Monday, June 26, 2017

"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense."


Today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone turns 20 years old. 

Happy Birthday, Harry.

Thanks, J. K. Rowling, for sharing your world with us.


Erin and Anna
On behalf of The Wood Between the Worlds readership

In which Dumbledore looks fabulous

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Hobbit meets Dickens' England with a pinch of Sherlock Holmes

The Miseries of Mister Sparrows



Author: Matthew A. J. Timmins
Publisher: Matthew A. J. Timmins
Published: 2016

Summary: Robin Sparrows is a humble clerk at Winston Winston & Crumpet, the wickedest law firm in all of Victoria's empire. Charged with delivering a mysterious box to the arch-fiend Kermit J. Tarnish, his life of quiet misery is transformed into a quagmire of murder, mud, and madness. 

Unwilling, unaided, and unprepared, Robin must wander the fog-drenched streets of the capital hunting the last man he wants to find while confronting brutish valets, quarrelsome cross-dressers, dithering policemen, forlorn soldiers, and sneering phantoms. Until at last, he uncovers the scandalous truth behind a shameful war. 


My Thoughts: Let me start by saying that I LOVE Dickens, and Timmins called his novel "Dickensian" So I was a little apprehensive. I wasn't sure if Timmins was claiming to be the next Dickens, or if he was simply replicating the style, and if so how long was this book gonna be? (I was having flashbacks to the length of David Copperfield) Don't get me wrong, I love long books and especially Dickens' long books, but I wasn't sure I wanted to read a Dickensesque novel by someone other than Dickens. To my delight and relief I found the book both amusing and well written. 

Timmins' writing style is both flowery and hilarious. The story flows well and each event becomes more ridiculous than the last. Robin Sparrows is a law clerk for the most wicked law firm in all of Albion. Does he not know his employers are wicked? you may ask, oh he knows how evil they are, but they pay him, so he is willing to do anything they require of him, including taking a box with undisclosed items to the man who betrayed the kingdom and started a full out war. The following adventures that are rather forced upon poor Robin Sparrows would make any lesser man turn back, or maybe because Sparrows is a lesser man with nothing to lose, he sees no choice but to go forward, even if that means sliding down a sewage pipe, being mistaken for a monster, and perching on a windowsill while being attacked by a pigeon. But, you may say, other book characters could do that! Yes, they could, but those characters are often thin and athletic. Robin is round and most unathletic. Often Robin reminded me of Bilbo at the beginning of The Hobbit, when he doesn't know quite what he has gotten himself into, but decides to continue forwards. 

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and give a round of applause to Timmins for having the gumption to use an atypical main character. 

Rating: 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Martha the Blue Sheep by Gabrielle Yetter

Title: Martha the Blue Sheep
Author: Gabrielle Yetter
Illustrator:  Daro Sam
Design: Monnyreak Ket

You might remember an adorable little children's book I reviewed last December for this blog, called Ogden, the Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight. Well, Gabrielle Yetter, the author of Ogden, is at it again: this time with a book about a little blue sheep named Martha.

Martha is a shy young sheep who doesn't like to be the center of attention. So imagine her dismay when a tragic accident with some cans of paint turns her wool completely blue! All her attempts to wash the color out and return her wool to its natural white fail; it looks like Martha is stuck living in a bright shade of blue forever.

But just when it seems like Martha's life may be totally ruined, something happens that changes her whole outlook - and maybe even the way she feels about her blue coat.

While I'm not a blue sheep, I sympathize with Martha on many levels. For one thing, I'm pretty sure most of us know how it feels to make an incredibly stupid mistake like tripping over a can of blue paint. It literally takes two seconds to make the stupid mistake, but then it feels like you're stuck with the results for eternity. And I bet most of us have also had times, like Martha, when we've just wanted to hide under a bush and wait for darkness.

Luckily, Martha is a hopeful, inspiring children's book destined to help readers of all ages find the silver lining in their personal cloud. Complemented by Daro Sam's sweet, lively illustrations, Martha the Blue Sheep is a timely story about diversity, kindness, and standing out in a good way. Most of all, it's a much needed reminder that sometimes, what makes us blue may be just the thing that makes us special.




Until tomorrow.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Existence of Pity by Jeannie Zokan


Title: The Existence of Pity
Author: Jeannie Zokan
Publishing Company: Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Number of Pages: 250
BuyAmazon



What Goodreads has to say:

Growing up in a lush valley in the Andes mountains, sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in 1976 Colombia. As the daughter of missionaries, Josie feels torn between their beliefs and the need to choose for herself. She soon begins to hide things from her parents, like her new boyfriend, her trips into the city, and her explorations into different religions. 

