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May 2017

What’s your life story in books?

I recently became aware of a funny phenomenon. That is, I can draw clear lines around the seasons of my life based on what I was reading when. And in a pretty impacting way, the books I read have shaped my life.

Sounds a little hokey put like that, so let me explain it with my story.

As a small child (& as an older child), I loved Winnie-the-Pooh. The whimsical language, the innocent beauty, something about it captivated me and made me yearn to find and put down my roots in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Something similar happened to me when my family read The Chronicles of Narnia together one year. It was more than entertainment… it pulled at my heartstrings, almost like a calling home.

Flash forward a few years. When I was around eleven years old, my big sister introduced me to an author who would forever change my life, that being the one and only Jane Austen. I fell head-over-hills and read everything she’d written (and watched the films), as well as everything written about her I could get my hands on. In those days, I lived in a constant Jane Austen world in my own mind. To live in her actual world in England became my burning desire.

Then came Tolkien. Still in my middle school years, I took my first journey to Middle Earth and never recovered (in a good way). The story combined for me the old world Britain I’d come to love along with the ancient, foresty, far away magic of Narnia.  Once again, all roads seemed to point to England.

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My high school years are pretty much summed up by the stacks of books still collecting dust in my old bedroom, and the one thing they have in common: Classics. I had no time for modern literature, and certainly not teen literature as a teenager. I couldn’t get enough of the old stuff, and especially if it was English. The books I read continued to shape my dreams of a future in another, more ancient and quirky culture. And, let’s face it, I was a bit of a literature snob. I still remember brining Oliver Twist to school and Bri snatching it out of my hand and finishing it in a day. *Yes, she was that annoyingly quick at reading, even then!

The books I read as a kid shaped and chiselled and fuelled my dreams so much, that, at the ripe old age of 21, I actually moved to England! Those early days of immigrating to a new land–even though it was my soul home!–were trying, and I can’t imagine having got through them without the guiding light of books by C.S. Lewis, G.K.Chesterton, George MacDonald and the like. Those authors spoke Truth, made good sense and came off the page like old friends sharing a cup of tea in the next chair. Just what I needed that season of change!

Now, eight years later, that far-off land of my childhood dreams is simply home. In many ways, it’s just become ordinary. But it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve visited the actual Hundred Acre Wood, spent a year in Tolkien & Lewis’s Oxford haunts, and even dressed up in regency attire for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath (oh yea, & I’ve totally had butter beer and ridden a broom at Harry Potter Studios). And I still catch myself frequently observing about some place or other, “It’s just like in Pooh/Jane Austen/Middle Earth/etc.!” It’s like Kathleen Kelly says in “You’ve Got Mail”,

So much of what I see in life reminds me of something I read in a book, when… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I don’t know, Kathleen. For me, the books have been the catalyst for the real-life adventures, and I’m just fine with that.

So what about now?

Well, these days books play as vital a role in my life as ever… in fact, now that I’m writing them, I’d say they’ve become my bread & butter!

But the books on the shelves in my little London flat are rather different than those in my childhood bedroom. Ironically, they’re mostly contemporary kids books! IMG_0451 2-2

It’s as if, having missed out on all the young, new literature in my youth, I’m making up for it now as an adult. And I’m enjoying every minute of it! Sure, I still make time for little reunions with Dickens, Austen and the like, but I’m also discovering new worlds in Middle Grade literature I’ve never yet visited. And who knows where they’ll lead me next?

Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without books. Good Story is not only a gift from God, but a tool he’s used to shape me & direct me… to write my own story! And I think that’s pretty brilliant.

Can you tell your “Life Story in Books”?
Has a book you read inspired you to go on a real-life adventure?

And Now for Bri’s Perfect Story

It always makes me smile how similar and different Mez and I are. Some points on her 5 Ingredients of the Perfect Book I agree whole heartedly with. Others…not so much. So here’s my list!

