June 25, 2016

Book Spotlight - Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

by P. W. Singer and August Cole

If you enjoy thrillers, then check out the new suspense novel Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer and August Cole. I recently received this copy from Mariner Books and wanted to share the details on these authors' debut novel.

Official Summary:

What will World War III look like?

Ghost Fleet is a page-turning imagining of a war set in the not-too-distant future. Navy captains battle through a modern-day Pearl Harbor; fighter pilots duel with stealthy drones; teenage hackers fight in digital playgrounds; Silicon Valley billionaires mobilize for cyber-war; and a serial killer carries out her own vendetta. Ultimately, victory will depend on who can best blend the lessons of the past with the weapons of the future. But what makes the story even more notable is that every trend and technology in book—no matter how sci-fi it may seem—is real.

The debut novel by two leading experts on the cutting edge of national security, Ghost Fleet has drawn praise as a new kind of technothriller while also becoming the new “must-read” for military leaders around the world.

Author Bios:

P. W. Singer is Strategist at New America and a consultant for the U.S. military, the intelligence community, and Hollywood. His award-winning nonfiction books include the New York Times bestseller Wired for War.

August Cole is a writer, analyst, and consultant, and a former defense industry reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He is an Atlantic Council nonresident senior fellow, focusing on using narrative fiction to explore the future of warfare.

Book Trailer:

You can watch the official book trailer below:


I haven't yet read the novel, but early reviews for Ghost Fleet highly praising it as a page-turner. Here are just a few tidbits of what they're writing about the novel:

Ghost Fleet is a thrilling trip through a terrifyingly plausible tomorrow. This is not just an excellent book, but an excellent book by those who know what they are talking about. Prepare to lose some sleep. - D.B. Weiss, Writer and Executive Producer of HBO's "Game of Thrones"

Ghost Fleet is a page-turner filled with thrills and chills, but it is also more than that. Drawn from real world trends in cyber tech, intelligence, and defense, Ghost Fleet offers a haunting glimpse into our future that you’ll find hard to forget. - Nina Jacobson, Producer of The Hunger Games

Some may compare this thriller to those of Tom Clancy, but in addition to packing a hefty punch of adrenaline it is much more accurate. - Military Times

What makes GHOST FLEET so scary – and so compelling – is how real it feels. Want to see the future of national security? Get ready. - Brad Meltzer, Author of The Fifth Assassin

It’s a page turner…Thoughtful, strategic and relevant. - Admiral Jonathan Greenert, 30th Chief of Naval Operations, US Navy

Ghost Fleet brings back memories of Tom Clancy’s technical savvy with the human touch of Herman Wouk. - Max Brooks, Author of World War Z

If you’ve been looking for a smart update to Tom Clancy, this is for you. - Foreign Policy

What do you think? Does Ghost Fleet sound like the type of book you'd want to read?

June 21, 2016

Book Review - Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks by Schwartz & Gomez

Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks

by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez
illustrated by Dan Santat

"Once upon a menacing time
two chicks knew a fox was at large.
Their Ma had been taken
and Pop was quite shaken
so Hensel and Gretel took charge."

Authors Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez have partnered on another installment in their growing picture book franchise which includes The Three Ninja Pigs and Ninja Red Riding Hood. In Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks, two ninjutsu-trained sisters have to save their parents from the fox who has kidnapped them. As you've guessed, the children's authors retell classic fairy tales with a karate twist.

Initially, I was drawn to this particular picture book because I saw Dan Santat was the illustrator. I loved his picture book The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (you can read my book review here), for which he won the 2015 Caldecott medal. Sadly, his brush illustrations for Hensel and Gretel weren't as eye-catching for me as some of his previous work. I liked a mid-book spread that illustrated a nighttime forest scene and anywhere in the book where he used vibrant blues. Other than this, some of the depictions were so large and busy that I didn't spend much time enjoying them like I normally would when reading one of his books.

The Hensel and Gretel story itself is fine, though again nothing struck me as particularly fantastic. I did genuinely appreciate that both of the main protagonists are female and instead of being the victims of parental abandonment, the children rise to the occasion to heroically save their parents. This framework was a great idea and I liked the empowerment themes, however the karate-chop moves the sisters employ to rescue their mother and father were a bit silly and the rhyme scheme and writing overall were just OK. The funniest line in the book? "The fox said, 'Surrender? No way, chicken tender!'"

