The Joy of Re-Reading

Originally published 13/08/2017

“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” — C.S. Lewis

Good old Jack. He was a wise man.

But you know, the funny thing is that until recently, I hardly ever re-read books. I watched my favourite TV shows and films over and over and over again (seriously, my Star Trek DVDs are going to catch fire if I keep re-watching them the way I do); I listened to my favourite music over and over again; why, I even laugh at the same jokes more times than I really should. And in spite of the fact I consider myself to be a bookworm who prefers books to all of the other pleasures listed above, somehow I had gotten into a habit of never re-reading anything, no matter how much I liked it.

I didn’t really start to think about all this until recently, when I ran out of unread books. I had just finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with The Merry Men & Other Stories for the first time and suddenly found myself without anything new to read. I had a look around online to see if I could find a new book but I was struggling to decide what I fancied and… well, frankly, I didn’t have time to wait. I needed something to read now. So I returned to my bookshelf and picked up The Final Act of Mr. Shakespeare by Robert Winder; a book I had read once before.

I will admit, I was reluctant to open it again. It’s not that it was a bad book. I remembered really enjoying it the first time I read it. I just didn’t expect it to thrill me the way a good book should, since I had already read it once before and knew everything that was going to happen. Imagine my surprise when now, halfway through re-reading it, I find myself every bit as enthralled by it as before.

I had forgotten, you see, that the thrill of reading a story is not simply finding out what happens. I would argue that it is not even predominantly in finding out what happens, though it is obviously an important part of reading a story. There is a certain ineffable pleasure to be had in reading a good book, watching a good film or even listening to a good song which far transcends simply memorising how it goes. It’s the whole experience of the voice of each character, the clever turns of phrase and the poetic weaving of language which transports the reader from their own life into the life of the protagonist. Literature is an art-form that makes you think, makes you feel and — perhaps more than any other art-form — puts you right in the shoes of another person. That’s stimulating, no matter how familiar you are with the plot. As cake does not cease to be delicious simply because you’ve had it once or twice before, a good book does not cease to be a good book simply because you’ve read it once or twice before.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I think I can tell you exactly why I stopped re-reading things. I had succumbed to the very thing I so despise in others: reading, not for the joy of it, but so that I could show off to my friends, family and all of you who read my blog just how widely read I was.

When I was a child, I didn’t have this problem. I used to read and re-read a strange combination of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Star Trek novels. An unlikely and somewhat narrow jumble, perhaps, but it was my jumble. I didn’t read so that I could tick off all the books I’d read on those horrible blog posts you get with titles like ‘100 Books All SERIOUS Bookworms Will Read Before They Die’, nor did I read so that I would have something impressive to tweet about on #BookLoversDay. It didn’t even occur to me to try to read a certain number of books in a single month or year. I read for the sheer joy of it, and as a result, I naturally  found myself re-reading those things that brought me the most pleasure. If I concentrate, I can probably still quote you a few passages verbatim from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the B.F.G., for the simple reason that I just couldn’t get enough of those stories.

Am I advocating wilful narrow reading? Of course not. The wider you cast your net book vouchers, the more good books you’re likely to discover; books that you’ll really want to read again and again. You’ll find that different authors and different genres all have their own unique flavours to enjoy which you can mix and match however you like, so I definitely encourage you to explore what’s out there and fill your head with a wide variety of books. But for goodness’ sake, don’t let snobbishness towards what kinds of things you read, how widely you read or how fast you read rob you of the joy of reading. Read widely. If you find something you like, don’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading it again and again for as long as it pleases you to do so.

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Super Snappy Speed Reviews – Books (vol. 2)

Originally published 30/07/2017

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck, Different Seasons by Stephen King, Curtain by Agatha Christie or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with The Merry Men & Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson is hereby advised that this point may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

It’s that time again! We’ve already had super snappy speed reviews for books, TV shows and films, and now it’s time to return for a second helping of super snappy book reviewsAs before, the books I have reviewed here have been selected entirely at random from my ever-growing book collection and do not necessarily have anything in common apart from the fact that they are all books. They are not necessarily books that I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order.

As always, these reviews only reflect my own personal opinions and impressionssquished, sliced and diced into a few short sentences. So without further ado…

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

As much as I like fantasy, I’m also picky about it. Fortunately, this book (the first instalment of the Mistborn series) has it all: a richly imagined fantasy world, compelling characters, an excellent magic system and a plot which kept me glued to its pages from beginning to end. Best of all, Sanderson has obviously understood that while good world building and detailed magic systems are important elements of fantasy, it is characters that really count when it comes to writing a good story.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Speaking of fantasy, this book (the first instalment of Pratchett’s Discworld series) is arguably one of the most imaginative books I have ever come across. The characters are compelling and there is a goodly dash of wit spread throughout this rather dream-like narrative. My only complaint is that while the world building does demonstrate something of Pratchett’s superhuman imagination, the time spent he spends explaining the minute details of his world (and the additional time required for the reader to assimilate it all) does drag the pace down to a crawl at certain points.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