Josie eventually discovers her parents’ secrets are far more insidious. When she attempts to unravel the web of lies surrounding her family, each thread stretches to its breaking point. Josie tries to save her family, but what happens if they don’t want to be saved?

The Existence of Pity is a story of flawed characters told with heart and depth against the beautiful backdrop of Colombia.



What I have to say:

First off, I just learned that the author wrote this book for NaNoWriMo, and would like to offer my congratulations, as that's a feat many people (myself included) have attempted but failed to achieve.

The Existence of Pity is a sweet, rich story that's full of heart. Sweet in the way it explores a young girl's first encounters with romance, her changing dynamic with her family, and her passion and zest for life. Rich in the way it describes Colombian culture and missionary life. Full of heart because it features a heroine who is almost nothing but heart. 

Sixteen-year-old Josie, the story's protagonist, is instantly likeable and easy to empathize with. As she explores love, faith, and friendship, Josie takes the reader with her everywhere she goes and in everything she feels. By equal turns, this book captivated, delighted, and enraged me as I trailed Josie in her adventures.

I enjoyed learning about Colombian culture and missionary life in the 70's, as that's not something I've read much about before now. I especially loved the descriptions of the beautiful Colombian city of Cali, and Josie's tangible love for the place she calls home. I also loved the honesty and quirkiness of Josie's romances. One of my favorite details is Josie's aversion to Tom's goofy hat from Machu Picchu. Consider this quote which I "underlined" in my Kindle copy of The Existence of Pity:
"How did anyone ever fall in love? There were so many things that could mess it up, like dumb hats and awkward moments."
I love it. It's so cute and so blatantly honest. After reading YA books like Twilight (which I'm not dissing, by the way) and The Hunger Games, we might think that young love is all about tall, dark, and handsome men who are incredibly suave and never do or say anything awkward. So thanks to Jeannie Zokan for keeping it real.

I also enjoyed the variety of characters in this book. From down-to-earth Colombians like Blanca, to Josie's fun-loving Aunt Rosie, fellow missionary kids, her exasperating brother, and her flawed but sometimes loveable parents. OK, maybe I loved Josie's parents a little less than I did the other characters. But still, there were moments in the book when I found her interactions with her parents, especially with her dad, really sweet. Let's just say, though, that if the book hadn't ended the way it did, I probably would have thrown it against a wall (which would have been bad, because I was reading it on my Kindle). I'm relieved Josie achieved some freedom at the end of the novel, even if it was in a bittersweet way.

While this book delves deeply into faith, different religious traditions, and missionary life, it doesn't try to convert the reader. In fact, it doesn't even present any one religion as "the best" or "the worst." Instead, it's a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of faith and of the idea that certain people are drawn to certain religions for certain reasons. So if you're hesitant to read the book because you think a story about missionary life might get preachy, don't be. You don't have to worry about that here.

What you will gain from this book, however, is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures, religious traditions, and personalities. You may also gain a deeper sympathy for people who make fatal mistakes, or for people who chafe against tradition. I'm not saying you won't be totally infuriated with Josie's brother by the end of the book, because the kid is kind of a little jerk, but you can be infuriated by someone and still retain a measure of empathy for them. And that's maybe the greatest thing about this book.

So I'll end with my favorite personal trope - quoting C. S. Lewis:

"The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” 

In The Existence of Pity, Josie is constantly reading, whether it's The Hobbit or Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Is this because she's "a seeker" (as Aunt Rosie calls her)? Or is it because she feels so alone? Probably it's both (and maybe also that she just really enjoys reading).

Anyone who's a seeker like Josie, or who reads mainly "to know they're not alone" will enjoy The Existence of Pity. And in reading Josie's story, we do indeed discover that we're not alone - and neither is sixteen-year-old Josie Wales.

Rating:





Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Guest post by David Smith, author of Letters to Strabo

Hey faithful readers, 

Today's guest post comes from author David Smith, who recently published his fourth novel, Letters to Strabo.

I'm always fascinated by the names authors choose to give their characters. For example, I don't think J. K. Rowling gave any of her Harry Potter characters a name without putting an endless amount of thought into it.

Here's a little bit from the author of Letters to Strabo on how he chose names for his characters:


Letters to Strabo – naming the characters


Behind every great love is an epic story waiting to be told.

My fourth novel Letters to Strabo is both a love story and a coming-of-age tale, set in the late 1970s. It takes the form of a fictional odyssey recorded with disarming honesty by my protagonist, an innocent young American writer called Finn Black. 