If your kids are fans of Schwartz and Gomez's ninja picture-book series, then they'd likely enjoy this new addition as well. If you haven't picked up the series or feel a little wary about whether or not your kids would be engaged in the storyline, I'd recommend passing on this one or checking it out at the library before purchasing a copy. I love fairy tale retellings--the classic Grimm, Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen tales are always a hit--but the ninja formula feels a bit forced here.

(Ages 5-8)

[Book copy from the publisher.]

June 7, 2016

Book Review - Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

by Elizabeth Gilbert

"Fear is boring."

I have to admit that I was a little wary of starting Elizabeth Gilbert's nonfiction book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear because I had very mixed feelings about Eat, Pray, Love. Though I found some parts of the latter interesting, there were large sections I strongly disliked. A number of my friends, however, had read Big Magic and given it favorable reviews, so I decided to give it a try. I am glad that I did.

Over six sections, Gilbert muses on why we stop ourselves from achieving our dreams and proposes that fear is our biggest obstacle. For Gilbert, creativity and dreams go hand-in-hand--we achieve, overcome, and thrive when we create and defy.

In Part One, "Courage," Gilbert convincingly argues that "fear is boring" because fear means every day is exactly the same and we are prevented from pursuing areas where we might fail. She believes, however, that fear and creativity are necessary partners. Gilbert posits that we cannot attempt to banish fear because this inevitably leads to boredom; we must invite fear along for the journey but never let it drive.

Gilbert relates an interesting personal experience of having an idea for a novel set in the Brazilian Amazon during the 1960's but setting it aside for two years and having the initial creative spark flounder. Years later, she formed a friendship with another writer and learned her friend was currently at work on a novel with a very similar plot. A very similar plot. After some calculations they determined that when the idea ended with Gilbert it somehow replanted itself in her friend. It wasn't theft, but inspiration. This story may seem somewhat otherworldly, but her belief is sound: there is magic in creativity and in the process of shaping ideas. If you fail to make something of it, it may find genesis elsewhere. There are enough creative ideas to go around, but they need nurturing beyond the initial spark to survive. I really liked this idea.

In Part Two, "Enchantment," Gilbert addresses the difference between hard work and fairy dust. The hard effort is always there, but occasionally creators feel led on by a magical force. The label "genius" is too burdensome to carry (think of the old adage that there's only one way to go after you've hit the top), but you must keep creating to see what might happen with that gift, whether for your audience or yourself. Gilbert encourages audiences not to let moments of success instill fear within you that you'll never reach that height again. Just work steadily and with gratitude.

I had mixed feelings about this proposal. While I agree that achieving grand success can be intimidating and there are undoubtedly many one-hit wonders, I also think that genius is more often found within the sweat of hard work than it is within the randomness of waiting for lightning to strike. American painter Chuck Close phrased this perfectly: "Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." In his book On Writing, author Stephen King holds to this idea as well. If every would-be children's author sat on the subway waiting for a lightning-bolt idea as it did with J.K. Rowling (a lightning bolt of genius conjuring the image of a lightning-bolt-scarred boy), then they'd wait forever.

In parts three and four, Gilbert continues her theory with sections on permission and persistence. Regarding permission, she encourages readers to be rebellious and do whatever is necessary to incorporate your dream into your everyday life (juggling responsibilities, cutting out other duties to make time for your dreams, etc.). She contends that we don't need anyone's permission to lead a creative life and that we are each entitled to try. It doesn't matter if we worry someone else has already had our idea because we haven't yet given it a shot. She encourages artists and dreamers of all varieties to do what we do because we like it, not because we're obsessed with a possible outcome (fame, financially success, etc.).

