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Hard to Die

Hard to Dieunknown

by: Andra Watkins

Word Hermit Press LLC   Charleston, SC



I tagged this book with “historical fiction” because the characters are certainly historical.   The primary character is Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr (remembered primarily for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel).   Theodosia died under “mysterious circumstances” and therefore has found herself in Andra Watkins Afterlife series.

Those whose deaths are unresolved find themselves in Nowhere.  They have limited memories of the circumstances of their deaths, and no memories of their time in Nowhere.  Each has a “conductor” who charges them to help a living person make a better choice in their lives.  The dead have 13 chances to find resolution or they will be trapped forever in this in between place.

Theodosia’s life was filled with political intrigue.  Her father was tried for treason.  Her godfather was probably a spy.  She herself was highly educated and involved with many of the movers and shakers of her time.  (She makes an appearance in the musical Hamilton.)  It is not a surprise that her Afterlife story would also be filled with spies, treason, and political intrigue.

Set in the Hudson River Valley near West Point, the geography and legendary history of the area also play a role in the story.  The scenes in New York City revolve around Grand Central Station and its starry skied ceiling.  Theodosia is having her past life in 1950.  Her mission is to help one of the West Point cadets make a good choice towards a better life.

Unfortunately for Theo,  Nowhere is hardly a solitary place.  There are several other characters from Theodosia’s life who are also struggling with resolving their deaths.  The interplay between what has past and what is happening in the story, still our history, adds to the intrigue and suspense.

Andra’s novels bring historical characters into three dimensions. She makes her characters come to life and places them in settings that contribute to the story telling. Hard to Die grabs the reader from the start and hangs on tightly through all the twists and turns. I’m not sure I like Andra’s Theodosia, but I found her fascinating. Looking forward to more Nowhere novels.


Also by Andra Watkins:






To Life Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis   This is Andra’s first novel and the first in the Afterlife series.  Meriwether Lewis is quite the character and the harrowing run towards the place of his death along the Natchez Trace adds color and history to the story.


Not Without My Father   A memoir of her journey as she walked the Natchez Trace, her father along as her back-up and support.


Natchez Trace: Tracks in Time   The photo journal of Andra’s walk


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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingUnknown

Catherynne M. Valente

R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Harrisburg, VA  2011


I relished this book.  I just finished it and I already want to read it again.  The language is delicious.  The story is charming and the protagonist heartless, as: “All children are heartless.  They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror.”

The child is carried away into Fairyland, at her own consent, by the Leopard of Little Breezes and the Green Wind.  There she finds herself in the middle of a story.  As is typical of Fairy stories September, our heroine, is given the rules and structure at the beginning.  She’s a bright girl and works very hard to keep in line.  She avoids eating Fairy food for instance by convincing herself she’s eating Witch food and Wyvern food and all sorts of things that couldn’t possibly be Fairy food.

As she enters into the land she’s given a visa, something all travelers to strange countries must have of course.  September’s visa reads: “Temporary Visa Type: Pomegranate. Housing Allotment: None. Alien Registry Category: Human, Ravished, non-changeling. Size: Medium.  Age: Twelve. Privileges: None, or As Many As You Can Catch.”  Which of course gives us the whole story, without giving away a thing.

There is an evil queen and odd beasts.  There are wonders to behold and an arduous journey.  There are things destined to entrap her and friends to be made.  There are choices along the way of course and there is the key.  The Green Wind tells September he came for her, only her.  She feels chosen, yet she doesn’t feel as though she is anything special.  Truth is she’s not chosen.  She makes her choices and those choices have consequences and in the end take her through the story and out the other side.

I have seen some of Catherynne Valente’s other work, but this is the first that I’ve actually read.  I have a fellow blogger to thank for recommending it. (If I could remember who (sorry, it took me awhile to get here) I’d throw in a link to their site.  If you read the comments maybe she’ll show up.)  Looking through listings of Valente’s work I can see she has a background and interest in fairy and folklore.  I’m intrigued enough by her writing style to look both further in this series and also at her more adult works.

I suspect this book would be a delight to hear read aloud.  It is a fairy story, but there are plenty of hints at things older children and adults might enjoy as well.  The allusion to mythic adventure is palpable, without this being simply a retelling of an old story.  Every little detail becomes relevant at some point in the tale, even the fact that September neglected to wave goodbye to her mother as the Leopard of Little Breezes carried her past the factory where her mother built airplanes.

There is something about being a twelve-year-old girl.  The composure and self-confidence in your ability to accomplish anything, standing on the brink of something you can’t comprehend but feel drawn toward, and desiring to escape yet needing the security of home that make them ideal for this kind of story.  Dorothy in the Frank Baum books was about this age.  Susan is twelve when she first steps into the wardrobe to Narnia.  September holds her own in her adventures along with the best of them.

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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction, Uncategorized


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by R.J. Palacio

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY 2012


I got this book for my son for the holidays.  It was being heavily promoted and it seemed like the sort of thing he might enjoy.  I couldn’t wait to read it myself.

Wonder is a book of children’s fiction.  The main characters are fifth graders in New York.  The themes, however, are very adult.  The story is about a boy who has a severe facial deformity, or as the story more accurately states “mandibulofacial dysostosis”.  He’s been home-schooled all his life, but now he’s going to start fifth grade in a school.

The story is told sequentially by multiple points of view.  First we get August, the main character, and his sense of self and fears for starting.  Then the friends he makes at school give their take on August.  We hear from his sister and his sister’s oldest friend.  We even hear from August’s sister’s boyfriend.  The story wraps up at the end of the 5th grade year again from August’s point of view and we see how much he has grown and changed over the course of the year.

Having raised a special needs child and his sister I have to say that I was impressed with the emotional honesty of this book.  The children seem a little older, more mature than typical midwestern 5th graders, but the way they process their experience is spot on.

The themes in this book are very adult.  We often forget that children do experience these things as well.  This book is a positive, uplifting look on overcoming adversity.  It doesn’t hide or try to sugar coat the emotions the characters feel.  It honors adult support without needing the adult characters to “fix” everything for the children.

It was a difficult book for me to read.  I have seen too much of these things in my life not to be impacted by the story and the reactions of the characters.  The best thing I can say about this book, and this really is a huge recommendation, is that I found it to be genuine.

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Posted by on January 5, 2013 in Children, Uncategorized


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