Author Watch: Tina Seskis

Every so often an author will come along that bears watching. The savvy reader just knows this is a writer who is going places and as a general rule of thumb it's fun to watch as their style matures and their sales climb with each successive book. If you haven't yet heard of Tina Seskis yet, odds are you will soon. Her first big book to be published Stateside, One Step Too Far, will be released by William Morrow in January.

A meticulously plotted thriller about a woman who runs away to London, abandoning her husband and family and creating a new identity for herself in an effort to escape a mysterious secret from her past, Seskis' novel packs quite a punch for such an early career effort. She writes in a genre that is popular, but is unique enough to stand apart. 

The novel itself, it's interesting to note, is already nearing it's fifth birthday. Written in 2010, Seskis formed her own publishing company a few years later after failing to find a traditional publishing home for the novel (and another she had written in 2011). Readers knew a good thing when they saw it, even if the traditional publishing houses did not....One Step Too Far sold over 100,000 copies in just four short months. Throw in a Bookseller of the Year award and a Top Ten Summer Reads pick and bam....all of a sudden those publishing houses were paying attention.

Penguin UK picked up the rights to the novel in the United Kingdom while HarperCollins picked it up for the U.S. (and here's hoping they paid a pretty penny for it after all that). With this solidity behind her, I'd expect to see more from Seskis in the near future. 

The Great Purge of 2014

When your entire household is sick with COLDbola, you can consider yourself productive if you manage to tape up the quarantine tape around the perimeter of your property.

Reading can seem overwheming when you are this sick so I recommend turning your attention to A) not dying of COLDbola, and B) purging your feed reader in preparation for the New Year.

What should you keep in your reader? I've only got one hard and fast rule:

Seriously, how does anyone live without a daily photo of gorgeous bookshelves in their feed? When it comes right down to it, this is all that really matters. Now delete everything else except for one professional review site you respect and three blogging buddies. There. Poof. Your feed reader is now set to go for 2015.

See how much easier it is to follow my advice than all that bloggiesta schtuff? You're welcome. Now go forth and celebrate the holidays disease free. 

Sequel Sickness

I'm going to admit something that might sound a tad Scroogey: there aren't very many books written that are good enough to entice me to buy any sequel offered. I'm sure you are composing a mental list of dozens of sequel-worthy novels at this very moment. And I won't dispute you. There are indeed many sequel-worthy novels. But with thousands of new books being published each year there just are not very many good enough for me to set aside time and money that would otherwise be devoted to a new standalone book or an established series and invest it in a sequel to a novel that was anything less than stellar to begin with.

Even then, I know I am taking a huge risk. I suffer from the angst that the sequel will never measure up to the brilliance of that first novel. Will a mediocre sequel tarnish my golden memory of that first book? Was I mistaken in my original assessment or is the author simply not up to the task? Such was the case with the All Soul's Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. The opening book to that series, A Discovery of Witches, was utterly compelling - a high compliment given the market saturation of vampire stories at that time. And then...cue the doom music...along came the sequel, Shadow of Night, a novel that fell so far short of the original that it destroyed my enjoyable memory of the first book. And that was the end of both the trilogy and the author for me. A travesty for all concerned. It was for this reason that to this very day I have utterly refused to read Larry McMurtry's novel The Streets of Laredo, a novel that is the sequel to his Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece (and perhaps my favorite novel of all time), Lonesome Dove. I simply cannot take the chance that an inferior sequel - and how can anything equal Lonesome Dove? - mar the perfection of the original.

Needless to say, a well-written sequel can be oh-so-rewarding. It's hard to fathom a world without Frank McCourt's 'Tis, the sequel to Angela's Ashes. Or Half-Broke Horses, the incredible sequel (prequel?) by Jeanette Walls to her critically acclaimed memoir The Glass Castle. Or what about the sequel that surpasses the first book? D.H. Lawrence's classic Women in Love was actually a sequel to his earlier novel The Rainbow

As you can see, the decision to read a sequel is not one to made lightly in my twisted world. And it is with all of this in mind that I tentatively make my list of sequels I'll be reading in 2015......maybe.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley (Bantam, January 6). I'm on safe ground with the 7th book in the Flavia de Luce series. When you're this far into what was always intended to be a series, it's in for a penny, in for a pound. While the original Flavia de Luce novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, can be enjoyed all by itself without needing to read further books in the series, it's been an enjoyable ride and I don't intend to bail on my favorite 11 year-old sleuth any time soon.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown (Del Rey/Spectra, January 6). Slightly risky. I very much enjoyed Brown's debut last year, Red Rising. He intended this to be a trilogy from the get-go so not to read Golden Son is to be left hanging, but we all know that most trilogies suffer from Book Two Blues, so I'm going to brace myself for the worst here. The pivotal question then becomes: am I invested enough to read the final installment in 2016? Del Rey hopes that I will be. It depends on whether I feel the author made a genuine effort or was just writing filler in which case I feel cheated and usually retaliate by withholding my book money and bitching on Twitter.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown, and Company, May 26). Technically, this book isn't being billed as a sequel but rather a companion volume to Atkinson's best-selling novel Life After Life. A God in Ruins tells the story of Ursula Todd's younger brother Teddy from childhood to his adventures as a RAF pilot in the war throughout his adulthood. It's also the biggest risk I'll take, given how very much I adored Life After Life. If Atkinson loses the voice she achieved in telling Ursula Todd's story (stories?) this new novel won't be worth the paper it's printed on. So I am still wavering on the fence here. Okay, I have until May to decide. I can't function under this kind of pressure.

The Golden Specific by S.E. Grove (Viking Juvenile, July 14). Okay, it was planned as a trilogy from the very beginning. The question is: was The Glass Sentence a good enough first novel to merit investing my time, effort, and money in this sequel? I'm saying yes right now because these novels have that Philip Pullman quality that I'm betting are going to be front and center throughout the entire trilogy. Count me in.

Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (Harper, June 9). Sequel to the soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture Queen of the Tearling. Someone remind me if I liked the original well enough to read this. I can't remember. That's probably not a good sign.

Half Wild by Sally Green (Viking Juvenile, March 24). Yet another second book of a trilogy, but I'm invested enough to continue having enjoyed the first installment, Half Bad, enough to give Green a fair shot at beguiling me with the continuing story of some *very* bad witches and one very conflicted young man who is discovering the nature of good and evil in the world and finding that lines are very blurry indeed.

Okay, that's enough for now. What sequels are you looking forward to the most? Which ones are you ditching? I'm curious. 

Kid Lit: Building Reading Confidence

I dabble a lot in children's literature. With two kids aged six and eight, one girl and one boy, I get to read it all. From the uber-awesome Mo Willems' Piggy and Elephant books (we own them all) to the entire Percy Jackson series, I've read it. Out loud. Multiple times.

While reading to our children is a given, sometimes having our kids read to us is a bit trickier. Children who are consistently read to generally develop superb reading comprehension skills at a very young age. Good example: my eight year old son relished Richard Adams' Watership Down over the summer. I mean, he loved that book. He loved the characters, understood the themes, the whole nine-yards. But this was me reading the book to him. He would not have been able to read the book himself. He's just not at that reading level yet. 

When children first learn to read it's all about board books. Simple words, big pictures. They are then supposed to progress to the chapter book. When you think about it, this is a pretty big leap. The simplest - and most popular - chapter books are the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. First published in 1992, the Magic Tree House books are based on a simple premise: two young siblings, Jack and Annie, discover a tree house in the woods that is able to magically transport them to different historical places in time and back again. You can see the formula here, right? It's like Danielle Steele for the 6-8 year old range....just change the setting and character names and boom, it's a whole new book. There are 52 books in the series so far with room for many more to come and kids love them. (Please don't make me read them all. I'm begging you.)

For $106 you can own your own Magic Tree House Hell, you lucky dog, you.
The problem is that despite their popularity, from a child's point of view it is a huge jump from reading the simple words in board books to the Magic Tree House chapter books which weigh in at around 80-100 pages per book. They are daunting to the new reader and can quickly dash a child's new reading skills. Yet that vast gap between board books and chapter books has remained empty for years and years. It's sink or swim in the reading world, kiddos.

Enter Branches, a new arm of Scholastic. Someone - probably someone with children of their own - saw the need for a simple chapter book with subjects more mature than Goodnight, Moon, easier to read than full-fledged chapter books so as not to crush emerging readers, but challenging enough to build new reading skills. It's a publishing miracle. I'm in love.

First of all, the vocabulary in the Branches books isn't dumbed down. It's just as sophisticated as any other chapter book out there on the market. What makes the Branches books brilliant is this: shorter chapters (usually 4-5 pages each) and more illustrations to keep their interest going. This simple adjustment produces an amazing result in emerging readers: it creates self-confidence in their reading skills. And that is a vital part of learning to love reading.

Branches is just getting warmed up. Their books are each developing into series (yay!). There are series targeted towards both boys and girls and gender neutral, as other words, they are working hard towards getting something to suit everyone. We are currently reading the first in the new Dragon Master series by Tracey West in this house and I couldn't give it a higher recommendation. Let me tell you why....because last night as my son finished reading his standard one chapter to me, for the very first time ever, he asked:

"Do I have to stop? I want to read another chapter."

Someone hand me a Kleenex.