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May 20, 2017

3 Books with Interesting Female Characters

by Susan Roberts


Fiction books have changed a lot during the last ten years. It used to be that novels were mainly written by men with male main characters who were always rescuing the women in distress. Today I have reviews of three books that were all not only written by women but have female main characters. I definitely enjoyed all three books.

May 19, 2017

Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge 2017

by Donna Huber



This was the second year that the writing team of Girl Who Reads participated in the A to Z Blog Challenge. We already post daily and with eight of us, daily posting isn't the challenge. Instead, we focus on trying new techniques and different writing styles.

I felt we had gotten in a rut with our titles lately and as we weren't writing too much different content this year, I challenged my team to think creatively. To think creatively about titles is a little easier during the challenge because there is an assigned letter that you have to fit your content to, but I do hope we can continue with the variety of titles.

I always let my other writers choose their preferred letters first and then I fill in the other days, which meant that I had some of the more difficult letters - X, Y, Z. But I had fun with X and Z. I will admit I did fall back on my safety net with Young Adult books. I feel that X and Y were my best titles:


I want to thank Susan for pitching in for the letter Q, It was a letter I was most dreading. I couldn't match any of my backlog of reviews though I guess I could have gone with Queued Reviews now that I think of it. Next year!

Our Top 10 Most Viewed Posts:

10Japanese Literature (Alison)
9Kids Favorite Top Five Books Lists (Elisabeth)
8Upcoming Beach Reads (Susan)
7Don't be Xenophobic! A Guide to International Authors (Donna)
6Photos: Post, Prompts, and Challenges (Donna)
5. Far from Fresh: The Value of Derivative Fiction (Chris)
4. Maria Murnane: How one particular friendship helped Bridges come to life
3Active Reading: A Key to Awesome Book Reviews (Donna)
2Tackling the TBR Pile (Donna)
1Learn About Literature (Donna)

I do love the Challenge for the increase in traffic and comments. This year there wasn't a central link up, instead, we left our links in comments. I like the idea of providing each day's link as often people sign up for the challenge with the best intentions only to get waylaid by one thing or another. I participate in another challenge at the end of May, beginning of June (Armchair Book Expo) that has a daily topic. There they use a daily linky so that we get the organization of a linky list, with the guarantee of landing on that day's topic post. I think the A to Z Challenge should look into that method next year as going through comments was messy. Some commenters linked directly to their post and also a link to their blog in general. Sometimes I would click the latter and then have to go looking for the post.

Another goal I had for the challenge for myself was to visit 10 blogs a day. Some days I made it and some days I didn't. I like the Challenge because I get to visit blogs that aren't necessarily book blogs and a variety of different blogs each day. Though with going through the comments for links led me to visit a similar set of blogs daily. I'm going to continue going through the comments over the next few weeks (or more!) to try to visit more blogs that participated.

I also challenged my writing team to make posts more open to conversation, encourage comments by asking questions or inviting thoughts.

Top 10 Most Commented on Posts:

10. Y is for Young Adult Books (Donna); Q is for Quindlen...Anna Quindlen (Susan); English and EspaƱol: Elefantitos by Susie Jaramillo (MK)
9. V for Vigilante (Ross); Maria Murnane: How one particular friendship helped Bridges come to life!; Group of Graphic Novel Collections (MK)
8, Biltmore Estates and Vanderbilt's Books (Donna); 4 Contemporary Chick Lit Novels (Susan); An Irish Author, 2 Irish-Set Stories and Ireland Travel Guide (Susan); Zilch! Ways to Read for Free (Donna)
7Upcoming Beach Reads (Susan)
6Nonfiction Review: Neurodiversity by Barb Rentenback and Lois Prislosky (MK)
5. Far from Fresh - The Value of Derivative Fiction (Chris)
4. Kids Favorite Top Five Books Lists (Elisabeth); Learn About Literature (Donna)
3. Don't be Xenophobic! A Guide to International Authors (Donna); Photos: Post, Prompts, and Challenges (Donna)
2Active Reading: A Key to Awesome Book Reviews (Donna)
1Tackling the TBR Pile (Donna)

Most of our posts received at least a couple of comments. I think comments were down this year, even though I think I visited more blogs this year.

Perhaps the best thing, for me at least, that came out of this challenge is that it got me back in the habit of scheduling posts early. Before April, and even somewhat during April, I was only getting a couple of days scheduled. Now I have about a week and a half scheduled in advance. This is giving me more writing and reading time. I think my reviews will be better. It also provides me time to visit and comment on other blogs during the week.

