Everybody’s making the move. Most of the people I’ve followed on Twitter have slowed down engagement. Some stick to it purely for promotions, so maybe it’ll become the book-promotion site. For those of us looking to connect with other writers, with readers, with people in the business or whose creativity overlaps with ours…Mastodon is the place to go.
I’m CometaryTales over there, like I am everywhere, because that just makes it easy, doesn’t it? I’m a member of two instances, wandering.shop and sfba, because one is for SFF people and one is for SF Bay Area folks and that lets me feel connected in two ways. But, mostly, I’m on hanging out on wandering.shop, where you’ll find me posting about the works in progress (WIPs), the upcoming books, things that happen to interest me, and my friends’ bookish stuff. C’mon over!
Here are a couple of useful resources to help you navigate the move: This one gives you all the basics if you’re an author moving to Mastodon (but, really, the advice applies to anyone). This one tells WordPress users how to do the fiddly bits of verifying your website connection, if you want to do that.
A group of authors affiliated with the San Francisco chapter of the Women’s National Book Association got together earlier this month to celebrate our pandemic-time publications. Oh, my goodness, what a variety! What awesome works.
Are you shopping for friends and family who aren’t as committed to science fiction and fantasy as you are? Need some hot tips for books that will surprise and delight them with your confidence in stepping out from your own genre?
Here’s your directory, so you can jump to satisfy your target gift recipients’ desires. Each cover photo links to the relevant Amazon page. If you prefer to buy elsewhere, head for the author’s website.
Hungry for a story with deep African American and French connections? Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte’s Betrayal on the Bayou plunges the reader into 1854 Louisiana, where a young Parisian widower “sets off a twenty-eight-year chain of events that reveal the brutal truths of inequality, colorism, and betrayal.” Sheryl’s blog is here. You’ll find she also teaches writing.
Russian history? The delights of Paris? Ballet? Does your gift recipient love any of these? Meet up with long-separated twins at the Ballet Russe, and hold your breath as to what will happen next, in Barbara Quick’s What Disappears. Visit Barbara at her website.
Thrillers and Mysteries
How about a deep, soul-searching, thriller….head for Barbara Graham’s What Jonah Knew, on the surface a story about mothers and sons, but one that delves into “metaphysical questions about life and death—and what happens in between.” Follow Barbara on her website.
From mothers and sons to a mothers and daughters, come to Sheri McGuinn’s newest book, Peg’s Story: Detours, which answers questions raised by the first book in this series, Running Away. Discover links between the stories as you follow Peg’s escape to a new life—only to see her mistakes spiral “into a life-changing series of events.” Catch up on Sheri’s website.
Do you want to share stories of real people finding their way through ordinary life? Stories set all over the country? Try Cynthia Gregory’s What is Possible From Here, a collection exploring “the nature of friendship and love, and the myriad ways we endeavor to make meaning in an unpredictable world.” You can also find her nonfiction book, Journaling as a Sacred Practice, through Cynthia’s website. If you’d like a hardcover copy of her collection, you can find it online at Barnes & Noble.
Looking for grounded contemporary women’s fiction? Consider Kimberly Dredger’s Begin Again. This novel takes you on a young widow’s journey, “as she struggles to re-enter life, enduring more loss and sadness on her way to ultimate empowerment.” To expand your collection, you might also pick up Kimberly’s anthology of essays, stories, and poetry, starting on her author page.
How about a fabulous feminist travel memoir? Diane LeBow’s Dancing on the Wine-Dark Sea: Memoir of a Trailblazing Woman’s Travels, Adventures, and Romance takes you “dining with Corsican rebels and meeting a black stallion in a blizzard on the Mongolian steppes to assisting exiled Afghan women and savoring a love affair with an elegant French Baron.” Catch up with Diane on her website.
Full disclosure: I WON a copy of this book in the event giveaway, after listening to Diane give us more details about her story. Can’t wait until it arrives, so I can follow the whole adventure.
For a blend of social justice history and memoir, look for Joan Lester’s Loving Before Loving: A Marriage in Black and White, which takes the reader back in time. You’ll find a deeply personal story exploring racism, sexism, and marriage, through the lives of one couple: a memoir of love and life in the midst of the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Get to know Joan through her website.
For an unflinching look into life in Mao’s China, and the impact on one girl, pick up Jing Li’s The Red Sandals: A Memoir, in which she shares her personal story of being the unwanted girl in a poverty-stricken family, her scholastic journey within the Chinese system, her transition to America, and growth as a teacher and writer. Learn more about Jing and her story here.
