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Mirror at the Heart of Time (The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek Book 3)

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Mirror at the Heart of Time (The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek Book 3) by [Laporta, Mark]

Mirror at the Heart of Time is a brilliant conclusion to an equally brilliant series that will leave readers ecstatic, on the edge of their seats, and heart broken to see such great characters go, but it’s well worth it.
In the thrilling conclusion of “The Changing Hearts of Ixdhan Daherek,” Ixdahan and Lena face the universe’s greatest threat yet: a force that seeks to erode time itself. After all they’ve been through together, defeating a culture based on a miracle diet, getting a girl from the future back to her time, and finally figuring out their relationship once and for all should be a piece of cake…right?

In case you haven’t noticed, I adore these books. The wonderful characters, the outlandish conflicts, the strange worlds and aliens, all of it. Mirror at the Heart of Time is no exception. In addition everything I loved about the first two books, the trilogy’s conclusion reaches a level of maturity that makes it a must-read for fans of YA, especially fans of YA sci-fi and fantasy.

I’ve talked at lengths about Laporta’s great world building and creative story telling in the reviews for Heart of Earth and Heart of Mystery, but I can’t emphasize enough how great his characters are, especially in this final installment. It’s been quite the adventure watching Ixdahan and Lena grow as characters over the course of these books and Laporta gives them the perfect send off, both for the characters as well the readers, I think.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: If you write YA, sci-fi or otherwise, I highly recommend this series just to see how Laporta writes teenagers, because he does it brilliantly.

So, if you’re a fan of YA, sci-fi, or you want to take a few hours and feel like a kid again, check out the entire Changing Hearts series. It’s a smart, funny, endearing trip through the cosmos you won’t soon forget.

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Class of ’59– John A. Heldt

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Class of ’59– John A. Heldt

Plot: 3/5        Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5         World Building: 5/5

Mary Beth McIntire just wants a quiet summer in 2017. Mark Ryan wants to know what’s hidden in in the basement of the same house in 1959. When Mark discovers a key and a few mysterious crystals, he gets his answer and Mary Beth’s quiet summer is ruined thanks to his appearance. The summer vacation that follows was more than Mary Beth and her younger sister, Piper could imagine in this decade, or the fifties.

I want to preface this review by saying that I have the utmost respect for John Heldt. He breaths life into the past, his dedication to research and accuracy is admirable, and he clearly has a passion for what he does.

That’s probably why “Class of ‘59” felt like such a step down after “The Mine” and “Indiana Belle.” Especially “Indiana Belle.” 


To be fair, it’s as well researched and put together as Heldt’s other works. If you have any sense of nostalgia for the 1950’s, this is still definitely the book for you, but it could have been much more. While his other works had interesting conflicts and/or exciting plots, “Class of ‘59” felt like fluff show casing how great the 1950’s were. Both “The Mind” and “Indiana Belle” felt like well-rounded snapshots, so I was hoping for something similar here. What conflict exists is underplayed in favor of small talk and simply strolling around the era.

So, if you want to take a break and step into the 1950’s and like romance, “Class of ‘59” is a solid read. Like Heldt’s other books it’s also a good example of how to put together and execute a historical era. For you writers out there. However, if you’re looking for something with a bit more excitement, you might want to take a look at some of Heldt’s other work.

The Mine–John A. Heldt

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The Mine–John A. Heldt

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 3/5        Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 5/5

Well researched and brilliantly executed, The Mine is a vivid, memorable step back in time with a love story that could rival The Notebook (Pen Possessed).

In the year 2000, Joel Smith enters an abandoned mine in Montana out of simple curiosity. Thirty minutes later he emerges in the year 1941. With a band of colorful friends at his side, including his 21-year-old grandmother, Joel must carve a new life for himself or find a way home, but when a beautiful young woman named Grace walks into his life, making that decision becomes far more difficult.

Overall, I would say that The Mine works. The characters are believable and interesting enough to care about, both Joel and Grace are likable people, so I really did want to see them together, and with WWII right around the corner, how could you not be on the edge of your seat waiting for the other shoe to drop? My only real complaint was there wasn’t enough of that other shoe, so to speak. The Mine had a ton of potential thanks to number of well-written characters and the conflicts they’re bound to face and, as someone who loves history, I would have loved to see more about how they faced them. But, at the same time, I realize The Mine is a romance, so it’s only natural that the focus is more on Joel and Grace than the others, so the complaint really is a personal one rather than any sort of shortcoming on Heldt’s part.

