The Dresden Files

Seriously, even if it doesn’t work, you have to read these books!

Stars above, do I love Dresden.

I saw the TV show first and fell in love with it, so when I read the first book, which felt a little bumbling and inauthentic, I heavily criticized it. Even so, I stuck with it at the behest of a good friend and I now thank you—thank you, K!—for this new, incredible, delicious addiction to The Dresden Files.

Yes, there is chauvinism—especially when the author isn’t pointing it out. Yes, I’m tired of Dresden Saving!The!Day! already, and I’m only on book five, and the whole image of two lovely women holding him from under his armpits (or one lovely woman and a man, or whatever) after he exhausts himself by saving humanity is a little annoying, too. Please. I must say that in book four, I did see much more female power demonstrated, which I really, really enjoyed. And it’s not sexist, somehow—or at least, not glaringly, obviously, annoyingly so—and it doesn’t detract from the female characters, merely the main character himself.

But the stories—my goodness, the stories! They are absolutely wonderful, full of rich characters, the coolest villains, magic and general mayhem. I still haven’t discovered how Dresden is so poor—after all, the other wizards seem to have decent robes to wear and such; can’t he do something to make some money besides wizarding?—but it does add a nice poverty angle to the story to keep it interesting, and if there’s anything worse and an insufferable chauvinist, it’s a rich insufferable chauvinist, so at least there is that.

I have journeyed alongside Harry Dresden as he fought werewolves and vampires, fairies and demon fiends; I have laughed alongside him and nearly cried with him (particularly in certain emotional scenes during both books two and three), and have thoroughly enjoyed him kicking butt and bowing to no one, rules be damned (well, mostly be damned).

If you are a lover of fantasy literature, you’ve got to read some Dresden. There’s mystery, magic, drama, fight scenes, creatures, love, humor—what more could you want? And if you like Septimus Heap, you know how Angie Sage ties everything together—even seemingly innocent details—at the end so beautifully, making you gasp in delight. Dresden author Jim Butcher does the same thing, but for grown-ups. Check out the TV series if you get the chance, too; it’s on Netflix.

Anh’s Anger

This treasure of a book will help your child take care of his anger.

Anger isn’t something wrong, or something bad, as we often think it is. It is our responses to anger, on the other hand, that can be inappropriate or hurtful. Anger is a natural emotion that deserves to be honored as any other emotion does, but most of us never learn how to deal with it because we were punished for acting out on our anger as children.

My husband and I are trying to manage our own anger as we teach our daughter how to handle hers appropriately. We don’t believe in pushing feelings down as we were taught to our whole lives; instead, we believe in talking about our feelings, or doing an activity that helps us express ourselves and feel better afterward, such as art or a physical sport.

We are reading a book called Anh’s Anger right now to help illustrate how anger is something we always have with us, just as we have sadness, happiness, and other emotions inside our bodies. Gail Silver’s book is really a wonderful book to read, because it deals with an everyday occurrence that most kids are familiar with and a concrete example of how to deal with it. When young Anh gets angry because he has to stop playing to eat dinner, he rages at his grandfather. His grandfather calmly sends him to his room to calm down. While I like that this is not a time-out, I also don’t like that it doesn’t offer a choice to the child. Forced time-outs can feel like love deprivation.

Once in his room, Anh encounters a monster—his own anger! The monster coaxes him to go say mean things to people, but Anh resists and says they can do something in his room. As they stomp and jump around to express anger in physical yet healthy ways, the monster shrinks smaller and smaller until he is appeased. Anh can then join his grandfather again. When Anh asks his grandfather about it, his grandfather says that yes, he too had to learn how to play well with his anger as a child.

I love this because it makes your anger into a relationship with a part of yourself rather than something you need to fight. Instead of pushing the anger away—and then letting it build up within you until you throw a tantrum, as many of us do!—you sit with it, meditate with it, or even dance around with it as Anh did.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

If you pick ONE YA fantasy to read this year, let it be this one.

Laini Taylor has wrapped me up in her spell, made me fall in love, and then crushed me between her deft fingers in a single novel. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of the most amazing books I’ve read not just this year, but of all time. It is the tale of Karou, a young woman attempting to discover who she is as she attends art school in Prague.

Karou’s hair naturally grows blue, she is covered in various tattoos and she can make tiny wishes come true. She was raised by some pretty creepy creatures—some might even call them demons or devils—but she has no idea who she was, where she came from, and who her parents were. When Karou meets an angel one day, her entire world is spun upside-down—and I am telling you, it’s not what you think.

Sure, there’s romance—but Taylor’s story is more of an adventure, a sweeping epic of battle and good versus evil (or is it?) and most of all, the absolutely unexpected. Readers are given clues, but these clues are purposefully vague and I, for one, could not manage to decipher them and was blown away by where the story goes—and ends.

The story became so out of left field for a while—told in past tense rather than the rest of the story, which is present—that I did grow antsy, willing it to hurry up and divulge its secrets; but that delicious red herring, that skillful winding of tales of love, war, and betrayal, takes time. Once you unwrap the package, of course, it’s so worth it—and so unlike anything you’d ever expected.

Karou is also one of those heroines I love—fierce and feminine, an artist who can take care of herself with a knife but still has plenty of vulnerability without being fragile. Her best friend is also fun—and another female, which is nice, given how little media places emphasis on female relationships unrelated to males.  

The writing itself is exceptional as well, with rich descriptions and spot-on dialogue. It’s one of those books that’s just sheer joy to read—no annoyances, no eye-rolling; just gripping adventure all the way through, the way I like it. The book’s sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight, is now in circulation and I cannot wait to read it! I only have to wait in line behind four others at the library who had the foresight to book it before I did…

Grave Mercy

Finally, this is the kind of book I’ve been waiting a year for!

Last year, I devoured the whole Poison Study series by Maria V. Snyder, and it was exactly what I was looking for after The Hunger Games. It was full of adventure, intrigue, some romance—but mostly just a strong heroine who saved the world. Heck yeah.

Since then I have plowed through many other series looking for the same thing without much luck. I’ve read many enjoyable books, but nothing that totally sucked me in like that series—until now. This week, I started reading Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1 by Robin LaFevers and I am absolutely hooked!

This is no-nonsense fantasy writing, where the main character is a woman who has been abused by both her father and her husband by age fourteen and takes no prisoners when she is finally free of both of them. Instead, she heads to a convent where she becomes an assassin for Death himself, which is an exciting and unique idea.

I’m not even halfway finished yet and I’m struggling to put the book down to get anything else done! It’s just that good. I can’t wait to finish and read the rest of the series; I think a lot of older teens and adults will absolutely love this series.

Skippyjon Jones: Lost in Spice

This little cat’s adventures are great fun for any family.

Before you scoff over a cartoon Siamese cat who thinks he is a Chihuahua as an adventure, you need to pick up a copy of a Skippyjon Jones book immediately. For an even bigger adventure, I wholly recommend getting one of the books on tape/CD, as they are read with such gusto and fun that they’re not to be missed! Judy Schachner’s series is a favorite of many children, and I guarantee that countless adults find them just as much fun.

In Skippyjon Jones: Lost in Spice, Skippyjon—who believes he is a dog—decides to take an adventure in space. To make his big-boy bed into Mars, he must naturally head to the kitchen, “borrow” some spices, and turn everything a rusty, dusty red! His mother and sisters—with the adorable names Jilly Boo, Ju-Ju Bee, and Jezebel—are cooking dinner, but his mother still tells him not to sprinkle any red spices anywhere—which he promises not to do and promptly does anyway. Most kids can relate to this; so can most moms.

When Skippyjon starts to pretend to be a Chihuahua in space, however, that’s when the real fun begins! He speaks with a Spanish accent, entertaining us with phrases like “Holy hot tamales!” and fun songs that we sing with an accent and clapping, much like anything you’d hear from Mexico. He also uses the word “dude” a lot, which adds to the fun.

Like other great picture books regarding imagination and pretend, when Skippyjon is pretending to be a dog in space, he looks like he actually is in space. Along with his pretend friends, Los Chimichangos, he plans to build a chili powder pipeline into space. There are plenty of Spanish words thrown in, from caliente to frijoles, to help foster a bit of Spanish discussion and vocabulary as well.

Perhaps the biggest adventure is when he meets a green Martian with one eye who repeats everything Skippyjon says. Of course, he promptly christens the Martian “Uno Ojo.” Then he meets several other big Martians, and a tug-of-war commences over Skippito’s sock monkey between the Martians and Skippyjon’s friends and himself. This entire adventure, taking place in his closet, then ends as he finds himself falling out of the closet onto Earth, right back into his room.

I love how his mother doesn’t scold him for the mess or playing—just just makes sure he’s OK, and then later jokes with him. I also love how he continues to play until bedtime, after which he presumably passes out. This adorable adventure will delight your fledgling readers, and it will be a joy for you to read aloud, too.

James Bond: The Ultimate Spy

I don’t think when Ian Fleming decided to turn some of his counter intelligence experience into novels, he thought that his character would become the ultimate expression for the suave and debonair superspy.

Bond has humble roots. Fleming chose the name from American bird watcher James Bond because it was the most boring name had ever seen. Bond was never meant to be flamboyant, but a blunt instrument used by the British government.

It wasn’t Bond that was interesting, but the events that happened to him. He was an ordinary man that had extraordinary things happen to him. When Sean Connery turned this man into life, his image changed considerable. While Bond was always supposed to be handsome, Connery upped it to legendary levels.

The character James Bond was the culmination of the many spies and commandos that Fleming dealt with in the Naval Intelligence Division. His mannerisms, quirks and personality traits were taken from those many individuals including his brother.