At the risk of being flamed to death… I found A Game of Thrones a bit of a drag. No, wait, hear me out! It’s got a lot going for it! There’s a lot of different characters’ points of view represented in the book which made it more true to life (though a bit more difficult to follow; just who is the protagonist in this story?), strong world-building, a good plot it’s just… I don’t know. I found myself getting bored as I read it. I’ve not been able to bring myself to read the next six books yet. Maybe I’ll watch the TV show one day and see what all the fuss is about.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck can do no wrong. This little novel is about a small but tactically important coal mining town which is taken over by a battalion from a non-specific nation (reminiscent of Nazi Germany) who are at war with England and Russia. It is essentially a story about freedom, democracy and oppression, crafted with the kind of fineness of style that only Steinbeck can produce. Read it now.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Different Seasons by Stephen King

This collection of stories by Stephen King includes, among others, the classic Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. In true King style, most of these stories have a dark tone to them, although I wouldn’t really have described any of them as horrors or fantasies in the truest sense of the word (although The Breathing Method does include certain fantasy elements, I suppose). I loved, loved, loved Shawshank. The Body and The Breathing Method were alright too. Apt Pupil was also very well written, however it did focus on a young boy with an unhealthy obsession with violence and his toxic relationship with a Nazi surgeon. Personally, I found it a little too dark for my tastes.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Curtain by Agatha Christie

In this, the final adventure for Christie’s famous Belgian detective, we see a Hercule Poirot (now very frail and elderly) who has been drawn back to the scene of his first adventure to solve one last crime before it even takes place. The mood is somewhat more melancholy than in earlier Poirot novels and I must admit… I found the ending just a little bit ridiculous, given the otherwise serious tone of the book. It feels a bit like Christie came up with a compelling mystery but then was unable to imagine a good way to resolve it. In a word, an okay read until you get to the end.

My rating: 🌟🌟

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with The Merry Men & Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson

I thoroughly enjoyed most of the stories in this little volume. Jekyll and Hyde is, of course, a classic tale which has justifiably earned a familiar spot in modern culture, even among those who haven’t read it. The Merry Men was okay, although I found Stevenson’s rendering of the Scottish accent difficult to follow (and I’m a Scottish person myself!). Markheim and Olalla were both enjoyable enough little reads with (not too) dark undertones. Janet Thrawn was decidedly tedious. The Treasure of Franchard, with its larger than life characters, was easily my favourite.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Well, I hope you enjoyed these itzy-witzy book reviews. No doubt we’ll do it all again soon!

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7 Things I Hate In Fiction

Originally published 16/07/2017

No matter what genre of fiction or medium of story-telling you’re into (even if you’re into nearly all of them, like me!), we all have our own little things in fiction that we don’t like. Sometimes it’s the little things that can absolutely ruin an otherwise potentially good story for us and make us seriously think about leaving it unread/unwatched/unlistened to.

For your enjoyment, therefore, I have compiled a list of my own fiction bugbears with expositions. Maybe you won’t agree with them all. That’s okay. I’m not for one second suggesting any of these are hard and fast rules about what constitutes a bad story. These are just things that, for me, are a bit of a turn-off. So without further ado and in no particular order…

Obvious Morals

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely think it’s a good thing for stories to say something meaningful about real life. I’m not knocking stories that have morals to them. I’m not even knocking controversial morals. Quite the reverse, a good story definitely should have true and important morals or observations about life. But there’s nothing that puts me off reading a book or watching a film/TV show/play quite like that horrible sinking feeling you get in the first five minutes when you think to yourself: ‘I think I know where this is going…’

Even if it’s something I profoundly agree with, that’s not the point. I don’t read stories to be preached at, whether I agree with the message or not. Entertain me, and by all means make me think, but don’t preach at me.

Excessive and/or Long Fight Scenes

On TV and film, I can just about(!) put up with drawn out fight scenes, but in novels… boy, I find them tedious. They’re often either too detailed (and so, the pace is dragged right down at what should be the most exciting part) or else they’re not detailed enough and I lose the thread of what’s going on entirely. If you’re going to write a fight scene, I want it to be described in such a way that I feel like I’m really there witnessing it, which must by necessity include experiencing the danger and urgency of being in a battle. It can be done with words, but only a few writers seem to be able to do it in a way I find truly enjoyable.

More on fight scenes here.

Unnecessary Profanities

Sometimes in adult fiction, a little profanity may be justified, if it becomes the character (remember boys and girls, a character’s voice can have a profound impact on their identity). After all, in real life, people do sometimes use foul language. However, I find that in fiction, it loses its effectiveness very quickly and can come across as a fairly amateurish attempt at generating tension. Therefore, use it sparingly. If you’re struggling, watch the soaps for some inspiration: Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and so forth.

