Inspired by the life and quotations of former first lady Michelle Obama, OPENING MY EYES UNDERWATER is a collection of essays penned by bestselling author Ashley Woodfolk.
In essays about bullying, heartbreak, racism, and confidence, Woodfolk taps into her past to share those stories that made her who she is today. She seamlessly weaves in parallel experiences that both she and Mrs. Obama have faced in their separate childhoods as well as their adult lives. Open, searing, and honest, these are stories that will help readers feel seen. Readers who are growing and learning as they move forward through life’s triumphs and pitfalls will undoubtedly gravitate to and find comfort within its pages.
Ashley Woodfolk is an author whose books I’ve been wanting to read. When I came across this book, the concept of it really hooked me. Essays on hope? Michelle Obama, you say? Yes, please. I’m in.
I always forget that reading a collection of shorter pieces, whether essays or short stories, is something I really enjoy. It’s nice to be able to read a chunk of something and pause in the reading to think about that piece as a whole. It’s so different than consuming an entire novel or nonfiction book and then reflecting on the entire thing.
These essays are loosely connected– several talk about the author’s experiences with panic attacks and anxiety, especially about school and college. At the start of each essay is a page with a quote from Michelle Obama. The quotes are well-chosen and inspirational just on their own. In the essay that follows, the author explores some of her own life experiences and reflects on experiences Michelle Obama has described about her own life, expanding on the ideas from the quote.
The essays are thoughtful and encouraging, but also pretty real. Ashley Woodfolk wrote the book during the days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and she isn’t shy about how hard that process or those experiences were. But she also calls us toward hope again and again. She reminds readers of their value as human beings and members of the same world in which people like Michelle Obama live and thrive.
I really enjoyed the book and found it to be a really easy read. I think readers looking for some encouraging words, especially as they transition from high school to college, will find a lot of inspiration for life in these pages.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Representation Michelle Obama is a Black woman and the former First Lady of the US. The book includes some biographical information about her as well as quotes from speeches she’s given and things posted to her social media accounts. Ashley Woodfolk is also a Black woman and identifies as Queer.
Profanity/Crude Language Content None.
Romance/Sexual Content References to romantic relationships that the author was in. At one point she describes a boyfriend who continually pushed past her boundaries. She reflects back on that now as an unhealthy and unsafe relationship.
Spiritual Content None.
Violent Content The author describes what it’s like when she has a panic attack. She also references George Floyd’s murder by police. She discusses a job at a clothing store at which many of the employees stole merchandise. Though she herself did not steal, she uses this as an example of having personal values and sticking to them even when others aren’t doing what you have committed to do for yourself.
Drug Content None.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of OPENING MY EYES UNDERWATER in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.
The Vanquishers are back and ready to defend their town against the undead in this spooky middle grade from New York Times bestselling author Kalynn Bayron.
Boog and her best friends, Cedrick, Jules, and Aaron–aka the Squad–stick together, no matter what. Now that vampires are back, they’ll need to take their Vanquisher lessons more seriously than ever. But who is behind this return of the undead?
When strange disappearances keep happening across their community and the Department of Vampire Affairs not-so-subtly warns Boog’s mom to keep quiet about vampires returning, it looks like uncovering the truth won’t be so easy. The Squad is eager to kick some undead butt, but will they be able to convince their parents they are ready to fight alongside the Vanquishers?
I’m really enjoying this series. I love the way the story is centered around families and family history. The book feels like a version of The Incredibles but with an all-Black cast and the addition of vampires. It’s high-energy and fun, and a very quick read. I read this one in a couple of sittings.
The story picks up pretty nearly where the first book in the series, THE VANQUISHERS, ends, and there are several references back to things that happened in the first book. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, I would start with that one first.
I loved the close-knit community featured in the book and the deep friendships between Boog and her friends. I’ll be continuing with the series and looking forward to the next installment!
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Representation Major characters are Black. One of Boog’s best friends in nonbinary.
Profanity/Crude Language Content None.
Romance/Sexual Content None.
Spiritual Content Vampires exist in the book.
Violent Content Situations of peril. A young vampire drinks blood (from medical packets) and from small animals. A woman eats flies. Vampires and hostile people attack Boog and her family. Students at school bully Boog and her friends.
Drug Content None.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of SECRET OF THE REAPING in exchange for my honest review.
Every now and again I hear about just the right book for the right moment, and I feel like DEAR HERO has been one of those. I definitely needed a snarky, silly, fun book to read this month! So when I got the chance to ask the authors some questions about the story and the process of writing it, of course I jumped at the chance.
First, here’s a little bit about the book in case you aren’t familiar.
Dear Hero Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat INtense Publications Published September 28, 2020
Up-and-coming teen superhero Cortex is on top of the world–at least, until his villain dumps him. If he’s going to save his reputation, he needs a new antagonist, and fast.
Meanwhile, the villainous Vortex has once again gotten a little overeager and taken out a hero prematurely. Will any young hero be able to keep up with her? Maybe she should work on finding a steady relationship with an enemy she won’t kill in the first round.
So the two turn to Meta-Match, a nemesis pairing site for heroes and villains, where they match right away. But not everything in the superhero world is as it seems. Who are the real heroes and villains? And just how fine of a line is there between love and hate? When darkness from the past threatens them both, Cortex and V may need to work together to make it out alive. Told entirely through texts, transcriptions, and direct messages, this darkly humorous chat fiction novel goes behind the scenes of the superworld.
Author Q&A with Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat
Q: What was it like to write a novel together? What were the easiest or most challenging parts?
HOPE: It was a ton of fun. We actually worked really well together. I would say the only “toughest” thing was there was a three-hour time difference between us. Other than that, we actually experienced more productivity together than when we wrote on our own.
ALYSSA: The unique thing about this book is that it is told entirely through instant messaging–texts, DMs, etc. The best part of that was the lack of writer’s block. If one person was stuck, the other could jump in. The toughest part was remembering to take breaks!
Q: I find that a story was often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write the DEAR HERO?
HOPE: I don’t know if there was one singular source of inspiration. We’d made some parody Twitter accounts making fun of superhero tropes, and I had a friend who was invested in dating apps at the time. Everything sort of just clicked together. We wanted to do a pen pal program between a villain and a hero, but decided to make it more modern and snappy.
ALYSSA: We had a lot of fun questions we came up with along the way. What if being a hero or a villain was a career path like any other? What if it involved building your social media platform and fighting bigger and better nemeses for clout? At that point, what does it even mean to be a hero or a villain?
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about something you know about the story that the reader may not know? Maybe a deleted scene or something you know about the characters that didn’t make it into the book?
HOPE: Sure! Without spoiling anything, certain elements of the story (big plot twists) surprised both of us. I woke up one morning to a text from Alyssa saying, “I discovered that Fill-in-the-blank-character was a villain.” And I was like, “Welp, didn’t see that coming.” Everyone gets mad at authors for plot twists, but sometimes, even the writer doesn’t anticipate something will happen until it does.
ALYSSA: We got attached to these characters and definitely texted about all sorts of head canon for their futures, their pasts, scenes that didn’t make it into the book, etc. I ended up writing a special scene where our villain receives her first pet shark as a child from her beloved elderly henchman, Bernard. I wouldn’t be surprised if we put together several shorts someday.
Q: What’s your favorite moment in DEAR HERO?
HOPE: So hard to pick. I really love any of the “ship-able” moments between our main characters. Especially when V hits Cortex on the head with a dragon stuffed animal during a “gory” movie. It’s the Breakfast Club. He’s tricked her into thinking it’s a slasher film.
ALYSSA: That moment is probably my second favorite. My first favorite is a little bit of a spoiler, but it’s when our hero Cortex is able to explain some things to his former idol, a now-washed-out superhero, and delivers some iconic lines about villains, heroes, humans, and love. Hope knocked it out of the park on that one.
Q: What was the hardest scene in the book to write, and how did you finally get it on paper?
HOPE: Alyssa and I will probably agree on this, we struggle to write romantic scenes. Not from lack of experience, but because it’s weird to co-author them. Similar to romance in real life, you have to collaborate with the other person to make it work. So any time things get spicy, I definitely struggled.
ALYSSA: I blush through every romantic scene, no matter how innocent. Writing with someone else meant I had to confront the romance head on, but it ended up being fun as we both got invested in the characters’ relationship.
Q: Is there a scene or moment in your story that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
HOPE: I like that although it’s a very hilarious story that we have some very serious moments. I think one scene that Alyssa wrote with V talking to a dead character was particularly poignant. She talks earlier in the book about how she killed a customer in retail, but in this scene we discover why … and discover that she’s actually a hero at times, whether she wants to admit it or not.
ALYSSA: In an important moment between our two main characters, Hope’s character, the hero, reminds the villain that she’s not a villain or a hero, she’s human. That stuck with me. We all have villain and hero inside us.
Q: What do you most hope that readers take away from DEAR HERO?
HOPE: Of course, we want them to laugh. Too much of YA depresses us, so we wanted to give people something to chuckle at. But we’d love for them to see themselves in both the villain and hero characters and to see that often the distinctive lines we draw between good and bad are arbitrary.
ALYSSA: This is a ridiculous, satirical romp, and I just want people to have fun. But I also hope it helps readers to confront the potential for villainy or heroism inside of each of us, and look past labels to the real person inside.
Q: What is one question about your novel you are often asked by readers?
HOPE: We often get asked “Who wrote each character?” Because although I took most of the “hero” characters and Alyssa most of the “villains,” we do mix it up from time to time. I write a villain in the sequel that I CANNOT wait for you to meet.
ALYSSA: From the people who know us, once we say Hope for the most part wrote the heroes and I wrote the villains, the most common response is, “Makes sense.” Which leaves ME with questions for readers: why does everyone think I’m the villain, haha! Of course, the second most-asked question is, “Is there a sequel?” And the answer is yes! Keep an eye out in 2021 for Dear Henchman!
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program.
More than 900 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids to HOOKED to Crosswalk.com. She writes about 250-300 articles a year.
She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly in the Serious Writer newsletter.
Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) released in 2019, and the sequel “Den” released in 2020. The final installment Vision releases in August 2021.
Her superhero romance she co-wrote with Alyssa Roat releases from INtense Publications in September 2020. Sequel Dear Henchman set to release in April 2021.
Alyssa Roat has worked in a wide variety of roles within the publishing industry as an agent, editor, writer, and marketer. She is the publicity manager for publisher Mountain Brook Ink, as well as an associate literary agent at Cyle Young Literary Elite, an editor with Sherpa Editing Services, and a freelance writer with 200+ bylines in local, national, and international publications. She holds a B.S. in Professional Writing from Taylor University.