Be Nice to the Bookstores.

Advice for indie authors from someone who manages a bookstore.

I love books, I love books so much that I spend all day and all night surrounded by books (and usually have my nose buried in one or two of them). I love them so much that sometimes I have to make a very conscious and difficult decision to put them down and interact with actual people.

I also love authors. I have favorite authors; I follow them on facebook and twitter and think wistfully that we would make the best of friends, and would it be creepy if I sent them an e-mail telling them how much I love and admire them? The closest I’ve ever come was sending Kate Quinn a tweet to which she *gasp* tweeted back.

However, there is a specific group of authors that are slowly destroying my love for all things literature: indie authors.

During my year-long stint as an editor at a local publishing company I met my fair share of indie authors, during my ongoing stint as a book manager I have met even more. They are a proud, pushy, persistent, and overall unpleasant people. They call me weekly asking to schedule signings and whether their book has sold since they last time they called. They demand to know why I haven’t displayed it on the bestseller table and why their advertising posters aren’t wallpapering the front doors. They assume that, because they have written a book, they have reached a new plateau of society that sits just below the pedestal of J.K. Rowling and Ernest Hemingway but high above the platform of the common bookstore manager.

Listen, I get it. You wrote a book, you have the right to be proud! And hey, those things aren’t going to sell themselves, you have to be a little pushy and persistent. I worked in publishing, I know how indie marketing works. Do you honestly think Fifty Shades of Grey became a bestseller because it’s just that good? No! E L James is just that good at marketing. However there are ways to sell your book without being so… unpleasant.

Here’s some advice from someone who is tired of dealing with you:

1. Make your book the best it can be before you sell it.

I know what you’re thinking – you wrote the dang thing, now you’re done. You’re not. That book needs an edit (no, spellcheck doesn’t count). In fact it needs several edits… by an actual editor, not your niece who is really good at English and told you it was basically fine but to watch for comma splices (whatever those are). If that hurts your feelings you are in the wrong market. You are going to have to re-write and change things. Your editor is going to make suggestions you are not going to like and, based on experience, that will eventually result in you not liking your editor (file under “why I no longer want to be an editor”). Here’s my professional advice; rather than wasting time and money trying to sell a bad book, invest in an edit! Don’t you want your book to be the best it can be? Even the best books have been edited and rewritten many many times (file under “why they’re the best”). I certainly wouldn’t want to be represented by a book that was riddled with typos, plot holes, and common mistakes. That’s a recipe for bad reviews and bad reviews will guarantee your book doesn’t sell.

2. Your book isn’t flying off the shelves; that’s not my problem, it’s yours.

The vast majority of indie authors I have dealt with assume that once their book is in print, the hard part is over. WRONG. Just because your book is now on the shelf of your local bookstore does not mean it is going to sell. It is going to sit there and collect dust unless you do something about it. Be an author, market yourself, your book, and your brand. Don’t call me and demand to know why it hasn’t sold. Don’t blame me for your misfortune because I’m not displaying your book to your standards. While you may think it belongs on the bestseller table, my corporate office does not. It is out of my control. I once had an author get so upset when I refused to put their book on a prominent display that they pulled all their books from the shelves therefore eliminating any possibility of selling it at all. In doing so they also eliminated my desire to do them any favors in the future. And honestly, when indie authors are continuously pleasant to deal with, I am willing to go the extra mile for them.

3. You’re trying too hard.

I want to help you, I want your book to be successful. I will do everything I can to make that happen. However, I cannot pepper the entire store with your posters and marketing materials. I cannot display the large wooden structure you built to exhibit your books. I cannot pass out your cards and flyers and bookmarks to every customer that comes through. I especially cannot do these things when I have 10 or more authors expecting them of me at once. It’s nothing personal, there just isn’t time enough in the day or space enough in the store. Please don’t take offense. Try to remember there are others like you, hanging up posters in the same places you are, harassing the same bookstore managers. You have the right idea and you’re definitely on the right track, consider joining forces to help each other market and spread the word about your books. It will go much further than a poster in a bookstore ever will.

