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.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Humanity's Hope by Pembroke Sinclair

Title: Humanity's Hope
Author: Pembroke Sinclair
Publisher: Stitched Smile Publications

[I love the tagline, because in what YA novel does the fate of the world not rest in the hands of a teenager?]


What Goodreads has to say:

Caleb, a 17-year-old boy, survived the zombie uprising, but he didn’t come out of the ordeal unscathed. He’s been scarred—both mentally and physically. The rest of humanity is trying to rebuild, to make the world normal again. Caleb is trying to return to a normal life also, but after all he’s seen, after the loss of his family and friends, the transition is difficult. The darkness that led him down a path of self-doubt and self-harm keeps trying to creep back into his mind.

Things only become worse when he discovers he’s immune to whatever makes a zombie a zombie. Fighting zombies was predictable. He knew what to expect. Fighting humans is volatile. They are malicious and treacherous. They won’t stop to get what they want, and Caleb has to figure out exactly what that is.


*Trigger warning: attempted suicide




What I have to say:

There are A LOT of zombie novels out there (I even wrote one myself once). If you're a fan of the undead, you've probably picked up at least a few zombie books that turned out to be very disappointing.

Humanity's Hope is not one of those books.

This young adult zombie thriller is intense in exactly the right ways, keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way through, and is just what you're looking for in a zombie book.

Caleb, the protagonist, is an interesting, multi-layered character. He's competent (read: kick-butt) but also deeply unstable. The delving into Caleb's psychology makes the story that much more absorbing and gripping. I was just as eager to find out what happened in Caleb's past as I was to discover who's targeting him in the present day. 

The supporting characters are equally interesting. Each of them seemed to have their own backstory, and in some cases we didn't get the whole thing: just hints of it. I love that. It made them more compelling somehow, maybe because the reader is left to imagine the rest, and one of the first rules of storytelling is that events are usually more awesome in our imagination than they are when the author spells them out for us in great detail.

Sinclair is a good storyteller in more ways than one. The intensity in this book is real. At various points in the story, Caleb finds himself running from the police, eluding the government, hiding out in a zombie ghetto, and having an all out battle with - let's be honest - just about everyone, The plot moves fast and is not for the faint-hearted, as you're going to be holding your breath along with Caleb while he hides in plain sight and comes increasingly close to being discovered (or killed).

Can I talk about the ending now? Without giving anything away, the last few pages involve a pretty crazy twist - like flip your brain upside down and slam dunk it in a swimming pool of exploding lemons kind of crazy twist.

This image accurately sums up what the end of the book was like:



You're getting close to the end of the book - like so close there's approximately two pages left - and you're like "This can't possibly get resolved... noooooo!" And then it's just over.

At first I thought, "Well that was stupid."

Then I thought about it, and then I thought about it some more, and now I'm thinking, "That was awesome."

The ending felt abrupt at first, but then I realized it was the perfect note to end on. I don't know if there's going to be a sequel or not, but either way, it's kind of cool because the book has been this roller coaster and then it's just over all of a sudden. It worked.

Also, kudos to the author for getting zombies and pizza in the same book. I appreciate it.

Rating:



Anyone out there have a favorite zombie book? Or a favorite pizza? Or a favorite zombie pizza? Comments?




Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Guest post by Peter Gray, author of Telemachus



Hey everyone, today you get to hear from a real author on this blog. I mean, I guess Anna and I are authors in that we co-author The Wood Between the Worlds, but today you get to hear from an author who actually has a book published. 

Peter Gray's novel Telemachus won first place in the 2016 Writer's Digest Self-Published E-book Awards, and the book has gotten great reviews. 

Here's what the author says about how this story came about:



To make a writer

by Peter Gray, author of Telemachus


Telemachus: how did it come about?

For someone who has spent a long career treating Thoroughbred horses - for everything from infertility to racing performance - the transformation to writer has been a long, unlikely and tenuous road.  

I started dabbling with a pen back in the Seventies, realized my talents weren’t exactly ripe, but doggedness convinced me to continue.  I have read a lot of fiction, but always with reservations about copying style or ideas.  It was my aim, if I was ever to succeed, to have a voice that would be distinct and not depend on anyone else’s ideas – even subconsciously. 

In the Nineties, I was approached to write some equestrian books for J A Allen, in London.  That was easy, as I was familiar with the subject matter.  But it wasn’t real writing, in my view, even if there would be a total of 12 books. 

I have a myriad of projects here I started but never managed to get an agent or publisher to read.  I took literature classes, but with a terrible determination not to be influenced by others. 

There were bits of encouragement.  An agent told me I had ‘a voice’; another could see seeds in incubation.  When my Dad died, I wrote some blank verse and they said I was a poet.  I’m not a poet.

Then Telemachus slipped into being; created in a moment of sadness, but fun.  It didn’t take long to write, perhaps longer to refine, but the story poured out and I enjoyed every moment.  I could laugh at my previously undiscovered imagination.