No, really, hear me out. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about soaps, but I’ll give them this: because they’re usually on before the watershed, the writers of these shows are forced to generate tension and outright screaming matches between characters without using a single profanity. Study these carefully if you’re really struggling to write tense dialogue without the potty-mouth.

Flashbacks

As a rule of thumb, I find that flashbacks tend to interrupt the pace of the narrative too much. In addition, I often find that they are simply used as a way to info dump the backstory and as we all know, info dumping is bad, bad, bad. I might, possibly, maybe let you away with them if the story absolutely requires that one character tells another character a lengthy, detailed story about something that happened in the past (Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels, for example, frequently include flash back style chapters where one witness is telling Poirot their version of events) but on the whole, I find flashbacks a bit of a drag.

All Action; No Substance

If I wanted a meaningless thrill ride, I’d just go to Alton Towers. Don’t get me wrong, a bit of excitement is needed to keep up the momentum of your story, but if the protagonist is doing nothing but jumping over walls, dodging bullets and crashing helicopters from the outset, I won’t have any opportunity to get under the his skin enough to sympathise with him or understand his goals and motives.

All Substance; No Action

The opposite is also true. I know I want to understand the characters’ goals and motives, and I know I want the odd profound or emotional scene but I don’t want to be bored to tears either. Sooner or later, we need a bit of excitement.

Call Your Story Confessions of an [Optional Adjective] [Noun]

This will make me hate your story before I’ve even read it. See my previous post On Titles.


Well that was cathartic for me at any rate.

Did any of that ring true for anyone else? Or maybe you actually love flashbacks, lengthy fight scenes and tedious titles? Maybe I’m alone in disliking these things…

I know! Why not leave a comment below and share your own fiction pet-hates with the rest of the world? You might feel better if you get it off your chest. And if you enjoyed this post, be sure to follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if you feel so inclined.

Until next time!

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Need Help Deciding What to Read?

Originally published 02/04/2017

Someone recently asked me how I decide what books I want to read. Good question, I thought. The truth is, I find choosing new books (and new TV shows, movies and everything else) exceptionally difficult. As a rule, I try never to immediately follow a sci-fi with another sci-fi or a mystery with another mystery but that still leaves me spoiled for choice.

Blurbs are, of course, useful pointers to give you a hint as to whether or not a story might appeal to you but just because a story has an interesting synopsis doesn’t mean that it’s been well written or that it will appeal to your particular tastes.

As you might expect, the internet is ready and eager to try to help. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of three websites that give you customised book recommendations.

Goodreads

Let’s get the most well known one out the way first.

To be honest, Goodreads is much more than just a website for getting book recommendations. It’s more like a social network for book-lovers. However, unlike Facebook, Twitter and all the other more general social networking sites, Goodreads allows you to build a library of books you have read, want to read and are currently reading. It will then give you recommendations based not only on what you have on your ‘shelves’ but also based on the reviews you give them. If you give a book a very positive rating, it will recommend more books like it and vice-versa. It will also organisation your recommendations based on genre. So, if you read a lot of sci-fi novels and a lot of murder/mystery novels, but never read romance novels, it will give you separate recommendations for sci-fi and mystery… but nothing for romance.  If you don’t like what it suggests, it’s easy to tell it that and it will adjust future recommendations accordingly.

It’s also easy to link your Goodreads account to Facebook, Twitter and WordPress and has a large enough community of its own that you can find plenty of other user reviews about each book.

The only downside I can find is that its recommendations can often be a bit hit or miss, so be sure to read user reviews before blindly buying the books it recommends.

What Should I Read Next?

If you can’t be annoyed with all the bells and whistles of Goodreads, you might want to give ‘What Should I Read Next?’ a go.

If all you want  to do is get recommendations based on a particular book you like, you don’t even have to register. Simply type in the title of a book you liked and boom! It’ll give you a long list of similar books you might want to try (when I searched for Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire, it came up with a whopping fifty recommendations – only three of which were written by the same author).

However, if you want to refine your search parameters, you can register with your e-mail address and make up a list of your favourite books. One you have done that, you can search based on some or all of the books in your list.

Another way you can refine your search is by choosing what it is about your favourite book that you are looking for in a new book. For instance, when I told it I liked The Final Empire, I then had the choice to search for books about courts and courtiers, woman revolutionaries, magic, heroes, imaginary places, etc.

Whichbook

Unlike a lot of websites I consulted on this matter, Whichbook does not simply try to find a book ‘similar’ to one you have already read and liked. Instead it asks you what kind of book what you want to read. There are two different approaches you can take to this.