A Strong Hero

Mez wrote about how she likes humble heroes, the ones who get “swept up in adventures” and I totally agree. I love books where the characters are like ‘wait, what?’ and suddenly find themselves in crazy situations. But I also want them to be decisive, brave, and independent. Cara deciding to jump from a bell tower despite all logic (Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville), Krista storming a castle to rescue a prisoner simply because it is the right thing to do (Graceling by Kristin Cashore) and, of course, Harry Potter, thrust into a strange world with strange rules, and yet he not only thrives, he saves the world.

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Awesome Sidekicks

Again, a definite agreeing with Mez on this one, whether it is human or animal friendships. A good co-character can really make the hero shine. It gives them someone to banter with, to fight with and support them. Animals often give heroes a confidante and someone who protects them and needs protecting. Ron and Hermione are two of the best examples ever; without them, the Harry Potter series wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating. And Mongo, Maggie’s dog in Shadows by Robin McKinley, provides a lot of comic relief, as well as comforting Maggie when her life goes to pieces.

A Clean Plot

And here’s where we differ a bit. By clean, I mean not convoluted, epic, or political. Or, ahem, too much history. If it’s interwoven into the plot well, it’s all good, but no history for the sake of history. And absolutely no politics, either real or fiction. I put down The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon) for this reason. As for convoluted/epic…I am so sorry, but by that I mean things like Lord of the Rings. Too many people with too many plotlines. I don’t want to have to consult a character list every time the point of view changes because I can’t remember who it is or what’s going on. Again, so sorry to all you LOTR fans out there!

*This also applies to series. I greatly prefer standalone books or, at the very least, books that don’t end in cliffhangers.

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A Good Romance

Unless I’m reading a middle grade book, I expect some romance. My absolute favorite is when they start out hating each other and slowly come to like each other (Academy 7, Starflight, Spelled). And I absolutely abhor (that’s a great word, the perfect word) love triangles. Quick clarification, by this, I do not mean like Bella, Edward and Jacob. Let’s face it, as long as Edward was around, Jacob didn’t stand a chance. He was a rival, not part of a triangle. What I mean is the ‘Oh, I don’t know which guy to choose, so I’ll just string both along for the whole book’ thing. Just, no. Refer to the first point: Decisive characters rule.

Happy Endings

I demand happy endings in books. If I read a book and the ending is unhappy or unsatisfying, I will not read another by that author. I’m petty like that. And do not kill any of my favorite characters. J. K. Rowling gets away with it because, yeah, she’s amazing. But I’m still a little ticked at Alexandra Bracken for…something…in the Darkest Minds series. But I’ll get over it and finish the series eventually. I started it because I thought it was a standalone book…sigh.

That’s my list! The only thing I would add is, of course, fantasy and science fiction beat any other genre any day.

So what do you think of my list? Agree, disagree? Got any books you’ve read (or written) that fit my list? I’d love to hear about them!

5 Ingredients of the Perfect Book

If you’re an author like me, you may have come across a little something known as a literary agent’s “wish list.” This list can be vague and entirely unhelpful to the aspiring client, spouting things like, “I want a book that keeps me up all night,” or the dreaded “It’s all about the voice.” Voice? Really? I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation from agent or publisher as to what this amorphous Voice really is! Perhaps it’s in the eye of the reader, a “When you hear it, you’ll know it,” phenomena…

Other times, the agent is soooo specific, you don’t dare submit to her unless your novel ticks all the boxes she’s wishing for (ie. “I’m looking for a fresh perspective on a dystopian heroin with a reluctant romantic interest who represents a minority. Oh, and a really strong Voice.”) !!! 

BAAAAH! I don’t mean to poke fun. Agents are wonderful people who do magical things, like make books get published. But…

I thought I would make up my own wish list with the things I look for in the perfect book. Hopefully it is neither too specific nor too vague. And I promise, “Voice” does not feature in this list! 

1  A humble hero

I love a main character who would never expect himself or herself to be the main character… an unassuming hero who doesn’t look for spotlights, medals or accolades, but who simple gets swept up in adventures out of sincere care for others (& perhaps a bit of their own clumsiness as well). Winnie the Pooh, Frodo Baggins, the Pevensie children, Neville Longbottom are all examples… can you name others?

2  A deep friendship

This one follows from the last: a hero who doesn’t see himself or herself as such is going to need help and encouragement. In comes the opportunity for a strong friendship that grows deeper through shared adventures and challenges. I love chalk-&-cheese friendships too, where opposites attract and iron sharpens iron, like Anne Shirley & Diana Berry (feisty and demure), Frodo & Sam (adventurer & home body), Frog & Toad (extrovert & introvert). 

3  History

A historical setting always catches my eye — particularly medieval to 18th century English history, but frankly, I’m not picky! I love the medieval abby setting in the Redwall Series, but also consider myself a true Jane Austenite, will shiver through a classic Gothic, Victorian mystery like Jane Eyre, and most recently have gobbled up books set during the Second World War (here’s my post about those). And who says it has to be actual history? I’ll take Fantasy history any day too (not that Middle Earth isn’t real…).

4  Humour

This is an essential, especially in books for children who almost always have a mature appreciation for silliness, subtle or slapstick. I personally prefer the subtler variety. But what I can’t stand is a book that takes itself too seriously, or tries to hard to be dark & edgy. Lighten up a little! Even a drama need some a twist of comedy if you want me to read it. 

5  An Animal Companion

Take any story in the world, and it is made better with an animal friend. Just look at the Disney classics: Belle has Filipe, Arial has Flounder & Sebastian, Pocahontas has Niko, Rapunzel has Pascale, the list goes on. Most kids, like me, love animals, & giving the hero an animal companion gives him or her the chance to be himself, share his deepest thoughts and feelings. The bond and fidelity between hero & pet resonates with me & any other readers who have pets of their own. And often, it’s the animal who provides the comedic outlet (Toothless & Hiccup) or who proves to be the real hero (Hedwig taking a killing curse for Harry, or Griff bearing the glass feet curse for Moll in Shadow Keeper).

 

And there you have it! My top 5 ingredients. Add ’em all together, and out comes the perfect book! If only it were so easy… 

If you were an agent, what would be on your “wish list”? Share in the comments below! 

 

My Favorite Author

 

So my favorite, all time, hands down favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. Classic, romance, literary. But my favorite author?

Dean Koontz.

In case you haven’t heard of him (I pity you) Dean Koontz writes science fiction thrillers (or just thrillers). When I read his books, I usually start at my own house and end up at my parents because I’m so scared! His books are incredible. I’ve read almost everything he’s written (over 60 books) and I love every one of them. I know when I get his newly published books, which I buy the day they come out of course, I know it’s going to be a great book.

Being a writer, I can’t just say I love his books, I have to figure out why I like them. So here’s why!

The Characters

His characters, from the protagonist, to the antagonist, to the most minor of characters, are all fascinating and distinct. His bad guys range from a sentient computer imprisoning a woman in her own home to power hungry men and women to a man’s own mind turned against him. Not to mention killer clowns, killer Nazis, and killer monsters. They are terrifying but written so well, also incredibly realistic. I never want to meet any of them.

But even better than the bad guys are the good ones. There’s the woman determined to save a girl based only on seeing her picture, the genius dog (literally), and the man who sees dead people. What I love about them all as a whole is their determination to do the right thing, usually for no other reason than that it is the right thing. You can’t help but root for them!

The Endings

I love happy endings and I want my favorite characters to survive the book, and, as a rule, Dean Koontz delivers. Not all of them, but the vast majority. Though his books are scary and violent, I know they are going to make it. It may not be a perfect ending, but it will be a satisfying one with all characters happy, or at least in a better place than they were. Except for The Bad Place. Didn’t see that coming.

