Book Review: Book Thief, by Marcus Zuzak

Asking an author which book is their favorite is a complicated question. There are books that keep us on the edge of our seats, or tease us with amazingly constructed story lines. There are those that fill us with a sense of wonder and those that light a creative spark. There are those which are tender and beautiful and make us cry.

Then, there are those books that have such a uniqueness to them they don’t quite fit anywhere else. That’s where the Book Thief falls for me. It balances tender with tension and beautiful prose with a touch of snark.

And it ranks in the top five books I’ve ever read.

About the story:

This is a holocaust book. But – don’t despair. The purpose of the book isn’t to showcase the horrors of that time period, but rather to give voice to a girl who lived it and how the books she stole made it possible to survive. What’s interesting and makes this book very different is that it’s told through the eyes of a rather unusual narrator – death.

Liesel Meminger steals her first book at the graveside service for her brother and carries it with her to her new home and foster parents, the Hubermann’s. Death has been watching her, as he does all people he finds interesting, and chooses to share the different scenes he’s witnessed of her life through the eternal lens of his own experience. The book is what seals her love for her foster father, Hans, as he uses it to help her cope with the nightmares that haunt her and teaches her from it.

It is this book and these late night teaching sessions that starts the embers glowing of what will turn into a fire within Liesel for the written word. All the while, World War II is tearing the country apart. The Hubermann’s must protect the son of a family friend by hiding him in their basement at great personal risk.

Liesel takes special interest in him and shares the one thing she has, her love of words. First, by sharing with him what the day is like outside, then by sneaking him newspapers, then by reading and writing their own books together.

I won’t ruin the ending for you by telling what happens, suffice it to say that it is a survival story, and Liesel survives.

Recommendations:

I recommend this book to anyone who loves expert level wordsmithing. The lyric nature of the prose is gorgeous and surprising in all the right ways. Also, it’s a strong historical fiction as well and portrays Nazi Germany in a very realistic and unsensational manner. Because of it’s unique narrator and style, it should also appeal to those who appreciate non conventional stories.

I would not recommend this for people who prefer clear and direct language in their stories. This book borders on poetry at times and often veils the truth with metaphor, or pulls back into the point of view of death and away from Liesel’s experience. It’s also a long book, so it might be harder work to get through because of how language is used.

I give Marcus Zuzak’s The Book Thief 5 stars.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to AmazonGoodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!


Free? Did someone say free? For this week only (Sept 3-7, 2019) you can grab the ebook of Stonebearer’s Betrayal for FREE in preparation for the release of the second book in the series coming in the next 6 months. Squee!

Here’s a handy link!


Holy Smokes, FanX is this week! If you are coming to the the conference, come find me at the following panels on Thursday:

Learning by Going, by Caryn Larrinaga

Everyone loves a good ghost story and with October lurking just around the corner I thought it was a brilliant idea to bring on a friend who has mastered the art of spooky. Today I’m thrilled to share a wonderfully insightful article written by the talented and imaginative Caryn Larrinaga.

Learning by Going

by Caryn Larrinaga

Table of Contents for Fey Sidhe

Many years ago (don’t ask me how many; I’m in denial), I had to put together a notebook of poetry for my high school creative writing class. Looking back, I’m a little in awe of myself. Not because of the quality of my poems—they were exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a lovestruck sixteen-year-old to be writing—but because I had the balls to put my own work next to the likes of e.e. Cummings and Theodore Roethke… and an awful lot of lyrics from Delerium’s Poem album. Fitting, right?

Cover of Fey Sidhe

Much as my own poems and the choice to name the collection “Fey Sidhe” make me cringe a little bit (I was obsessed with elves and fairies… okay, fine! Am obsessed with them), this hand-bound notebook is my favorite souvenir of high school. Teenaged Caryn, though a terrible poet herself, had pretty decent taste, and some of the pieces I chose to include had a lasting impact on me, especially the opening stanza of Roethe’s “Waking.”

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.

The Waking, by Theodore Roethke

I love those three lines, especially the last. I learn by going where I have to go. It’s similar to the “zen driving” idea Douglas Adams came up with in the Dirk Gently books (which I also love). The idea that we can have destinations in mind but not really know where we’re supposed to end up until we start taking the journey… it’s something that’s resonated with me as I’ve bumbled through my adult life, and especially as I’ve bumbled through my writing.

Some writers are super organized and plot their books thoroughly. I try to do that with everything I write. I chart out the beats, working backwards from the ending, and jot down a few sentences about what each scene needs to do for the story.

Then I start writing, and that’s when I really figure out where the story is going. Most of the time, I deviate from my plot a lot, especially in the meaty middle part of the book. With short stories, things weirdly go even more off the rails (you’d think fewer words would give me fewer opportunities to deviate from the plan, right?).

This combination of plotting and flying by the seat of your pants is lovingly referred to as “plotsing” in writerly circles, and for me, it makes the writing journey so much more fun. I don’t feel like any of the words I end up throwing away are wasted; they all gave me some much-needed experience and were opportunities to get to know myself a little bit better.

Writing, just like any art, is something you can’t get better at just by reading books and soaking up advice at conferences and conventions. In the end, you actually have to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start making words. It’s one of those things you can only learn as you go, putting your fear of failure aside as you grow and improve.

So plot… or don’t. Make plans… or don’t. Either way, you’ll learn by going (and writing) where you have to go.

Don’t let that twinkle in her eye fool you, Caryn’s got some deliciously dark stories hiding inside her.

About today’s guest author:

Caryn Larrinaga is an award-winning mystery, horror, and urban fantasy writer. Her debut novel, Donn’s Hill, was awarded the League of Utah Writers 2017 Silver Quill in the adult novel category and was a 2017 Dragon Award finalist.  

Watching scary movies through split fingers terrified Caryn as a child, and those nightmares inspire her to write now. Her 90-year-old house has a colorful history, and the creaking walls and narrow hallways send her running (never walking) up the stairs. Exploring her fears through writing makes Caryn feel a little less foolish for wanting a buddy to accompany her into the tool shed.

Caryn lives near Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and their clowder of cats. Visit www.carynlarrinaga.com to claim a free ebook and audiobook!

Connect with Caryn:

Be sure to check out the first book in the award-winning Soul Searchers Mysteries series, Donn’s Hill. I hear the sequel, Donn’s Shadow is due to come out the end of October – so much win!

About Donn’s Hill –

Mackenzie Clair needs a fresh start. The death of her father and a broken relationship rendered her old life unlivable. What better place to build a new one than Donn’s Hill, the most haunted town in America and her favorite childhood vacation spot?

But returning to Donn’s Hill awakens more than nostalgia. As memories resurface, so does a lost psychic ability to talk to the dead… a power the poltergeist haunting Mac’s apartment is eager to use. 

Aided by her new roommate—a spirited Tortoiseshell cat named Striker—and the ghost-hunting crew of the Soul Searchers, Mac struggles to control her newfound talents. She’d better get a handle on them fast, because someone in town is hiding a deadly secret. If Mac can’t divine the truth, Donn’s Hill will never be the same.

First in a new series, this cozy paranormal mystery was the 2017 winner of the League of Utah Writers Silver Quill award. “A genre-bending gem of a book, cozy meets horror meets cat fancier in a unique town of psychic tourism and ghostly secrets.” -Johnny Worthen, award winning author of THE FINGER TRAP, THE BRAND DEMAND and WHAT IMMORTAL HAND

Find Donn’s Hill, and Caryn’s other books, on Amazon!

Even better, if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can get this title for free!


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Book Review: When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne

In honor of the passing of Toni Morrison, I felt it appropriate to pay her tribute by reviewing a book of poetry that has been influential to many. I know it’s not one of hers, to lend my uneducated opinion on her poetry feels like a disservice. Her writing is evocative and deep and would require more time than I have to really dig deep and give it the attention it deserves. Instead, I chose something recently recommended to me.

I asked Candace, my fellow author buddy, what her favorite book was and she told me When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne, I had to pick it up and give it a go. It’s a little thing, easily enjoyed in an hour or two. I read poem at a time while waiting at orthodontic appointments and cowering in the shade while hanging out with my kids at parks.

It really is a lovely collection of ideas drawing the reader back to a simpler time when a kitchen chair was a cage for a lion and a tubby bellied bear felt bad about his roundness until he met a handsome and equally tubby prince.

I also loved the freedom of using words for their rhythm and repetition and not being tied down to grammatical standards. After writing prose for so long, it’s a nice change to see it done differently. A. A. Milne does a wonderful job using repetition to create a sing-song quality to his verses which would make it fun to read these aloud to children.

I’m told this is the first appearance of Winnie the Pooh’s character, although at this point he is only referred to as the tubby bear. Christopher Robin pokes his head in as well. The first Winnie the Pooh book wasn’t published until two years after this book had been out.

For me, I’ve been working on developing more lyricism in my prose. One of the things that can help is reading more poetry and piecing together the parts that draw my attention. I think I’ll be playing with a few new ideas this week. I’m looking forward to it.