The first approach involves using sliding scales to tell Whichbook exactly what kind of feel you’re looking for in a book. Do you want a long book or a short book? An easy book or a demanding book? One with lots of sex or one with no sex? Happy or sad? Safe or disturbing? There are twelve such sliders to choose from (though you can only use four at a time) by which you can specify exactly what kind of book you’re after and it will give you recommendations based on what you tell it.

Alternatively, you can ditch the sliders and ask it to search for books with a particular kind of main character (the choice of details includes race, age, sexuality and gender), a particular plot type and/or a particular setting (in which you can choose from any country in the world or ‘imaginary’). You can mix and match these details as you see fit and it will make recommendations accordingly.

Whichever approach you decide to use, each recommendation comes with a mini-synopsis to help you make a more informed choice. You can also make lists of books in a similar way to Goodreads.

The major drawback is that you cannot specify a particular genre or author you’re fond of.


I hope you find some of these suggestions useful. I’m always looking for new things to read and watch (I won’t lie to you; the main reason I wrote this post this week is because I was looking for something new to read myself) so if you can recommend any other good review or recommendation websites, do let us know in the comments section!

Until next time!

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8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews

Originally published 19/03/2017

Spoiler Alert

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, anyone who has not read: The Count of Monte Cristo by A. Dumas, The Afrika Reich by G. Saville, The Final Act of Mr. Shakespeare by R. Winder, The House of Silk by A. Horowitz, The Gospel of Loki by J.M. Harris, I, Robot by I. Asimov, Deception by R. Dahl or Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Well this might be a great idea or it might not be, but I thought it might be fun to knock together a couple of two or three sentence book reviews based on a selection from my bookshelf. Who knows, if it’s a hit, I’ll maybe do it again… maybe with movies or TV shows. But for today, it’s books.

I selected the books for review entirely at random. They are not necessarily of the same genre, nor are they necessarily books I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order.

What I have written about them are my entirely own impressions and opinions, compressed, squeezed and crammed into a few short sentences. So, without further ado…

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Justifiably a classic of the genre; a good wholesome historical adventure story and love story rolled into one. It helps to know a thing or two about the period of the Bourbon Restoration to fully appreciate everything that’s going on but don’t let it put you off if you don’t have any knowledge of that period. Oh, and make sure you read the unabridged version translated by Robin Buss. It is the best.

My rating: 5 stars

The Afrika Reich by Guy Saville

If alternative histories and non-stop heart-pounding thrill-rides are your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this. Personally, I can’t help feeling the protagonist should have died from his injuries- or at least been slowed down enough to be caught and executed by the Nazis but I suppose that’s what we have suspension of disbelief for.

 My rating: 3 stars

The Final Act of Mr. Shakespeare by Robert  Winder

Historical fiction featuring William Shakespeare as the protagonist. This novel is set shortly after the Gunpowder Plot and tells the fictional story of the last play Shakespeare (never actually) wrote: Henry VII. In some respects, the story is quite exciting; filled with personal danger for Shakespeare and his troupe. While the narrative does drag at some points, it is beautifully written in a way which brings many of the real historical characters to life and is kept afloat by its interesting premise and a goodly dash of humour. It also includes the full script for the fictional play this novel focuses on.

My rating: 4 stars

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Many have tried to capture the magic of Sherlock Holmes in books and films throughout the years. Few have done it as well as Anthony Horowitz does it in The House of Silk, balancing fidelity to the original creation of Arthur Conan Doyle with a fresh and exciting new plot for modern readers. It has everything in it you ever wanted from a Sherlock Holmes story; mystery, excitement, a dark secret to uncover and a quality of narrative which draws you right into the heart of Holmes’ London. Parental advisory: the ending is a lot darker and more disturbing than anything A.C.D. might have written.

My rating: 5 stars

The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

This novel is an imaginative reexamination of Norse mythology, given from the unique perspective of one of its central villains: Loki, the god of mischief. This novel is full of sharp and occasionally dark humour and a very compelling antihero. Downsides? The first few chapters felt more like a list of cosmic anecdotes forming a backstory, which made it a slow read at first but it does pick up. I also found the narrative voice of Loki a little irksome, but then again, the Loki character is probably supposed to be irksome so I suppose that’s a good thing.

My rating: 3 stars

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

What can I say about I, Robot that hasn’t already been said? Almost every robot character that has ever appeared in sci-fi since owes something to this collection of short stories which are set at different points in the lifetime of robopsychologist, Dr. Calvin (though she is not a character in every story, the stories are largely told from her perspective). Each story is generally centred around the Three Laws of Robotics (Google it) and the problems caused by human and robot interpretations of these laws. I found the pacing a bit slow occasionally, but all in all it’s a good read and an essential addition to any sci-fi buff’s bookshelf. This book sets the standard for everything modern sci-fi readers expect from a robot story.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Deception by Roald Dahl

As a child, I loved almost everything Roald Dahl ever wrote. Deception is certainly not for children but it is an excellent collection of short stories all dealing with theme of lies and deceit. Some of the stories are quite dark (for instance, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ deals with a woman who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb then feeds it to the police) while others are a little more lighthearted. I loved it. I think you will, too.