The Scares

As long as I’m in a lit room with people, I like being scared. I watch scary movies when I fly because I’m surrounded my people! And Dean Koontz’s books can be terrifying. Is there anything scarier than people being evil for the sake of being evil? Probably a thing of relentless hunger and no empathy. Not only his characters are scary, but the way he writes makes it even more terrifying. So much fun!

The Laughs

Pretty self-explanatory, but it has to be a gift to write books that are both terrifying and hilarious!

The Dogs

Dean Koontz obviously loves dogs and they often show up as wonderful supporting characters in his books. Need I say more?

Now I want to reread some of them. Here are my favorites!

Relentless – A man, his wife, their genius son, and rather strange dog are on the run from a powerful organization. This is one of the funniest books he’s written!

Watchers – Einstein is a dog as smart as a person being hunted by a sadistic monster. This one is so heartwarming and Einstein is perfect.

Life Expectancy – The day he was born, Jimmy’s grandfather predicted five horrible days to occur in his life. And that’s also the day his troubles with a killer clown started. This book has one of the best first sentences ever written!

77 Shadow Street – The Pendleton is a large house converted into apartments with a strange, terrifying history and something strange is happening there again, something evil. This book terrified me!

 Of course there is also Lightning, Phantoms, The Good Guy, Cold Fire, By the Light of the Moon, and Tick Tock. I think I might reread Tick Tock tomorrow…or By the Light of the Moon.

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Who is your favorite author? Did they write your favorite book? Why do you like them and what book what would you recommend as a first time read trying out that author? Let us know in the comments!

 

Book Haul: WW2 books for kids

I don’t normally do book hauls. In fact, this would be my first. But this year, I’ve read quite a lot on one particular subject, and that is WW2. The reason for my thematic reading? My current writing project is a middle grade adventure story based around the time of the Battle of Britain. Hence I’ve been reading as much as I can in the genre, both to educate myself and simply to get immersed in the setting of 1940s Great Britain.

And it’s been GREAT! As a fantasy lover, I never expected to find so many fantastic WW2-themed books for young readers, but there are loads of what I would definitely call Must-Reads. So whether you’ve any interest in learning about war time Britain, or just have a fascination with that bygone era, here is a list of books I deem not-to-be-missed!

1. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr

I can’t tell you how many times this book has been recommended to me, not by WW2 buffs, but by young children who declare it to be their favourite book. At last I know why! In “Pink Rabbit”, Judith Kerr, the author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, tells the story of her own childhood as a German Jewish refugee in Switzerland, Paris, and at last England. Told from a child’s perspective, the experience of fleeing Nazi persecution is coloured with humour, adventure and family love. It’s irresistible!

2. Bombs on Aunt Dainty, also by Judith Kerr

This is the sequel to “Pink Rabbit,” & I would definitely place it in the YA bracket. This book cover Anna’s (Judith’s character) teen years in London during the Blitz. There’s certainly a lot more war action & apparent hardship in this one, but still the story features mostly on Anna’s relationships, dreams to become an artist, and first love. It was brilliant to follow the characters I’d grown to love in the first book right on into the next chapters of their lives. I’m often cautious about reading a sequel of a book I’ve really love less it fails to deliver & leaves me disappointed. Well this was one sequel which did not disappoint!

3. Goodnight Mr. Tom, by Michelle Magorian  Goodnight

I can’t believe I’d never read this book before. It’s considered a classic of our age, & now I see why. It’s the story of Willie Beech, an abused, neglected evacuee from London who comes to live with a grumpy old widow (Mr. Tom) in the country. Slowly but surely, the two get beneath one another’s skin and change each other. There is so much that is heartbreaking in this book, but also so much triumphant goodness that it’s worth the heartbreak! Read it, & I defy you not to cry!