Perhaps I should find another poetry book…

If you enjoy simple lovely poetry, you’ll enjoy When We Were Very Young. If you’ve been meaning to read more poetry and don’t know where to start, or don’t like complicated themes, this is a good pick for you as well.

However, if you were hoping for profound truths about life the world and everything and want the poem itself to do the heavy lifting, these won’t do that. That is, unless you choose to apply lots of your own logic and theories, then perhaps they will. I won’t judge.


Psst! Jodi here. Did you enjoy today’s review? Did it help you decide if this book was for you? Cool, eh?

Guess what? You can do the same for me. If you’ve read Stonebearer’s Betrayal, head on over to Amazon, Goodreads, or the book site of your choice and leave me a review.

It doesn’t have to be big and long like this one – a few sentences is perfect! Thanks in advance!

2018 Year in Review

Wow. What a year. While it’s true my plans for growing my blog readership didn’t happen which had everything to do with being overwhelmed with working to get my first book published, I’m very pleased with what I did accomplish this year. From books read, to posts written, to short stories submitted, to connections made, to articles shared, to podcasts recorded, I’ve been a busy little bee!


Photo by Alice Hampson on Unsplash

Books read from the 2018 reading list

I totally flaked out on reading all of the books I wanted to this year and again I’ll blame it on the stress of the publishing process. Finding each title, and reading it, and returning to share about it here was too much to figure out when all my time and attention was focused on staying afloat while working to make Stonebearer’s Betrayal as good as it could be. The reading I ended up doing was self-indulgent escapism in the form of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series. No regrets there. The great thing about books is the list I made for 2018 will still be there for me for 2019. Yay!

Fiction:

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Man from Shenandoah – Marsha Ward
Heroes of the Valley – Jonathan Stroud

Non-Fiction:

Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy – David Gerrold
Stiff: Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach
Power Cues – Nick Morgan

In addition to being a stressed out slacker, I learned that it takes me far longer than it should to read non-fiction. I do much better if it’s an audiobook because I can listen while I do chores and run errands.


Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Submission Statistics!

Yes, even while I’ve been working to get Stonebearer’s Betrayal out, I’ve been submitting things to places. Although this year, it’s been largely in the name of marketing. Every little bit helps. I’ll note here that I’m not including the soul sucking numbers from seeking out reviewers, and I thought finding a publisher was hard. Yikes. Here’s the stats:

  • 47 items submitted
  • 29 response received (18 still waiting)
  • 10 resulting in positive outcome

The breakdown of those 47 items –

  • 26 presentations
  • 7 panels/roundtable discussions
  • 7 podcasts
  • 5 short stories
  • 2 misc

2018 Blog Statistics

  • 3924 visits
  • 5887 page views
  • 21 posts

Top five posts of 2018

All said, it’s been a busy and wonderful year. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish and am looking forward to an even busier and productive 2019. To you, dear reader, I hope your 2018 was filled with wonders, challenges, and growth as well.

Here’s wishing you a fantastic and productive new year!

***

In case you missed it this week:

Here’s an article I wrote about family game night over at Guild Master Gaming. Also, Mike Thayer over at the Calling all Nerds podcast and I had a great time talking about what it’s like to be authors and what inspires us.

Like this post? Want to stay in the loop? Be sure to like and subscribe!

Don’t want more emails? That’s great. I don’t either. You can also follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Pick your favorite social media flavor. I won’t spam you with posts, I promise.

From Contract to Launch – The Journey to Here

I believe I’ve said it here before, but creating a book is a lot like having a baby, morning sickness and all.

Not mine, but super cute! (image attribution: Pixabay)

Over the past few weeks I’ve had several people want to hear about my journey of what it’s been like to publish a book. Last year, I wrote a post about my experience with querying and finding a publisher. Ironically, that post was immediately preceded by one talking about rejection and accepting yourself as you are, proving that this industry is indeed a roller-coaster ride of emotion.

What a year it’s been!

If my book “pregnancy” officially began the day I signed the contract, then the morning sickness set in when I started work with my editor. Women suffering from morning sickness will tell themselves it will all be worth it in the end as a way to cope with the misery. During the editing process, I kept telling myself that the nauseating discomfort of learning about all the weak parts of my book had to be a good thing as well. My editor at one point in the process may, or may not, have compared my main character to Bella Swan from Twilight. Ouch.