My rating: 4 stars

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Lewis is probably more famous for the The Chronicles of Narnia and his assorted theological texts but this book (the first in ‘The Cosmic Trilogy’) is well worth a look anyway. Hard sci-fi fans, don’t waste your time. This is a story about a man who travels to Mars, but Lewis’ idea of space is clearly grounded in his interest in mythology rather than modern cosmology. Treat it as a fairy-tale rather than a sci-fi, though, and it’s a darn good read.

My rating: 4 stars


Phew! Well, that was different!

Until next time!

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Throwback Thursday: 5 Signs You Should Quit Reading That Novel

Originally published 09/06/2019

Disappointment. There’s no other feeling in the world quite as crushing as disappointment, especially when it comes to reading a book you thought you were going to like. Apart from the fact you’ve already invested time and money into this book, you now find yourself in a horrible dilemma: to finish or not to finish?

Strange as it may seem to the uninitiated, there is a sense of personal failure and social stigma attached to giving up on a book; almost as if we were too lightweight to bear the responsibility for choosing the wrong book. And so, we grit our teeth and read on: another hundred, two hundred, or even four hundred pages of despair, anguish and disappointment.

I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve actually abandoned altogether. Some have sorely tempted me at points but there are an elite class of books which have been so abhorrent to me that I’ve been forced to quit. If you’re reading a novel you’re not too sure about, here’s a few warning signs that it might be time to abandon it altogether, randomly helpfully illustrated with Star Trek gifs.

When You Know Exactly How Many Pages Are Left Until The End

There are books of all different kinds of length out there. There are long books and there are short books; there are long books that feel short and there are short books that feel long.

Even the shortest little novellas can be a chore if we can only bring ourselves to read one or two pages at a time. On the flip-side, I read the full, unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and despite being one of the longest books on my shelf, it was a joy to read and was over far too soon. But with other books (including much shorter books), all I can think about is how many pages there are left until the end. Eventually I find myself literally doing sums to work out how many pages are left, not just once, but once or twice in every sitting. When you get to that stage, it’s time to chuck that sucker out. Life’s too short.

When You Start Making Excuses Not To Read

I read lots. I do it because I like it. I read in the evenings after my daughter’s gone to bed, I read immediately before I go to bed, I read during my lunch break at work and I read pretty much any other spare moment I get during my day when I’m not working, writing or playing with my daughter. But every now and again, with some books, all of that changes:

My daughter’s finally asleep! Time to fire up the Xbox...

Reading just before bed? Not tonight dear, I’ve got a headache.

Work is busy; there’s no time to have a leisurely lunch/reading break.

Spare moments to read? I don’t have any spare moments to read. I’ve got to install a brand new field induction sub-processor!

All these little excuses only make the book last longer and rob me of one of my favourite past times. Time to bite the bullet and read something else.

When You Hope The Hero’s Mission Fails and They Die Horribly

Let’s be honest. Most novels conclude with the protagonist winning, or at the very least growing in some way. They seldom die a meaningless death and the bad guy generally won’t ever win.

That’s partly why it’s so important for the reader to sympathise with the protagonist. Sure, the protagonist should have weaknesses, flaws and outright bad qualities; that’s part of being a believable person. But if you find yourself developing an active hatred for the protagonist, you’re unlikely to find the end of the story satisfying. Moreover, you’ll suffer throughout the entire novel, because following the adventures of a protagonist you hate is a bit like being forced to sit next to a co-worker you hate all day, every day. It grates on your nerves and arouses your most violent instincts. You hope they die, painfully, in a pool of their own vomit*.

If you find yourself hating the protagonist with such a passion, get out of there fast.

When You feel Personally Insulted by the Author

I’ve spoken before about how important themes are to a good story, and how a theme or moral we disagree with doesn’t make it a bad story. Indeed, it’s good for a novel to challenge the things you take for granted and no subject should be off limits. It’s good to be forced to think.

Nevertheless, some novels do it better than others. If you feel personally ridiculed, attacked, stereotyped or preached at by the author, don’t feel bad about abandoning it. Remember, reading a book is a one way dialogue. You can’t answer it back when it offends you in some significant fashion**. All you can do is swallow it or chuck it, and I, for one, see no reason to sit there and be insulted in your own living room.

When You Begin Every Sitting By Telling Your Family How Much You Hate This Book

When we normal people read a book and enjoy it, we tend to read it quietly and despise interruptions. However, every now and then, I will punctuate my own reading sessions with little outbursts to my family, friends, co-workers or anyone else in earshot:

‘I’m really not enjoying this book…’

‘I hope this book gets better or I’ve wasted £12 and untold hours of my life on it for nothing…’

‘Do you think it’s too late to get a refund on this book?’

Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, I will even rant about a book before I pick it up, just to get me in the mood for reading it.

‘Urrghh, well, I suppose it’s time to read another chapter of this horrible little book…’

If you love your family, you won’t force them to share in your suffering. If you can’t read it without whining about it, just stop reading it.

Footnotes:

*Unlike with fictional characters, you can’t simply throw away co-workers you don’t like and wishing real people dead will poison your soul. Please, try to get along with them and be kind to everybody.

**Well, you could always write to the author but please don’t; they’re entitled to publish their opinions. Nobody is forcing you to read it.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 4)

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not read The Golden Egg by Maggie Keen, Peedie Puffin by Michelle Robertson, The Jolly Pocket Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg, Tractor in Trouble by Heather Amery or Postman Pat and the Giant Snowball by Alison Ritchie is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

It’s time once more for another exciting edition of Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition! My daughter is almost three now and more addicted to books than ever before, especially picture books with simple stories, and so I’ve reviewed another small selection from her bookshelf for your enjoyment.

You all know how these things work by now. I’ve selected five random children’s books and written tiny little reviews on each of them. As ever these reviews reflect nothing more than my own personal opinions and impressions, abridged, abbreviated and condensed into just a few short sentences. The books I have selected have nothing in common, save the fact that they are all fictional stories for very young children. They are not necessarily books that I or my daughter particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. So, here we go.

The Golden Egg by Maggie Keen

This sweet little tale of a duck who longs to find an egg made of solid gold (for some reason) has been one of my daughter’s favourites on and off since she got it. I quite like it too. The protagonists have a clear goal which they try to accomplish only to gain a profound epiphany in the end. Highly accessible to small children and with a beautifully paced rhyming pattern.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Peedie Puffin by Michelle Robertson

A sweet but fairly unremarkable tale about a puffin who decides to go and live apart from other puffins and then changes his mind and goes home. Highly accessible for toddlers but a bit of a bore.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

The Jolly Pocket Postman by Janet & Allan Ahlberg

If you’re running out of psychoactive drugs during lockdown*, try reading this instead. This story follows the bizarre adventures of a postman who gets caught up in a surreal mish-mash of fairy-tales. The swift rhyming pattern creates a sense of urgency, stressing out both adult and child alike as they try to make sense of what the heck is going on.

*Don’t do drugs, kids.

My rating: 🌟

Tractor in Trouble by Heather Amery

This book is flavour of the month with my almost-three year old right now. Personally I found it a bit of a bore at first but I’m warming up to it and I can see how its simple but inoffensive plot would appeal to a toddler. My only real criticism is about Mrs Boot, the farmer. She is introduced on the first page and then… she never does anything again. Even when Ted needs a farmer’s help, he calls for Farmer Dray instead of Mrs Boot. I mean…. why?

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Postman Pat and the Giant Snowball by Alison Ritchie

This has been a firm favourite of both myself and my daughter since the day she first encountered it. Postman Pat and the Giant Snowball (or ‘The Snowy One’ as my daughter used to call it) is based on the TV episode of the same name. You can’t go wrong with Postman Pat and this book has been lovingly adapted from screen into clear and simple prose in a way which feels natural and remains highly accessible regardless of whether or not your child has seen the TV show.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT ALL THE PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF SUPER SNAPPY SPEED REVIEWS
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (Vol. 3)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (Vol. 4)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 2)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Books Edition (vol 1)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (vol. 2)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Writing Apps for AndroidSuper Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 3)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Games EditionSuper Snappy Speed Reviews: Star Trek Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 2)8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Film
5 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

5 Reasons Why Writers Should Be Readers

If you’ve spent any time hanging around writers or looking up writing tips on the internet, there’s a good chance you will have probably already come across this little chestnut:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

Stephen King

Now I know that sometimes I have been known to write posts in which I refute popular advice from writer sages however today is not one of those days. I’ve seen an alarming increase in people (usually on social media; seldom in print) insisting that you can write well without reading but I, for one, absolutely agree with Stephen King and you should too. Here’s why:

1) Reading teaches you about your craft. By reading a wide variety of stories by a wide variety of authors and in a wide variety of genres, you will begin to develop an intuitive understanding of how stories of various genres are structured.

Ah, but I want to be original! I hear you cry.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying for one second that you should create standardised fiction but you can’t create something both good and original if you don’t recognise the pros and cons to the standard conventions and traditions of story writing.

2) Reading fires the imagination. Back when I was at school, this was a generally accepted truth and it was certainly one that was taught in the classroom. The fact is, the more stuff you experience in life, the more raw material you have to work with in creating a story of your own. The trouble is, the Average Joe only experiences so much stuff. Oh it might be enough to knock out the odd novel or two but wide reading allows you to ‘experience’ a never ending plethora of other stuff, some of it so wild and different from real life that you never could experience is except through fiction. The more you experience through reading (and yes, through real life), the greater your imagination will be.