4. You are your brand, so be nice.

You may be thinking, “I’m an author, I have a book not a brand.” Newsflash, your book is your brand. You are your book. Therefore you are your brand. Nora Roberts is a brand, she is a romance author with a trillion romance novels under her belt. They are usually set in some sort of cabin, whether it be in the woods or on the beach, and they usually feature a large picture of the author in a sleek 90’s pantsuit on the back cover. If Nora Roberts were to tarnish her brand by, say, being rude to the very people that sell her books (or something), her sales would likely suffer.

Let’s talk about Kate Quinn again (who, if you have forgotten by this point, tweeted me back on twitter). Kate Quinn is awesome; she is an excellent writer, she’s super smart, she’s got a great sense of humor and I know all this without having met her. I’ve read her blogs, checked out her website, and tweeted her on twitter. These are all representations of the Kate Quinn brand and examples of why I like her. I like her so much that I buy her books the day they come out, no matter what. I would buy them in hardcover if they came that way. However, if Kate Quinn had tweeted back something snotty, or posted something rude on her blog, I would be much less inclined to buy her books and support her brand.

Likewise, if you come off as pushy, persistent, or unpleasant, no one is going to want to read your books. Be LIKEABLE! Always, to everyone. Make sure you always portray yourself the same way you would portray your book; with class, integrity, intelligence, and modesty.

And for pete’s sake, be nice to the bookstores.

Hellhounds and Sirens and Bears, Oh My!

Actually, now that I think about it, I’m surprised Goldilocks and the three bears didn’t make an appearance…

This is one of those “two birds, one stone” or “two books, one blog” blogs. This is because I ended up reading two books at once last week (something I was forbidden to do in the third grade after an unfortunate mix-up between Mr. Poppers Penguins and Mary Poppins). I am also very tired right now and basically writing this in effort to keep my eyes open until an appropriate bedtime…

Let’s start with The Woodcutter, which I special ordered in… because it had a beautiful cover.

The Woodcutter by Kate Danley StarStarStar

ta daaaa

They have since redone the cover which is why the only picture I could find of the original cover is small and blurry. Anyway, it’s also about fairy tales, which I normally love. However, this book somehow crammed every single fairy tale ever written (minus Goldilocks) into 250 pages. It was clever, it flowed well, it was enticing, and honestly a little overwhelming.

After finding Cinderella scared to death (literally) in the forest, the Woodcutter, protector of the Wood and the 12 Kingdoms, sets out on a quest to kill the offending beast (whatever it may be). Along the way he encounters pixies (including their leaders Oberon and Titania), Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the beanstock, giants, *deep breath* the princess and the pea, Odin and his hellhounds, the billygoat gruff, the troll under the bridge, the twelve dancing princesses, the red shoes… etc. However, he soon discovers that the beast is only half the problem – an evil Queen has been capturing pixies and gathering their magic dust to increase her own (stolen) power. The Woodcutter must save the pixies (and in turn the Wood itself), return the rightful rulers to their thrones, capture an errant hellhound, and overall rid the land of evil. All in a days work.

For some reason I was finding it very hard to get into this book, it was a fast read (mainly because each chapter was approximately one page long), but characters came and went so quickly that it was hard to get attached to any one of them. There was also such a multitude of characters and quests springing up on every page that it was hard to keep track of the actual story… almost as if the author was trying so hard to squeeze in every fairy tale that she forget there was a plot line taking place beneath it all. Like I said before, the story was very creatively spliced together and well written, it was just fairy tale overkill.