And, speaking of history, that’s really where The Mine shines. The attention to detail and the obvious research that went into this book is remarkable and had me hooked more than the story itself. In fact, if you’re a writer and need to work with world building at all, whether via realism or fantasy, I highly recommend checking this book out, even if it’s not your typical genre. It’s a brilliant example of how to pull it all together and just how much it lends credibility to your story. When Joel is in 1941, it really feels like he’s in 1941.

So, over all, The Mine is good. While I would have liked more from the side character’s thoughts and experiences as WWII closes in, it still held my attention and the construction of America in 1941 is brilliantly done. Some of the other reviewers have compared The Mine to Nicholas’ Sparks works, so, if you’re a fan of romance, or a fan of history, definitely add it to your list and take a trip with Joel through The Mine.

Plot Twist: I AM Like Other Girls

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Plot Twist: I AM Like Other Girls

My name is Elisabetta Smith. My friends call me Lizzy. I have long brown hair, am conventionally attractive (even if I don’t realize it) and only ever where jeans, sneakers, and nerdy T-shirts because I don’t like shopping or make-up like other girls. For some reason, however, I’m attracted to the same teenaged heart-throb as all the other girls and, for some reason, he’s attracted to me. It’s probably because I’m not like other girls. He finds my klutzy ways adorable and my social awkwardness endearing. I’m a high school student, but unlike everyone else, I actually like learning. English is my favorite class. Shakespeare was a genius and Jane Austen is my muse.

Have I mentioned that I’m not like other girls?

Okay, okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic (okay, really hyperbolic), but there’s no denying that the “I’m not like other girls” trope has plagued YA for some time and has seeped into New Adult as well. For some reason, readers and authors alike have come to think that being low-maintenance, nerdy, and introverted are divine signs of uniqueness and, more disturbingly, make a character superior to “other girls” who tend to have more feminine interests. As someone who’s been there, read that, and come out on the other side with girl friends who are nerdy, sporty, masculine, feminine, snarky, sweet, and a million other things, I’ll let you in on a little secret: that protagonist is actually a lot like other girls and that’s okay. I’m feeling generous today, so here’s another secret: there’s nothing wrong with “other girls.”

The irony in how prevalent this trope has become slays me every time it comes up. The simple fact that it’s used so often, both in realistic and speculative fiction, makes it so that these girls are actually a lot like other girls, both fictional and real. Why else would writers keep using it to snag readers? We want to see people like us tackling both realistic and larger-than-life challenges. It’s comforting to know that if someone like us can walk through fire and come out okay on the other side, so can we. However, in giving girls and women that comfort, you’ve blown the whole illusion that your character is “not like other girls.” Obviously quiet, nerdy, awkward, introverted girls like us don’t like to draw attention to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we’re rare. Thanks to social media, popular movies, TV, books, and the existences of this trope in the first place, it’s become rather obvious that there’s a lot of girls like us. That’s okay. I like being like other girls. It means I can talk to them about my interests, passions, and dreams. Being around girls not like me allows me to learn about new interests, passions, and dreams, ruining the delusion that there’s something inherently wrong with “other girls.”

I could write a textbook on the social conditioning behind belittling feminine interests and hobbies. For the sake of time, I’ll condense: there’s actually nothing wrong with them other than the fact that our society has deemed them “feminine.” Seriously, what’s the real issue with pumpkin spice lattes, make-up, and girly clothes? When push comes to shove, absolutely nothing, yet the girl who’s “not like other girls,” is praised for shying away from such things like she’s been dodging the zombie virus.

While there’s nothing wrong with liking girly things, I think there is something wrong with being shallow and judging someone’s intelligence and character on such superficial things. It’s petty, vain, and pretentious, kind of like the stereotypical mean girls we as writers seem so desperate to distance our characters from.

Instead of pouring all our time and effort into figuring out what our female characters are NOT, what if we focused on what they ARE, where they’ve been, and how they shape their future because of it? After all, where we go in life, not what we like, is what really what makes us unique. That’s been my experience anyway.

That’s not to say female characters can’t be low-maintenance, nerdy, awkward and introverted, but when that’s all our females characters are for fear of being “like other girls,” they fall flat. Round them out. Let your female characters be girly, gender-neutral, and boyish in turn. Let them get excited about silly little stuff, because everyone gets excited about silly stuff. Let them get bored of Jane Austen for a minute and have them watch a stupid funny YouTube video for once. Stop being scared that your female characters are going to be like “other girls” and let them just be them.