3) Reading expands your vocabulary and improves your grammar. I’m sure anyone who went to school as a child where language was properly taught will have sat through many a tedious class on the rules of grammar, punctuation and so forth. That’s all very good and important but in my experience, the best way to learn language is through absorbing it. Look at how a child learns to speak. My little two year old is very articulate (a little too articulate sometimes!) and it is because we have talked to her and read to her and exposed her to a limited amount of TV in which real honest to goodness language is used. We didn’t sit her down and teach her how to speak. She just picked it up through exposure.

So, too, with the written word: the more you expose yourself to it (along with a willing attitude for learning), the more you will assimilate. You’ll develop an intuitive knowledge for when things aren’t quite right. Not only that but…

4) … you’ll also learn style. Beyond simple spelling and grammar, there is style. Using words in a way which is not only correct, but is powerful. The greatest writers in history all have their own distinctive voice which has made their writing stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries, whether it be the dark humour which bubbles under the surface of Roald Dahl’s writing or the short, dagger-like sentences of Ernest Hemingway. While you cannot copy the voice of famous authors (nor should you attempt to), you can learn from them the multivarious techniques used to give your writing the perfect finished.

5) Reading is FUN. Surely you, as a writer, understand this. I mean, you are investing a lot of time and energy into writing a novel which you presumably expect people to read and enjoy. If it’s worth the trouble to entertain others with your blood, sweat and tears, why would it be a waste of time to read the toil of your fellow authors? It is surely the height of arrogance to suggest your novel is important enough to spend time reading while all others are a waste of time. More to the point, however: writing, like any other job, is tough. It’s time consuming, it saps your energy and it’s good to do something which lets you unwind. While there are plenty of other hobbies you can indulge in (I’ve got a few myself), I know of no other which excites the imagination, stimulates the intellect, stirs the emotions and makes you an altogether better person, all from the comfort of your armchair, quite like reading.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: The Well of Ascension: A Review

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read The Final Empire or The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Some of you might have fallen into the trap of thinking I only ever do really short reviews because I do them so darn often [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]. But I vowed at the start of this year that Penstricken was going to feature more reviews and that’s just what I intend to do. So, here we have it: my full scale review of The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson; the second book in the high fantasy Mistborn series. As ever, this review reflects only my own personal opinions and impressions.

Before I begin, I just want to say one thing about the series as a whole. It features two of the most complex but beautifully constructed systems of magic I have ever come across: Allomancy and Feruchemy. I love these magic systems. I don’t have nearly enough time to explain in any detail how these work so for those of you who haven’t read the books, here’s a link to the Mistborn wiki’s articles on Allomancy and Feruchemy.

Now, down to business.

In the previous book (The Final Empire), the street urchin Vin discovered herself to be a powerful Allomancer and joined a crew of thieves who led a successful rebellion against the “god-like” Lord Ruler of the gloomy Final Empire. Now that the Lord Ruler is dead, the Empire is fractured. Various lords come against the capital city (Luthadel) amid rumours that it contains a wealth of atium: one of the most valuable Allomantic metals there is. Vin, her crew and her boyfriend-turned-king quickly find themselves living in a city under siege by forces they cannot possibly overcome.

Did I like this book? Yeah, I did. Sanderson set himself an incredibly high standard in the first book, The Final Empire and while I don’t think The Well of Ascension quite lives up to that standard, it’s still a pretty strong sequel.

As well as an excellent magic system, this book also boasts a strong cast of characters. I often find the characters in some high fantasies to be a bit samey and it can be difficult to remember who’s who. Not so in The Well of Ascension. It’s easy to see each character clearly in my minds eye as I’m reading; their backstories are well researched and they all have recognisable motives and goals. If I’m being critical, I would say that some characters — particularly Vin — have perhaps changed a little too dramatically since the last story but not in a way which seriously ruins things. While I agree it’s important for characters to grow and change, I do think she has taken a little too naturally to being the king’s consort, while in the previous novel she was a cowering street urchin, still haunted by the memory of her abusive brother. She does have inner demons in this instalment, but they seem more largely focused on her destiny and whether or not she deserves Elend’s affections. On the other hand, I did enjoy how Elend himself developed from a scholarly and naive king to someone who, though technically deposed, nevertheless takes charge of himself and shows himself to be a true king in every way that matters. Through adversity he learns and becomes a better man, which is what you want in any good guy’s character arc.

