London Shah has been dreaming about a submerged world for years.
The British Muslim author, who is of Pashtun ethnicity, said in an email interview that she specifically dreamed of a submerged Britain. Not that she wants the current world to be flooded; just that it’s an image that has hovered near her for much of her life.
And now London’s sophomore novel, Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, the second in a duology about a 16-year-old submersible racer named Leyla who goes on an epic adventure to save her father and discover the secrets the government is hiding, is about to release. It’s set, fittingly, in an underwater version of Great Britain.
“The setting came first, long before any characters,” Shah said. “I cannot recall a time when I did not fantasize about our world carrying on beneath the surface of the seas. I imagined a submerged world as aesthetically close to our current one as possible, and nothing too hard sci-fi.”
Shah was mesmerized by the idea of a realistic underwater world, not one populated by mermaids but one where humans could watch present-day sea creatures — a huge whale, maybe an octopus — living their lives right outside our spheres of existence.
The first book in the duology, The Light at the Bottom of the World, was published in 2019 and the closing book publishes on Nov. 16, 2021.
“Every feeling and thought I had ever held about what life might be like living deep underwater, I have explored in these books,” Shah said. “All the wonder and magic, all the constant, suffocating perils, and of course all the endless possibilities! I explore them all. I have lived with this fantasy forever, and I am excited beyond words to finally share it with everyone.”
Shah said that growing up she loved studying English, writing fiction for assignments and telling stories, but that she never considered that “author” could be a viable career option.
“As a South Asian Muslim, back then I never believed writing was even an option for people like me,” Shah explained. “I have always loved creating with words but was never exposed to the idea of doing anything with that passion. Nobody I knew was a writer, and I knew exactly nothing about the publishing industry.”
Despite this, Shah said she is filled with ideas, which compel her to write. She has a vivid imagination and has been envisioning different worlds and stories since at least kindergarten. As much as creating new worlds to play in can be difficult, Shah said she loves doing it.
“Worldbuilding is intoxicating,” she said. “It is a lot of hard work, but watching your very own creation come to life—this whole other reality!—makes all the challenges worthwhile. It is exhilarating.”
She is motivated to write as well to tell the stories of characters of color. As a woman of color herself, Shah said she loves to fill her stories with main characters whose backgrounds and ethnicities reflect real-world people who do not often get to see themselves in the pages of their favorite books.
“To provide representation for those who have rarely seen themselves in the pages of a book, rarely experienced those like themselves going off on epic adventures and leading amazing quests, is the best motivator,” Shah said.
And in fact, because she writes for teens, Shah indicated that their reactions also propel her forward and motivate her. Her first book was a Battle of the Books selection and she’s been blown away by the reception among teens and students.
Another demographic who’ve embraced her book? German readers.
The book has been translated to German and published by Loewe Verlag, and Shah said she has loved seeing the book’s reception in that country.
“Its reception has been heartening and affirmative, and readers in Germany have been so enthusiastic and positive and lovely,” she said.
In order to write Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, Shah said she planned the book out scene-by-scene. Famously among writers, the second book in anyone’s career is notorious for how difficult it can be to write. Shah said she worked to overcome this slump by planning the whole book and by focusing on her craft, including by reading.
In fact, Shah believes so much in the power of reading to a writer’s craft that it’s what she recommends to aspiring writers.
“Expose yourselves to the art of storytelling whenever and however you can,” she said. “Recognize the things you feel most passionate about and that way if you are ever stuck for ideas, you will already have a rich source of details to pick from. Using and exploring what we feel an intense connection with ensures the story remains exciting to us, and has plenty of heart.”
In addition to Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, which is an anticipated conclusion to a fantastical debut, Shah recommended several other books she’s loved.
Currently, Shah is reading The Silver Tracks, which is book four in the Mirrorworld series by Cornelia Funke. She described it as, “remarkable.” In addition, she recommended Ciannon Smart’s summer debut Witches Steeped in Gold, saying, “It is different and fierce, and I loved it. Smart’s worldbuilding is to die for; it is rich and original, and you completely lose yourself in its ferocious heart,” and adding that book is a “thrilling, unpredictable read.”
Finally, Shah recommended the entire Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon. “Despite the heavy themes throughout, there is a tenderness to the narrative I have rarely encountered elsewhere in fiction,” Shah said. “The result is an enthralling experience. I barely took any breaks between the books, hardly breathed for fear of being rudely dragged out of that mesmerizing world. The next instalment in the series is my most anticipated book.”
Let me start by saying that Tidesong is absolutely delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and was sad when it got over. As the blurb says, this book is perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli. Being one myself, I could not wait to read it. Having said that, this book really works for anyone who has a love for whimsical and feel-good stories.
Tidesong is a graphic novel by Wendy Xu. The story revolves around Sophie, a young witch who comes from a family of magical beings. They are historically bound by magic to powerful water dragons. At the beginning of the book, Sophie is sent to live with her Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan to prepare for an audition to the Royal Magic Academy. Sophie is eager and ambitious, impatient to get started with practical magic and perform spells like her cousin and great-aunt.
