Writer Wednesday – Princess Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis (that’s A-le-thee-ah con-tis for those in the know – you can say it with her on her website www.aletheakontis.com) is my favorite princess.  I first met her at con a few years ago, and her personality caught me right away.  She’s one of those people who can light up a room with happiness, and not in an overly cheesy way.  Her books range from The Wonderland Alphabet (check out our review on it) to the Alpha Oops series (The Day That Z Went First and H is for Halloween) to Young Adult and more.  So put on your tiara (guys, too!) and settle in to learn about Alethea Kontis.

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Author. Princess. Geek. Former nerd.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
My first best friend was a tree. My favorite fairy tales are “The Goose Girl” and “Snow White and Rose Red.” I make the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleep with a teddy bear named Charlie. (The Fairy Godboyfriend doesn’t mind.)

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
I grew up in a family of storytellers. I started writing (mostly poetry) when I was about eight years old. When I branched out into short stories, I began writing “new fairy tales” per my mother’s request. I’ve been reading and writing fairy tales my whole life. “Making old stories new,” as Samuel Johnson says.

…and what you’re working on right now.
Right this minute I am currently waiting on editorial input for Hero (the sequel to Enchanted), so I’m working on a “Trixter” novella, making notes about Beloved (book three), and chatting to my new friend about a Big Fat Sekrit Project. (Like authors are wont to do.)

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Thanks to a childhood eidetic memory and a father who read to me ever night, I was reading the TV Guide by the time I was three. I don’t actually remember a time in my life when I couldn’t read. I was voracious. My mother quickly learned to abuse the library system and scour yard sales to feed my hungry brain. So my earliest book memories are of long trips to the library, summer reading programs, and library book sales in every small town we happened to be driving through at the time.

What are your three favorite books?
Because I indulged so much as a child, my favorite books are the ones from that time. There are far too many to pick three–when I have time I like to review them on Goodreads, especially the obscure ones. You can also find a list of My 21 Most Influential Books on my website.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I used to read books like some people smoked cigarettes. Unfortunately, when one starts writing, the reading is the first thing to go. I miss it. I took the book reviewing gig at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show so that I would be forced to read something every month. Also, I will drop everything when a new Jude Deveraux book is released. Guilty pleasure.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…go into this lovely meditative state where my breathing slows and the world around me completely disappears.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
In 2006, I had Sharon Shinn sign my worn copy of Jovah’s Angel: “To Alethea–Have fun reading this…again.”

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very likely. I still blame Kitti and Kay for the first three George R. R. Martin books.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I do it every other month at IGMS, and I used to do it every day when I worked at the bookstore. Especially The Princess Bride. (See? Like I just did.)

What do you look for in a good book?
Anything but first person present tense. Ugh, that sets my teeth on edge.

Why do you write?
As Victoria Page replies in The Red Shoes: “Why do you want to live?” I don’t know why. I just do.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
In college, I studied to be a Marine Chemist. I have always been fascinated by inorganic chemistry and the hydrothermal vents. I have some small regrets that my life path took me away from that.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
The magic in the world around us. (It’s there if you know how to look for it.)

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That Butt in Chair is the biggest obstacle holding me back from Meg Cabot-type fame.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
I’m lucky: writing as part of my life has always been understood. Always. From the time I was in grade school. Because of that, I’ve had less of an adjustment period than some authors do when they suddenly stop calling their parents and start speaking in word count.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
I think all stereotypes are true for some authors, and that nothing applies to everyone. Does that make sense? The only universal truth is Putting One’s Butt in One’s Chair.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Putting One’s Butt in One’s Chair.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
The biggest writing mistake I’ve ever made has been not writing. That’s always a mistake, no matter how you slice it. The rest of the mistakes I made I learned from, just like everything else in life.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Being asked to collaborate on a Neil Gaiman/Joss Whedon joint effort.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I honestly don’t think of myself as having fans–I have friends. Like I always say: Strangers are just best friends I haven’t met yet.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
Um…. “nothing”? Little surprises me at this point. I have a pretty extraordinary life.

Anything else we should know?
I am extremely proud of having just won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award for my novel Enchanted. I’ve also been having a BLAST touring Comic Cons up and down the east coast with my lovely and talented friend Janet K. Lee to support our collaboration The Wonderland Alphabet, our book for adults to read and babies to eat. If you love subversive poetry and adore Wonderland like I do, you’re going to want to own this one (whether you have kids or not)!