The dialogue is not bad, though could do with a polish. The individual character’s voices are not terribly distinctive, making it sometimes difficult to remember who is speaking (with the possible exception of Tindwyl and, to a lesser extent, Clubs). In a similar way the narrative itself is decidedly alright. Sanderson’s use of language is accessible without being infantile, allowing the reader to easily step into the misty grey Empire with its red sun and constant ash-fall. However, the pacing did sometimes drag a little bit. My main beef in this regard was with the fight scenes. There’s a lot of them, they’re often very long and tend to focus a little too heavily on the details of who’s burning what metal and what they’re pushing or pulling against. More than anything, these are the scenes which caused me to switch off because — irony of ironies — they often caused the narrative to drag more than the intentionally ‘slow’ scenes.

The plot itself excellent, with several complicated and important social, political and religious themes weaved throughout in a way which is not too in-your-face. I don’t want to give anything away but it essentially involves a struggle for power after the demise of the Lord Ruler, a few prophetic mutterings hinting at a much larger picture and a surprising twist at the end which will have you eagerly reaching for the third book. There is much more emphasis on the personal needs and feelings of the individual characters, most of whom were once fairly anonymous individuals who now find themselves at the centre of their Empire’s political turmoil. The romantic subplots could perhaps have done with a little bit more unpacking but they were there in the form of a love-triangle (of sorts) between Vin, Elend and Zane and a short-lived (but far better written) relationship between the two Keepers, both of whom were previous victims of the Lord Ruler’s controlled breeding program.

All in all, a strong sequel. And I don’t normally like sequels. Not as good as the first, but still pretty darn excellent.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Buy the Mistborn Trilogy on Amazon


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 3)

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not read Loving Comfort by Julie Dillemuth, Tiddler: The Story-Telling Fish by Julia Donaldson, Postman Pat: The Secret by John Cunliffe, Charlie Crow in the Snow by Paula Metcalf or Nicola Baxter’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Ladybird Picture Books) is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

My daughter has been into books ever since she was a baby. Now, being just shy of two and a half years old, she’s more story daft than ever before and so I thought it was time for yet another exciting instalment of Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (you can check out al the previous editions at the bottom of this post).

You know the drill by now. These reviews reflect nothing but my own personal opinions and impressions, reduced, flattened and shrink-rayed into a few short sentences. The books I have selected have nothing in common, save the fact that they are all fictional stories for very young children. They are not necessarily books I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. So, here we go.

Loving Comfort by Julie Dillemuth

This little book is aimed particularly at young toddlers who about to take that difficult step towards being fully weaned. It tells the story of baby Jack and how, with the help of his parents, he eventually managed to stop nursing when the time came for him to do so.

If you’re not American, you might find some of the language a little foreign (my daughter calls her grandfather papa, not me) but it’s a well written story which my daughter appears to understand. She certainly enjoys it.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Tiddler: The Story-Telling Fish by Julia Donaldson

When it comes to writing books for toddlers, Julia Donaldson can do no wrong. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think Tiddler quite reaches the lofty standards of The Gruffalo or Monkey Puzzle (at least, my daughter doesn’t ask for it quite as often) but still a very solid offering from the author who seems to write all my daughter’s favourite books. No toddler’s bookshelf should be without it.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Postman Pat: The Secret by John Cunliffe

My daughter is a huge Postman Pat fan. This book was first published way back in 1982 and is based on a particular episode of the original TV series, in which the friendly Yorkshire postman Pat Clifton is surprised to discover that everybody in the village has learned his secret: that today is his birthday.

Personally, I find the book a bit of a drag to read when compared to some of my daughter’s other books and, in true classic Postman Pat style, the story is very genteel even for a toddler’s book, but my daughter seems quite taken with it.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Charlie Crow in the Snow by Paula Metcalf

This book is one of my daughter’s hot favourites right now. Personally, there’s something about it I find a little jarring, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s a perfectly cute little story about a crow and his animal friends facing winter for the first time (presumably).

If I’m being clinical and analytical, I can find nothing wrong with this book. It’s sweet, educational, and my daughter loves it. It just doesn’t quite ring my bell, but then I don’t suppose it’s aimed at me.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Nicola Baxter

It’s really difficult to pick just one version of this classic folk tale, so I went for Nicola Baxter’s version published by Ladybird Books (1999) because it is, hands down, my daughter’s favourite. The repeated contrast between Father Bear’s big things, Mother Bear’s medium sized things and Baby Bear’s tiny little things is a particular source of entertainment to my daughter, who enjoys trying to impersonate the booming voice I use for Father Bear and the squeaky one I use for Baby Bear.

Goldilocks was never my favourite folk tale, not even as a child, but I really enjoy this version of it and so does my wee girl.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT ALL THE PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF SUPER SNAPPY SPEED REVIEWS
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (Vol. 4)Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Edition (Vol. 2)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Books Edition (vol 1)
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition (vol. 2) Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Writing Apps for Android
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 3) Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Games Edition
Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Star Trek Edition Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Books (vol. 2)
8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Film 5 Super Snappy Speed Reviews: TV Edition
8 Super Snappy Speed Reviews

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what eats your porridge.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here: