Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Reading Recommendations

I did a school visit!

The school was Timpanogos Intermediate School. They put me in a small auditorium and I got to present to about 5 classes of middle school students. Honestly, I underestimated my time and had lots of extra time for kids to ask questions. The good news is that they rose to the occasion in a big way. Some asked questions. Others spouted ideas like, "What if Jeremy went back in time?"

I don't know if, as a writer, I'm allowed to encourage fan fiction (shouldn't I want kids to write their own stories, not mine?), but if I can, those kids should totally do it. Their ideas were great, even if I couldn't use many of them without fundamentally altering the story.

So, first school visit since publication: success!

Next week, I'll probably be talking about the race I'm running this Saturday in the Grand Tetons.

But for today, I want to make a summer reading list.

This is in part inspired by a Goodreads question I was asked, but since I've had friends ask me what books I recommend, I'd like to post a few: 5 books each in middle grade, young adult, and adult. I'm limiting myself a little, since there are so many books I love in each category! I'm going to omit the gimmes, like anything by Rick Riordan or the classics that I've already stated I love. These will be the hidden gems I've found and enjoyed to no end that make for good, fun summer reading.

Middle Grade

1. Archvillain by Barry Lyga

This is Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog for kids. The main character gets powers the night another super-powered kid falls from the sky. Not trusting the alien kid, the protagonist becomes the villain to his hero. It's smart, poking fun at the superhero genre while still being a fun member of it. Likeable characters and exciting plots.

2. Story Thieves by James Riley

James Riley is consistently funny. This book is no exception. Also, it is a little meta: with the idea of kids being able to jump into books at will as a major part of the story, be ready to see the author mention himself. Again, characters are likeable and the story is imaginative.

3. The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris

Ever wished Arthurian legends could be more sarcastic? Then this book's for you! The whole series follows tales from Arthurian legend but in a way that feels like Patricia C. Wrede's take on fairy tales in the Dealing With Dragons series. Very clever writing and dialogue, and adventure while still poking fun at the traditional tales.

4. Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

 Magic bakery and strong family connections. This book is "bliss" to read - pleasant, light and enjoyable, like a good pastry, and I love that the relationships between the family members are realistic but kind. Also, magic bakery.

5. Lockwood and Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

This is by the same author who wrote the Bartimaeus books. In these, ghosts run amok and only kids can sense them, so kids work for agencies for stopping ghosts. These books follow the only child-run agency. Dark and creepy, but also funny and tightly written, a good book for stormy summer days.

Young Adult

1. Taste Test by Kelly Fiore

This book is a light, entertaining book about a teen cooking reality show. There's romance, mystery, and all through it a strong current of competition. This book makes me want to cook something, and it's fresh enough not to feel like every other teen romance out there while still being familiar and comforting.

2. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I love this book. This is about teenagers who are "naturals" at solving crime (the protagonist is a natural profiler) who live together and are trained by the FBI to be agents one day. Smart writing, smart subject. The crime psychology feels chillingly real. It's a thrilling read.

3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Barry Lyga makes the list again, but this time, not for his humor. Dark book, this one. The son of a serial killer struggles to stay human (aka, not go murderous like his dad who trained him to be so) and also seeks to identify and stop a serial killer. Like The Naturals in many ways, but much darker and grittier, so if you like horrors and thrills, this is a good one.

4. The Siren by Kiera Cass

And we're back to light. This book, by the author of The Selection, is a take on "The Little Mermaid," in a way. Girls who are drowning are sometimes allowed to become sirens. They live a hundred years as a siren before becoming mortal again, and during that time their voices lure people to their deaths. A sweet, romantic story with very likeable characters, more so than I expected for a book about girls luring men, women, and children to their deaths.

5. The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

The Phantom of the Opera set in the Caribbean. If I need to say more to entice you, know that the setting feels vibrant and real, and story follows the original fairly well, all things considered, and you get to see the Phantom from "Christine's" perspective, which gives the story more depth.

1. The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner

This is a work of nonfiction. It tells the stories of the Hershey and Mars chocolate empires, from beginning to current day. I loved learning about the making of chocolate and how both companies started, their philosophies, and how they became what they are now. I also finished with a real admiration for Milton Hershey as a person.

2. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Apparently, I like food and magic. This book is about both, but also about sisters and family. The main characters come from a family where all the women have some special, magical gift. When one sister comes back to their hometown after being away for a while, things start to happen. It's a magical, fairy-tale-like read that's great for summer.

3. Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is glorious and this is a good first book for new readers. Sarcastic, humorous, smart (so very smart), this book about a con artist taking over the role of postmaster is wonderful. The fantastic elements are present but the focus is more on the character Moist's plans and schemes.

4. Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Urban fantasy about a wizard in Chicago who occasionally helps the police solve crimes. This book is great, with a wonderful voice and an imaginative world that feels real. The series just gets better, too. If you like Supernatural, read this book. You'll be doing yourself a favor. Great characters, just great.

 5. The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo

Another nonfiction, but not as sweet as the chocolate book. This is about the Vidocq society, a club of cops, detectives, profilers, and all kinds of other crime fighters who meet up, eat dinner, hear details of a cold case, and solve it. It can be creepy in places, but if you like true crime, this is a fascinating read.

These are certainly not the only books I enjoy, but they're some of my favorites and they're great for light, interesting, dark, scary, thrilling summer reading. I'd recommend these books to my friends.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Sandhya Menon - When Dimple Met Rishi (5/30)
Nadine Jolie Courtney - Romancing the Throne (5/30)
Karen McManus - One of Us is Lying (5/30)
Julie Israel - Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index (5/30)
Andrew Shvarts - Royal Bastards (5/30)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Disney Defense: Sleeping Beauty

So, the Goodreads giveaway for Under Locker and Key is over. Congratulations to the 3 winners!

In other news, I'll be visiting Timpanogos Intermediate School in Heber, UT tomorrow morning. It's my first school visit since my book came out. We'll see if it's any different now; I'll report back about it next week.

This week I have a Disney defense; it's been a while since I did one of these. There are some things said about this film that I don't entirely agree with, and I have to say what I think. This post won't be as long as some of my other defenses.

The film is, of course, Sleeping Beauty (as you likely guessed from the post title).

This movie is an old Disney classic, and it's known lately as the movie that gave rise to the reboot Maleficent and the film where the title character only has about 18 lines. I've heard this statistic used as an argument that Sleeping Beauty is anti-feminist.

And it seems to be: the passive princess in the tower, sleeping away, while the prince cuts through thorns and fights a dragon.

But here's the thing I believe:

This movie isn't about Sleeping Beauty. She isn't the protagonist. Neither is Phillip.

Radical notion, I know. But let's consider.

The protagonist of a story is the "one who strives." That's not Briar Rose. It's not really even Prince Phillip. They both do as they are expected to do, and more or less passively go along as others direct them. (See my post from last week about strong characters.) I'd say the only thing either of them does of their own will is Briar Rose telling Phillip she'd see him again (against the fairies' wishes) and Phillip actually showing up (against his father's).

Not that contradicting authority is a sign of strength. But it can be telling.

So, who's pulling the strings? Who is acting and not being acted upon?

The fairies.

That's right! Maleficent, the evil fairy, sets the whole story in motion with her spell. And the good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather, respond with their own protections.

It goes like this whole film.

Maleficent: *casts spell*

Good fairies: *counter spell* *hide the princess*

Maleficent: *searches for princess* *finds princess* *brings her to the spindle*

Good fairies: *put the castle to sleep*

Maleficent: *captures Phillip, the "true love" according to the spell alterations the good fairies made*

Good fairies: *rescue Phillip and give him weapons*

Maleficent: *tries to stop Phillip*

Good fairies: *magics him through obstacles*

Maleficent: *confronts Phillip as a dragon*

Good fairies: *enchant sword*

Maleficent: *dies*

That's it. That's the story. This isn't a tale of prince and princess and true love, not at its heart. It's not about Phillip's courage, although I don't discount that, either.

It's a story of good versus evil, with fairies combating each other with whatever weapons they have. Maleficent acts directly with her own dark magic, and the good fairies often act through other people, but they do act.

Briar Rose and Phillip are not the heroes of this story. They are secondary characters, pawns even. Everything that happens is part of a battle between the fairies, the forces of good and evil.

Which is why I didn't buy the depiction of the good fairies in Maleficent. They aren't secondary characters. They never were. They are the good to Maleficent's evil, the force available to counter hers. They're powerful, even though everyone only ever seems to remember the "make it pink/blue" birthday fiasco.

So, that's Sleeping Beauty: a story of good versus evil. The prince and princess are not the protagonists, not here. Doesn't make it a bad movie, but it does change the focus, don't you think?

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Darcy Miller - Roll (5/23)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Strong Characters: Acting and Not Acted Upon

Hello, all!

I hope you're having a good week. First things first, I want to remind you that my Goodreads giveaway for Under Locker and Key is running one more week, so if you haven't entered and want to, then you still can. You should! Who doesn't like free stuff? Use the widget below to enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Under Locker and Key by Allison K. Hymas

Under Locker and Key

by Allison K. Hymas

Giveaway ends May 21, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
Anyway, on to the blog post! I decided to revisit an idea I've batted around before: what defines a character as "strong"? As "weak"?

I think this is important for writers and readers to determine, since we all want our heroes to be strong (unless otherwise desired, which can make for an interesting book), or at the very least, we don't want people calling our characters weak when we didn't want them to be.

Personally, I think it's important so we can see through cheap gimmicks that make a character seem strong without actually doing it, much like how a logical fallacy can make an argument seem valid when it doesn't actually do anything of the kind.

Now, a logical fallacy doesn't mean the argument itself isn't strong; it just means that it can take a weak argument and make it seem strong. Same with gimmicks, like the following:

- The character is good at fighting and using weapons.
- The character is a surly loner.
- The character is stubborn as all get out.

These things can be part of a strong character's make-up, but weak characters can be like this, too. We as society seem to think that someone who resembles Katniss from The Hunger Games is automatically a strong character.

If Katniss is a strong character, it's not because she can use a bow, doesn't get along with anyone, and doesn't give up on what she wants.

No, I'd say she's strong because she acts and isn't acted upon.

In The Hunger Games (the first book), Katniss makes her own choices. Yes, she's pushed around a bit by the society she lives in, but her choice to volunteer is hers and hers alone. She doesn't succumb to what others want but chooses and acts in her own way.

In later books, I think she starts to weaken as a character, leaving other characters to define her and her story (Catching Fire, anyone?). But at first, I think the draw to her isn't that she's good with weapons but because she acts and is not acted upon.

One thing that bugs me more than anything is when a character is presented to me as "strong" because he/she (more and more "she," lately) fits some kind of societal value, but is still acted upon instead of acting. Take Elsa from Frozen, for example.

Can you tell me one thing she does that isn't a passive reaction?

Elsa lives in hiding all her life because her parents wanted her to. She conceals her power and her feelings, even from her sister. Then, at her coronation party, she accidentally reveals her power. This is not done on purpose; it's a reaction to her sister taking her glove and yelling at her.

When the people around her are frightened by her powers, instead of dealing with the situation like a queen should, she runs away. She reacts and is acted upon. Even later, when Anna tells her that she's set off an eternal winter, Elsa doesn't do anything to fix it. She lashes out at Anna, again accidentally, and continues to hide. The only reason she goes back to Arendelle is because she is literally carried back there by someone else.

Elsa doesn't act for herself. She reacts. She's acted upon through the whole movie. Anna is the one who acts for herself, choosing to go out and find her sister. She acts by deciding to marry a man she just met. It's a terrible idea, but she at least takes action and makes her own decisions. Elsa doesn't.

I'm not saying Elsa is a bad character or that Frozen is a bad movie. There's room for strong and weak characters in fiction because that's realistic. A character rules by fear and reacting to everything is interesting in the context of the story.

But I disagree with Elsa being considered strong because she sings a song about liberation (when she's running away from all her problems and responsibilities) and looks like this:

And Cinderella is considered weak because she does housework and is kind. Cinderella does everything she can to go to the ball. She does her work and makes her dress. She doesn't run away from her problems but faces them head-on. She doesn't wait for her prince, but goes and finds him. Her only help comes when she has already done all she can for herself.

Seriously. Look who's the one who saves the day at the end in Cinderella, when the slipper is broken and all hope seems lost. It sure as heck wasn't the prince.

The more I read and watch movies, the more I realize that a strong character is someone who takes charge of their own life to the best extent that they can. They may not always succeed, but they at least try. A weak character lets others run their lives and/or only react, never act. I used female characters for this list, but you can apply it to others, for sure.

Draco Malfoy, for example. A weak character. Dobby, on the other hand, definitely takes the initiative.

If you have any thoughts about my theory that how a character acts or is acted upon decides if they're strong or weak, let me know in the comments. This is a complex writerly issue and I keep trying to get to the heart of it and explore other dimensions of character development.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Cale Dietrich - The Love Interest (5/16)
Melanie J. Fishbane - Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery (5/16)
Kate Watson - Seeking Mansfield (5/16)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway!


This is a short post, but I hope you'll find it sweet:

I'm having a Goodreads giveaway for Under Locker and Key!

Starting today, and going until May 21st, you can enter (for free) a giveaway on Goodreads to win one of three print copies of Under Locker and Key.

You can use the widget below to enter the giveaway.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Under Locker and Key by Allison K. Hymas

Under Locker and Key

by Allison K. Hymas

Giveaway ends May 21, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Kyra Leigh - Reaper (5/9)
Katie Nelson - The Duke of Bannerman Prep (5/9)
Christina June - It Started With Goodbye (5/9)
Erin Beaty - The Traitor's Kiss (5/9)
Misa Sugiura - It's Not Like It's a Secret (5/9)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Most Magical Alarm Clock on Earth

This week two things happened:

1. I moved.
2. The weather was cold and gross and then today became warm and sunny.

So, as a result, I needed some time to enjoy the sun once all the moving was over. I went out walking up Provo Canyon with my brother and sister.

It looked like this, except spring, not fall.

Since the weather was so nice, we inevitably started talking about good family memories at amusement parks, namely Disney World. We had listened to Disney music on the way up the canyon, and we started to talk about the music as well.

I mentioned that I thought once that it would be great to use "Circle of Life" from The Lion King as an alarm in the morning. Can you imagine waking up to that? My sister agreed, but added that you'd start to hate whatever song you used as alarm before too long. My brother suggested switching out songs so you don't ever get used to one being the alarm. (We also considered using them only for special occasions.)

So, for your viewing/listening pleasure, here is the list of songs we deemed perfect as morning alarms either for starting with a loud note or for being cheerful and optimistic.

"Circle of Life" (The Lion King)

"A Star Is Born" (Hercules)

"When Will My Life Begin" (Tangled)

"Gaston" (Beauty and the Beast)

"One Jump Ahead" (Aladdin)

"Friend Like Me" (Aladdin)

"When We're Human" (The Princess and the Frog)

"The Bells of Notre Dame" (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

"Perfect World" (The Emperor's New Groove)


"Fantasmic!" (Fantasmic! show in the Disney parks)

That was fun. I'm sure there were a bunch of great wake-up Disney songs I missed, so if you think of one, please mention it in the comments. Next week, I'm sure I'll be back to more serious, writerly matters. But for today, I'm enjoying my musical vacation and wishing I could take a real one.

Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
J.C. Welker - The Wishing Heart (5/1)
Gwen Cole - Cold Summer (5/2)
Laurie Forest - The Black Witch (5/2)
Laura Silverman - Girl Out of Water (5/2)