And finally, the challenge reminded me that I like to blog about other things than just book reviews. So I have scheduled a day each month that I can write on any topic having to do with books, writing, blogging, and the reading experience. Today is that day this month. I will be writing about stuff on the third Friday of every month.

We all deserve a prize for finishing the A to Z Challenge. I can't afford to give one to everyone, but one person could win this month's mystery box. Here's a look at what was in the March Mystery Box.



a Rafflecopter giveaway


Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

May 18, 2017

Two Great Fantasy Novels for Kids to Read this Summer

by MK French



The school is winding down and soon kids will be home under foot. Did you know that children can lose up to a grade level of reading skills during the summer? Teachers often have to spend much of the first quarter of the new school reteaching material students have forgotten. Reading during the summer helps maintain a child's skills. Here are a couple of books that will keep your kids entertained and help prevent the summer slide.

Amazon affiliate links are used in this post. Free books were provided for honest review.


Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) by April Daniels

Dreadnought
January 2017; Diversion; 9781682300688
ebook, print (280 pages); fantasy, YA
Danny Tozer just wanted to be a girl but had been born in a boy's body. But when the superhero Dreadnought died in front of her and transferred his powers to her, it also transferred her body into her ideal one: a female body. Now she can fly, is strong, and can finally help others the way she wants to. But her father is transphobic and wants to "cure" her, her best friend suddenly wanted to date her, the superhero league in her city is arguing if she even belongs, and the cyborg villain that killed Dreadnought is still out there. At least Danny found a new friend in Calamity, another superhero in training.

It's great to see such a positive character in this role. Danny is genuinely a caring person that happens to be trans, and this isn't the driving force of her character. There are diverse side characters, and even those characters that aren't meant to be sympathetic are still fairly well drawn and described. It was interesting to see superhero politics, an underworld of "gray capes" for those who had powers and didn't want to be superheroes, and how the ordinary people dealt with this kind of reality. While the blurb for the book specifically mentioned the best friend that wanted to date her, that part of the book was over fairly quickly and didn't get mentioned again. Once Danny got her powers, there was less focus on high school and more on the actual powers, her friendship with Calamity and the interactions with her parents. It makes sense, but peer groups are also an important part of a teenager's life. It would have been good to see a little more of her high school, how she interacted with kids and navigated through some of her other friendships. Danny was on her own a lot, which is a sad truth for many transgender kids.

For those who need warnings, though, there are transphobic and misogynistic slurs used against Danny, and some from Danny toward Greywytch, one of the superheroes in New Port City that finds transgender women insulting to women in general. There is also a sequence in the beginning with medical procedures done, some of which was without Danny's consent. The fight sequences are very well described and adds to the quick pace of the novel. This is a great first book for Ms. Daniels, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

Buy Dreadnought: Nemesis at Amazon


The King of Average by Gary Schwartz

The King of Average
October 2015; 9780997586077
ebook, print (228 pages); fantasy, YA
James is a fairly average child and is determined to be the most average child that ever lived. His mother frequently tells him that he's the worst thing that ever happened to her, so he wants to be perfectly average. This brings him to the attention of Scapegoat, who brings him to Mayor Culpa so that he can be the new King of Average... if he can find out what happened to the prior King. Complete with Optimist and Pessimist, James sets out on a journey to discover the prior King and discovers more about himself than he thought he could.

There are some very adult jokes and themes throughout the book, even though it's aimed at middle grades. It's heartbreaking to see how little James's mother cares for his feelings, and how self-centered she is when interacting with him. That kind of casual pain is juxtaposed with the puns and how James interacts with other characters. The common fear of being good for nothing is very deftly explored here, and it is a theme that will resonate with readers no matter their age. My own eight-year-old daughter was delighted to read this book and was very engaged in James's journey. She needed help pronouncing the words and didn't understand all of the wordplay, but she understood very well James's drive to prove himself worthy. She was as proud of him as I was and eager to keep reading. Gary Schwartz did a great job getting into the mind of James and the other children and making the journey not only believable but one that we learn from as well.

Buy The King of Average at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

May 17, 2017

A Must Read for WWII Fans - The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

by Donna Huber




The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck is a beautiful novel though it is set during one of the darkest periods in modern history - WWII Germany. I was excited when I won an advance reader copy through a Goodreads giveaway.

Amazon affiliate links are used in this post.

The Women in the Castle
March 2017; William Morrow; 978-0062563668
ebook, audio, print (368 pages); historical fiction
World War II set novels are among my favorite subgenres of historical fiction. I have read it since I was in school and was introduced to The Diary of Anne Frank. Over the last few years though I have sought out different perspectives in the WWII stories I read as I was growing tired of the concentration camp or allied forces focused plot lines. My first experience was with Chris Bohjalian's Skeletons at the Feast (read my review). If that book hadn't led me to start this site, then The Women in the Castle definitely would have. Much like with Bohjalian's book, Jessica Shattuck's novel blew me away.

The story opens in 1938 Germany. Few people in the country see that Hitler isn't the savior he claims to be. In the shadow of recent, disturbing events, Marianne von Lingenfels, niece-in-law to the countess, prepares for the annual harvest party.

"The party had become famous for its anarchic, un-German atmosphere. It was known as an outpost of liberal, bohemian culture in the heart of the proper aristocracy." pg. 2

It is the perfect setting for what many Germans at the time would deem most un-German - the plotting of the assassination of Adolf Hitler.

Throughout the novel, readers are treated to flashbacks to that night and the plot that was hatched, but most of the story takes place in the years following the war. In 1945, Marianne von Lingenfels is desperately trying to fulfill the task set for her that night of the party - to look after the wives and children of the conspirators. She was unable to do much during the war, but now is searching to put families back together and do what she can. She is the perfect person for this job.

I don't know how Shattuck named her characters, but Marianne von Lingenfels has the perfect name. She has the air of an aristocrat and you can just envision her marching up to whoever is in her way and stating, "I am Marianne von Lingenfels...". She has the skills and heritage to do what little in the confusion of after war chaos could do.

While there were presumably other children and wives, Marianne is only able to locate Benita, the wife of Marianne's childhood best friend, and her child Martin, and one other woman with her children. I don't know if Marianne stopped looking or if there was just no way to find them, but I felt this bit of the story was left hanging.

Have you ever wondered how a country where citizens had been so brainwashed could function after the war? I don't think in any of my history classes we covered what happened to the people. There was a program of denazification put into place (at least in the American and British held areas, I'm not sure about the Soviet area). I don't think it lasted long (at least in earnest), and I'm not sure how effective it was. Part of the denazifaction program, there were mandatory viewings of newsreel footage.

"Every day the American and British radio programs broadcast new and grisly stories about the Nazis and the horrors of the camps they had liberated. But almost no one listened." pg 93.

And though Marianne was clearly not a Nazi, she felt it was her duty to listen to the reports with her children. The people in the village around the castle feel it is just American propaganda, and they are holding fast to their Nazi beliefs. Benita doesn't care to listen to the reports, but I think it is for a different reason.

She didn't have the familial lineage to protect her after her husband was convicted like Marianne did. And life during the war had ben harsher for her. I suspect she wanted to put the whole thing behind her.

I won't say much about the third woman as there is a bit of a twist with her story. She is the character we don't hear much from until towards the end.

The story is told in 3rd person limited, but some chapters are told with more insight into Marianne's thoughts and actions while others focus on Benita and then later Ania. However, for me some of the most poignant statements in the book involved Ania.

 "You did what you had to do to survive." pg. 333

And the answer to the question I was always wondered - how did you not know? Her answer - she knew but did not want to know and in essence turned a blind eye.

The Women in the Castle will definitely be one of my top 5 favorite novels read this year. It is poignant and eye-opening. It is also an enjoyable read with wonderful characters. I think Shattuck has created a well-researched novel and her characters embody people that could have lived during the period. I love that she didn't just focus on a year or so after the war, but continued the story all the way to the 1990s, which brought many plot threads full-circle and nicely wrapped up the lives of the three women.

I can't praise this book enough. The Women in the Castle should definitely be on your to-read list.

Buy The Women in the Castle at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.



Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

May 16, 2017

Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

by Susan Roberts

a lovely novel about love and friendship and keeping marriages happy

Amazon affiliate links are used in this post. An ARC was provided for an honest review.


From the book cover: One enchanted summer, two couples begin a friendship that will last more than twenty years and transform their lives.

