Young Writers Workshop – Alpha 2017

Young Writers Workshop – Alpha 2017

Alpha, the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Workshop for Young Writers ( is a summer workshop held every July-August.  This genre residency young writers workshop is set in Western Pennsylvania, in the USA.  Attendees are selected based on a written submission.

It is an amazing experience, and if you are fortunate to be selected twice as one young member of WhyToRead was, it will be an absolute highlight of your teen years.

Applications typically open around March/April.  Dont wait till applications open to start writing.  Get busy now.

Alpha is an absolute powerhouse of writing talent, from young teen students, author guests to talented staff members. (some who are ex-students).

Here’s a look at a few of the best of the best books to have been published by Alpha authors.

1. Lara Elena Donnelly

Who is Lara? Dressing the part in stylish suits and dapper fedoras. Living the part in the reaches of New York City where jazz was king. Researching back through time to an early 20th century that never was to make believers of us all. Lara is a former student and now a staff member at Alpha.

Lara Elena Donnelly - Amberlough


Amberlough is real. Reading about it is like coming home, if your idea of home includes absinthe, espionage, burlesque and live music round the clock in a city that is bustling night and day. Amberlough is a state of mind. When lovers who find they are on different sides in the upcoming coup secretly try to help each other, comedy and intrigue are king. Cyril DePaul is a government agent. Aristide Makricosta is a smuggler. Throw an outrageous burlesque queen from the seedy side of town between them and you have a stage set for cabaret and thrill. The writing is lush and will challenge you. The characters will defy expectation and make you fall in love with them, flawed as they are. And when the book cover closes, you will want more.

2.Seth Dickinson

With his background in psychology, could we expect anything less from Seth than a thriller that explores the inner workings of the human mind? Seth started as an Alpha student, but now is on board as an instructor.

Seth Dickinson - The Traitor Baru Cormorant

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Follow the money. Who would think a book written about an accountant would be so engaging? Baru is a savant. She manipulates numbers and people, can scry evolving shapes in shipping and financial records of a country well enough to find traitors to her high, faceless masters at the Empire of Masks. Baru’s idyllic childhood powers her goal of protecting that way of life. What she does with the information she gathers through her spy network will cause you to never again doubt the power that comes from understanding the way wealth moves.

3. Karina Sumner-Smith

From a quiet, wooded retreat in Ontario Canada, Karina Sumner-Smith rebelliously ignores the trends in YA literature. She is as fierce as any of her powerful, determined protagonists when defending her right to publish without including the standard, tired tropes. It’s refreshing to get to the end of a novel and realize that the tale told was truly unique.
Karina Sumner-Smith - Radiant

The Towers Trilogy 1 – Radiant

Upon finishing this book, readers will feel radiant. It is an uplifting tale of overcoming vast differences to find commonalities and friendship. It may be a debut novel, but the Nebula-nominated author was already many rungs up on the craft ladder and with each project reaches new heights. Xhea has no magic in a land and sky full of it. Floating cities harbor the gifted magic users and to the Lower City fall the dregs, its people living the best they can in a harsh environment. Completely non-magical people are unheard of, but Xhea has one gift that stands between her and starvation: she can see ghosts. The gritty, harsh reality of her young life would overcome most, but she’s developed a distinctive toughness to compensate and somehow survive. The breathe-of-spring, living ghost Shea enters her life with devastating consequences and the unfolding story of their friendship sings. Highly recommended. The only complaint? Their names seemed too closely related and could cause some confusion: Xhea and Shai.
Karina Sumner-Smith: Defiant

The Towers Trilogy 2 – Defiant

Reading these books in order is recommended – the world is too complex, the situations too nuanced and the characters too jump-off-the-page real to start mid-story. Xhea and Shai, after being hunted by the Upper City’s assassins, are now dealing with the physical injuries Xhea sustained while escaping. Shai stays in the Lower City to help, only to see her shattered life through new eyes and gain a perspective that she can neither accept nor change. While Defiant is an immersive, well-built, unique, second-world fantasy, the human story is authentic and poignant.
Karina Sumner-Smith: Towers Fall

The Towers Trilogy 3 – Towers Fall

A rousing conclusion to the trilogy – not to be missed. Rich. Inspiring. Exceptional. Xhea comes into her own and, after a long struggle to deal with her injury, learns a measure of control over the magical forces streaming into the Lower City. Will it be enough? Trust comes hard for her, but she must overcome her fears and open her heart or the war of the haves and have-nots will devastate her people. Xhea and Shai, pledged to fight together to the end, still have surprises in store. Trilogy endings that feel this good should be illegal.