__________

Siren’s Storm by Lisa Papademetriou StarStarStari/2

I ended up reading this book because I forgot to take a book to work and I always, always, always read on my breaks. I live too far away to go home for lunch so I escape the confines of the retail world through books. Naturally when I realized I forgot to bring a book I panicked… until I remembered I work in a book store. I hastily grabbed the nearest teen book I could find and cracked it open. I didn’t expect to like it enough to finish it (I should have known better, I almost always finish books, even if I hate them), but I ended up reading the entire thing over the course of the week. And I didn’t hate it, I actually somewhat enjoyed it…

Will’s brother Tim disappeared one year ago when the two boys were out sailing off the beach near their house. Will doesn’t remember the incident, he only remembers waking up on the beach with a bloody face and a flaming sailboat, but no one in the small town of Walfgang believes him. Except Gretchen. Gretchen is Will’s best friend. She is also an incurable sleepwalker who finds herself waking up in some very strange places. Her dreaming body is inexplicably drawn to the ocean while her conscious self is terrified of it. In effort to take her mind off things she takes up a summer job at a local café, there she meets Asia, a green eyed vixen with long black hair and melodious voice… who has an incredible ability to control people without a single touch. Asia is new in town and the residents are mystified by her swift arrival. Will swears he saw her crawling into the ocean in the middle of a hurricane, but even stranger things begin to take place in the town of Walfgang

One thing I will say about this book, there is no silly, stupid, mushy gushy teen romance. I was actually able to enjoy the story without Will getting sidetracked by Gretchen’s boobs or Gretchen getting sidetracked by Will’s lips. (The author is a little awkward about switching point of views but you get used to it). In fact, aside from being hormone happy high schoolers, all the characters were very down to earth and believably human. Both Will and Gretchen were affected by Tim’s disappearance (though neither realizes exactly how much or why). They have just reached that awkward stage between childhood friendship and newly developed romantic feelings, unfortunately they are forced into a situation far beyond their control before those feelings can come to fruition. Asia is mysterious and not decidedly good or evil – we soon discover she has her own past to contend with. While Will and Gretchen battle their inner demons, Asia prepares for a battle with demons that are all too real. Their reactions are as realistic as they can be for a paranormal teen fiction novel in which Siren’s attack the town.

I also liked the subtle references to other classic mythological tales, namely the Odyssey and Dracula. If you end up reading the book, check out the authors note.

The only real downfall to the story is its predictability… which is evident from page one. SPOILER ALERT: Asia is a siren. Okay, that’s not really a spoiler, it was pretty clear from her first appearance. She pops up in the middle of the road in a hurricane then slithers down the rocky beach and into the water. She never really tries to hide what she is. Gretchen keeps dreaming that she’s running towards water and wakes up standing at the edge of a bluff, high above the ocean. She’s taken to humming a haunting tune that makes Will think of the day Tim disappeared. It doesn’t take a literary analysis to figure out that Gretchen is somehow involved. The ending with pretty anticlimactic… nothing really happened that I didn’t already anticipate. There is a sequel but I’m not sure I care enough to read it. Overall it wasn’t half bad and I would recommend it but I would also recommended that you keep your expectations low.

Splintered

There are generally three things I love to read about; Ancient Rome, magic castles, and Alice’s adventures in Wonderland (be it the classic or a newly imagined take on it). Imagine my delight when I was browsing amazon.com at work (shh) and happened upon Splintered by A.G. Howard. Based on the description it promised to be a fun, slightly sinister take on the Alice in Wonderland adventures. Based on the reviews it promised to be the best book I’ll ever read (not so, but not half bad). What really sold me on it was the author page, er, the author herself. A.G. Howard “hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child.” Great! The Alice stories are classics and every teen should read them without being forced to do so. Any author whose motivation is to aspire people to read more classics is a-okay in my book. Not to mention she enjoys perusing 18th Century graveyards in her spare time. She. sounds. awesome.

It’s also clear that she is a genuine lover of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, Splintered takes some liberties but explains them in such  a way that I’m not sure whose story to believe, Howard’s or Carroll’s. She has done her research and crafted a great story that is somehow whimsical and dark at the same time. I was drawn in by the cover, encouraged by the author (who, based on 2 short paragraphs from her amazon author page, I would like to befriend), and convinced by the second chapter that I had stumbled upon something great.

