Read Harder: Middle Grade Book Recommendations

I’m back with my most recent Book Riot Read Harder Challenge video! I’m recommending Middle Grade books this week. I read three of these books in one week and feel pretty epic about that. They were short, but still…

Want to learn more about the challenge? Get the details here.

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Video: Rapid Fire Book Tag

I took on GirlReading‘s Rapid Fire Book Tag and these are my answers!

And if you want to participate, consider yourself tagged. 🙂

Rapid Fire Book Tag Questions:

– E-Book or Physical Book?
– Paperback or Hardback?
– Online or In-Store Book Shopping?
– Trilogies or Series?
– Heroes or Villains?
– A book you want everyone to read?
– Recommend an underrated book?
– The last book you finished?
– The Last Book You Bought?
– Weirdest Thing You’ve Used as a Bookmark?
– Used Books: Yes or No?
– Top Three Favourite Genres?
– Borrow or Buy?
– Characters or Plot?
– Long or Short Books?
– Long or Short Chapters?
– Name The First Three Books You Think Of…
– Books That Makes You Laugh or Cry?
– Our World or Fictional Worlds?
– Audiobooks: Yes or No?
– Do You Ever Judge a Book by its Cover?
– Book to Movie or Book to TV Adaptations?
– A Movie or TV-Show You Preferred to its Book?
– Series or Standalones?

Read Harder: Read A Horror Book

I’m back with my most recent Book Riot Read Harder Challenge video! I discussed horror books just in time for your October reading. Want to learn more about the challenge? Get the details here.

Books Discussed:

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Uzumaki by Junji Ito
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Pray the Red Sea [Short Story]

written by S. Zainab Williams
art by Robert Burrows

Pray the red sea art burrows

I watch the dragon larvae gyre in the salted earth, their pale bodies fat, submerged rings. I think about Nu’ala’s obsidian hands at the spinning wheel, working the worms’ silvery fibers into spun silk. I remember those same hands at her swan’s throat, blood molten jasper. Red as the sea closing in on the sect’s island. Pouring over her fingers and down her citrine robes. Disfiguring the pattern of flickering fans.

It was in Nu’ala that I chose to bury my secret. She pried it but tenderly, unwittingly from my gated heart. It was the High Minister who bled it out of her.

Nu’ala and I joined the sect in the same class of recruits, enlisted for our empty throats and still tongues. The voices of God are born without a voice of their own, so said the High Minister. Most in our class wrung their hands, smiling their excitement, but with eyes where fear gathered.

Our families raised us to expect the day of our enlistment after our thirteenth cycle. They taught us to meet this day with gratitude. The sect’s prayers called the water for the dragons, feeding them, encouraging the cycle of reproduction. Bringing about the larvae that webbed our desert with fibers during harvesting season. This was Sulta’s famed silk–supple star of the trade routes; our main export besides the red salt and dried eel meat that fetched small coin.

Mothers and fathers and grandparents repeated the story of the dry times when dragon scales rained down from the sky as the creatures grew sick and the exposed seabed crackled beneath the radiant planets. This was before the High Minister arrived from a faraway place with his wagons bursting with rolled parchment all blotted and inked by great plans.

He had heard of Sulta’s struggles and had traveled far to beckon God into our barren firmament. He unraveled his plans and formed the first sect with the blessing of our desperate mayor. God found his voice in the members of the sect. His song activated the High Minister’s secret machines running on holy ground in the caverns below the temple.

The people of Sulta felt the thrum of the otherwise obscure God machines deep below their feet. And then the miracle. Water flowed up from the depths. By the third day, the sea was full. Over time, the eel eggs seeded in mud cakes split open to unleash a new generation. The dragons ate and grew strong again. Once more, the desert teemed with their larvae.

While we understood our importance as members of the sect, we also understood the price of our faith. Separation from family and friends, hard work, chastity, a lifestyle founded on needs, barren of wants.

On the first day of my induction into the sect, as I and the other new recruits disembarked from the painted longboat to mark the sacred banks of our new island home, the High Minister reminded us that the world exists in a state of impermanence. The sea would disappear; the city would fall to dust without the sect. We were the strings that held our world together. And when the High Minister deemed us individually ready to command God’s voice, we would be allowed access to the holy ground and the God machines. We would leave the fold forever to join in God’s song and raise the sea from the land.

I looked at the faces of my adopted sisters and brothers to check their faith. I found the strength of my own convictions mirrored, glittering in another girl’s eyes. Nu’ala’s. That moment of shared ecstasy tethered our souls to a common anchor. We became friends and remained so even after accepting our oath to be as islands in the sea–a company of recluses living only to sleep, eat, work, and, above all, serve.

Without the secretive nature of my friendship with Nu’ala, I may not have entrusted her with my truth, but we became sisters of the shadow and night, drawing our thoughts into the twilight sand glowing white-hot beneath the jewels hanging low off evening’s neck. While our family slept, we gave darkness a home in the lines of our picture-words.

Through our silent language, Nu’ala told me she was born of privilege to a family of trade magnates. I knew of them from conversations between my father and grandmother, spoken low into the steam snaking from the thick, black khave they sipped as darkness warmed to day. I had also seen Nu’ala with her family before we joined the sect. The light caught in the stones encrusting their fingers and dripping from their ears as they walked the market and bazaar. But this was a rare sight. They had muslin-wrapped servants to buy their salted fish and flatbread, their peppery herbs and browned spices.

Traders visited their sprawling earthen home to deal in the finest spun silk. From the stout wooden box where grandmother stored the dried herbs and grains–where I hid to fill the cool, dry space with my dreams and silence during these infrequent conclaves effected by my father’s brief homecomings from the trade routes–I overheard him describe the lush oasis blooming in the family’s plaza. There, guests sipped cold, honeyed mint tea with polished gold straws while discussing business and sharing news from the outer lands.

My father claimed that, so immense was their house, a dragon once stretched herself out, snout to tail-tip, across the warm, clay shingled spine of the family’s northeast rooftop to enjoy the breeze from their garden, and had room to spare.

Nu’ala confirmed all of these tales but claimed not to miss the luxuries of her past life. She had led the lonely existence of an only child. She lacked an Anan’kin as sister and friend. I wanted to tell her the same was true for me, but some words existed without need for expression, and Nu’ala had eyes that searched out souls. Eyes so black, they could not help but take in more than you gave. They showed me then that she knew my feelings already. She had seen love lying in wait when our eyes tugged toward each other to meet above the heads of our siblings that first day on the island.

Nu’ala’s eyes learned the truth about the High Minister while I and the others blindly trailed after him.

**

Read the rest of the story at my new site, szainabwilliams.com.

Roll Call! First Quarter Reading List

Book Meme Abibliophobia

I do not have this fear. Is there a phobia for the fear of having too many books on one’s reading list to fit into a single lifetime?

Here’s my reading list roll call for the year so far (heaven help me it’s bound to expand by the second):

The Halloween Tree Bradbury

The Halloween Tree, Ray Bradbury

I’m saving this one for October reading. I saw the television adaptation ages ago as a kid and was thoroughly creeped out. It was one of those television shows I randomly stumbled upon, so I only recently realized it was based on a book–and by Ray Bradbury no less. Shame on me!

The Halloween Tree is a spooky tale about a group of boys who have to search the past for their friend who is whisked away by a dark force on Halloween. Traveling on the tail of a kite on the hunt for their friend, the kids learn the true meaning of Halloween.

A Game of Thrones Martin

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

This is something I should have read last year. I’m possibly spoiled by the HBO series. But I’ve heard enough times that the book is better than the series (and I am obsessed with the series) so I think I need to stop kidding myself and get to reading these books.

If you live in a hole and know nothing about A Game of Thrones, it’s a sprawling fantasy with political feuding, dragons, magic, dragons, epic battles, romance, dragons and dragons.

Best of Roald Dahl

The Best of Roald Dahl, by Roald Dahl

I need more children’s books in my life and who better to turn to than Roald Dahl, writer of one of my favorite children’s books of all time, Matilda. By getting The Best of Roald Dahl, I feel I’m ordering a delicious burrito full of ingredients I’m sure to love.

If you haven’t read any Roald Dahl, I’d suggest starting with Matilda, of course, and James and the Giant Peach–oh! and The Witches…and don’t forget The BFG!

Days of Magic Barker

Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War, Clive Barker

I read the first Abarat book early last year and it’s time to get to the second. I have a reason for biding my time on this one. I went a little faint when fellow blogger Jacqui Talbot informed me that Barker has not finished writing the series and has, in fact, taken ten years to write the three books that have been released. So I’m taking my time as well, hoping to catch up right when the next book is published.

The Books of Abarat series is Young Adult fantasy that takes place in a strange and wonderful world and features a plucky and interesting protagonist, Candy Quackenbush. Here’s my book review of the first book of the series.

The Tooth Fairy Joyce

The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce

This one was recommended to me by a friend who is convinced I will enjoy it, perhaps because of my morbid taste and love of YA books. I’m actually clueless about this author and have never heard of this book. I’m kind of excited about going into a book blind.

Tell the Wolves Brunt

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

I’m a sucker for coming of age stories and (artfully) plop a shy female protagonist into the book and I’m a goner. I think I first heard about Tell the Wolves I’m Home on one of the many websites I, the co-dependant book addict, visit to receive encouragement for my addiction. And I guess the novel has received much acclaim so that’s not a bad thing.

I bet this book is going to make me cry.

Small Gods Pratchett

Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

After reading Good Omens many moons ago, I decided I had to read a Neil Gaiman authored book and a Terry Pratchett authored book. I read American Gods and now it’s Pratchett’s turn. Reading Terry Pratchett is long overdue.

Almost everything on my list so far feels long overdue.

**

What do you absolutely have to read this year?