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Book Review – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Title: Outliers
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Format: Paperback
Written: 2008
Published: 2009

Outliers is a nonfiction book that examines the people we consider to be outside the range of normal, and the qualities that separated them out. These outliers range from sporting stars and prodigies through to groups, businesses and entire cultures. This examination is done against a background of success and failure, and Gladwell uses surprising case studies to illustrate what he dubs the story of success.

The first section of the book examines individual and small group outliers, and details the journeys that took these people to their enviable positions of heightened ability and results. Key concepts are introduced at a gradual pace, allowing the reader to keep up and easily absorb the information. Some of the early examples are presented as mysteries that the reader has a chance to solve before Gladwell provides an obscure yet obvious solution.

With a strong thesis for success in the individual, the second and final part of the book examines broader cultural outliers and phenomena that can arise due to cultural differences. Moving from the micro to the macro shows the same mechanisms at work, and Gladwell introduces case studies that have used this awareness with impressive results.

The primary goal of the book is to demonstrate that success is not restricted to talented people receiving lucky breaks. While being in the right place at the right time has undoubtedly assisted many famous success stories, the point that Gladwell carefully develops and reiterates is that talent and luck are the result of factors that can be controlled. Being in the right place at the right time is important, but learning how to identify the timing and place is critical. Unless you have a way to capitalise on your opportunities, they will not be realised.

On the down side, this book approximately 300 pages long, so it will give you a really bad headache if you read it in a single sitting. I would strongly advise against reading it before doing a task that requires you to concentrate. It will be very unhelpful if you try to read this book as a way to relax your mind before going to sleep.

Criticisms aside, this book is brilliantly researched, engagingly written, and will challenge you to see the world in a new way. For these reasons, I am giving it 5 out of 5 pages.

Awesome announcement for you guys!!!

 

OMG, everyone.  I have an awesome update to the coffin hop!  One of my favorite authors, Janine K. Spendlove, donated a copy of her new novel – War of the Seasons: book 2 The Half-Blood – to our rafflecopter giveaway!  Also, I have several cool goodies from her and from Brian Young, and I’ll be adding those in with some of the other drawings.  (Think 2″ buttons and short stories!)

And, to win those awesome prizes, check out our very own giveaway:

Book in the Bag’s Rafflecopter giveaway

Prizes include lit mags, anthos, chapbooks, photography and more!

Please please please please please tweet this and tell everyone!  Janine’s on there @janinespendlove.

Tweet about the coffin hop with the #coffinhop hash tag!

(FMI – you can find Brian Young here: http://www.bryanyoungfiction.com/

and you can find Janine here: http://janinekspendlove.com/)

Book Review – Wonderland Alphabet by Alethea Kontis [and a double Alpha Oops Halloween BONUS!]

Title: The Wonderland Alphabet
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Janet K. Lee
Format: Board Book
Written: 2012
Published: 2012

In the theme of Alice in Wonderland, Alethea Kontis has brought us the most adorable alphabet poem ever.  Janet K Lee’s  illustrations are amazing.  And the layout is incredible.  And there’s nothing about this I don’t like (except, maybe that our alphabet only has 26 letters…perhaps she could redo this with the Khmer alphabet, which is 74 letters long?) Have I gushed enough?

From thieves that run off with parts of letters to grins without cats and playing cards willing to deal the queen’s punishments (see what I did there?), there is nothing about this book that I dislike.  The colors are perfect, the artwork is gorgeous, and the rhyme has no sign of that sickening cutesy that children’s books so often suffer from.  In fact, I think this is truely a book designed for an adult to *want* to read to their children.  Or their cats, cause, you know, I don’t have kids.

I checked it out at the store and did something I don’t often do – bought it at its full cover retail price.  For me.

So the down-low on this book?  Buy it.  Find somewhere that you can display it.  Revisit it once in a while.  Love it, cherish it, share it.  This book would also make a great gift – for a new baby or an Alice fan, or someone who you want to remind to never grow up too fast.

In case you haven’t figured out by now, Five out of Five Pages.

Since it’s Halloween this week, I wanted to give y’all a little bit of an extra treat. (Also, I don’t want my blog toilet papered.)  Reviews of Alethea’s other children’s books!

Title: AlphaOops – The Day That Z Went First
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Bob Kolar
Format: Hardcover
Written: 2006
Published: 2006

Title: AlphaOops – H is for Halloween
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Bob Kolar
Format: Hardcover
Written: 2010
Published: 2010

I’ve known about these books for a while now, and it took me a bit to finally get around to looking into them.  I got H is for Halloween off a used book site, and it promptly became the book that sits on my hearth to round out my Halloween decorations this year.  They’re just that awesome.

In “The Day Z Went First” Z is tired of being stuck 26th in line and wants his turn at leading the parade.  The letters quickly decide that Z has a point, and A steps aside and lets them go backwards – Z Y X W P… um, P?  Yeah, so the rest of the letters get a little upset too, because, well, the letters in the middle are going to always be in the middle, and what if you don’t want to be next to the same letter all the time (or, even worse, what if you do and they won’t cooperate!?). H refuses to go anywhere other than where she should be.  Z starts getting testy, because really, all he wants is the alphabet to be over and with everyone all over the place, nothing’s getting done.  Then some of the letters decide they should stand for more than one thing, V tries for a second turn… One of the letters even gets stuck in the bathroom and has to be tacked on just before A, who steals the show in a most amazing way (see what I did there?!).

In “H is for Halloween” the same sort of chaos ensues.  It’s time to start the alphabet, but A isn’t ready, so they push H out in front because H has top billing.  The best thing about this book is that it’s not your typical letters and words.  In fact, there’s actually a page where J can’t always be a Jack-o-lantern.  While everything is going relatively smoothly at first, there’s a bit of a problem – you see, after K is for Kracken and P is for Pirate…  poor B has to change his costume because he’s dressed as a Buccaneer.     After Y is a Yeti, B has to give up on Bigfoot.  And what about X, who can’t be hardly anything?  (Serendipity! S has an idea!)

There are so many things I want to say about these books, but I don’t want to give everything away.  I like that this is a book about whether or not you can think outside the box instead of following the established order of things.  I mean does it really matter if G and H stick together or not if all 26 letters still make their appearances?

I think these books are great, and I really hope that she eventually makes her way through the whole series.

I’m giving both of them five out of five pages.

***

*****

Book Review – The Passage (Book 1 of The Passage Trilogy) by Justin Cronin

Title: The Passage (Book 1 of The Passage Trilogy)
Author: Justin Cronin
Format: Electronic (Kindle)
Written: 2010
Published: 2010

The Passage is the book version of  a slice of Neopolitan Ice Cream.   If you’ve never had Neopolitan, I assure you that it is a wickedly delicious frozen treat.  There’s a stripe of chocolate, a stripe of vanilla and a stripe of strawberry.   Three completely different flavours, all cool and creamy and delicious, all blending together to make you realise the possibilities of ice cream as a gateway to happiness.   This is the most important thing that any reviewer can tell potential readers about the book, because without that knowledge you’ll come to the end of the first part of the book and feel like someone has played a nasty trick on you.    Allow me to eleborate…

Chocolate

The Passage opens with a 200-page section that is the most rollicking end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it technothriller to come out in decades.   It’s Michael Crichton and Stephen King summer reading basics, familiar to anyone who has sat on a beach and paged her way through the US Army and the CDC making stupid decisions that get the world killed.   In this case the stupid decision is the unleashing of a virus which turns humans into a sort of vampiric predator.      This passage of  The Passage reads like you’ve been strapped to the horns of a bull as you ride upon a bucking, inescapable rampage.   In a good way.

Vanilla

When the chocolate stops, the reader turns the page and finds herself in the section of the book that seems like it’s going to be bland, but just as a good  vanilla ice cream  soothes you with its milky richness, the middle  book of The Passage guides you into the world that comes after the events of the first part shatter society.   By jumping a century into the future, Cronin shows how a few survivors have managed to pick up the pieces and start their own new world, high up in the mountains of California.    I personally loved this section, because it does a wonderful job of showing how the new world developed.  This is the section for history geeks and political science freaks and romance novel lovers.   Yes, it’s completely different from the first part of the story, but it’s a necessary difference.

Strawberry

After the adventure of the world ending and the contemplation of the leaner, tighter world that was left behind we have this third story.   It’s a hero’s journey novel not unlike The Lord Of The Rings as a band of characters travels through the inevitably altered landscape of the American Northwest in hopes of finding answers and solutions and, ultimately, redemption.

All three parts of the story are very necessary components to the tale Cronin is attempting to tell.   Like all good stories it is the anatomy of the human heart in conflict with itself, and like all good stories it is both incredibly complex and remarkably simple.   I did like the book a lot more than I expected to; Cronin’s a masterful wordsmith who can tell a gripping story artfully, in a such a way that you are reminded why you ever began to love reading as a pastime in the first place.