Splintered by A.G. Howard StarStarStarStar

Alyssa has always been plagued by Alice in Wonderland, rumor has it that her ancestor, Alice, was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s classic story. The kids at school constantly make fun of her for that reason (although I can’t see why) and she allows it to ruin her life (I would personally be quite proud). Her mother, Alison, was institutionalized years ago for talking to flowers and malevolently chasing butterflies – a curse that has been passed down from Alice herself. Now Alyssa lives with her doting father, surrounded by the objects of her crazy mother, and the ever increasing fear that she will be submitted to the same fate. Unfortunately, her fear is justified.

It started when she got her period – with puberty came boobs, boys, and the ability to talk to insects and plant life. That ability is Alyssa’s darkest secret, one she has never told anyone about. Not her dad, not her mom, not even her best friend Jeb (not that he would listen anyway, now that he’s dating the most popular girl in school aka Alyssa’s arch nemesis *sigh*). She has almost convinced herself that the voices are all in her head when she realizes that her mother can hear them too. After that Alyssa finds herself on the trail to Wonderland in effort to set things right and break the family curse.

Moments after Alyssa has stepped through the looking glass Jeb bursts into her room and jumps in after her, very heroic-like, plunging them both down the rabbit hole. There they meet Morpheus, the moth-man that had been haunting Alyssa’s dreams since she was a little girl. He, along with all the other characters of Wonderland (albeit slightly more sinister versions of themselves), accompany Alyssa and Jeb as they travel across Wonderland and attempt to clean up the mess the original Alice left behind. There they encounter the sea of tears, the garden of talking flowers, the tea-party stuck in time, the vicious bandersnatch, and of course the Red Queen (among others), not realizing all the while that someone is using them as pawns in a giant (and not quite metaphorical) chess game.

It was all quite clever the way the author meshed Alice’s classic stories into one terrifying yet beautiful Wonderland. The story itself was very smart, A.G. Howard clearly pulled her inspiration from Lewis Carroll but managed to make it very fresh and a touch more gothic. Overall I really loved the book, I loved figuring out how the classic story provided the backdrop, I loved that the characters were not clearly divided into good and evil, I loved that it made me want to revisit the original stories. There was just one problem: it’s a teen book. It’s filled with teen romance that was more ridiculous and hard to believe than Alyssa’s ability to talk to tulips.

Let’s start with Alyssa, overall I liked her, she shows maturity when dealing with her mother’s mental illness and living with a father who isn’t ready to let go. She has a lot of baggage and she handles it well. However, when it comes to her romantic feelings she may as well be a preteen girl. She acts like this cool skater chick but it’s really only an effort to impress her friend Jeb (something I actually did when I was 13, but definitely not 18). She also hates his girlfriend and doesn’t make any effort to hide it, both girls act super catty and Jeb would probably be better off without either of them.

Unfortunately Jeb has what I like to refer to as Edward-syndrome. He is entirely too perfect; he’s bad-boy hot with a charming good-boy personality, and he always says exactly what Alyssa wants to hear.  It’s glaringly obvious from page one that they’re going to develop feelings, er, act on the feelings they already have (and are doing a terrible job at hiding). When they finally do kiss it’s followed by a lot of grinding and leg-wrapping that goes just a smidge too far. They fill any awkward silences by blurting out really cheesy pick-up lines that were more smirk inducing than they were sexy. Honestly it was a bit sickening.

Weird teenage romance aside, this as a great book with (mostly) great characters, a thought provoking plotline, and a cool flashback to a classic tale.

It’ll leave you wondering which story is the real story. 

Romance is Dead… er, Undead.

Here’s something I never thought I would say: I’m really into zombies right now. A few years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead watching a zombie movie (heh, punny). Seriously, my friends once forced me into watching 28 Days Later after which I was sent home with a can of homemade zombie spray (febreeze) and yet another reason to sleep with a nightlight. When we  would discuss our options for the zombie apocalypse I would openly admit that I would be the first to go. Let’s face it, I don’t possess even the most basic of survival skills, nor do I relish the idea of living in fear. However, my opinion of the undead has recently changed for two reasons:

1.