In her impatience, she accidentally gets bonded to a young water dragon named Lir. Now Lir is stuck on land in his human form and without his memories. Sophie must work with him in order to bring his memories back and allow him to transform again. She is faced with a decision to make as helping him means that she must compromise on her studies for the Academy.
Tidesong is a beautiful story about friendships and finding where you belong. Sophie is utterly charming. She is smart, sensitive, and determined to prove herself. Her desire to understand her magical self and to find her place in this new world is relatable, in a sense. I certainly related to her frustration about her own inexperience and her need to make her family proud.
For a pretty short book, all the characters are beautifully fleshed out. You understand Sophie’s motivations immediately with just one or two thought bubbles. The other characters are very well-written too. Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan have very different approaches to Sophie’s magical education. Great-Aunt Lan is intimidating and insists that she do chores around the house to learn discipline, while Cousin Sage gives in to Sophie’s wishes once in a while and shows her how to do practical magic.
The art of the book is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. The lines and colors are simple but beautiful. From the farm on which Great-Aunt Lan and Cousin Sage live to the majestic underwater spaces of the water-dragons, every setting manages to reel you in and feel like you are immersed in the world of the book. The magic spells performed are illustrated in a way that you could almost imagine them being part of the world around you. At the end of the book, there is an Author’s Note where Wendy Xu talks about drawing the various small creatures and plants you see in the book and her inspiration from New England’s incredible biodiversity. These illustrations definitely make the book what it is.
The story of Tidesong is powerful in its simplicity. In a short space, the author both builds a whole magical world to lose yourself in and outlines the beauty of friendships and family in an entirely charming way. (Yes the word charming has appeared twice in this review, please make of that what you will!)
I definitely recommend this book if you would like a foray into a magical world – one that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
21 Questionsis a book about two high school teenagers, Brock and Kendra, who despite their differences form a meaningful relationship with each other and grow as individuals because of their bond. The book explores themes of grief, love, and friendship – all through the lens of the characters themselves.
The book is set in Laguna Beach in California. This setting is important because Kendra is training to become a professional surfer. Her brother, who died before the book begins, was primed to enter the professional surfing sphere before he died of a drug overdose. Kendra has been experiencing anxiety attacks ever since. Surfing and meditation are what help her get through it.
Brock, on the other hand, could not be more different. His parents run a successful drug-dealing operation and Brock has been roped into the family business. He sells to classmates and friends. When we first meet Brock, it is clear that although he seems to enjoy this life, his first love is music – something he cannot pursue because of his parents’ expectations. When Brock and Kendra meet, they have an undeniable and immediate mutual attraction. The chapters alternate between Brock and Kendra’s points of view, giving the reader more insight into their thoughts and motivations.
I have mixed feelings about the style of language in this book. I admire the switch in the tone of language between Kendra’s and Brock’s points of view. Brock’s chapters are narrated the way he thinks – with a lot of slang and curse words, while Kendra is less angry and shyer. However, the excessive slang and text language make the book hard to read at times.
The novel is full of tropes. The underlying themes of this book are predictable. The bad boy male protagonist charms the straight-as-an-arrow female protagonist. He teaches her to relax and she teaches him to be a better person. It’s a formula that’s been applied many times before. Kendra is Brock’s muse in the sense that she is his motivation to stop selling drugs and play music. This is not to say that such formulae cannot be used – after all, they are so popular because they mostly work. But I personally do not think that was the case for 21 Questions.
Although it was heartening to see the characters learn and grow, I did not feel that inexplicable sympathy a reader needs to root for the characters. Kendra’s thoughts veered towards the ‘I’m not like other girls’ territory, throwing the feminism of the book into question. In fact, all the characters seemed to be one-dimensional. The girls who are not Kendra are overly superficial. Brock and his friends seemed to be obsessed with sex and not much else. Brock’s love for music does add another layer to his personality – but the troubled musician character is not one that I have patience for after reading and watching him so many times.
The story is on the whole predictable but is not without its surprising twists and turns. I would not have much of an issue with the plot if only it was told better. Two teenagers who have past family traumas that they are trying to get over in order to live their own lives. As a reader, I would have liked to root for the main characters a little more. Perhaps if they had more depth this would have been easier. I also felt that the epilogue was entirely unnecessary, but I will concede that I have a personal disinclination towards epilogues.
If you like knowing what the characters are up to in the future, then this book has a comprehensive epilogue that ties up the characters’ journeys nicely, albeit rather self-indulgently. By the end of the book, the characters have grown up. I just wish the same could be said of the book itself.
Want to give this book a try? Buy it on Bookshop or Indiebound and support local bookstores.
My hesitance with being creative started with a set of simple words on my screen: “Nowis the perfect time to write your book!” I encountered variations of these words on Twitter, against the scenic backdrop of a forest in an inspiration post on Instagram. They seemed to follow me everywhere I clicked. These words became a trickling of an inner voice in my head that demanded one thing: write a book. Write the book.
At the time, we were all in our first few weeks of the world-wide lockdown. There was a wave of posts that encouraged people to look at the bright side of staying home. After all, we had the many privileges that came with being able to have our own spaces during this time. We didn’t have to share a common eating space with colleagues and we could work in our pajamas. It wasn’t all bad, right?