4. Carrie’s War, by Nina Bawden

carries-warAnother one about evacuees (naturally a popular topic for kid’s lit since being shipped off from home to a strange new place is a ready-made adventure!). Carrie & her younger brother are sent to Wales to live with the domineering, grumpy Mr. Evans and his meek sister Aunty Lou. There is little war action in the far-removed Welsh village, but the story is filled with interesting characters, mystery & unexpected twists. It’s quite an quick & easy read as well!

5. Friend or Foe, by Michael Morpurgo

Morpurgo is a master of writing war for children. Whilst most everyone knows about hisforf title War Horse thanks to the hollywood production, he has in fact produced volumes of WW1 & 2-set stories for middle grade readers. This particular story follows, once again, two evacuees boys, but thankfully they get landed with a big-hearted dairy farmer & his wife. The action takes off when the boys witness a German plane crash & discover two of its crew alive & hiding in a nearby field. The boys have to struggle with their own pasts and consciences to decide whether to help the men– enemies though they are– or turn them in. This too is a quick & easy read, but rather thought provoking for young readers & old alike!

6. From Anna, by Jean Little

From_Anna_(Jean_Little)I’m still in the middle of this one, but it’s captured my heart already! Similar to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, this story follows a little girl, also Anna, whose family flees Germany at the advent of the Nazi regime. Only there’s a twist to this one — Anna has always been the odd one out in her family & at school, & only when the family make their move to Canada does she discover the reason! Then everything changes for her. Though I don’t yet know how this one ends, it’s already taken me on an emotional rollercoaster, but I’ve loved every minute of it!

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So there you have it! I hope if you’ve never read on this subject (as I had not till quite recently), you’ll give it a go! I’d also love to hear your recommendations of books for kids set around war.

And watch this space! I’ll be sharing some snippets of my own WW2 novel for you to review veeeeery soon!

 

1-year Blog Anniversary! What do you want next?

Much to our astonishment, this happened this week:

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It’s been a fantastic year getting acquainted with the Blogosphere & the wonderful community we’ve found right here at the book cafe. We want to throw out a huge THANK YOU!!! to all of our subscribers, readers, commenters, friends who have kept us going & growing this past year!

And now, because we’re here for you, we want to know: How can we serve you? What would you like to see in the next year of Brewhaha Book Cafe?

Would you like more tips on writing? More insights into our personal writing journeys? More author interviews or book reviews? Maybe free excerpts of our books, or an ebook on something interesting or helpful to you as a reader/writer/tea-drinker? Let us know in a comment below & we’ll do our utmost to deliver!

And if you’re not yet subscribed to our email list, sign up today & join this LOVERLY community of bookish folk! We know you’ll be glad you came!

Most sincerely,

The Sippit Sisters: Mez & Bri

Books, Books, Books!

Here at Brewhaha, Mez and I have mostly focused on writing, our thoughts and experiences as we try to become published authors. However, we both LOVE to read as well. So this month, we are celebrating our love of books! We’ll let you know our favorites reads, what we think makes up a good book, and what we’ve read recently or plan to read! We hope you’ll join in and let us know what you are reading as well! Mez and I are always looking for book recommendations. So stay tuned and have a good May, fellow readers!

 

No more NaNoWriMo in April!

So I learned my lesson…maybe. I always think I can do more than I can actually do. Obviously I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo and the fact I tried to do one during my busiest time of the year.

Utter. Fail.

I hate losing. It really burns me that I didn’t even come close to making it, but it really was out of reach. Late winter and spring is the busiest time of the year for me. In case you haven’t read the about us section, I raise dairy goats and it’s kidding season! So many kids, so many goats to milk. And the cleaning. I’m so far behind with the cleaning.  So even though I have most of my afternoons free (milking is morning and night!), I’ve been too tired to actually make myself work, as in write. Bad Bri!

But it’s okay. Because, you know, I’ve been playing with dozens of baby goats. I really do love my job! So while writing is on the back burner at the moment, I know I’ll have more time in the fall to really focus on it. Until then, I’ll have fun with some adorable baby goats and watch anime in my free time…and try to get at least some writing done!

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