2.

My dad and I watch Walking Dead together every Sunday. He is now convinced that, come the zombie apocalypse, he is more than capable of leading a large group of people to safety. He has also admitted that the hardest part of the zombie apocalypse would be having to pretend he wasn’t excited that it finally happened. But let’s focus on that second guy, the guy that somehow made being a zombie just a teeny bit sexy. His name is R, and despite his unbeating heart, he fell in love.

I remember seeing Warm Bodies (the book) when it first came out and thinking zombie romance? No thanks. Now I’m kicking myself. As a self proclaimed book snob I hate reading books after they’ve become popular. I want to be the reader that got there first. “Oh that book? I read that years ago… way before it was cool.” Anyway, I had already decided not to read the book, I figured that seeing the movie would be good enough, but I loved the movie so much I had to have more. Maybe if I had read it first my opinion would be different, but as it is this might be the first time in history that I liked the movie better than the book.

The movie was sweet, the characters were loveable, and it had an awesome soundtrack. It was your typical “boy meets girl, boy eats girl’s boyfriend, boy kidnaps girl, boy and girl change the world” love story. In this case “girl” is Julie, a free spirited blonde who dreams of a better world – a world without metal walls designed to keep the undead separated from the living. “Boy” is R, a zombie who regrets his situation and, though he knows it’s a bit unorthodox, attempts to change it. Together they must face the wrath of both the living and the dead as their strange relationship grows stronger. It was funny, heart warming, intense, and not the least bit scary or gross. I loved it, I loved it so much that I want to see it again and again. I loved it so much that I decided to read the book… despite the fact that it now had a movie cover and had moved up to bestseller status. The book hipster in me relented.

Yes, the stories were altered a bit but that didn’t really bother me. More than anything I think my opinion of the book was compromised because I went into it expecting the characters to act a certain way. Book Julie is much more crass than film Julie and I ended up not liking her. Granted she has some daddy issues to cope with… on top of the fact that she’s just been kidnapped by a zombie, but does she really have to act like such a (pardon) bitch? Book R is just as sweet as film R and if anything I thought he was even more sympathetic because we get to hear the story from inside his head. He endures a lot more personal turmoil than the film lets on.

The book is filled with all the same one-liners that make the movie so great, and then some. I have never highlighted so many quotes in my nook as I did when I read Warm Bodies.

“I long for exclamation marks, but I’m drowning in ellipsis…”

However, I should also mention that this book is NOT suitable for your pre-teen daughter. The movie is harmless enough but it’s literary counterpart is filled with the f-word and scattered with scenes of unconventional zombie sex.

Anyway, given my current mind frame I would probably rate the book at 3 stars, although if I had read it before the movie I probably would have given it 4 stars. Either way it’s worth the read and the movie is definitely worth the watch. Let me know what you think!

The Boy Who Lived… Forever.

This month I decided to re-read Harry Potter. While he isn’t single-handedly responsible for my love of reading, he is responsible for my extreme case of “book snobbery.” Normally I’m consumed by the desire to read every book ever written, and feel that re-reading is a giant waste of precious time. But when a friend offered to share her Harry Potter eBook collection with me I couldn’t resist. My obsession with Harry Potter did not end at 17 and probably will not end at 70, if ever. Finally I had found a way to read Harry Potter without having to compromise the integrity of my precious hardcovers that hold so much importance to me… Those of you who are passionate about books will understand.


I met Harry Potter when I was 9. He had, of course, just turned 11. I had just finished my first day at my new school, in a new town, in a different state, and my mom offered to buy me a new book as a special treat. Even then I was obsessed with books about magic, and I especially loved books that took place in some sort of castle setting (my preferences haven’t really changed). There, in the middle of the children’s section, was a large display stacked with copies of the Sorcerer’s Stone. And that’s all it took, after that I only had eyes for Harry.