May 2017; William Morrow; 9780062390783
ebook, audio, print (384 pages); women's fiction
A chance meeting on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston’s most stunning barrier islands, brings former sweethearts, Adam Stanley and Eve Landers together again. Their respective spouses, Eliza and Carl, fight sparks of jealousy flaring from their imagined rekindling of old flames. As Adam and Eve get caught up on their lives, their partners strike up a deep friendship—and flirt with an unexpected attraction—of their own.

Year after year, Adam, Eliza, Eve, and Carl eagerly await their reunion at Wild Dunes, a condominium complex at the island’s tip end, where they grow closer with each passing day, building a friendship that will withstand financial catastrophe, family tragedy, and devastating heartbreak. The devotion and love they share will help them weather the vagaries of time and enrich their lives as circumstances change, their children grow up and leave home, and their twilight years approach.

My Review:  I am a real fan of Dot Frank and know that when her new book comes out every spring, it's time for summer and the beach! I have enjoyed all of her books but this is one of my favorites -- but I think that I say that every time I read one of her books.

Eliza and Adam had been happily married for several years and were spending their vacation on the Isle of Palms with their toddler twin sons when Adam sees Eve - his first love from high school. Eve is at the same vacation complex with her husband Carl and their young daughter. They make plans for the two families to meet for drinks and even though they both tell their spouses that they were friends from high school, neither goes into detail about how deep their love for each other was. Sparks fly between Adam and Eve, even though they are both happily married, and it's apparent to Eliza and Carl that they were more than friends years ago. They manage to build a friendship between the four of them and they meet at the same complex at Isle of Palms every year until something happens years later to ruin the friendship and possibly the marriages. Will they be able to overcome the transgression that appeared to happen and become friends again?

This is a lovely novel about love and friendship and keeping marriages happy as people head into their later years. I enjoyed all four of the characters but thought that Eliza was the most real and the best of the four. She grew more as a character and was able to learn to be herself and love who she was as a person and not just as a wife and mother. I also, as always, loved the setting. I love books about the SC Lowcountry - the beach and the sand and the feeling of being there with the characters always makes me enjoy a book even more.

Buy Same Beach, Next Year at Amazon


About the Author:
Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lowcountry Tales Series which includes the books Sullivan's Island and Plantation. Her title's Porch Lights, The Last Original Wife, The Hurricane Sisters, All the Single Ladies, and All Summer Long made the New York Times bestseller lists in 2014, 2015 and 2016.



Susan Roberts lives in North Carolina when she isn't traveling.  She and her husband enjoy traveling, gardening and spending time with their family and friends.  She reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on Facebook.


Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

May 15, 2017

Great Collection of Stories & Essays ~ Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling

by MK French


Amazon affiliate links are used in this post. A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for a fair review.

Storytelling tropes are recognizable themes that show up in stories. Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates, upends these tropes, turning them upside down. The first section is the stories themselves, then the second section is essays about storytelling and its impact, as well as a list of the tropes used. It was interesting to see folklore and movie arcs treated with the same literary focus in the essays, though it was an abrupt switch from the fantastical stories in section one.
Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling
February 2017; Apex Book Company; 9781937009441
ebook, print (366 pages); fantasy, anthology

Some of the stories really grabbed me. I was very much impressed by the villanelle that opened section one, as they're difficult to construct but look effortless.

"Single, Singularity" tells of the attempt to observe how machines developed awareness enough to be intelligent, which doesn't go according to plan.

In "Seeking Truth," the blind woman questioning the serial killer is presumed to be psychic but isn't.

"Thwock" is extremely short and chilling.

"Can You Tell Me How to Get to Paprika Place" tells of cyborgs created out of beloved children's television characters that are trying to find their way home. It has moments of morbid humor, as you realize what some of the companies refer to, but is incredibly heart wrenching at the same time.

"The White Dragon" parlays the fear of Chinese people and magic in old San Francisco into a compelling drama.

"Santa CIS (Episode 1: No Saint)" involves the search for missing children by figures from folklore, and as the title implies, reads like the pilot episode of a TV show.

If you're a fan of folklore, fairy tales or heroic tropes, this is a great collection for you.

Buy Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling at Amazon


Born and raised in New York City, M.K.French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.


Get even more book news in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/mHTVL. Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.

May 14, 2017

A Few More May Books You Should Read

by Susan Roberts


This is a continuation of reviews of the wonderful books that I read that are publishing in May. Be sure to read my reviews of early May releases. Amazon affiliate links are used in this post. ARCs were provided for honest reviews.

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