4. Tamora Pierce

Tammy has come to Alpha every single year, since the very first workshop in 2002.
She is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, heralded as a fantasy writer who empowers girls. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1954 to a poor, proud family of hillbillies (coal stove for heat, outhouse, a water from a well, regularly beat up and bullied at school for looking like a “refugee from a rag bag”). Tammy has published about thirty books and a dozen short stories. Her books are a departure from decades of male-dominated science fiction and fantasy. They explore the range of human diversity and show young girls of all types realistically growing into powerful women, leaders and fighters, with heart. Her female protagonists (frequently knights and warriors) wrestle with the pain of coming-of-age. Many thousands of dedicated fans adore Tammy for changing their lives.
Tamora Pierce - Terrier

TerrierBeka Cooper series 1

In the magical medieval realm of Tortall, a tough young girl joins the Provost’s elite guard called the Dogs. Beka Cooper’s puppy status as the newest member of the team ruffles some fur, but she keeps at it, magically seeking out just the news needed to forestall an underlord power struggle. Told in journal style, the book allows readers to see Beka’s writing skills blossom in tandem with her maturity and sense of belonging. The page-turning action continues in the sequels, which pick up the story line almost immediately.

Tamora Pierce - BloodhoundBloodhound – Beka Cooper series 2

Beka has made the leap to first-year Provost’s Dog, replacing her novice puppy status in Terrier, and has a new partner and her very own four-legged dog companion. Together, they travel outside Totall’s capital city to Port Caynn to attempt to stop a counterfeit coin smuggling ring. It’s one hard choice after another for Beka, who struggles with differentiating between the letter and spirit of the law. She trusts her magical ability to hear voices of the dead more than she trusts her new-found friends. We read the coming-of-age action played out in the straightforward delivery written down in Beka’s diary. Kudos to Tamora, who has crafted this traditionally-difficult style with mastery, lending the story immediacy and high tension.
While each of these books (as well as the final one, Mastiff ) can be read as standalone novels, they are much richer if read in chronological order, especially with the help of the appendix of characters and a glossary.

That’s only a few of the novels coming out of Alpha students, staff and guests. Here’s hoping more Alpha novels will be forthcoming  – will definitely be reviewing more in the upcoming years. Be on the lookout.

Young Adult Books – 3 Fantasy Epics For Everyone

Young Adult Books – 3 Fantasy Epics For Everyone

“Young Adult” is not a genre, but simply a marketing niche. Young adult books tend to be fast paced, frequently first person and feature teen protagonists (although the villain is likely to be adult).Young adult novels cover all genres, from space opera to serial killers, high school romance to epic fantasy. One popular genre in young adult fiction is of course dystopia. This genre has given us great books and movies such as Hunger Games and Divergent.  Another popular young adult genre is fantasy and science fiction.

Research is showing that over half young adult books are being read by those over 18.  So put away any hang ups at reading ‘children’s books’ as we review some young adult novels that we believe should reach fantasy epic status.  And who knows, maybe even a movie or tv series.

1. The Name of the WindPatrick Rothfuss

The first book of the Kingkiller Chronicle tells the story of the Kvothe, from his childhood and his rise to notoriety as a wizard. Fans of fantasy looking for an epic that could restore their faith in the genre can look no further than Name of the Wind. The storytelling is magical with solid character development from the start. Masterfully handled, the story is told from the protagonist’s first person point of view, with interludes in third person omniscient to give readers a clearer impression of other characters. Name of the Wind could easily be described as Harry Potter for slightly older readers. Rothfuss creates a detailed, believable world of academic magic; youthful exploits; love; humor; and revenge.

The Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two is already released and we eagerly await the book 3 in what will surely be an epic series.

(Patrick has just announced  that he is in discussions for a possible  movie, TV series and video game.  We can hardly wait!)