I grew up with Harry Potter. We were always roughly the same age, we often spent our summers together, and he never forgot my birthday. (The books were usually released within a week or two of my birthday, which is at the end of July, although it turns out I am not the chosen one, and I would spend the entire summer reading and re-reading the newest installment). Before each book was released I would re-read the entire series until I had read Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets so many times I could almost recite them by heart. The final book was released in the summer of 2007, I had just graduated high school and looked forward to, not the beginning of my life as a graduate, but the end of the saga I had started 10 years earlier. I read Deathly Hallows only once. And then, after a decade of reading, I put Harry Potter down for more than 5 years.*

*During this hiatus I did, of course, attended every midnight premier  of each movie installment.

Stepping back into the world of Harry Potter was like visiting my home town. It was comfortable and reminiscent and I tried my hardest to spend as much time there as I could. I read for hours every night before bed and had dreams filled with Harry Potter. I read on my breaks at work in attempt to escape this world, if only for an hour. When I finally finished the last book (last night around 3am) I was devastated. I felt alone. I felt the same way I had felt 5 years ago upon finishing the final chapter of Harry Potter. There is no more. It’s over. I was so swept up in that magical world that I wasn’t ready to come back. I had to talk to someone about Harry Potter, I had to let someone know what I had just experienced! Ron? I whispered into the dark, Hermione? Anyone? Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but still, there was no one I could text or call (at 3am) so I made a hasty post to facebook and resisted the urge to blog until morning. And now here I am, not in London, not at Hogwarts, and wishing with all my might that I could be.

“Of course it is happening inside you head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I won’t drone on about how Harry Potter taught me about friendship and bravery… we’ve all heard that before. More than anything he taught me that magic can be anywhere, hiding just behind a brick wall, or beneath a broken down phone booth. When I was 9, having just finished Sorcerer’s Stone, I wrote in my diary (which was filled with all the thoughts and musings my 9-year-old self deemed important) that I believed in Hogwarts and hoped that that belief was enough to earn me an admittance letter when I turned 11. Years later, right around the golden age of 13, my friends and I discovered that diary and were having a delightful time reading from it. Well, they were, I was mortified. They mocked my 9-year-old self for believing in magic, not realizing that my 13-year-old self still did and was under the impression that my Hogwarts letter was just  taking a little longer to get to me as the owl had to fly overseas.

…My letter is now 12 years late, I must remember to write to Hogwarts and get that sorted out. I’ve heard there are wizards in the post office to take care of that sort of thing…

But the greatest thing about Harry Potter, in my opinion, is not the incredibly realistic world (which is so incredibly realistic that it MUST be real), nor the amazing feats of friendship and bravery. It’s the characters, and the fact that they can make mistakes. They are not perfect; not even Dumbledore, not even Harry. They are not always what they seem; not his friends, or his enemies. Their emotions are real and, at times, completely illogical. They tend to cause problems as often as they solve them. Ties are severed, people die.

Though they are magic, they are only human. Proving once again that magic can be in anyone, anywhere.

They say that a really good book should be read as a child, again as an adult, and again in old age. This is the first time I’ve read the series knowing how it ends and my first time reading the series as a 20-something adult. I was constantly struck by the actions and emotions of the characters. I felt I had a much deeper understanding of the series than I ever did in the past 15 years, despite the fact that I read them over and over. The books grew with me, the characters developed as I did. I can understand now the things I could not understand as a teenager. Why is Harry acting like that? How could Dumbledore do such a thing? Because they are human. They grow, and change, and make mistakes. They succumb to human desire and illogical emotions, and that’s what makes them great.

I look forward to reading it again in a few years time. I feel I have gained a new perspective on life. As cheesy as that sounds.

Having only read it once I was eagerly anticipating my second read through of the last book. I was no less shocked than I was the first time around. I had to keep reminding myself to slow down, to read every word. These books were either incredibly well planned out, or J.K. Rowling was incredibly lucky that all the pieces of this intricate puzzle came together so perfectly. I am still, as I was before, in awe of the ending. I am biased to love Harry Potter, I am emotionally attached and my views have been emotionally compromised. However, if this had been my first time reading his saga, I don’t think I would have been any less impressed, touched, swept away, and dazzled than I was the first time I picked up the Sorcerer’s Stone or put down the Deathly Hallows.

Harry Potter will live forever.

“After all this time? … Always.”

The Odyssey: an untold story

Every once in awhile you’re lucky enough to find two books, written by two different authors, that so perfectly compliment each other they should have been sequels. I found that in The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Penelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona. I read Song of Achilles first and loved it so much I couldn’t quite drag myself out of the world of the Odyssey, not yet. So I picked up Penelope’s Daughter and dove right back in. And I’m so glad I did. While Song of Achilles covers the war in Troy (caused by the beautiful Helen of Sparta), Penelope’s Daughter focuses on what happens back in Ithaca. Together these books tell the whole story of the Odyssey from perspectives that Homer hadn’t considered. What Achilles lacked Penelope’s Daughter fulfilled and vice versa.

I will assume you probably know the story of the OdysseyHelen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in all the world, is whisked off to Troy by Paris. Her husband, Menelaus, becomes enraged and puts together an army to sail to Troy and take her back. Among the warriors is Odysseus, the star of the Odyssey, who is most famous for taking 10 years to sail back from Troy (where the war had gone on 10 years already). He encounters sirens and cyclopes and endures the wrath of the Gods. When he finally returns to Ithaca he finds his house overrun with suitors for his wife, Penelope. Also among the warriors is Achilles, this is his story.

The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, a young Prince. When Patroclus is exiled from his home for accidentally murdering Clysonymus, he is sent to Phthia to serve Achilles and his family. Achilles sees something in Patroclus that intrigues him and he chooses the exile as his companion. As the boys grow older they grow closer and closer, Achilles begins to view Patroclus as his equal and Patroclus admires Achilles in every way. When they reach the age of manhood they discover that the bond they share goes much further than simple boyish companionship. While it was normal for Princes to take slave boys for lovers, it was not exactly normal to fall in love with another man. Achilles had responsibilities; he was supposed to take a wife and raise heirs… he was also destined to become the greatest warrior the world had ever seen, greater even than the Gods themselves. But all Achilles wants to do is spend his time with Patroclus, and to keep him from harm. Eventually Achilles is called to duty, to fight in the war at Troy, to take Helen back. It is prophesized that the war cannot be won without him. From there the boys must face challenges both to their relationship and their lives. Hardly old enough to be considered men (especially by today’s standards) they struggle with their childish morals, they struggle to keep each other safe, and they struggle to portray Achilles as the demigod he is supposed to be. Overall The Song of Achilles is a beautiful love story, a coming-of-age epic, and a historical retelling that will leave you yearning for more.

If that is the case and you are yearning for more, you’ll find it in Penelope’s Daughter. According to Laurel Corona, Penelope was newly pregnant when Odysseus left and she soon gave birth to Xanthe; a daughter who grew up hearing the brave tales of her father but couldn’t escape the thought that he didn’t even know she existed. When the war finally ends and Odysseus still doesn’t return their palace is overrun with suitors; nasty men looking for a chance to take over the palace in any way they can. Xanthe’s brother isn’t strong enough or manly enough to rule on his own, nonetheless run the household. Penelope can only rule as long as Odysseus is alive, and people are beginning to doubt that he is. In order to keep Xanthe safe Penelope sends her off to Sparta to stay with Helen, the woman who caused the war. Xanthe resents Helen already, for taking away her father before she ever got to meet him, and dreads her stay in Sparta. Instead, what she finds is a humble, caring, and broken woman who will teach her all there is to know about life, love, and becoming a woman in a world ruled by men.