There are things about the book I didn’t care for, chief among them being the fact that in the last section of the book Cronin’s artful style leaves a few things unclear.  I admire his abilities but sometimes it’s better to set the 64 colours aside and just say what you mean in black and white.   The other main detractor from the book, and the reason I’m not grading the story higher, is that during the Hero’s Journey portion of the story Cronin starts overusing the cliffhanger device to a maddening extent.   After a while it starts to feel like every chapter ends with someone in seeming jeopardy.   Cliffhangers are a cheap trick.  I’d rather the author compel me through his story by having characters I care about placed in interesting situations.   Cronin has the characters and the situations already–he doesn’t need the Perils Of Pauline to keep me clicking through.     As a matter of fact, I dislike cliffhangers so much that I waited until now to read this book because it ends with a major cliffhanger.  In fact, it just stops.   The second book in the trilogy is out now, and so I felt I could  finally brave this one.

Taking all the cliffhangers and obfuscatory poetics into account I’m rating The Passage as a Four Bookworm story.

Book Review – Morpheus Road: The Light by DJ MacHale

Title: Morpheus Road: The Light
Author: DJ MacHale
Format: Paperback
Written: 2010
Published: 2010

As it seems it is my usual, I came to The Light because of the author. I first became familiar with DJ MacHale when I randomly picked up the first book of his fabulous series known as the Pendragon Series. His writing style was something that caught me by surprise, and I fell in love and thus, long ago, when I saw he had a new book series out I picked it up to look at it and was instantly intrigued by the idea of his new character, Marshall Seaver, who is being haunted by a character of his own creation.

After having had a bad experience with with another author who I will review down the road, I was wary to go back and read a book by an author I had read before. I was fortunate that MacHale did not let me down. His story, told in the first person, as his norm, was enchanting and gripping from the start, with characters full of life and quirks that make them vastly unique and very him. Having read the Pendragon series the characters though different were reminiscent of the ones from his first series. Additionally, the setting of Stony Brook was the same and as such the novel even warranted a mention of Mark Diamond a character from the Pendragon series, which brought a smile to my face. Outside of that, the book was fantastic, frightening, and quite gripping. I loved almost every minute of the story. It wasn’t until the end of the book that I finally found myself getting bored, and that was simply because I knew I was at the end and it was a calmer period where most mysteries were figured out and things were starting to wind down.

Yet, before the end things ramped back up for an interesting twist. I think the biggest surprise turn at the end of the book was the epilogue. It continues on in a first person narrative and you are left thinking it is a continuation and reflection until the last lines and you discover that it isn’t what you think it is, and it makes the promise and perspective of the next book interesting and chilling at the same time. As MacHale and his characters put it, things are heading for “Trouble Town.” Over all, I would give the book four out of five pages because I know not everyone is down for reading a creepy supernatural story that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end.

Book Review- Peter Pan

Book:  Peter Pan

Author:  J.M. Barrie

Illustrated By: Elisa Trimby

Written:  1911

Published: Paperback, 1994

Just about everyone has heard the story of Peter Pan – the boy who refused to grow up; but have you heard the real story? Peter Pan, the original book by J.M. Barrie, tells the real story of how Peter entices the young Wendy and her brothers to join him and the Lost Boys in Neverland, a magical island full of Indians and Pirates, Fairies and Mermaids, and more adventures than any child could dream imaginable.

Having literally just finished this book, I honestly cannot tell exactly how I feel toward it. Usually I know exactly what I want to say even before the last page is finished, and yet, that is not the case with this book. It was nothing like what I expected. Sure, I have heard the story over and over again, but this, as is the case with most books taken to movie, was so similar, yet so different. Peter is a much more selfish child than is typically portrayed, and yet, he is nothing more than a young boy who is in need of a mother, and I could expect nothing less from him. The book is more violent than I would think a children’s story would be, especially in this day and age, but again, it was written at a time when even the fanciful stories were more realistic. Over all, I believe I rather enjoyed it. There was something special about it, whether it was that it spoke to the little girl inside me, or the ingeniously playful use of words, or that it stirred up the imagination, or a combination of it all. I appreciated how realistic the characters personalities and mannerisms were, very multidimensional and I even found myself both loving and hating the villainous Captain Hook. It is a book I definitely plan to read again, which is not something I often say.

Overall, I give this book a 4 page rating. I do not know if everyone will enjoy it as much as I have, but it is definitely worth reading at least once, if, for no other reason, than the nostalgia it brings you back to of a childhood filled with pirates, and fairies, and the dream that one day you would find a way to fly.

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