Thursday, July 20, 2017

Southern Dust by Caspar Vega

35122700
(this cover is lovely but slightly misleading, as the story takes place in the near future)

Title: Southern Dust

Author: Caspar Vega
Number of Pages: 228
Genre: Pulp / Thriller (I guess...)
Buy: Amazon

Favorite line from the book: "You need light to fight the dark. It's the oldest story in the book."

What Goodreads has to say (with my interspersed comments):

Gretchen Walker: A Southern belle living an idyllic life in the newly independent Alabama; worrying about the upcoming cotillion, and hoping more than anything to find a dapper young suitor from a good family. Might she end up getting more than she bargained for? [yes, she definitely will - run now, Gretchen]

The Governor: The enigmatic leader responsible for achieving the aforementioned independence. [did I mention he's slightly crazy?]

Roger Conaway: An enforcer trying to make a clean break. When his boss tells him a friend's daughter has gone missing, can Roger find the girl and get out of the game while he still has a shard of innocence left? [sadly, no]

Dominic White: An obsessive Hornbuster overcome with grief; recovering from a nervous breakdown, and actively seeking revenge for his murdered sister. [when he's not chilling on the couch for days at a time]

Discover their interconnected stories in this diesel-fueled, black magic powered, vampire-creating extravaganza! [extravaganza is a good word for it]

What I have to say:

OK, wow, where to start? This is a weird story. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because I generally think weird is awesome. There's just no denying this story is definitely weird.

We've got a Southern belle getting tangled up with the young, attractive governor of Alabama, who may be crazy? (I thought he was crazy, but the aforementioned Southern belle was apparently crazy about him, so go figure). We've also got a Captain America type of experiment gone wrong (as in hairy vampire wrong), and a freelance law enforcer/assassin with serious mental health problems. Oh yeah, and black magic - don't forget that one.

All taking place in a post-Trump America in which Alabama has declared independence (go them). And bloodshed abounds. Also some characters with seriously psycho relationship issues.


The narrative structure of Southern Dust is very well done (with one exception which I'll get to later). The story is told through the eyes of four characters, each getting their own vignette. So in essence it's more like four interconnected short stories, each with its own protagonist and plot arc. Vega does a great job getting inside the characters' heads and presenting vastly different personalities. 

My favorite narrative voice was the last one (Dominic White), whose life philosophy cracked me up and reminded me - on a much less drastic scale - of myself. My favorite quote is this one: 


"I'm a procrastinator and a lazy person by nature. However, I require the laziness for greatness."

Basically, he can only handle one event a day. So if he works out one day, that's it. He gets to sit on the couch for the rest of the day and chill. Or if he goes grocery shopping for the day, or does a job for work, or goes out with his nephew - ditto. Rest of the day: canceled.

I had a harder time connecting with the Governor, who seemed like an all around irate guy who was born thinking he was better than everyone else and never changed his mind. But hey, it takes all kinds to make an independent Southern, vampire-super-soldier, black magic world, right? (And I mean literally all kinds).

Here's my one beef with the narrative structure: I would have liked to get more of Gretchen's story. She only gets one chapter at the beginning of the book, and I was just starting to connect with her when we jumped into the Governor's diary and never came out again. Gretchen's story ended too abruptly, I felt. Plus, I think, since we get three stories from men's perspectives (though, oddly enough, they all seem to center on women, which I find very interesting), it would have been nice to get a full vignette from Gretchen's perspective. Or, if not that, maybe come back to her for one chapter at the end, which would add some narrative consistency.

Just as a matter of taste, there was a little too much blood and profanity in this book for my appetite (I'm not a super-soldier-vampire, after all). But that's not a criticism of the work itself, just personal opinion.

On another note, the story is very fast-paced and a quick pulp read. So if you're in the mood for a politically-charged, crime-ridden, supernatural I don't even know what - step into Vega's strange but weirdly fascinating world and take a ride. You may get dizzy, but you'll have fun.

Rating: 



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Six Year Old, An Assassin and Dragons!!



A Precarious Beginning

34870162

Title: A Precarious Beginning
Series: Chronicles of Castlemount
Authors: Siena and Fritz Rollins
Date Published: April 14, 2017
Publisher: Harpalin Press

Summary: “There are only two powers in the universe that determine what a person will become in life — luck and willpower.” 