Through her dramatic memoir, Promenade of Desire—A Barcelona Memoir, Isidra Mencos uses her own story of learning to free herself from repression through books and salsa dance, to create a “sensual, page-turning coming-of-age story: Isidra evolves from a repressed Catholic virgin to a seductive Mata Hari.” Learn more about Isidra and her journey at her website.
For a heartwarming story of one person’s escape from the abuses of family and culture, follow Mytrae Melania. In her Brown Skin Girl: An Indian-American Woman’s Magical Journey from Broken to Beautiful, she shows how her journey…through many trials…brought her to “freedom, love, and the magic that finds you when you follow your heart.” Find more about her mission at her website.
Shopping for someone who loves poetry? Travel? Birds? Lucille Lang-Day’s Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place deploys Lucille’s wordsmithing to unveil her “vast curiosity, an intimate knowledge of flora and fauna, and a keen appreciation for the things of this world—travel, food, weather, the manifold creatures, love.” Follow Lucille at her website.
For “a merry-go-round of life experience in story-poems and social commentary full of spice and wisdom,” take a whirl with Dr. Jeanne Powell’s Deeply Notched Leaves. This 2021 collection will set your head spinning. Find more of Jeanne’s literary work at her website.
Books for Children and Parents
Looking for something fantastic for a young adult reader? Tricia Wagner’s The Strider and the Regulus is the opening salvo in a three-volume series. “A starry-eyed boy. A cryptic map. A mythical treasure. What perils await in the chasing of dreams?” Get to know Tricia at her website.
My own 2022 release, The Smugglers, falls in this category. This LGBTQ-friendly story centers on an adolescent alien who’ll face changes in his world—and herself—as they rush to the rescue of an escaped animal. Written for children (middle grade readers and up) and their parents, the story shows us both the mother’s and the child’s point of view through this adventure.
Need a storybook for a young person…or do you just love those old traditional-style tales and beautiful illustrations of life in the Old Country? Maxine Schur’s The Peddler’s Gift, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, is a new edition of the “wistful, moving tale of a boy who steals a toy from a foolish peddler only to discover he’s not so foolish after all.” Find more of Maxine’s books, including Finley Finds His Fortune, at her website.
Young readers (the 3-8-year-old set) on your gift list? I used to set up treasure hunts for my little brothers…so much fun. Here, Stephanie Wildman’s Treasure Hunt, with art by Estafania Razo, takes three siblings on a search for wonders In their own home. For grownup reading, find Stephanie’s website to discover her book on the perils of privilege in America.
Another something sweet for the 8-and-unders, Karen Faciane’s The Sun and the Moon’s Big Idea, illustrated by Sierra Mon Ann Vidal, brings together the two most prominent “lights” in our sky… to celebrate “the uniquely, wonderful person you were born to be.” Keep up with Karen on her author page.
It’s that time of year, when people are looking for paths to self improvement, for personal well-being and creating moments of calm in this crazy world. Try out Elise Marie Collins’ Chakra Tonics, Essential Elixirs for the Mind, Body, and Spirit. Yes, finally, a “lively information packed recipe book filled with positive life lessons based on the ancient Indian spiritual system, known as the Chakras.” Catch up to Elise via her contact tree.
Here’s more nonfiction for personal wellbeing: Nita Sweeney’s Make Every Move a Meditation: Mindful Movement for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Insight. Do you imagine meditation is all about sitting still or following strict formulas for movement? Nita teaches ways to understand meditation more deeply: “What if lifting weights, dancing, or walking across a room counted? What if you could make every move a meditation?” At her website, you can pick up a free handout.
I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve started a little Instagram project that allows me to play with my old books. This post essentially is an introduction to the content I’m putting into the Instagram series. Technically, these are supposed to help with promotion of my own book, but if I’m to work on a new platform several times a week, there has to be something in it for me–and renewing old acquaintances is as good a motivation as any.
Since this is my first try at an Instagram project, naturally, I’ve let myself start on a softer topic: ponies! yay, ponies! Below are my first two posts in that series:
Joanna’s Special Pony, by Hilda Boden, 1964 paperback edition
A friend put up a challenge on FB for us to tell about the first book we read on our own. I was stuck; I couldn’t remember. My mother used to say I learned to read “too early”, so that memory is, I suppose, lost to the fuzziness of preschool memory neurons. But . . . I do vividly recall the first book I bought by myself, for myself, and read until it was so ragged with overreading. It was about this girl, Joanna, who was just awesome–she could tame a wild horse, she could take care of herself on a deserted island, she could stand up to bad guys. I wanted to BE that girl so very much–so much so that when I had to choose a saint’s name for my Catholic confirmation (and, yes, we did that at age 10 in those ancient times), I insisted on Joanna. My mother was dismayed–she had already picked out a name I was supposed to use–Ann. It wasn’t too far off, though, so maybe Mom just had slightly-off foresight.