Not to mention, while we self-isolated and stayed inside, our schedules had significantly cleared up. These reminders and gentle pushes served as an incentive for us to sit down and do the things we said we’d do if we had more time. My current circumstance, if I would have let it, could have been inspirational. This was the time I had been waiting for, so why wasn’t I typing away?
I imagined myself as an artist who was finally in their own element with nothing but time and energy to create. Cocooned away in blankets, frantically typing away at her next screenplay, she uses the time she would have spent commuting to work to instead perfect her craft. Or perhaps I’d relate more to a woman whose hands dance in the warm light streaming through the window. There are paint streaks on her cheeks and the coffee in her mug has gone cold.
Then, there is also the image of a struggling artist who perseveres against all odds. Their hand is shaking, but resolute, as they photograph minute details of their surrounding, working with what they have. This artist scrapes the barrel for their inspiration, regardless of the clamor outside. Fair. But we need to remind ourselves these are heavily romanticized ways of approaching creativity.
Reading the pandemic was the perfect time to ‘write my book‘ made me feel discouraged. I felt bogged down. I was in mourning for the perfect end to my senior year that now would never be. Trapped in my room, I felt the need to escape. Writing allows me to delve deep into myself – something I could not have been bothered with before the pandemic hit. However, as any writer can tell you, it is an incredible feeling to share your work, but writing can be a terribly lonely and internal process.
I wasn’t partaking in much leisure creativity in those early days. Even writing my college senior project, a creative fictional piece, felt like a chore. All my energy went into listening to the voices that streamed out of my laptop during the last of my online courses.
All I wanted to do was scoop out my mind and leave it in a warm tub to rest. I watched movies, listened to music, and chatted with my roommates, using up the energy I had left on reserve. I didn’t feel inspired to produce some great masterpiece. But I had all the time in the world to do it. Since I wasn’t going anywhere, why wasn’t I writing my book?
Weren’t the arts meant to be those places where we could escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?
Over time, I felt myself spiraling. I didn’t have an idea of what I would write. I just felt like I had to make something productive out of my time. I genuinely felt I was going to disappoint myself either way, whether I chose to pick up my pen or not.
This is all sounding gloomy, but actually, there were times when I wanted to be creative. When I felt that sudden urge to set off and start working on a new piece of writing or pick up painting as a hobby. I knew when I started working I would feel good about it, but the benchmark had been set so high that I felt discouraged.
When I was packing up to move back home, I stumbled upon a product of my literary past. I had written up a small outline of a short story sometime in January. Immediately, I wanted to drop everything, move aside the boxes from my desk, and bring the story to life.
I had an epiphany- this mindset of creating perfect art was (and is) toxic. Creativity doesn’t have to be productive. Weren’t the arts meant to be an escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?
I am not wasting my time even if nothing comes of the writing– I am perfecting a craft.
Art didn’t need to be performative either. It didn’t have to wear the fancy label of a ‘novel’ or perform for an audience. I didn’t need to parade around and place a glossy cover over the pages. Instead, I needed to give myself permission to not even have to finish whatever project was in my drafts. Ultimately, I must accept no creative pursuit is ever wasted. I am not wasting my time if nothing comes of the writing. Rather, I am perfecting a craft. As for talent, there is no wasting that unless I don’t use it.
The sooner I realized I could follow my creative instincts without oppressive expectations, the sooner I felt creatively liberated. Whether it bethrough sporadically writing a scene of a story or picking up (and putting down) a paintbrush when I feel inclined, I shouldn’t have felt pressured to fully pursue my creative urges if I didn’t want to. I should be allowed to surrender to that flurry of excitement and passion to simply express myself. Then, when the passion was over, to let it go. Truly, I didn’t even have to show my creative work to anyone or look at it ever again.
I am teaching myself creativity isn’t meant to always be translated into something productive. The funny thing is I often did return to those pieces and paintings and continued to work on them. But that was only possible when I didn’t feel the heavy benchmark of producing a bestseller or a museum-worthy mural on my shoulders.
“A little boy in a cowboy suit, writing in a puddle with a stick, a dog approaching. Deaf or dumb, the boy is, like anyone, a little timid, partly stupid, ashamed, afraid, like us, like you. He is there. Picture the boy. See his eyes. Sympathize with his little closes. Now, break his arm. Picture violin section. The violins are on fire. (The following is said almost without anger as if it’s just another request) Now go fuck yourselves.” –Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), Will Eno.
That’s a little absurdism for you there. The next few lines go into the character trying to sound like he’s fine, but he really isn’t. He is spiraling while trying to understand the colloquial term ‘whatever’ because he thinks it will describe how he wants to feel. Did you get that? I hope so. Because underneath the strangeness is a deep vulnerability– and joy in being alive.
It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless.
At its core, absurdism is rooted in social activism and rebellion against the norm. At a time when everyone was taking art very seriously and enforcing standards on artist’s practices, absurdists challenged the system. They said, what if we make an art form that defies expectations by being intentionally bizarre? When everything around us is so devoid of reason, embracing irrationality and strangeness may be the next best thing.