Together these books covered all the unknown aspects of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective to Helen’s to Achilles’. They gave the famous epic a sense true human emotion and a refreshing backstory. I don’t know if I can ever think of the Illiad or the Odyssey and their famous characters in the same way again.

P.S. StarStarStarStarStar both books.

Note: I tried to hyperlink all the important names and stories, I find mythology fascinating and spent about 3 hours reading up on this stuff on Wikipedia. As is always the case with Wikipedia I stopped when I reached a page about “tarantula hawks.” Be careful with Wikipedia, it can be a dangerous place.

The Great Night

Every now and then I take a trip to Barnes and Noble (despite the fact that I work at a bookstore and get a discount at said bookstore) to pick up a little sumpin’ sumpin’ special. Something my store wouldn’t normally carry. On my last trip I discovered The Great Night, and I was a little devastated to find it. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been my favorite play since elementary school when I unwittingly ordered it through my Scholastic book order, not realizing it was a play written in what seemed like a different language. Nonetheless, it was filled with fairies and magic, therefore I loved it.

Sometime during my freshman year of college I decided I was going to write a novel, that novel was/is going to be based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Imagine my disappointment when I picked up The Great Night and discovered that Chris Adrian had had the same idea and he had written it first. (Insert life lesson about procrastination). Anyway, I still wanted to read it and I had a 20% off coupon* so I put my jealousy aside and bought it.

*The above mentioned coupon actually didn’t work and I ended up paying full price. After reading it, I somewhat wish the coupon had worked.

The Great Night by Chris Adrian StarStarStar

This was not a bad book but I also would not label it as a great book (see what I did there). It was far from anything I expected… in fact you might enjoy it more if you put Shakespeare entirely out of your mind before you attempt to read it. The story follows six or seven characters as they make their way into San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on Midsummer Eve. Three of the characters are making their way through the park to a party on the other side, but as the book progresses it is revealed that they are really running/hiding from the failures of past relationships. The remaining characters are a group of homeless folk who have gathered in the park to rehearse a play they plan to  put on for the Mayor, whom they hate… for some reason. 

The author delves deep into the lives of each character; how their now broken relationships initially formed, their flaws and downfalls that eventually brought the relationship to an end, and how they found themselves wandering endlessly through Buena Vista Park on Midsummer Eve. The park, of course, is the secret home of Titania and her fairy court. Titania, like the humans who have unknowingly wandered into her kingdom, is experiencing a loss of her own. A loss so devastating she does something incredibly rash and dangerous, unleashing a monster who plans to end the world as we know it.

While I believe this book is well written I do wish it was organized a little differently. The author skips back and forth between characters, delving deep into their individual lives (which are closely yet subtly linked), and it was difficult to keep track of who did what. There were also more than a few strange, sexual scenes that created some dissonance within the book as a whole… in my opinion. At times the characters randomly break into masturbation sessions or threesomes for no apparent reason. It’s surprising in a not so good way. Less than half of the book actually takes place in the park, which kept me reading only because I was looking forward to the rare chapters that did. Titania’s kingdom is very well imagined and I constantly wished I could see more of it. The ending left me feeling unresolved… and I hate that.

However, I did not dislike this book because it didn’t match my expectations. When I stopped thinking of it as a fantasy novel and started thinking of it as a character drama, I began to like it more and more. Their individual stories are all very human and heartbreaking, and the author ties them together in a way that’s almost indiscernible. I want to go back and create some sort of character map so I can see how subtly their lives are linked. Also, while this novel did not contain as much magic as I had hoped for, the magic it did contain was done very well. For example; at one point the “man in the moon” goes from laughing to frowning, a slight change only noticed by those who knew what to look for (the fairies) but discernable to all characters. It was subtle and quite Shakespearean. The ending was very dreamlike (true to the original play) and overall well done… despite my hatred of non-resolutions. While I didn’t love this book I am glad I read it and even more glad that I can still write my Shakespeare inspired novel without resentment.