Orphaned at a young age and forced to become a pickpocket to survive, a chance meeting with the King’s Assassin is the lucky break Hyla needs. At the massive fortress city of Castlemount, Hyla discovers she is destined to become a Dragonrider! Training every day to understand her new role and the magical dragon bond, Hyla learns that mingling with the rich and powerful has its own dangers. Will her street smarts keep her alive? Join Hyla in the precarious beginning to her incredible adventure! 


My Thoughts: When asked to read this book I was informed that the authors were father and daughter and had written this book together, the daughter being around 8 years old. I found that fascinating, and quite endearing. The book is well written, and the world of Castlemount is quite intriguing. I enjoyed the story, and became quite attached to Hyla and her dragons. However, I have some questions - where is Hyla actually from? Is it possible she is royalty from her original country? Is anyone going to fix the problem of the City Watch? Where were the dragons being shipped to? Will Jop ever come back into the story? I expect these questions will be answered later in the series, but that doesn't stop me from wondering. 

Yes, the story is good, but some of the characters (Hyla's fellow Dragonriders) come across as flat and nonessential. This may be because the story is not about them, but with the amount of times they are mentioned you would expect more character development. Perhaps this will occur later in the series. That's another thing; I felt like this book was seriously setting up further stories down the line, and wasn't quite a complete story in and of itself. The could be due to the fact that Hyla is only six, so even a small adventure seems huge to her. Speaking of Hyla's age, I found it hard to sometimes follow the narrative, there were three stories going on, present day Hyla, present day Sergeant Troy, and Hyla's past. While Hyla wasn't a narrator in first person, she was in third - which sometimes made the things she saw or did slightly unreliable. How much of the story is true when a six year old is the narrator? 

Just as Hyla doesn't really understand what is happening around her, the king also doesn't seem to understand what is happening around him. He is slow to trust his advisors and quick to blame everything on a mythical truce that may no longer be in effect (if it ever was). To put it lightly, I hated the king. He was childish, and quick to believe superstitions and lies. He didn't seem like a man that could lead a kingdom, if anyone displeases or contradicts him they are killed by Troy, and if two young Dragonriders come up with a conspiracy theory he believes it wholeheartedly. Ugh.

Sergeant Troy was awesome. I liked that he wasn't one sided. He wasn't just the king's assassin, but that was what most people knew him as. Hyla however first knew him as the man that was kind and shared his food. This changed her whole perspective of him. I liked that he felt responsible for Hyla and wanted to make sure everything was going well for her.

Rating: 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Thoreau turns 200

Hey book-lovers,

Thought you might like to know that Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden and Civil Disobedience (both of which Erin highly recommends) turns 200 today! 

Here's a quote for you:

"The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star." (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

Pretty deep, right? Kind of reminds me of this:

"Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? The ideal is terrifying to behold... brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it: nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds." (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables)

And this: 

"There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach." (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)

Or maybe this is a little closer:

"'The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.' And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

I guess what I'm really trying to say is, happy birthday, Thoreau.

The sun (or is it just a morning star?) in Walden Woods

 This has been quote time with Erin. 'Til tomorrow.

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.

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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Butterbeer ice cream


Sounds like the single best thing ever invented, right?

Yuengling's Ice Cream just released the flavor this week. It's supposedly available in grocery stores nation wide.

So go get some and let's party like we just got our acceptance letters to Hogwarts.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Quickly: 6 things about Beauty and the Beast


If you haven't seen it yet, go. I'm not saying Disney's new Beauty and the Beast film is perfect, or that you won't be disappointed at all, but overall it's a great film, and full of magic. I thought I'd mix things up a little with something that's not a straightforward review. Here's a {spoiler-free} list of 6 things you'll learn from the new Beauty and the Beast film:


1. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are great actors and highly attractive people - they just can't sing.

Sound of Music much?

Yeah. We all saw it coming, and basically it was what we expected. Emma Watson makes a fantastic Belle, and who doesn't love Dan Stevens as the Beast? There's just one problem: it's a musical. 

Some of the supporting actors have pretty good voices: Luke Evans isn't bad as Gaston, and Kevin Kline's brief solo is surprisingly good. Emma Thompson can sing well enough to play Mrs. Potts, and Audra McDonald is great as Garderobe (because McDonald actually sings). 

But, sadly, Emma and Dan don't quite pull it off. A great orchestra helps them out in the big moments of the score, but it can't take them all the way. Do I wish Disney had cast better singers in the roles? I'm not sure. It's a trade-off, I guess. 