His adventures, both funny and evocative, follow closely the itinerary taken by Mark Twain on his own tour around the Mediterranean a century earlier in: The Innocents Abroad. The novel is structured around the seventeen chapters of the ancient Greek Strabo’s great work: Geographica; a book that Twain quoted from extensively in his own tale. In Finn’s words:

"I researched how famous travel writers made their first journeys for a series of articles. It fascinated me how they all took something worthwhile out of that first experience on the road, whether they later became writers, journalists or even philosophers. It opened my eyes to all sorts of new possibilities I wanted that life. I wanted to get going, to write and make my fortune. Find out what had really happened to my pa and maybe find a bit more of that mythical free love I’d been missing, too.”

Finn’s full name is Adam Finnegan Black. The ‘Finnegan’ has dual meaning. It’s a nod to Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) but also to James Joyce ‘Finnegan’s Wake.’ There’s a connection between these two as Joyce once joked that the end of Finnegan (i.e. the word fin in French) was such a good Twain joke that it deserved a good wake (the Irish celebration before a funeral).

I gave Finn the first name Adam, because I’d already chosen the name Eve for his pen-pal Eve, the beautiful archivist he meets at Olana in the Catskills at the beginning of the novel. Their love story is the thread throughout the book, described through her Letters to Strabo. Adam is also referred to by his friend Ahmet, a boy that Finn meets in Turkey when he shows him a photograph of Eve: “’A very beautiful woman and a very beautiful name,’ he said. ‘You know Adam means man in Turkish so it is fitting.’”

Finn’s surname Black reflects the fact that his father Jerry Black was a descendant of the US Attorney-General Jeremiah Black. Finn refers to his surname at the beginning of the novel “Well as for Black, I fear that all too well describes the recent temperament of my heart. But so be it.” Finn spends part of the novel searching to find out what happened to his father, a professional diver, when he drowned in Alexandra in 1962.

Actually giving names to characters can be a lot of fun, almost a god-like activity. One of the themes running through the novel is Homer’s Odyssey, another Mediterranean journey often referred to by Strabo in his great work. 

So Françoise Circe, the french girl he meets in Spain and then journeys with to Paris and Venice is a reference to the witch Circe that Odysseus meets on the island of Colchys. She invited them all to a grand feast, but one of the dishes was laced with a magical potion which changed his companions into pigs – a word Françoise quite often uses to describe men she doesn’t like: “’Come on Finn, allons nous,’ she said. ‘I don’t like that ignorant man. He’s swine. He’s likes a PIG.’”

Finn also later meets two Italians in Naples: Galatea and Martino, whose nickname is Polifemo. The latter’s subsequent death at the hands of Galatea, in Finn’s presence, is a reference to the killing of the one-eyed giant Polyphemus by Odysseus; Galatea being the “milk-white” object of the giant’s desire.

Finally the girl Nicky that Finn meets on Mykonos while he is lying asleep and naked on a lonely beach after washing his clothes: “I was woken from my siesta by a beach ball landing on my head, quickly followed by the sound of girls giggling. I realized my carefully positioned towel had fallen off my waist. I was completely naked.” 

She is named after Nausicaa the beautiful princess who almost steals Odysseus’s heart and leaves him a message: “Farewell stranger,’ he said. ‘Do not forget me when you’re safe at home again, for it is to me first that you owe a ransom for having saved your life.’”




About the author:

David Smith is a British author who has now published four works under the Troubador imprint. His first novel Searching For Amber has been described as "A powerful and notably memorable debut" with a review describing it as "masterly and confident" and another as "Extraordinary, poetic, enchanting, sublime". In addition to writing, he is currently CFO of a blue chip UK public company and lives near the South Coast in England with his wife and three teenage children.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Giant Secret by David Alan Webb


Title: The Giant Secret (1899 AD): Finding Christopher
Author: David Alan Webb
Genre: Historical Fiction
Read
https://www.davidalanwebb.com/

Blurb: 

In an Appalachian valley, a young German couple has just buried their second stillborn, their dreams of raising a family in America gone, when a monster is sighted on their land. An investigation turns into a rescue, and their lives are changed forever, as they discover that reality is stranger and bigger than they had ever imagined.



My thoughts:

I loved this book. What's not to love? It's charming, mysterious, and beautifully written. Honestly, that's about all I have to say. But I'll try to make my review a little longer than one paragraph, for everyone's sake.

The Giant Secret is wonderfully told. The narrative voice is clear, fresh, and sparkling, much like the mountain air and green rolling hills of the setting. The characters are deep and compelling, and the closeness of Hans (the main character) and his wife Ava is beautifully drawn. Their close bond makes them more loveable and relatable as characters.