Anyhow, while trying to explain the book to my friends, I found a copy for sale on ABE Books UK. It was the exact paperback edition I’d owned back then–so . . . now it’s mine. Again. Joanna’s Special Pony is a classic “pony book”, with clever, courageous young teens up against adult malfeasance and bonded together by their love of horses and nature in general. The characters are distinct, not cookie-cutter–even the villains of the piece have second thoughts about what they’re up to. (Spoiler alert . . . When they connive to strand our heroine, one packs her a nice big picnic and the other insists she bring along a warm coat.) It’s set in Scotland, too, which for me is a nice bonus. (There are these little asides about “the English” that still ring true.)
Joanna Rides the Hills, by Hilda Boden, first edition, 1960
Once I found my first favorite book, it dawned on me there could be more out there. For one, my favorite book had a sequel . . . I actually found Book 2 while searching for Book 1. In the sequel, Joanna and her friends grow closer and become better friends. And they do a bunch of riding around on ponies.
It’s difficult to explain why finding the sequel to a kids’ book that I liked when I was 8, 9, and 10 got me so excited. Back when I was collecting pony books (in between the boarding-school books, the mystery books, and the cowboy books–no, cowboy books are not the same as pony books), I never managed to get my hands on the continuation of my absolute favorite book, to spend just a few more hours with the girl who was my childhood idol. Someday, I was sure, I’d find and rescue a wild pony and it would be my best friend and we would have people friends too, and we’d ride the wild hills all the time. Or at least until time for supper.
According to Jane Badger Books (The Source for all things pony-book, e.g., https://janebadgerbooks.co.uk/product/joanna-rides-the-hills/), this particular book is actually kind of rare. Some crazy has a “new” copy up on Amazon for nearly $1,000. Yeah, right, it’s “new”. I hesitated only long enough to be sure my copy of Joanna’s Special Pony was paid for on ABE Books UK, before clicking back to the Other Bookseller for a properly-priced, accurately described copy of sequel. Other Bookseller actually happened to be on this side of the pond, so I received the two books in reverse order–but both of them in time for my birthday! So, Quarantine Birthday came with lovely memories of wishing so very hard for my very own pony, while looking out the back door at . . . our family’s current pony-pet, Echo, as he whinnied for an extra round of supper.
Though I’ll try to keep the blog and the Instagram distinct, please don’t imagine it’s only pony books. The theme is “formative books,” which offers a broad landscape to roam. I’ve just done a post on a recent fantasy landmark work by Leslie Ann Moore, Griffin’s Daughter, which does have horses in it, but they are by no means the focus of the story. And I’m currently re-reading Leonard Wibberly’s The Road From Toomi, which, though two characters do make a long trek on horseback, primarily offers insights on racism and colonialism that survive the over fifty years since its publication. The next one on my list, Missing Man, by Katherine MacLean, has no horses whatsoever, so the streak will break there.
I spent my elementary-school years soaking up the very best in English literature.
For a preteen horse-mad bookworm that meant: Enid Blyton, Hilda Boden, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, her sister Christine Pullein-Thompson, and Many More. I didn’t notice at the time, but now it’s obvious: all my early writing models were women. My very first book purchase was a pony book by Hilda Boden, who took up writing stories to help support her family. I kept that book–Joanna’s Special Pony–for years, and reread it many times, imagining the windswept Scottish coast populated with wild (but tameable) ponies and admiring the resourceful, determined heroine of the tale.
From that day onward, every smidge of my allowance (well, sparing a few pennies for sweets) went for the next installment of the Famous Five or Malory Towers or any number of pony books.
All of those books stayed behind in Yorkshire when my mother had to pack us all up for the move to the States. My British childhood was over, and military moving allowances are based on weight, so . . . my pony books, boarding-school novels, and mysteries went to the thrift store for some other child to collect.
“I thought you were done with baby dolls, you still have the Barbies,” my mother argued.
“Not all of them,” I countered. “I promised that one, the littlest one, that I wouldn’t ever ever give her away.”
But it was too late.
I think maybe I broke my mom’s heart a little bit. Well, a little bit more. Motherhood involves a lot of heartache. Well, Baby Doll may have been lost to me forever, but I’m sure she had at least one more little girl make her similar promises.