When finished, it was still just my bit of fun and no one else would want to read it.  Classified as ‘rubbish’ by members of my family, even my own children raised their eyebrows and tut-tutted.

I thought of putting it on Amazon, but was afraid I wouldn’t do it properly; needed an independent opinion by someone qualified who would be objective, truthful and professional about it.  But where would I find someone like that and how costly would it be? 

Then I came across a website that offered the whole package for a sum that looked inviting.  They would proof-read, edit, format, help with cover design, write blurbs, advise on marketing, place it on Amazon – all for a figure that was less than the cost of a professional edit.  I submitted a Word file on a Sunday afternoon and, incredibly, had a response within an hour.  The proposition looked ‘very promising’, they said.  

Two days later, I had a seven page free assessment that was glowing as well as comprehensive.  I sent this to two of my children and both screamed ‘fraud’.  Still, I decided to gamble and felt the book would be ready with an edit.  It was the best gamble ever; my work was published on Amazon within two months. 

The person responsible for the service had had a long career in publishing and certainly knew about books.  He has since been accused of fraud, but I owe him a debt of gratitude.  He died and was no fraudster, just a man trying to secure his family in the knowledge he was going to die – I suspect. 

It was my intention taking the book down if it got bad reviews, but, surprisingly, they were positive from the start.  People liked the quality of the writing, the intricacies of the story, the underlying mystery of it all.  But I was stunned when I got the report from the Writer’s Digest judge, which almost duplicated the publisher’s assessment and even went a bit further.  To be told ‘ – the depth of the allegory is astounding’ was unreal.  

Telling me it was ‘an achievement’ – and a winner for mainstream literary fiction - meant I had finally got to where I wanted.

Maybe I can call myself ‘a writer’ now! 


Now that you know the backstory, check out Telemachus by Peter Gray


Here's what one reader says about it: 
"The encyclopedia of useless detail" – fantastic.  I enjoy your prose, and the crafting that has clearly gone into this.  Your inner monologues are wise and astute, never boring.  The depth of the allegory is pretty astounding.  This is such a rare quality.  The parallels you draw with issues of divorce, child-rearing, leadership and community are beautifully done."



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Crystal Castle by John D. Ashton

Title: Crystal Castle
Author: John D. Ashton
Publication Date: October 24 2016
Number of Pages: 190
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Gabriel sits by his fire awaiting the arrival of each member of his fellowship. They do not know of him nor of the epic journey that lies ahead. Brought together by forces unknown, they travel across the vast landscape of New Earth on their quest to bring to an end the evil reign of the mysterious Ruler of the Crystal Castle. During their treacherous journey, which is plagued by the cruel, dark power of the Ruler, they find friendship and love, but also suffer great loss and witness untold horrors as they move closer to the infamous Crystal Castle. Gabriel knows that this mission is his fellowship's destiny, but will they be strong enough to succeed?

What I have to say:

Crystal Castle intrigued me from the moment I read the blurb. What's not to love about a group of unlikely heroes on an epic quest to destroy evil and save the world? Reminiscent of stories like Lord of the Rings, Sword of Shannara (but I repeat myself), and Mistborn, Crystal Castle is an adventure in the mythic, archetypal sense, with relatable characters and an action-packed story-line.

The setting is New Earth: a conglomeration of desert wastelands, undead swamps, frontier towns, and rugged mountains. The landscape and world-building were probably my favorite elements of the story. Looking back, it's cool how diverse New Earth is - both in its terrain and its residents. I especially liked the western-town/steampunk-esque feel of Silvergold, one of the towns the main characters pass through on their adventures. Kind of made me think of a Dr. Who episode, which was cool.

I also appreciated how the action was realistic and easy to get caught up in (though some of the main characters were surprisingly good with guns). On the whole the action felt real and the fight sequences had a sense of urgency that worked really well. 

Overall, this is a great story, and the fact that it's a debut makes it that much more impressive. There were a couple things I would have liked to see more of, though. For one thing, while the romance elements were nice, I felt like they kind of came out of nowhere. I guess sometimes that's how it works, but I would have liked a little more buildup before some of the main characters fell madly in love with each other. 

Personally, I also would have appreciated a little more resolution at the end. There were a few questions the story raised that I felt never really got answered (unless I missed it, which is entirely possible). The book is a quick read, which makes it fun. But if the author could have fleshed out some of the story's elements a little more, I think it would have made the novel stronger and more engaging. As an author myself, though, fleshing out the story is something I struggle with, so who am I to point fingers? 

Anyway, if you're looking for a gritty adventure story with a mythic element and plenty of humorous exchanges, check out Crystal Castle.


Rating: 


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cool Tolkien art

Hey, hope everyone's Thursday is shaping up all right.

Why don't you take a break from whatever you're doing (homework, chores, competing in the Hunger Games) to check out this awesome graphic novel version of the first part of The Silmarillion:
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ainulindalë


Until tomorrow.