In "Persistence," Gilbert suggests learning to deal with failing and frustration is a constant part of trying to live the life of an artist: get over it and yourself, it's not going anywhere so if you can't deal with it, you're not an artist. True artists love all parts of the process and don't complain about the bad components. Her advice is refreshingly no-nonsense. You can't demand a regular paycheck from your dreams; be smart about providing for yourself. If your creativity matters to you, you make time for it, not the other way around. It's necessary to give your mind a job to do or you'll find yourself wasting energy on useless pursuits. She also warns that artists shouldn't do anything for attention, but should do everything for themselves. This sounds selfish, but really it's just the opposite of vanity: vain artists want money and fame and recognition for their labors while true crafters do the work because it matters and that's sufficient. I also appreciate her warning that artists should never sentimentalize madness (a failing I've observed in many novice creative writers). Artistry is not martyrdom and your mental and physical health are very important.

Out of Gilbert's final two sections on trust and divinity, I liked her section on trust more. She argues that creators need to trust artistry and that this force will compel you onward: "The work wants to be made and it wants to be made through you." She concludes with the advice not to be a martyr but rather a trickster that trusts that the universe is always at play. Artists must ask themselves if without the guarantee of success, do they still love their work regardless of the outcome?

If you're interested in a relatively quick though inspiring read about creativity, I'd encourage you to pick up Big Magic. It's motivating, a relatively fast read, and perfect for days at the beach or sitting by the pool.

Have you read Big Magic? What helps inspire and encourage you to be creative and follow your dreams?

June 2, 2016

Book Review - Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles #1)

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1)

by Marissa Meyer

“Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would you do?”

Cinder is the first installment in Marissa Meyer's young adult, science fiction series The Lunar Chronicles. Each book within the series retells a classic fairy tell: Cinder is "Cinderella," Scarlet is "Little Red Riding Hood," Cress is "Rapunzel," and Winter is Snow White. In addition to the four major installments, Meyer added to the series with Fairest (#3.5) a story of the coming-of-age of the evil Queen Levana (the Queen from "Snow White") and Stars Above (#4.5) a final set of stories to accompany the series and provide a look into the future for the characters.

This year I have been trying to catch up on young adult series I didn't have time to read while finishing grad school. The popularity of The Lunar Chronicles in addition to my own love for studying fairy tales put the series high on my list.

Because I don't usually read much contemporary science fiction, it took me a bit to fully suspend disbelief while reading the stories. I actually read the out of order--starting with Scarlet (#2)--since I was waiting for library copies to become available. I thought I'd review Cinder to provide a context for those who have been wondering about the series as well.

The world of The Lunar Chronicles takes place in a variety of locations, mostly divided between their location on Earthen Union (what we now know as Earth after World War IV) and the capital city of Artemisia on planet Luna (the now colonized Moon). Cinder begins on Earthen Union in New Beijing. In this dystopian future, the world is populated with a combination of humans, androids, and cyborgs, all of whom are facing the spread of a plague called letumosis with no known cure.

The main protagonist of both this first installment and the entire series is Linh Cinder, a mechanic cyborg who operates a stall in a street market. Cinder lives with her cruel stepmother, Linh Adri, and stepsisters, Linh Pearl and Linh Peony; Cinder's father died from the plague. One day while working, Cinder meets Prince Kai who comes to her stall for help fixing his android. Cinder hides her cyborg features (a metal foot and hand) while helping the handsome prince.

Peony catches the plague and Cinder's stepmother blames Cinder for it, believing her work in the street markets exposed her to the disease which she then carried home. To punish the stepdaughter she has never loved, Cinder is taken to the palace against her will to become a test subject for the disease. When Cinder proves immune to the disease, the researcher Dr. Erland reveals his desire to fight the evil Queen Levana and and convinces Cinder her role in starting a rebellion is paramount.

Once I was finally able to fully engage in the novel's premise, the story itself was fine: "Yes, I am reading a book about female, fairy tale superhero cyborgs in space." Overall, the plot development of Cinder was a bit uneven and it's not a genre I generally read, but Marissa Meyer does well creating cliffhanger-endings throughout the series. The conclusion to Cinder was no exception. Though it might sound surprising, at times I wished Meyer would have strayed further from the fairy tale tradition--less attraction-at-first sight and changing the traditional beautiful-gown-at-the-ball-scene into something less focused on looks. I understand these romance scenes appeal to some YA readers, but there was the potential for some more ground-breaking rewriting here.

Have you read Cinder or the entire Lunar Chronicles series? What did you think of the ending to Cinder? Would you change anything with the novel if you could?