With the current pandemic, there is little that we can control. At first, I felt so powerless against it all. That’s when I turned to absurdism. It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless. The Dadaist slogan of “art for art’s sake” and absurdism’s love of nonsense is exactly the type of energy we need to be bringing into our lifestyles.
Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time). I spent most of my life, as I expect a majority of you did, trying to assign value to myself by the things that I achieved and the decisions I made. Wanting my life to mean something, I quickly grew desperate when things did not turn out as I imagined.
Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time).
Take, for instance, applying to jobs or sharing creative work. There is a powerlessness that I feel every single time. I can’t help but think that I am putting myself out there to be judged– which I am, to a certain extent. Recently, after being ghosted by a couple of jobs I had applied to, I was starting to fear that the rest of the year would be the same. All my efforts seemed to be in vain. Keen to maintain a certain image I had of my life, I started reaching out to places that I had no interest in. But I soon became so thankful that things turned out the way they did when a professor reached out to me, excited to have me on board to work on her screenplay– something I deeply enjoyed doing.
Like that last line by Will Eno, I often forgot that life was full of surprises. I learned to be okay with it. More than that, to be happy.
By reading absurdist writers, I embraced the joy of being surprised. I found humor in unexpected things. There was a strength in accepting chaos that I did not find anywhere else. When it seems like the year is going entirely on its own path, I cling to these teachings more than ever. We can’t be stubborn and try to force the year to go in the direction we want it to. We are doing more damage by pulling on the leash and digging our feet into the ground then if we let loose a little and see where the year is headed.
All in all, when things don’t work out, whether it is with your school, career, or relationship prospects, remind yourself that having ‘nothing’ going on shouldn’t be terrible. Just take Daniil Kharm’s The Red-Haired Man, where at the end he admits that he is writing nonsense and gives up entirely. This poem has gotten me out of all types of ruts, both creative and personal.
We can all take a note from absurdism. If we embrace chaos in this way, we can enhance our own sense of wellbeing.
Kristin Hannah’s book The Nightingale is impactful, important, and not something that fades from memory easily. I read it quite some time ago but the story still weighs inside me.
It’s about women. It’s about struggle. It’s about love. It’s about war.
The Nightingale is the story of two French sisters, Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rosginol, as they resist Nazi forces when World War II engulfs France.
Despite being sisters, Vianne and Isabelle are as different as two people can be. Vianne, the older sister, believes in following rules and peacefully surviving through the time of war. Isabelle, on the other hand, is more rebellious, fearless, defiant, and wants to fight in the war. As the war wages on, the differences between them become more pronounced.
“You are stronger than you think you are, V,” Antoine said afterward.
“I’m not,” Vianne whispered too quietly for him to hear.
Vianne’s husband, Antoine, is sent away to fight as a soldier. After he’s gone, Vianne is left alone with her daughter, Sophie. She continues teaching at a school along with her friend and neighbor, Rachel.
Throughout this time, she faces many challenges – Nazi officers billet with her, her body is violated, and her Jewish neighbors are arrested. Later, she begins rescuing Jewish children and hiding them at the local Catholic orphanage when their parents are taken away. She’s afraid, but she has suffered enough and wants to make a difference.
Isabelle, in the meantime, becomes a part of the French resistance movement, and hatches a plan to assist allied airmen out of France after their planes are shot down. She becomes known as the Nightingale for her work. Isabelle is dangerously vulnerable at this time as she faces a threat of being caught by the Nazi forces.
Later, Isabelle is captured by the Nazis and interrogated. Doubt shadows them – they don’t believe the Nightingale to be a woman. Isabelle’s estranged father saves her then, by claiming to be the Nightingale. He’s executed in her place.
“How can I start at the beginning, when all I can think about is the end?” – Isabelle Rosignol
I live in a country, Pakistan, that has been pushed to brink of war several times. And each time that happens, the role of women in war, and their sacrifice, is often ignored. Women bear the brutalization of war – many are raped and sexually violated – but even then, no one talks about them. Misogyny cages women, even when there’s a war impending.
This book presents a hidden perspective. It shows that women too are war heroes, in their own right.
Vianne and Isabelle are powerful characters. They represent all women who bravely take part in war and fight for their countries – those who survive, those who lose their lives in the middle of it all, and those whose struggles stay with till the end of time.
Vianne is abused at the hands of a Nazi officer and is left impregnated with a child who’ll always be a painful reminder of the past, of war, of the enemy. Vianne’s story resonates with many women who are violated during war.
Isabelle walks into the unknown and puts her life in danger. She leaves behind her name, her story, her life. She makes a mark in the world. She fights. And she wins. She speaks her mind, defies the Germans, makes this war her own. Her story resonates with women who refuse to back down.
Vianne and Isabelle are real women. They aren’t merely characters of Hannah’s imagination. They’re true people, they’re stories that we often forget.
When I was a kid I was obsessed with reading. Nothing was as interesting opening the pages of a book and becoming someone else. I could hear thoughts, talk to birds or sword fight a wizard. Whatever I wanted. It was amazing.