The historical details are perfectly integrated into the story. We find out early on that Hans and Ava are immigrants, and some people look down on them for it. We're shown what life was like in the Appalachian countryside in 1899, but the story isn't subjected to historical details. Rather, the historical Appalachian setting acts as a perfect backdrop for this mythical, heart-warming tale.

On a related note, I appreciated the references to religion in the book. Some modern authors who write historical fiction either avoid the subject of religion altogether or downplay it significantly. But religion was a big aspect of most people's lives throughout much of history. It takes a skilled storyteller to be able to include religion in a book without coming off as either dismissive or preachy. 

But David Alan Webb does just this in The Giant Secret, and it's beautiful (a word I keep coming back to in describing this book). Incidentally, I am religious, so I appreciated the author's openness and his recognition that religion would have played a large role in these people's lives. But it never felt forced, and certainly not like the author was trying to push something on his readers, which I also appreciated. 

Maybe this book felt so fresh to me because I just finished a super intense young adult zombie novel. That novel was awesome - but turning to this book afterward felt like coming up for a breath of fresh air. It wasn't about hiding from zombies in the ghetto or trying to figure out which of your friends is betraying you - it was about a young couple overcoming hardship and reaching out to take in a stranger. 



If you haven't figured it out yet, I really liked this book. Another great thing is that it's so short, you can read it in only a few sittings. So if you want a book to read but you don't have time to crack War and Peace (honestly, does anyone EVER have time for War and Peace?), give this one a go. (Plus it's free.)

Spend a few hours in turn of the century Appalachia. Escape from your hectic city life (if you live in the city, I don't know, I'm not stalking you or anything, promise), and let yourself get swept up in a little mystery that turns into a bounteous gift. 

You'll mourn, worry, and ultimately rejoice with Hans and Ava, and you'll feel refreshed and enlivened at the end of the adventure. You also get a great little story into the bargain: a story in the tradition of those old fairy tales and myths about a young, childless couple who finds magic in the forest and opens their lives to receive it - much like we open our lives to receive magic whenever we dip into a book. Maybe there's more truth to those old stories than we realize.

Anyway, yeah, The Giant Secret: it's a little book, but it's one giant story.

Rating:

(yeah, it was that good)



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Grumpface by BCR Fegan



Author: BCR Fegan
Illustrator: Daniela Frongia
Publication Date: May 1 2017
Publishing Company: TaleBlade
Number of Pages: 32
BuyAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboiTunes

Title: The Grumpface


What Goodreads has to say:

The Grumpface is a poetic fairy-tale that tells the story of Dan, an inventor who ventures into a forest looking for a rose. Instead he finds the mysterious Grumpface who threatens to hold him captive unless he passes some difficult challenges. What follows is a humorous adventure that neither Dan nor the Grumpface could have anticipated.

The Grumpface is a tale in the spirit of any grand adventure. It is about a clumsy young inventor's quest for love and the challenges he must face to find it. It is also a tale of bravery, absurdity and happiness, and the power of these qualities over negativity and sheer grumpiness.


Every parent will be acquainted with their own little 'grumpface' now and then. This story stands as a small piece of hope - that no matter how ingrained the grump, there will always remain in every one of us a smile or a laugh just waiting to come out.



What I have to say:

We've all had those days where it seems like we can't do anything right. At least, I've had them, and I'm guessing you have too. In the picture book The Grumpface, Dan is having one of those days. Actually, he's always having one of those days. Dan is an inventor, but he just can't seem to get any of his inventions to work. He also can't work up the courage to talk to Bella, the beautiful girl he sees selling flowers every day outside his window.

When Dan gets captured by the Grumpface - a cranky creature who will only release Dan if he can achieve one out of three tasks - it seems like Dan is destined to remain a prisoner forever. Because how could he possibly succeed at the Grumpface's impossible tasks when he can't do anything right ever?

What Dan doesn't realize is that sometimes getting it wrong is even better than getting it right.

The Grumpface is a fun little story, in the vein of Dr. Seuss, about a hapless young inventor and an old grump under a curse. The illustrations are fun, the story is whimsical, and the ending is a bit of a surprise. 

I'm guessing we've also all had days when we're more like the Grumpface (or maybe days when we start out as Dan and end up as the Grumpface).

Whether you're a well-meaning optimist whose ventures keep failing, or a hardened pessimist who just can't shake that layer of grumpiness, The Grumpface is a story for you.

Rating:





Until tomorrow.