Editing is hard work. Each chapter, sometimes each page, takes long hours of intense focused thought to bring it to the next level. When I’ve done my own rounds of polishing and editing it’s taken months to work from cover to cover. Under contract, I’m given thirty days to complete an editing pass. Fun fact – if I spend one hour per page, editing the book would take over 300 hours. That’s THIRTY ten hour work days back-to-back with no breaks. Which is why it really wasn’t fair for my kids to be off-track during the first crucial editing pass as I transformed my main character Katira away from being a passive Bella and into a strong, capable protagonist.

Deadlines are aptly named. If you aren’t feeling half-dead with exhaustion as you slide your edited manuscript back, you probably have better time management practices in place than I do. In the first pass, we cut away almost 15,000 words of dead weight and replaced them with hundreds of small additions sprinkled through the book like salt. I learned quickly that one of my writing weaknesses (besides poor Bella) was not tagging dialogue in a way that added motion and life into a scene. After spending days of work inserting more action into my dialogue sequences, I think I’ve learned my lesson.

This process is repeated until both editor and author agree the book is as good as it can get, or can’t stand to look at it again. I’m still not sure which. Morning sickness fades into a period of waiting, preparation, and sheer terror contemplating the vastness of all that should be done. There’s waiting for the proofreader to finish, waiting for the cover artist, waiting for formatting, waiting for proofs, waiting for digital copies, waiting for early reviewers – so much waiting.

At this point self-publishing starts to look good. While I’ve loved having the support of a company to help me through this process, especially since it’s my first time, the waiting and not knowing what’s happening – or if anything is happening – can drive anyone a little nuts.

Just like a first-time mom, a first-time author (despite all their research, and best efforts, and fellow author friends who try to show them the way) experiences so much uncertainty with the whole process that the stress is unbelievable. Looking back, I could have done so much more with this waiting period to prepare for the books release, but I was naive. Now I’ve been through it I know what really needs to be done, and when I go through this again I’ll have a much better plan.

Launch day speaking to the crowd.

Launch day is literally a book’s birthday. It is pushed out into the world and is on display for all to see, warts and all. All the early teasers, quotes, articles, and efforts that happen before the launch are the same as showing people ultrasounds. As the author, I can see the cute little nose and the tiny precious fingers, and all that amazing potential inside because I’ve studied it – but to everyone else it’s just another static filled picture.

There’s no way to feel truly prepared for launch day. Some authors do hundreds of hours of prep and set up and marketing and a blog tour – the options are dizzying. Some moms fill their freezer with weeks’ worth of meals and create and fill a schedule for people to come help them.

Some don’t.

The results are the same. The book still comes, the baby is born. The family and friends that planned on supporting and helping the author still show up. Sometimes friends of friends are dragged in as well.

Unlike a baby who demands care, feeding, and endless love and attention, a book won’t demand anything and immediately starts fading into obscurity unless the author continues to push and work to keep it in the public eye.

This is where I am now. My book has entered its infancy where it still doesn’t know its place in the world. I’m working everyday, trying hard just to keep it alive until it can start building momentum on its own. Just like a real infant, the work keeps me awake at night and requires a steady stream of care and feeding for it to thrive.

It’s exhausting, but worth it.

Proud Momma and Book Baby

My family will tell you that this process has changed me. I believe it. I’m a stronger more confident person than I was before. I’ve learned how to squeeze the most out of short periods of time, and utilize every moment – especially when I’m under a deadline. These skills have transferred into home life as well. Putting off doing something I don’t like doing, like creating a meal plan, only serves to prolong stress. Get it over with. Having a messy house won’t kill me, but it doesn’t help me find peace either. It’s important to seek out ways to feel centered, even when lots of crazy is going on.

While I wrote the book because it was one of my life goals, it has helped my kids see that they can reach hard goals as well and that anything worth doing takes real work. I love hearing the pride in their voices as they tell their teachers and friends that their mom is an author.

Hopefully they don’t mind too much that this book baby might be expecting a little brother in 2020…!

***

Interested in checking out my book baby? It’s a great read for fans of Wheel of Time, appropriate for ages 12 and up (although my 11-year-old loved it too!) Here’s a handy link to Amazon to learn more.

Love staying in touch? So do I! Let’s connect. You can follow here on WordPress, or choose your favorite social media – I’m on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Influences of Podcasting with Daniel Swenson

Today, friend and fellow ginger Daniel Swenson comes on the blog to talk about his most influencial podcast guest in the ten years he has run the Dungeon Crawler Radio podcast. Daniel and I met through our connections in the Utah writing community and have plenty in common, including a passion for fantasy fiction, a love of meeting inspiring people, and a shared publisher, Immortal Works Press. 

Dungeon Crawler Radio Logo

My question to Daniel – Which podcast guest has influenced you the most over the years, and why? 

Daniel’s answer:

The question of who has been the most influential person in my podcasting and writing career was one that was a bit difficult for me to narrow down as I have met many amazing people over the last ten years that I have been doing my podcast Dungeon Crawler Radio. When I first started, I had these grand dreams that I would meet all the authors that I had come to love in my formative years. And amazingly enough I was able to fulfill most of those dreams. So, to narrow it down to one individual was quite a challenge, but in the end when I finally decided on who that individual was, it was quite obvious and apparent.

As I’ve said, I have met many amazing and talented people over the years and this is in no way to discount them because many of them have helped shape my life in one way or another. However, the one person who really stands out in my mind that made the most impact in my life as a person, a podcaster, an interviewer and a writer has to be author R.A. Salvatore. It was during those Awkward High School years that I discovered Bob’s first Drizzt novel, The Crystal Shard. The book was set in the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting and at the time was published by TSR. The cover was fascinating, on it was a burly dwarf with a massive battleaxe, a huge human barbarian easily hefting a warhammer in both hands, and a dark elf was crouched on the ground examining a blood trail. I knew right then and there I wanted to know what happened within the pages of this book. 

I devoured every book R.A. Salvatore put out and they always found a way to effect me emotionally on some level with the events going on in my life at the time. It was amazing. Fast forward fourteen years later and I was two years into running my podcast and we’d had some success with interviewing author like Larry Corriea, Dan Wells, and Brandon Sanderson before their careers took off. It was around this time I gained the courage to email Bob and see if he would be willing to come on the show to talk about his latest book. To my amazement, he said yes and we planned when he’d come on. The show was beyond amazing, there I was talking to the author equivalent of my hero and it was like we had been friends for years, he joked with us, he spoke to us about writing, he gave us and the listeners some really great advice. He was also very interested in what we had to say regarding our insight with his novels, the characters and our questions about writing and he was very gracious and responded in kind. 

Bob continued to come back on the show year after year sometimes as much as twice a year depending on book release and each time he continued to leave great advice on writing and being a decent human being.

R.A. Salvatore

With each visit I wrote down the amazing advice given and tried to incorporate those things into my daily life, my writing for my gaming campaign and the podcast. The advice given was so impactful that I am sure it is part of the reason the podcast has been so successful and authors like R.A. Salvatore and so many others have wanted to return over and over again. But more importantly, it was the advice given about writing and the need to write that really changed my life as it had given me the foundation I needed when I began to write my first novel. All those lessons over the years had been the greatest writing class anyone could ever hope for. 

I am grateful for the friendships I have made over the years with individuals in the writing and gaming communities due to my podcast and writing. I still continue to meet amazing individuals everyday and I hope that through my podcast, my writing and when I speak at events that maybe I too can spark the joy of being creative in someone else like Bob helped ignite in me.


About Daniel Swenson

Daniel Swenson is a fantasy writer that enjoys writing about dragons, guns, swords, magic and more. Daniel’s debut novel The Shadow Above the Flames came out in 2017 and was an Amazon Best Seller. The sequel, A Dragon’s fate will be release in June of 2019. Daniel is also the creator and host of the Hugo-nominated podcast Dungeon Crawlers Radio.

Connect with Daniel:

About his book, The Shadow Above the Flames:

How do you save the world from two monstrous entities? A power-hungry corporation and a newly awakened dragon…

In a world left reeling at the loss of fossil fuels, and after giving years of service to the military, Henry Morgan just wants a normal life. But between nagging feelings from his past and a strained relationship with his brother Rick, “normality” always feels just out of reach. 

The Union Forest Corporation puts profits ahead of safety and with a dragon on the loose threatening to kill innocent people, something incredible happens… 

Henry learns that Rick is among the force of elite commandos sent by Union Forest to battle against the dragon at the drilling site, he’s forced back into the roles of soldier and protective older sibling. He’ll do anything he can to save his brother . . . including risking his own life at the hands of a ruthless corporation. Henry may be the only person who can keep the world safe from total annihilation…

If you like fast-paced thrillers, brutal dragons, witty heroes, and evil villains, then you’ll love Daniel Swenson’s first novel – The Shadow Above The Flames. It’s a high octane thrill ride! 

Buy The Shadow Above The Flames today to watch an ordinary man become a hero!

“An awesome premise combining old and new. Tons of fun.”

– Dan Wells, New York Times bestselling author of “I Am Not A Serial Killer”

***

A huge thanks to Daniel for joining us today! Be sure to check out both his podcast and his book, they are awesome.

Speaking of podcasts, did you know that Dan and I did an interview a few weeks ago? Come check it out.