May 24, 2016

New Publication - Gender and Work Book Chapter

Gender and Work: Exploring Intersectionality, Resistance, and Identity

Edited by Miglena Sternadori and Carrie Prentice

"In the context of this social change, this collection offers valuable insights into the work-related intersections of gender, class, and race by using a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Case studies of the gendered workplace are presented side by side with manuscripts that weave the literary and historical contexts needed to understand contemporary patterns of labor market discrimination and equity. We hope these essays will inspire new research agendas and spark future scholarship that embraces and theorizes social justice for women and men alike." -- Introduction: On Modern Workplaces and Old-Fashioned Sisterhood

The best kind of book mail to receive is the kind containing your own writing!

Last week I received my copy of Gender and Work: Exploring Intersectionality, Resistance, and Identity. The volume is edited by Miglena Sternadori, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Affairs in the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University, and Carrie Prentice, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of South Dakota. The chapters constitute some key presentations from the 2015 Women and Gender Conference (you can read my post about presenting at the conference here). The listing is not yet complete on Amazon, but you can order a copy direct from the publisher.

Here's the official book blurb:

Recent years have witnessed growing scholarly interest in efforts to advance women’s work and in exploring the implicit obstacles to gender equity – such as the “glass floor,” “glass ceiling,” and “glass walls” – that have persisted in most career fields. This interdisciplinary collection contributes to this new field of knowledge by curating scholarly essays and current research on gendered work environments and all the nuanced meanings of “work” in the context of feminism and gender equality. The chapters represent some of the most outstanding papers presented at the Women and Gender Conference held at the University of South Dakota on April 9–10, 2015.

The unifying focus of this collection is on the work-related intersections of gender, race, and class, which are investigated through a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Some of the essays provide historical and literary contexts for contemporary issues. Others use social-scientific approaches to identify strategies for making the contemporary Western workplace more humane and inclusive to women and other disadvantaged members of society.

Advanced undergraduates and graduate students in women’s studies, sociology, history, and communication could use this book in courses that address the gendered workplace from an interdisciplinary perspective. Scholars from various disciplines interested in gender and work could also use the book as a reference and a guidepost for future research. Finally, this collection will be of interest to human resource professionals and other readers seeking to expand their perspectives on the gendered workplace.

 The volume consists of an introduction and three sections: (1) Historical Underpinnings of Gendered Workplace, (2) Case Studies and Social Scientific Approaches, and (3) Gendered Work in Literature and Popular Culture. Articles in the first section address issues including Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In philosophy, the Equal Rights Amendment, Diana Garcia's labor poetry, work within caregiving institutions, and the Young Women's Christian Association. The second section includes presentations regarding women in higher education, online gender equality, work-life boundaries, gender wage gaps within the mining industry, and parental leaves. The third section--of which my chapter is a part--includes essays on representations of women's work in the writing of Barbara Kingsolver, Clara Viebig's factory girl artwork, employment within Hannah Webster Foster's novels, women's bonds within the Disney film Brave, and reproduction within Downtown Abbey. As you can see, the topics are quite diverse and interesting and I really enjoyed listening to them at the conference.

I'm pleased my presentation was chosen for inclusion within the volume where it appears as Chapter Twelve, "The Intersection of L. T. Meade's Professional and Domestic Victorian Celebrity." The presentation developed from my research on L. T. Meade for my dissertation. Within the book chapter, I detail the author's public success as a prolific writer and editor, her private roles as a wife and mother, and the way in which interviewers reframed this dynamic in solely domestic terms. Though she authored over 250 novels in the course of her lifetime and served as editor of Atalanta magazine, interviews often dismissed the value, impact, and prolific nature of her work and instead focused on aspects of her home, its decor, and her duties as wife and mother.

Reasons to read the book chapter? First, L. T. Meade is a truly impressive historic figure whose work helped shape the writing of future authors and generations and yet she remains largely overlooked within literary history and scholarship. Second, the public/private divide and conversations regarding work-life balance are still extremely important topics of debate. Third, there are pictures! I included three original photographs included within Meade's 1894 interview with London's The Sunday Magazine.

Information about some of my other academic publications is listed below: