Indie Weekend is my effort to help highlight and promote Indie and self-published books. Indie authors have to do some or all of their own marketing, and if I can help even a little bit with that, I’m happy to do so. Below is my review of a wonderful middle-grade audiobook, Relatively Normal Secrets. I’m also excited to share a Q&A with the author, C.W. Allen.
Tuesday’s last name is Furst, and her middle name is June, making her full name Tuesday, June Furst. She and her brother Zed are starting to realize that their father never talks about his job and their Mother is the only one they know with a guard dog. Then Tuesday and Zed are attacked and whisked off to another world, accompanied by their dog, Nyx. They begin an epic journey, helped with clues along the way. The clues are based on well-known nursery rhymes.
This is such a delightful middle-grade adventure, expertly narrated by Ivy Tara Blair. The main characters are so endearing and the narrator captures their personalities perfectly. The plot is fun and creative, and the reader/listener gets to go along on a fantastic journey. I was highly entertained from start to finish and recommend this book to anyone who wants to go on an exciting and creative adventure in a different land.
Fans of middle-grade fantasy novels should definitely check out this five-star read.
I received a free copy of this audiobook from Cinnabar Moth Publishing via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.W. Allen is a Nebraskan by birth, a Texan by experience, a Hoosier by marriage, and a Utahn by geography. She knew she wanted to be a writer the moment she read The Westing Game at age twelve, but took a few detours along the way as a veterinary nurse, an appliance repair secretary, and a homeschool parent.
C.W. serves on the board of the League of Utah Writers. She is also a frequent guest presenter at writing conferences and club meetings, which helps her procrastinate knuckling down to any actual writing. Her debut novel Relatively Normal Secrets, a middle-grade speculative mystery, was published by Cinnabar Moth Publishing in 2021. Relatively Normal Secrets is the winner of the Gold Quill award, being named the best 2021 children’s book by a Utah author. The Falinnheim Chronicles series continues with The Secret Benefits of Invisibility (2022) and Tales of the Forgotten Founders (2023). Keep up with her latest projects at cwallenbooks.com.
Q&A With C.W. Allen
Bonnie: Let’s go beyond the bio. Tell us something about yourself that we might not know from reading your bio.
CW: When I need a creative outlet aside from writing, I’m a fairly experimental baker. I love taking an existing recipe and tweaking it to work in unusual flavor combinations or streamline the process. My experiments don’t always come out pretty, but they’re nearly always tasty!
Bonnie: When I read that the main protagonist’s name was Tuesday June Furst, I was hooked! Such a clever idea. How did you come up with the name?
CW: Thank you! Years ago, my husband and I were trying to decide what to name our first child. We discovered we didn’t have very similar tastes in names, so as we took turns vetoing each other’s picks we ended up suggesting more and more unusual options in search of one we could both agree on. I thought Tuesday was a delightfully quirky name, but sadly (or perhaps my daughter might say thankfully) he didn’t agree. So I decided to use the name on a book character instead. This led to wondering why Tuesday’s parents would choose that name, so I figured—why not make it a pun? Having an unusual name is just one of the many reasons Tuesday suspects her parents are not quite normal. As the story progresses, Tuesday’s life gets even stranger than she could have imagined.
Bonnie: What was the inspiration for the Falinnheim series?
CW: I find that with all my stories, they’re not really sparked by one big idea—they’re more like a fruit salad of many small unconnected ideas. I had a large and comically misbehaved dog, so I knew I wanted to incorporate the humor of that experience into the story. As a child, I had a similar experience to Tuesday where I realized I had no idea what my father did for work (although in my case, the answer turned out to be fairly mundane). I loved the idea of visiting a fantasy land like Narnia or Oz, but wished it could blend the historical aesthetic with a few modern (or even futuristic) conveniences. When I was my readers’ age, I was fascinated with mysteries and codebreaking, so I wanted to incorporate clues and puzzles the readers could solve along with the characters as they read. Whenever I start weaving ideas together into a story, I have to really understand the characters first—their personality traits, quirks, flaws, and goals. Once I really get to know them, sometimes they take the story in a new direction I didn’t expect.
Bonnie: I love the problem-solving aspect of this book as the kids follow clues based on nursery rhymes. What’s your opinion on the importance of problem-solving and other lessons in middle-grade fiction?
CW: First and foremost, middle-grade stories should be fun to read. I try to steer away from overly didactic themes, morals, or lessons—kids can smell a lecture a mile away, and there’s nothing fun about lectures. I try to tap into kids’ deepest convictions, reinforcing things they already value, rather than telling my readers what they ought to think or do. For example, Tuesday and Zed are co-protagonists in this story, and any reader who has siblings knows that while brothers and sisters love each other, having to live together isn’t always smooth sailing. Putting up with your sibling’s smelly socks or irritating jokes is an experience a lot of readers can relate to—the idea of raising the stakes, having to work together to solve actual important problems instead of just getting along enough so your parents won’t ground you creates additional challenges that make the story more interesting. So it’s not that I, as an adult, want to lecture kids about the importance of getting along with their siblings; it’s that readers will see themselves in that experience and recognize something they already know to be true: they don’t have to get along all the time in order to care about each other and have each other’s backs.
I don’t want my stories to teach lessons, but rather create fictional experiences that feel familiar, resonant, and true. As for the literal sense of problem-solving, as in working out the answers to clues, that’s just pure fun. It makes the book more interactive to see if you can solve the puzzle before the characters figure it out. I don’t think that all middle-grade books need this interactivity in order to succeed, but I certainly enjoy it.
Bonnie’s Comment: I enjoy the interactivity as well, and I do think Zed and Tuesday are great and honest examples for kids to follow.
Bonnie: Tuesday and her brother Zed use teamwork and brains to make their way forward through a strange land. The superhero aspect comes in the form of their dog with special powers, Nyx. With all the books out there about kids with special powers, did you make a conscious effort to stress the importance of working together and using critical thinking?
CW: Zed and Tuesday are very different. Zed likes to organize his thoughts on paper and let them percolate for a while before he comes to a conclusion. Tuesday is very action-oriented and tends to leap to conclusions, but that also means she thinks on her feet and is able to talk her way out of trouble while Zed would take too long puzzling over the perfect thing to say. Tuesday is easily frustrated, while Zed is patient, but sometimes a little too complacent.
Going through their adventures together means sometimes butting heads, but they also have two different sets of strengths and perspectives to help them solve their problems. Each of them gets opportunities to surprise the other by coming up with a solution no one else would have thought of. Having these everyday “superpowers”, rather than being able to fly or turn invisible or something, makes the characters more relatable to the reader than someone who is ludicrously rich, or super strong, or uses a magic wand. Nyx’s powers are fun to read about, but no one’s really going to relate to her as a character. So I definitely wanted my human protagonists to have skills readers could appreciate and identify with.
Bonnie’s comment: I agree completely. Magic powers are fun to read about, but bravery, motivation, and problem-solving are something kids can identify with.
Bonnie: Thank you so much, CW, for answering my questions.
CW: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure
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