And, if you’re someone who’s afraid to be “like other girls,” be kind to yourself. Let you be you.

Clipart from www.clker.com.

“Love Stinks”: A Cynic’s Look at the Romantic Genre

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“Love Stinks”: A Cynic’s Look at the Romantic Genre

Despite popular mockery and academic criticism, it continues to outsell every genre, including Classic Literature, year after year. In 2014 alone, Americans spent 1.08 billion dollars on these books and it has sparked some the most popular, and most hated, franchises in the last ten years with no signs of slowing down. I’m, of course, talking about Romance: A genre I have spent my entire adult life avoiding like the plague.

Mention Nicholas Sparks and my eyes nearly roll out of my head. Any talk of “50 Shades of Grey” makes me cringe. Bring up “You Before Me” and I just about have a hernia. Romance has always been a genre that earned my skepticism and annoyance, if not flat-out scorn, depending on the book. Its appeal just never made sense to me.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should mention that I don’t actually think love stinks. I think Jamie and Claire in “Outlander” are the ultimate power couple, I’m happy Katniss ended up with Peta at the end of “Mockingjay,” and the only “Walking Dead” characters I still care about are Glen and Maggie, but those relationships all take place within a bigger story. It’s when the whole catalyst for a book or movie is romance that I don’t understand and its huge popularity flat out baffles me. So, like any modern day free-time scholar, I hit up Google to see if I could find some answers.

The first and least believable hypothesis I came across is that the appeal of romance boils down to biology. At first glance, it makes sense. Our culture teaches that women are relational creatures who want stable marriages with men that would provide for their children, as opposed to men who are said to be visual and supposedly have to be dragged into such relationships, so it makes sense that books designed for women would focus on romantic relationships that lead to commitment. A study that appeared in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology in 2009 looked at 15,000 Harlequin romance novels and, just by the titles alone, concluded that women go to these novels because of the strong, financially secure heroes that could easily provide for and protect a family (“Friday Weird Science”). However, on a closer look, this idea falls apart.

For starters, the study itself doesn’t hold up. The words features in titles that feed into the marriage-and-baby hypothesis don’t actually show up that frequently. The most common word in this category, “Bride,” only showed up in 5.5% of the 15,000 titles. Other words such as “Baby,” “Marriage,” and “Husband,” showed up even less frequently. So, even though those were some of the most common words, I don’t think they were common enough to say these ideas are what draw women to romance. This also signals another issue with this hypothesis: there’s too much variety. The fact that there are so many subgenres signals that these books are written to appeal to multitudes of different women from different sub-cultural backgrounds. If the appeal was based on women’s biological need for marriage and children, there would be more consistency in the love interests’ personalities and backgrounds across the subgenres. Instead, each category speaks to different women’s taste and, to some extent, their desires and fantasies.

The second explanation, which I think holds more water, is that romance allows women to fantasize about what they desire from romantic partners, particularly when it comes to sex. This especially makes sense considering how expansive and, shall we say, creative the erotica genre is on Amazon has come to be. Not to mention the (rather unfortunate) overnight popularity of “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s no secret that our culture breaks into a moral panic whenever women, both famous celebrities and the girl next door, express any interest in anything remotely sexual (Ungar-Sargon). We, as a people, dislike the idea so much that we’ve created a whole slew of hateful names and terms for such women. So, why not retreat into the pages of a book to explore such desires free of any judgment?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t any real consequences with reading romantic fiction. Readers can run away with the hero, fall in love then shut the book or turn off their e-reader with no harm done. Many books are even written for such a purpose. A lot of romances feature heroines that are described in relatively little detail so that the reader can place herself in her shoes while, on the other hand, the hero is described in excruciating detail (Fisher). Stephanie Meyer has even said that’s why she wrote Bella as such a lifeless pawn I mean a blank slate. It allows the reader to put themselves in her shoes and escape to Forks, Washington for a while.

As much as I think this theory has an element of truth, I think its applicability is rather limited. As popular as erotic fiction has become, it’s only one subgenre of romantic fiction and, while sex may be a part of the others, it’s typically only a very small portion of a story that focuses on much bigger elements of a relationship and life in general. There’s also the fact that half of romance readers are already married (Rodale). You can’t seriously tell me that most of those women are desperately looking to escape the relationship they already have. So, there has to be more to explain romance’s appeal to so many women. There must be a reason there are so many diverse stories, character backgrounds, and love interests, despite most of them ending in “Happily Ever After.” Turns out, the answer was right in front of my face: these are hopeful stories about women.