2. LeFou is more complicated than we thought, but not quite as funny.


Don't get me wrong - he's still funny. And I couldn't have picked a better actor than Josh Gad to play Gaston's buffoonish sidekick. But Gad takes the character in a different direction. He's not just an imbecile, and he has character development. Also, yes, he's gay. But I think the press has made that into a bigger deal than it actually is in the film.

3. Gaston is sort of likeable.


I mean until he ties Maurice up to a tree and leaves him to the wolves. I almost liked the guy. And I loved the "Gaston" scene in the tavern. It was one of the highlights of the film. Dancing on the table a la Newsies = yes.

4. We should all return to 18th century French fashions.


Also yes are every single one of Belle's dresses, Gaston's overcoat, and pretty much anything that anyone wears in the entire movie. The visuals are gorgeous, from the set and landscape shots to the costumes, camera angles, and lighting. As a piece of visual artistry, it's perfect. 

The ballroom scene - !!!

5. This isn't the Beauty and the Beast you think you know.


JK, it totally is. I mean they changed a few lines here and there, added a couple brief songs, and mixed some scenes up a little, but for the most part it's pretty much the original cartoon replayed with live actors. I was kind of hoping they'd throw in the song "If I Can't Love Her" from the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast, but they didn't. They did give the Beast a new song, but in my opinion it was a little on the lame side. 

Overall, though, I loved what they did with the story. Of course I loved the courage and little personality touches that Emma Watson brought to Belle, making her an inventor like her father and emphasizing her love of Shakespeare and such (Shakespeare!). And the orchestral score was breathtaking. (Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum! [bum] Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum! [bum] Bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum bum....bbuummm...... OK I'm done.)

6. To love another person is to see the face of God.


So enough from me. Go see the movie.



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert

Hey folks,

Here's another theatre review for you (since those have been few and far between on this blog so far). FPA's C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert is currently playing in New York, but if it follows the pattern of FPA's previous productions, it will probably go on tour after a little while. If you're a fan of C. S. Lewis (as I think many of you are) it's worth seeing.


Theater Review • March 2017

C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT. Photo by Jeremy Daniel
C. S. Lewis is arguably the most important Christian writer of the 20th century. His large number of works include The Chronicles of NarniaThe Great Divorce, and The Screwtape Letters, and his influence on modern Christian thought is incalculable. But for much of his early life, Lewis was a decided atheist.

In C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert, the newest production from Fellowship for Performing Arts, Lewis’ early atheism and conversion to Christianity take center stage. Written and performed by Max McLean, who also co-directs the play with Ken Denison, The Most Reluctant Convert chronicles Lewis’ journey toward belief: beginning in his early childhood and closing when he takes Communion at age 33, when Lewis firmly declares: “I now believe.”

The play takes place in Lewis’ Study at Magdalen College in Oxford, where he served as an English tutor for many years. The year is 1950, just before the publication of Lewis’ first Narnian story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Taking cues from recordings of Lewis’ voice and accounts of his behavior, McLean convincingly and endearingly enacts the Oxford don as he tells the audience about his stubborn struggle to keep God out of his life, and his extreme reluctance to accept the Christian faith. Of his eventual defeat, Lewis says: “I [was] perhaps, the most… reluctant convert in all of England.”

Far from what you might expect in a play with only one character and setting, The Most Reluctant Convert doesn’t feel limited in its action. Thanks in part to changing image projections, and in part to McLean’s acting abilities, the story moves successfully from Lewis’ childhood home in Ireland, to the Surrey countryside, the WWI trenches, and the University of Oxford. The dialogue is also offset by brief pauses, lighting changes, and musical interludes. In addition, McLean makes use of the whole stage: sitting at Lewis’ desk, walking up and down the study, pouring a glass of wine, and settling in the armchair at center stage.

It’s a great credit to McLean and his artistic team that, in a play that’s really just one long monologue, the audience never gets bored or restless. That being said, audience members may find themselves briefly zoning out from time to time, and with a script largely drawn from Lewis’ own writings, it’s nearly impossible to catch everything that’s said. If viewers want more, though, they can go to the source material listed in the program notes. And no matter how many times the audience zones out, McLean always brings them back.

Hosted by the Acorn Theatre and Theatre Row, the play is a must-see for fans of C. S. Lewis, and sure to interest and inspire both skeptics and believers alike. Whether you’re a Christian, an atheist, something in the middle, or something else entirely, The Most Reluctant Convert speaks to you where you are – much like C. S. Lewis himself.


Until tomorrow.