The only good thing about the move was that all my friends had to study up for the Eleven-Plus, which would determine whether they’d go to a nice boarding/academic secondary school (like Malory Towers), get stuck in a dead-end “modern school” with no college track, or take up a trade and actually be able to earn a living. Me, I got to spend a couple of weeks coasting through the end of what Americans called “fifth grade” sitting in a classroom with children who–it seemed to me–hardly read at all, before being unleashed to a long, long American summer vacation. Luckily, my grandparents’ house was packed with books–mostly Reader’s Digest collections, but also a classic edition of One Thousand and One Nights and my dad’s stash of science fiction magazines.
Over the years, those old-style children’s books have been supplanted in the market by more literary-style books for children, others with science-fiction or fantasy roots, and thankfully many with more diverse casts of characters. A few have received a dusting-off over the years . . . there’s even a 2020 BBC-TV adaptation of Malory Towersthat puts the storyline in a historical-fiction context while also envisioning a more diverse enrollment and faculty at the school.
Now, it’s my turn to have a house packed with books, and it’s an eclectic collection–not even taking into account all the books that aren’t technically mine, but my husband’s. No matter–I put them on the shelf and dust them (occasionally), so they’re mine in that sense. I’ve launched a little Instagram project to share a few of those books, on a regular basis–mostly the out-of-print ones, the ones I inherited from my Dad (a fellow SF fan), and ones that may be old but that still speak to current issues. The hard part is figuring out how to photograph them–top bookish instagrammers have such lovely still-life setups for their book posts. I’ll do my best to at least not to give people eyestrain.
None of that means I’ve stopped gathering-in books. Just in time for my birthday, my very first Quarantine Birthday, I retrieved a book long-lost in the move from England, my first book purchase, my favorite book from that day until the day it vanished to the thrift store with my dolls.
The dolls are gone, my mother long forgiven, but the books never have left my mind. Just this month, I made a birthday present for myself of a copy of Joanna’s Special Pony, dusted off from some other collector’s shelf–one in better condition than the one I left behind, PLUS a copy of the sequel. That was a book I never got my hands on, because it was only in hardcover and my allowance was two shillings sixpence, exactly the price of a paperback (my, what a coincidence–almost as if my parents wanted me to buy books).
If you like Instagram, the series is here. I’ll try to remember to link to those postings from the Facebook page as well.
In olden times, when you read a book that you liked, you would tell your friends. You might lend them your copy . . . then chew your fingernails anxiously until it came back safe. (Shall I digress to that time I found my best friend had thrown away my copy of Fellowship of the Ring . . . ? “But I thought you were done with it,” she said. Nothing like rummaging through a bag of garbage to retrieve your favorite book.) And then your friend would tell their friends, and so on.
To perform this essential function in the publishing industry, we often employed these boxlike objects that sat on a desk or hung from the wall. Each one had a wire going from the back that plugged into a special kind of outlet, a useless-seeming outlet that you couldn’t plug a toaster into. And on top, there was a thing sort of like a front-door handle, though smaller.
When you picked it up, you’d hear a humming noise coming from one end of the handle-thing. Then, if you carefully pushed a certain sequence of buttons on top of the box–or even more interestingly, spun a dial on top of the box in a particular pattern–the humming noise would be replaced by your friend’s voice. And they could hear you, too! Then you would say something like, “I just read this book. You absolutely have to read this book. Make your mom take you to the bookstore tomorrow and get it. And there’s a whole series, too, I’ve got to go with you, so I can get the next book in the series!”
I have heard that there were other uses for this device, but they do not matter.
Now, big-city people may have decided what books to read based on some review in a newspaper or in a fancy magazine, but real fans relied on direct recommendations from friends.
The same is true today, but–like many of us–I’m guilty of not holding up my end of the stick. We’re all buying our books with the assistance of the internet–even if we’re relying on our local indie bookseller for product, we’re finding our reading online. And we need to be telling all our friends–and nowadays, that is apparently everyone else on the internet–what we liked and why.
So, I’m adding a section to this website dedicated to reviews. I’m being a better reader and adding reviews to my purchases at online sellers. Contact me if you think there’s a book out there I should review (not that I’m aiming to become a book reviewer, mind, but I do want to find books I’ll enjoy reading). And, by the way, when you buy a book from B&N or Amazon or Smashwords or wherever, if you liked the book, take a few seconds before you buy your next book and tell everyone. You don’t have to write an essay– this isn’t homework, it’s socializing. Just tap out a couple of sentences to let people know what was good about it. “hey, fellow readers, try this book, I liked this one thing especially –“