Over the years, romance has gotten the bad rap for being about helpless damsels who constantly need to be saved, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is pretty unfair. There are plenty of helpless, useless, downright aggravating women in other genres, but their genres aren’t given nearly as hard of a time for it. Many people who read and write romance cite the popularity of terrible titles for the reputation, which, given just how truly terrible hot-button romance titles have been in recent years, I’m inclined to believe them. These authors and reads also talk about how most romance novels today feature working women, emphasize the importance of economic independence, and, in a world of hook-ups and dating apps, there are still good men worth waiting for (Bateman).  There’s also the fact that romance fiction reinforces the validity of women’s wants and needs in a time when something so basic and universal is politicized and sometimes even villainized (Crusie). If a woman wants to advance her career, she’s somehow neglecting her family. If she wants to focus on being a mother, she’s too dependent on her husband’s paycheck. If she wants marriage but doesn’t want kids, she’s selfish. If she has a checkered past, no matter the reason, she’s “broken” and unworthy of love. Romance, as a huge, diverse, and ever-changing genre, takes all of that, throws it to the wind and tells the reader that truly happy ending are possible, but in our increasingly cynical culture, that hope is seen as a bad thing.

One argument against romance that I’ve heard repeatedly, and that I even believed until doing this research, is that such hope is unrealistic. It’s much more believable for stories to end in some element of tragedy. However, life isn’t just made up of tragedy any more than it’s made up purely of happy endings. Well-written romance (and yes, by now, I’ve read a few for research’s sake) aren’t usually made up only of happy things, anyway. They tackle complicated real-world issues in the context of a developing romantic relationship and, more often than not, the protagonist and her lover triumph together over these issues the end. This results in a reoccurring theme that crosses sub-genre and audience distinctions alike: “We can be happy. Regardless of who we are or where we’ve been, we’re worthy of love, redemption, and personally fulfillment. Happy endings are real.”

That raises an interesting question: when did the idea of happy endings in the real world become something so unbelievable that reading about it became something to be mocked and scorned? That’s a question that will take more soul searching and research than I have left in this article to explore.

So, after all this reading, research, and thought, can I say I like romance? Absolutely not. I still prefer my books filled with magic, explosions, action, new worlds and concepts, and mystery. And the “You Before Me”-induced hernia is still a real possibility, let me assure you. However, I can see the appeal of the genre itself. It lets women explore sides of themselves and walks of life that are often either considered taboo or they have limited access to. A reader can pick up a romance novel and explore how love and courtship work on the other side of the world or in an Amish community, my grandmother’s personal favorite, or they can figure out what turns them on. More often, however, they can catch a glimpse of the world in a brighter, hopeful light. They can imagine endings where women, who might be very much like them, can find love, happiness, and fulfillment in a larger culture that’s constantly telling that such desires are unrealistic or impossible. It’s hope such as this that makes both the romance reader and writer worthy of admiration rather than scorn, even if their tastes might differ from our own.

I only got to really explore three reasons why women read romance, but I’m sure there must be more. Leave a comment below with the reasons you like or dislike romance, regardless of your gender. I’d love to see what you think!

Work Cited

Fisher, Maryanne Ph.D. “How Much Do Romance Novels Reflect Women’s Desires?” Psychology Today. 16 July 2010. Web. 01 July 2016.

Bateman, Freddie. “Why is the Romance Genre so Popular?” Linkedin. 15 May 2015. Web. 01 July 2016.

“Romance Reader Statistics.” Romance Writers of America. 2014. Web. 01 July 2016.

Rodale, Maya. “Who is the Romance Novel Reader?” The Huffington Post. 07 May 2016. Web. 02 July 2016.

Crusie, Jennifer. “Romancing Reality: The Power of Romance Fiction to Reinforce and Re-Envision the Real.” Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres. Number 1-2, 1997: 81-83. Jennycruise.com. Web. 03 July 2016. 

Ungar-Sargon, Matya. “Can You Enjoy Romance Fiction and be a Feminist?” Aeon.co. 25 Sept 2015. Web. 03 July 2016.

“Friday Weird Science: The Evolutionary Psychology of the Romance Novel.” Scienctopia.org. 21 Dec 2012. Web. 03 July 2016. 

Featured image from clipartpanda.com

Article originally featured on tabbyafae.com on July 28 2016.