are largely intertwined in a game unlike any before, leaving him to wonder, was it all worth it?

Thoughts

There were a lot of mixed expectations towards this novel—some people were upset that President Snow was getting a prequel when he was very clearly a terrible person. While I would love a prequel about Finnick or Mags, I also love a good villain origin story and couldn’t wait for this novel to come out. The moment I saw it on the shelf at Target, I ran to pick it up and, honestly, it exceeded my expectations.

I fully expected it to be a story that showed Snow as an empathetic, caring person who was turned sour by a negative experience. Without giving too much away, I can say the story subverted my expectations completely. While he certainly did not have the upbringing I expected, his goal was always clear. Various obstacles were thrown in his way, all adding to his character but never wavering his stance. In that way, the star of the story is the first person point-of-view. His actions and his thoughts are so different at times, if we weren’t constantly in his head, that we would have no idea. It appears that from a young age, Snow mastered the art of performance. While he certainly isn’t an admirable character, he sure is an interesting one. The connections between his actions and circumstances in this novel, to that in original Hunger Games novel are beautifully done and I loved finding them laced throughout. I had more ah-hah moments than I can count!

The only reason I didn’t give this novel a full 5/5 stars is because of the ending. There was one unanswered question that I still haven’t found the answer to, which caused some of the ending to feel anti-climatic. It is too small of a detail, though, for me to not highly recommend all Hunger Games trilogy lovers give it a read.

Even if you absolutely despise President Snow, this will be a treat for you. I truly hope it becomes a movie soon so I can enjoy it all over again!