I used to go to my elementary school’s library every other day and hand in my book and ask for the next one. My mother quickly learned that I burned through books just about as fast as I would burn through her wallet at a candy store. If she bought me a new book every time I finished one, we would be poor. I become great friends with the librarian. She taught me how to find what I was looking for on the shelves and how each was categorized. I remember getting a thin book handed to me while the librarian said, “you’ll like this one.”
Alanna was not only someone I wanted to be, but someone I already saw myself in. Strong-willed and fierce, she defied gender roles and went against the status quo. But she wasn’t one dimensional. She cared about the weak and she wanted to be loved. I hadn’t read about anyone like her.
Tamora started writing young. Like me, she was obsessed with stories and books. She grew up moving from place to place due to her poor family’s unstable situation with her siblings, one of which she based her character of Alanna. She forgot about writing for a while and went to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship for psychology. She worked summers at Women’s Centers and taught a history class on witchcraft at the Free Women’s University. She started writing stories again in her third year at University, it was only a couple years later she started sending out her manuscript for The Song of the Lioness.
Alanna clearly reflects Tamora’s upbringing. A no-name girl taking more than what she was given and holding on tight seems to be a theme in nearly all Tamora’s books but especially in Alanna. Tamora’s interest in both women’s studies and the arts shine through her characters.
Without knowing it at the time, her books were my first introduction to feminism. I read a lot of books as a kid but none stuck in my mind or had as deep an impact on who I am as Tamora Pierce’s did. They had a captivating story that kept me hooked for all four books and then for two series I immediately read after that were set in the same universe. They had characters that seemed to grow with me. That I could relate to as well as aspire to be. They were books that made a scrawny girl feel like she could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that Tamora Pierce is a hero, for me and for thousands of other girls and women.
Aliens and politics are usually two very different subjects that would not typically ever cross paths.
However, James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth’s novel Awakenedhas merged the two worlds. Many people will know James Murray from being on the hit TV show Impractical Jokers. When I first heard that Murray would be releasing a sci-fi novel with author Darren Wearmouth, I wasn’t too sure how it would go. As a fan of Impractical Jokers, I’m used to seeing James in a much more comedic environment.
Therefore, finding out that his novel wouldn’t contain the humor that we all know and love, I was obviously intrigued to read it. When I finally got my hands on the book, I found that the sci-fi horror novel centered on an ancient horror in a New York subway line.
The novel starts seemingly quite innocent with the opening of a new subway train (the Z train) connecting New York City to the surrounding communities across the Hudson River. Politicians, TV crews and selected guests are all in attendance to celebrate the inaugural run of the train, something which is expected to make history.
The city’s Mayor, Tom Cafferty, and his team had been fighting for years to get the new subway system both approved and built, with the anticipation high for the inaugural run. You can almost feel the excitement flowing out of the pages as you wait for the train to arrive at the platform in the new state of the art Pavilion underneath the Hudson River.
The only thing that hinders this excitement is the arrival of President Reynolds.
Mayor Cafferty and President Reynolds had never seen eye to eye about the new Z train and had both attended a Senate meeting a decade before to weigh up the pros and cons. For years Reynolds was against the development of the Z train, therefore you can feel Cafferty’s frustration with the President, as he speaks so highly about the Z train to all the reporters in attendance at the event. As the reader, you can already see the intense political relationship between the Mayor and the President from the first two chapters.
The time arrives for the train to finally turn up at the platform.
However, to the horror of those in attendance at the event, the train somehow has no passengers and is covered in blood. It’s at this point that the readers begin to realize it may not be all as innocent as it seems and begin to question if the Mayor and the President will be able to put their differences aside to save their lives.
Without giving away too much of the story, it was hard to put the book down once I got to my stop.
It got to the point that when I wasn’t reading it, it was all I could think about. I’m not usually into reading sci-fi or horror/thriller novels, however, Awakened almost feels too real and somewhat plausible, which means it doesn’t actually feel like you’re reading a book about aliens.
The political side of the novel is really what makes it so special. The twists and turns and betrayals during the story mean that the reader truly never knows what is around the corner. While you may suspect that the alien element to the book is the key part of the story, it’s actually what is going on behind the scenes with the politicians and why the aliens are really there that keeps you gripped.
What really stood out to me was how I felt once I had finished the book.
Getting on the tube in London to university every day was once a normal part of my daily routine. Now, I question everything.
What will happen when we’re in the tunnels? Is there actually a big government conspiracy that will be exposed any day now? How safe are we really? While I know deep down that my concerns are obviously (hopefully) not true, there is something about Awakened that makes you doubt everything and question everyone. I love books that leave a lasting impact on you and to me, that is a sign of a good novel.
Overall, whether you like reading sci-fi novels or not, I recommend everyone read this book. At no point does the story feel far-fetched or unimaginable, instead it weirdly feels like it could potentially happen.
To make Awakened even better, it’s part of a trilogy! The second installment, The Brink, is coming out next month. I was so glad to find out that the book was part of a trilogy, as Awakened is left on a massive cliffhanger. While many questions that you have throughout the novel get answered, the ending leaves you with a whole new bunch of questions instead. I am eagerly awaiting the release of The Brink to see if any of my theories are correct!
If you wanted to pull an all-nighter to finish a project, you may want to rethink that decision. Why? Besides getting enough sleep is likely a good decision health-wise, there’s some evidence that suggests that creativity, at least partially, is linked to sleep.
Humans generally go through five phases of sleep: stage 1, 2, 3, 4 and rapid eye movement (REM). REM sleep is a phase of deep sleep observed in humans and other mammals. According to Tuck Sleep, “our brain waves mimic the activity experienced during your waking state and your eyes move rapidly side to side while remaining closed” during REM sleep. REM sleep is generally thought to boost creativity. Researchers at University of California, San Diego found that participants in one of their studies were found to be 40 percent more creative after REM sleep when completing problem-solving tasks.
If that’s not enough to convince you, here are some examples of people who cite their creativity and accomplishments to sleep. When she was 18 years old, a dream inspired Mary Shelley to write her celebrated classic Frankenstein. The tune to “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney is a dream. Last but not least, Otto Loewi figured out how to prove the role of acetylcholine as an endogenous neurotransmitter (try saying that ten times fast!) in a dream, which led to him winning a Nobel prize. So, if you want to write a celebrated book, a hit song, or win a Nobel prize, you may want to make sure that you are getting enough sleep.
Besides creativity, lack of sleep can also harm other aspects of our ability to do work. Thomas Balkin, PhD, director of behavioral biology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md, explains that lack of sleep can impair our ability “to concentrate for a sustained” amount of time and our memory may be affected, so some of us “may have trouble holding multiple things, like three or four numbers, in your head at once.”
There seems to be a stereotype that “creative geniuses” are insomniacs. This stereotype seems to be incredibly harmful. Us creative types always seem to be balancing a million and a half projects. We’re trying to work through burnout after burnout. But sacrificing our sleep probably won’t be worth it in the end. Besides evidence that REM sleep, or deep sleep, can help us be more creative, we should take care of ourselves to be able to continue to keep doing what we love.
Getting enough sleep is easier said than done. Between insomnia, health-issues, and having to get many tasks done on a tight deadline, it may feel impossible to get enough sleep. Writer Meghan Lannoo, wrote in The Tempest that she used to be “plagued by insomnia,” but was able to find methods to help her sleep. For her, these were exercising during the day, limiting her caffeine intake, turning off all screens an hour before bed, not forcing herself to sleep, and visualizing herself asleep. While these tricks won’t work for everyone, they’re definitely a start.
Now, next time you embark on your next creative project, make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. Who knows – maybe you’ll get an idea in a dream!
I often wish I could live in a TV show or movie, just to spend more time in that world. The best characters can become so ingrained in our lives and consciousnesses that they begin to feel real, like any other friend you might text or get coffee with or maybe even swap books with. As an avid reader myself, I like to think that all of my favorite characters would also love reading, even if it’s not specified. So in the spirit of spending more time in the lives and universes of great characters, here are the books and reading essentials for 5 of them.
Leslie Knope- Parks and Recreation
The question is not if Leslie would buy Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, but how many copies she would buy for her galentines, coworkers, mentees, friends and waffle suppliers.
The beautiful heels with which she crushes The Patriarchy aren’t so easy on the feet. She’d put her feet up in style, onthis pouf– in pink of course.
Olivia Pope- Scandal
Olivia Pope is a brilliant fixer, so in her rare downtime, she’d want to read something equally brilliant that needs no fixing. Toni Morrison’s moving and complex novel Sulagrapples with good and evil, adultery and trust, all themes Olivia is very familiar with.
While reading she’d obviously want a glass of wine in a glass as modern and stylish as she is, like thesemodern wine glasses.
Sabrina Spellman- Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Between two high schools, family obligations and the Dark Lord always after her, Sabrina’s got a lot on her plate, but she’s handling it fearlessly.
Though not on the list of banned books that she and her friends are eager to dive into, Sabrina gets a lot out of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Like the main character, Sabrina is navigating moral dilemmas and secret worlds without the guidance of her parents.
I came across a book recently that I would not have picked up myself. Rasia: The Dance of Desireby Koral Dasgupta is a novel that seemingly depicts a love triangle between a man and two women. It may sound like a book on fidelity but there is more to it than meets the eye.
Set within the backdrop of Bharatanatyam, Rasia: The Dance of Desire is about a man whose ambitions overrule his life and all relationships. Raj Shekhar Subramanian is ruthless and calculating. Nothing is to come between him and success in his chosen field. He isn’t a bad person who uses people. This just means that everything Shekhar does is about Bharatanatyam, his dance academy, and ultimately his goals.
He has a wife whom he loves, but the author makes it very clear from the onset that Shekhar married Manasi only for her dancing abilities. He is quoted saying that: “She was first my student, then a partner in my vision, a pleasant habit soon after; a lover only lately.”
A little background on Manasi: she is the daughter of a well-respected Pandit. Shekhar saw her perform the danuchi dance of Durga Pooja and knew that she was the woman he wanted to marry.
So now that we know where the second player of the game stands, let’s introduce the third: Vatsala Pandit. A trained ballet dancer, this girl is obsessed with Shekhar. So much so that she moves mountains just to have him perform and ultimately open a dance studio in New York.
If you want my honest opinion, I enjoyed reading the Rasia: The Dance of Desire. The first quarter of the novel was interesting, albeit slightly confusing, as there are two more characters who help tell the story: Brian Herrett, a journalist keen on becoming Shekhar’s biographer, and ‘The Voice’ aka Manasi’s deceased father who Shekhar occasionally talks to in his quiet moments. But once you get the hang of the ever-changing narrator and the occasional jumping of timelines, it becomes a fun read as you begin sketching the character in your head.
The next portion of the book, I must admit, was a bit of a struggle to get through. This is mostly because of Manasi and her never ending train of thought. That and the work she had undertaken. What I do admire about this part is how the author managed to weave the intricacies of Indian Mythology and Bharatanatyam with the lives of our protagonists. While I am interested in Indian Mythology, I am not an enthusiast. But you don’t need to be a fan to appreciate the wisdom and strength the literature foretells. This part also helps us get to know more about our players, especially the dark sides of their personalities.
The book gains momentum as we get to spend more time with Vatsala Pandit. She is a breath of fresh air after coming to terms with Manasi’s submissiveness and Shekhar’s inability to loosen the reigns.
Vatsala Pandit is obsessive, dedicated and hard working. She gets what she wants, and she wants Raj Shekhar Subramanian. Vatsala knows he is married but she is determined to break down his walls and become his dance partner. She wants to not share just share his life but also become indispensable in fulfilling his dreams.
This book is less about a love triangle and more about finding one’s true self. All three protagonists encounter realizations of their own incapability, shortcomings and ultimately, their strengths.
The most interesting character development in the story is that of Manasi’s. We begin by being introduced to a woman who seems to be a complete push over. Her entire existence is devoted to Shekhar with no wants or ambitions of her own. In other words, a complete door mat – for lack of better word. It is only when you progress through the story line that you start to gain respect for Manasi and come to know the real strength of her character. She knows what Vatsala is up to and she is not one to back down from a fight. But, at the same time, she would willingly concede than tarnish her dignity.
But finally, what impressed me most about this book was different layers of each protagonist. Author Koral Dasgupta has done a brilliant job of stripping the characters until we (and they themselves) come face to face with their true selves. Linked with her superb knowledge of Indian Mythology, comes out a great piece of work. The book can be interpreted from various point of views. Which, I believe, portrays the true skill of the writer.
A book has two bare bone functions; to educate or to entertain. A great book does booth. In my meagre opinion, Rasia: The Dance of Desire does both.
Get the book on our very own The Tempest Bookshop supporting local bookstores!
Can you believe that half of the year is over and behind us? I am emotionally still in 2017. One good thing about reaching the second half of 2018 is that we’re finally closer to the release of these amazing upcoming books. From fantasy to contemporary, sci-fi to historical fiction, these books need to be on your radar and bookshelves.
Why it shines:What If It’s Us is the author collab dream. What happens when an author known for feel-good romcoms meets another who’s notorious for breaking readers’ hearts, and they decide to write a book together? The result is a bittersweet and realistic story about two boys who have an epic meet-cute and beautiful summer romance with its ups and downs.
Why it shines: Magnificent is the word to describe this book. A glorious space opera in the veins of the Indian epic Mahabharata, the story tracks the journey of Esmae, the ultimate antiheroine in the wrong side of the war. It’s a story of war, ambition, power, betrayal and will drown you in all the feels. Also, if you’re Desi and you love Karna, you’ll love this book.
Why it shines: A Moroccan-inspired fantasy that is lush, whimsical, gorgeous, and as spectacular as that cover, Mirage is a gripping story centered on political intrigue and, well, mirages. Standing in as a body double for a cruel princess, Amani’s story is spellbinding, her forbidden romance sizzling, and her world absolutely stunning.
Why it shines: Darius’ story will resonate with anyone who has ever felt like that they don’t fit in or are a disappointment. His trip to Iran ends up as a journey of self-discovery. The novel touches upon his depression and sexuality in a subtle yet present way and is a true coming-of-age story.
Why it shines: Set in 1874, this South East Asian fantasy is a fine aesthetic mixture of theatre, music, shadow puppets, magic and will make you feel like part of the audience in an auditorium back in history. The main character’s Chinese heritage and her bipolar disorder are both shared by the author, and the authenticity meshes well with the evocative story.
Why it shines: Alex London returns to YA after the 2014 sequel to Proxy with a fantasy about killer eagles. Following the story of twins in a world centered on falconry, this fantasy offers everything: thrill, action, secrets, romance, sibling dynamics, conflicted emotions, and a lot of awesomeness.
Why it shines: 19th century Italy. Mafia. Family. Forbidden magic. Assassins. Court dynamics. A sexy gender non-conforming tutor and explosive romance. What else do you need to get sold on a book? This queer fantasy sounds mysterious, magical, and too intriguing to miss out on.
Why it shines: To quote the author: “Girls of Paper and Fire is a YA oriental-inspired fantasy with a lesbian romance at its core. There are also demons and concubines and a hidden palace and assassins and battles in the sky, and, did I mention, lesbian lovers?” Do you need any more convincing?
Why it shines: I have followed the author on Twitter long enough to witness this being written. So it’s surreal that it’s almost here. A darker retelling of Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is black and badass and the wonderland is filled with dangers and mysteries, is ready to wow you this fall. Also, can we flail over that cover a bit?
Why it shines: Courtney Summers is too good at what she does, and this book is proof for that. Part mystery and part emotional masterpiece, Sadie is a narrative about a girl on the hunt to find her sister’s killer, while a podcast tries to delve into her story. The book will keep you hooked, break your heart, and leave a mark forever.
Why it shines: Tahereh Mafi is no stranger to a YA fan. But this is the author’s first contemporary novel, and she doesn’t hold anything back. Set in 2002, it’s both nostalgic and politically relevant, chronicling the story of a Muslim hijabi in America during the aftermath of 9/11. This is not going to be an easy book to read, but I can’t wait.
Why it shines: If you are a fan of Mary E. Pearson’s Kiss of Deception and the Remnant Chronicles, here’s some good news: there’s more coming your way! Set in the same world, Dance of Thieves is a cat and mouse game between a former street thief and an outlaw leader. I have so many expectations riding on this ship, give me all the angst. I’m ready.
Why it shines: After her explosive debut, American Street, Ibi Zoboi returns with a modern and diverse retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and makes it oh-so-relevant and timely. The highlights of the book are rooted in Zuri’s pride in her roots and the importance of family. Let’s not forget the banter, though. This is enemies-to-lovers done right.
Why it shines: Can I take a moment to squeal about all these amazing Asian fantasies??? Set in ancient Japan, Empress of All Seasons follows the competition to find the next empress. Through it, we meet Mari, who has a terrifying secret: she can transform into a monster. With a fascinating world, intriguing twists, and a potential love triangle, this book is sure to be a stunner.
Why it shines: This is not your feel-good, bed-of-roses type of book. It’s bloody, gory, and mindblowing. If you are a Dexter, Hannibal, Silence of the Lambs or Criminal Minds kind of person, then this is right up your alley. Nita’s story is dark, intense, unapologetic, and full of gray morals and choices. Put simply? This book is fucked up but in the best way.
Why it shines: If you tell me that Anna Marie Mclemore invented magical realism, I’d gladly accept that claim. She has made the genre her own with her magical and lush stories, and this combination of Snow White & Rose Red and Swan Lake is surely going to be breathtaking, swoon-worthy, and queer AF.
Why it shines: Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series was one of those ultra-popular fantasy worlds when I first got into YA. It’s so exciting to all her fans that she’s back, especially with dragons. Inspired by Japanese folklore, this thrilling fantasy will bring generous servings of dragons, yokai, magic, samurais, mages, and all kinds of mythical goodness to your bookshelf.
Why it shines: I would usually run far away from a contemporary love triangle, but this is Nic Stone, my absolute queen. So I’m heading into this blindly without a single regret. Odd One Out drops any of those overused cliches in love triangles, instead choosing to explore real emotions and conflicts. Throughout the novel, interweaving nuances of race, sexuality, and fluidity seamlessly shine through. I’m ready.
Why it shines: Gay-childhood-best-friends-turned-into-lovers needs to become 2018’s new literary trope. This beautiful romance revolves around a classic match between a pessimist who has sworn off happy endings and his estranged childhood best friend who’s now back in his life. It’s cute, inclusive as hell, and the QPOC rom-com the world needs.
Why it shines: A space opera that sounds like a thrilling ride – and gives a lot of Rogue One vibes from the synopsis – with strong female friendships, a badass heroine. and a swoon-worthy forbidden romance? Sign me up.
Why it shines: Neal Shusterman and his son, Jarrod, (remember Challenger Deep?) get very real about climate change in this harrowing dystopian tale of survival, humanity, and the environment. Set in the aftermath of a drought with disastrous consequences, the book is timely and bound to make you think.
Why it shines: Anyone who has read And I Darken knows that Kiersten White is a master of dark and sinister retellings. She returns with that magic in The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. It’s a gothic and mysterious retelling of Frankenstein that will give a completely different point of view to the classic story by Mary Shelley.
Why it shines: An epic female fantasy and celebration of sisterhood and found family that the world needs. Seafire follows the story of the fierce female captain, Caledonia, and a crew of equally badass women. And if there’s anything more amazing than an all-female cast taking down a corrupt warlord, I don’t what is.
Why it shines: Emily Skrutskie calls this, “my little standalone sci-fi Battlestar/Pacific Rim/Sense8/Snowpiercer frolic, affectionately known as Cyborg Space Jam.” Are you flailing your arms? I certainly am. It has spaceships, angry badass girls, gray morals, an aroace MC, space adventures and machines with sass. Give it to me already.
Why it shines: First of all, how awesome is that cover? To Be Honest is a very realistic, hilarious and heartbreaking novel about insecurities, self-love, and, most of all, a very complicated relationship between a daughter and a mother. It’s a contemporary book full of heart and warmth.