Bond’s physical tastes were all Fleming. While he couldn’t turn himself into the legendary spy, he did give Bond his love of golf, scrambled eggs and gambling. One thing Bond was always good at was taking risks.

When Connery made the spy world famous, Fleming changed him around a bit to more fit the public persona including a Scottish ancestry. After Fleming’s death, several other writers took up the Bond banner through the years, but no one has been able to create a more truer picture of Bond than the man that created him.

Comics Are The Foundation For Adventure Literature

For as long as there has been pimply teenage kids dreaming of a better life outside of suburbia, comics have been providing the action and adventure they crave. Even with the creation of television, many of the action programs created were derived from comic books.

While the tended to mix the science fiction, horror and adventure genres, comic books started the a revolution in adventure literature. No longer did you have to suffer through long winded paragraphs describing action. You had panels with pictures and little text bubbles letting you know what was going on.

The primary problem with adventure literature before comics was their inability to flow. Action was described in too much detail and you ended up rereading paragraphs over and over again or completely glanced over so you weren’t really sure what was going on.

Comics provided pictures, so you saw when Batman, Superman or even some of the great detective characters were battling the bad guy. Comic books mare adventure stories readable to the average Joe who maybe didn’t have the education or the ability to take on the more in-depth novels.

It was because of this tendency that comics quickly became associated with children. When the comic book code was enacted, it only reinforced the idea that comic books are for kids. Thankfully, those kids never tired of them and grew up to become the writers and buyers of today’s comics. There is a century of history behind comic books and it is tightly would around the idea of the adventure story.

Turning the Mundane into Adventure: The Fish Out of Water Scenario

Many adventure stories involve characters that are already established in an adventure field. Jack Ryan was a CIA analyst, Allan Quartermain was an adventurer and Jason Bourne was programmed to kill. They are all packaged neatly and already possess the skill necessary to take on the bad guy.


You can focus more on the story and less on the characters with this type of scenario. They already have the access to weapons and technology. They already have friends and colleagues that they can call on when the time comes. Unless you have a character like Bourne, who is trying to regain who he was, then the story is more important than character development.


The fish out of water scenario has long been used as a way to get around the superhero adventure. The fish out of water is an everyman that has no real training and is thrust into a situation. For example, an accountant that is in a bank when its robbed and is forced to protect himself and the other people from the robbers.


It's not something he wants to do or is even qualified to do, but he becomes the leader. These people often have natural heroic qualities and the adventure brings those qualities out. They most likely don't even know they have these qualities.


The fish out of water has a natural bend for comic relief and in order for them to take on and beat trained professional requires a little luck or perhaps a side kick.

Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson created the stereotype for pirates in his novel “Treasure Island” with Captain Long John Silver and one of the most thrilling children’s novels. Unlike many other novels crafted to children, Treasure Island was dark and filled with morale ambiguity.

The novel begins with young boy Jim Hawkins becoming friends with and taking care of the ailing Billie Bones. The man is sought after by the crew members of the dead pirate Captain Flint, but died before he can give them what they want.

Hawkins goes through the sea chest looking for money to pay his hotel bill, but comes across the log of Captain Flint, which contains a map to buried treasure. Hawkins and his well-connected friends charter a ship under the command of Captain Smollet. The ship’s cook, Silver, helps to hire the crew and they embark on the journey.

Silver turns out to be a pirate and the remainder of the story is a tale of betrayal and the coming of age of young Jim Hawkins. What makes Silver a unique villain is that you can see a good man deep within him. He has become what his is through a lifetime of experiences, but he honestly likes Hawkins and sees him almost as a son. Unfortunately, he can’t get past his pirate tendencies and won’t let sentimentality come between him and treasure.

Hawkins ultimately decides the side of right and morality and, while disappointed, Silver respects him for it. He is glad that Hawkins won’t end up like him, but still would like to have him as a protégé.

The Disaster Story

There are a lot of ways that you can create adventure in a story, but one of the easiest convention and widely used it through the disaster scenario. Some cataclysmic event has happened or is about to happen and the hero and other characters must react.


The run the gambit from the mundane such as hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanoes to the more esoteric such as meteors and global events. You can get away with a simple adventure plot for stories that don't have an impact on a large area. Think of movies like Twister. Tornadoes only effect a small population, so you can concentrate more on the characters.


Volcanoes and hurricanes are more mid level. They effect a large population, so you need to make sure and incorporate all sides of the conflict from city officials to the people on the street. Global disasters can be difficult to write because it involves everyone. You can't have a planet killer coming to Earth and not say that only the U.S. is going to something about it.


Mid and large scale disasters require several separate frames of reference. You need a microcosm to provide the emotion, but you need the larger picture of military and governmental oversight to give it realism. If you want to write a disaster story, then start out small. Do a lot of research on realistic reactions to the disaster and use that in your plot. While Bruce Willis and can single handed take on a giant planet killing rock for major cinematic value, that's not going to be realistic.