2. Mistborn: The Final Empire Brandon Sanderson

Fantasy readers looking for something that goes a little bit beyond the genre’s familiar archetypes will enjoy the Mistborn trilogy.  Not only is its mist and ash-laden apocalyptic world intriguing, The Final Empire introduces an original magic system unlike any sorcery centric novel. The premise is also rather unique; it explores the question of what if the prophesied hero fails and the world fall into the rule of a Dark Lord? Despite its dark setting, the novel is face-paced and filled with likable characters that will leave readers engrossed in the adventure and looking forward to the two sequels.

For more in the Mistborn world, recently released is the The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel set a long time after the events of the original trilogy.

3. The Way of Shadows: The Night Angel Trilogy: Book 1 Brent Weeks

If you ever wish the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise was an action-packed novel series, The Way of Shadows will be the closest you could ever come to that wish. Follow the tale of Azoth who – in order to escape the treacherous life in the slums – apprenticed to the legendary assassin, Durzo Blint. Under his apprenticeship as a Night Angel, Azoth is given a new identity, forced to turn his back on loved ones, and develop an appetite for taking lives. Readers are set for a fast-paced and fun to read, although brutal at times, adventure filled with fantasy archetypes. Despite the archetypal character types – assassins, masters and disciples, unconquerable enemies – there are some brilliant and surprisingly believable characterizations that will endear readers to them.   An intriguing beginning to this young adult trilogy.

For other Young Adult recommendations, see our earlier list  6 Young Adult Books That Are Worth Reading

Essential Reading: 10 Good Books to Read for Teens

Essential Reading: 10 Good Books to Read for Teens

We often get asked about good books to read for teenagers. Of course, each and every teenager is different, but there are a list of books that are generally regarded as good books to read for all teens.
The books on this list have been selected from the best books ever written, and are good for teens who are getting into reading, as well as teenagers who are book lovers and want to find new good books to read.

10 Good Books to Read for Teens

1. 1984 – George Orwell

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 12 Outstanding Books That Will Blow You Away)

No one should grow up without reading this book. Orwell tried to depict a totalitarian state, where the truth didn’t exist as such, but was merely what the “Big Brother” said it was. Freedom was only total obedience to the Party, and love an alien concept, unless it was love for the Party. A terrifying glimpse into the future that could be, or already is.

2. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 10 of the Most Exciting Page Turner Books You’ll Ever Read)

Ender Wiggin is a special boy. He is the youngest of a family of child geniuses. This story is set in the future where aliens have tried to invade the earth twice. Twice the Earth defeated them, but at a great cost. The government is scrambling to make sure this never happens again by training the next set of star fleet commanders from childhood.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 15 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Life)

This book is not only a good book to read for teens, but everyone should read this book at least once in their life. Adams’ peculiar humour also draws deeply from the well of sociology, philosophy, and science. Beneath the surface of utter hilarity, Adams actually used his sarcasm and wit to make some rather poignant statements about this silly thing called life and the manner in which we are going about living it.

4. The Giver – Lois Lowry

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 8 Best Books You Were Forced To Read In School)

Jonas lives in a perfect world where war, disease, and suffering have all been eradicated. The people have no worries or cares. The Community strives for “sameness,” in which everyone and everything are the same and equal. To help the Community function as a cohesive unit, each member is assigned a position in society. This is a good book for teens because of its sense of community, rebellion and legacy.

5. Holes – Louis Sachar

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

Stanley Yelnats is falsely accused and convicted of theft. She is sent to Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility. To build character, the warden forces each “camper” to dig a hole five feet deep by five feet wide by five feet long every day. What Stanley and the rest of the boys don’t know is that the warden isn’t just building character, she’s looking for the lost buried treasure of outlaw, Kissing Kate Barlow.

6. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in The Ultimate 10 Best Books You Must Read Before You Die)

The Name of the Wind is very well written. The characters are real, the action is convincing and it has a compelling story to tell.

One of the best things about this book is that the magic is absolutely rooted in the book’s world. Nothing seems contrived; the consistency is excellent and the world is believable. This is one of the best books for teens and its sure to keep their attention from the opening lines of the book.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

One of the most significant books of the 20th century, To Kill a Mockingbird is full of memorable quotes such as, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” If you weren’t forced to read it in school, read it, even if your class made you hate it.

8. The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 10 Books That Will Make You Fall In Love With Reading)

The story follows the journey of Milo, a boy bored of everything around him. One day he receives a mysterious package that turns out to be a tollbooth. For lack of anything better to do, he puts it together and begins to play, only to find himself driving in an entirely different world.

9. The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 8 Best Books You Were Forced To Read In School)

This book, which was written in the 1960’s, may have well been written today. It describes the many conflicts between gangs, social groups, family violence, and friends.

10. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

Good Books to Read for Teens
Good Books to Read for Teens

(As featured in 10 Books That Will Absolutely Blow Your Mind)

This is a wonderful and highly original novel about a mentally challenged man named Charlie who wanted to be smart. One day, his wish was granted. A group of scientists selected him for an experimental operation which would to raise his intelligence to genius level. Suddenly, Charlie found himself transformed, and life changed.

11 Best Books That Are Guaranteed To Get You Into Reading

11 Best Books That Are Guaranteed To Get You Into Reading

These are the books that will get you hooked on reading. The best books to get anyone into reading for the first time are the books that should be given the highest praise because they are the ones that introduce most people into the world of books.

Whether you read them in school or when you’re older, these books are guaranteed to get you into reading.

11 Best Books That Are Guaranteed To Get You Into Reading

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone is one of those rare children’s books that seems to be utterly wasted on children. The plot is engaging, the characters are likeable, and it’s a good quick read for those older than the specified ages. It’s also credited with introducing an entire generation of young people to books.

2. Little House Books – Laura Ingalls Wilder

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

(As featured in 5 Most Popular Short Stories For Kids Ever Written)

When Laura Ingalls Wilder first wrote of her experiences growing up in the 1800s, no one could have predicted the impact her stories would have on generations of children to come! The sense of family is amazing, particularly as Laura becomes old enough to live away from home and realize just how wonderful her family is.

3. Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

Eight year old farm girl Fern Arable stops her father from killing a piglet who has been labeled the runt of the litter. The little pig, whom Fern names Wilbur, becomes one of the central figures in the story. Eventually he will be befriended by Charlotte, the wise and loving spider mentioned in the book’s title.

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

(As featured in 14 Best Books of the 20th Century)

Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

5. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

(As featured in 10 Books That Will Make You Fall In Love With Reading)

This is a children’s book, but it isn’t just an adventure story.

It has science-fiction; The Drs. Murray, parents of Meg, Charles Wallace and the twins are scientists who are researching Time and Space. Dr. Murray takes a time trip and so do the kids.

There is also magic; a trio of “witches” shows up–Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, and they take Meg, her brother Charles-Wallace, and their new friend Calvin on an epic adventure.

6. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

It’s the story of Mary Lennox, who grew up in India, extremely spoiled by the servants, whose only job was to keep her quiet and out of the way of her parents. After her parents die she’s sent to live with her uncle in England, a crotchety old man mourning the loss of his wife, who also wants nothing to do with her.

Lonely and spoiled Mary explores the manor and the garden, finding all sorts of hidden secrets as well as her own happiness.

7. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

The Anne of Green Gables series is one of the most unforgettable, and one of the most enjoyable, series of all children’s literature. This series chronicles the life and times of Anne Shirley, a the plucky, imaginative, red-haired orphan.

Her parents die when she is baby, and so she spends the first 11 years of her life going between homes and orphanages, with no one really wanting to keep or to love her. One of the great classic books that has introduced many people to reading.

8. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

(As featured in 10 Best Selling Books of All Time)

A great modern classic book and the prelude to The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure.

9. The Boxcar Children – Gertrude Chandler Warner

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

Four young orphans run away from a grandfather they have never even met. They make their home in an abandoned boxcar and are able to rely on only themselves. This is a wonderful series of books for children and adults alike, and one of the books that gets many people into reading.

10. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

The four March girls — practical Meg, rambunctious Jo, sweet Beth and childish artist Amy — live in genteel New England poverty with their Marmee, while their father is away in the Civil War. The girls don’t let lack of money hamper their fun and happiness. But their world starts to expand when Jo befriends “poor little rich boy” Laurie, and soon he and his tutor are almost a part of their family.

11. Matilda – Roald Dahl

Best Books To Get You Into Reading

Matilda is a small girl with extraordinary talents. Already when she is three years old she starts visiting the local library and reads all the books there, starting with the children’s books, keeping on with the world classics. Matilda’s parents are very neglective, and refuse to see any of Matilda’s talents. But Matilda is a fighter and finds her own very creative and very funny ways to get revenge.