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


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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 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.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Just add dragons: Dragon's Future by Kandi J. Wyatt

Title: Dragon's Future (Dragon Courage # 1)
Author: Kandi J. Wyatt
Publication Date: August 10 2015
Publishing Company: Booktrope/Updrift
Number of Pages: 262
Buy: Amazon

What Goodreads has to say:

Every child of Woolpren dreams of becoming one, but only a few are chosen. Now, ten-year-old twin brother and sister, Ruskya and Duskya, have been selected to join an elite group of riders: dragon riders. Full of awe and excitement, the twins leave their mother, and their home, to train for their new lives.

Fifteen years later, dragons are becoming extinct and riders are rare. One day, Ruskya is at the general store in town when a man announces that he is recruiting new dragon riders. Ruskya goes undercover, and discovers that there is another colony of riders with their own agenda—a quest to find a mysterious plant that could restore the dragon population, or destroy it. When a battle erupts between the two colonies, it’s up to Ruskya and his friends to fight for their dragons’ future, and their lives.

Follow Ruskya’s quest as he finds courage and friendship in this exciting middle grade fantasy series by new author Kandi J Wyatt.

What I have to say:

Dragon's Future is a fun little story about family, friendship, courage, and, of course, dragons.

Because adding dragons to any story automatically makes it that much more awesome.

Also, kudos to whoever is responsible for that cover, because it's gorgeous.

This book made me think of a quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

"Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."

Which leads me on to a similar C. S. Lewis quote: 

"Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker."

As I reflect back on Dragon's Future, I find that this is my main takeaway from the book. To paraphrase the two quotes above, great stories - and specifically great fantasy stories - arm children with the courage they need to face their own "dragons." This is one of the many reasons that fantasy stories are useful and essential to society, but lest I get carried away on this topic, I'll return to Dragon's Future.

Dragons can in fact be beaten, and that's something Wyatt's story illustrates very well. But the story also teaches that not all dragons need beating. Some dragons are, in fact, quite adorable.

As Ruskya and his friends form lasting friendships with dragons, they are given power and courage to face their worst fears. Of course, their friends help as well. As Ruskya rides off to battle his nemesis (that's all I'll say, as I don't want to give any spoilers), he knows he couldn't pull it off without the help of his friends and his dragon. And I think that teaches us something important as well.

Wyatt's characters are charming and likeable throughout; I was especially taken with Carryl, the brave healer with an impenetrable strength.

Dragon's Future propels its reader into a world of dragons, farmers, and townsfolk. I loved the feel created by the names of characters and places, and the details we got about the setting and environment. Names like "Woolpren," "Duskya," and "Wyeth" just give me a kind of warm, honey feeling. But maybe that's just me.

While it was a fun story with likeable characters and an imaginative setting, though, there were a few things that kept me from really immersing myself in this book.

For one thing, I couldn't get behind the writing style. While there were moments of great storytelling, in general I felt like the voice left something to be desired. I think the author could really have improved the story by showing more instead of telling.

On a related note, the story didn't draw me in as much as I would have liked. The first chapter was fun, as two young twins attend a ceremony to find out if any of the dragons will choose them as riders. But after that, the plot kind of got stuck for a bit. Maybe it's because learning to communicate mentally - while an awesome ability - is not all that exciting to read about. And while the characters are all likeable, and some are interesting, I felt like most of them had more potential for growth, which would have made the story a little more engaging.

That being said, I am not a Middle Grade reader, and maybe readers closer in age to the intended audience (roughly 8 to 12, I think) will enjoy this story more than I did.

After all, it does have dragons in it.

Rating (out of 5) :

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Time Traveling with Hairballs

The Eye of Nefertiti


Title: The Eye of Nefertiti (A Pharaoh's Cat Novel)
Author: Maria Luisa Lang
Publisher: Self published
Date published: November 29 2016

Goodreads Summary: The Eye of Nefertiti is both a stand-alone novel and a sequel to The Pharaoh’s Cat. The time-traveling ancient Egyptian feline with human powers returns together with his beloved Pharaoh and his close friends, the High Priest of Amun-Ra and Elena, an Egyptologist’s daughter. 

The cat is quick-witted, wise-cracking narrator as well as free-spirited, ever-curious protagonist, and the story he tells is an exotic, imaginative, spell-binding tragicomedy. The cat travels from present-day New York City to England, both ancient and modern, then to ancient Egypt, where he confronts a horrible demon and experiences a sublime emotion. Once back in England, he descends into a psychological abyss so deep only the Pharaoh can save him.

The Eye of Nefertiti interweaves feline and human, past and present, natural and supernatural. It contains numerous surprises, twists and turns, intriguing characters, both human and animal, fascinating revelations about ancient Egyptian history and culture, and an ingenious application of the Tarot and an Italian opera.

My Thoughts:
Having not read the first book of the series I was a bit worried that I would be unable to follow the events, or be confused about characters, thankfully that was not the case. Lang did a fantastic job summarizing when needed and making this book be both a sequel and a stand alone. Hats off. 

I have to admit at first I wasn't keen on the time travel mixed with a talking, walking cat. However, to my surprise it worked, although I still have some questions on how an animal without opposable thumbs could accomplish some of the feats which Wrappa-Hamen does. 

The historical parts of the story were very detailed and I could tell Lang had put much research and time into their depictions. Early British history - specifically that concerning the Romans, Picts and Stonehenge - is one of my favorite topics, so I much appreciated those scenes. Once the story really started I found myself quite addicted and worried about the characters. I loved how the magic became part of the story allowing the reader to think that anything was possible. It generally bothers me when time travel is part of a story but magic is not, so I was glad that both were a part of this one. I loved the magic boat, as well as the Egyptian god and general amnesia of Nefertiti. 

However, there was one thing I definitely did not like - the high priest's general manner towards Elena. He was rude. Honestly I felt it could become slightly abusive or controlling. I wasn't sure there was very much love in that relationship due to his harsh treatment and brash manner toward her. I understood that he was from a different time, but I honestly wondered why Elena kept him around. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and would suggest it to lovers of Egyptian history and mythology. 


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

BBC's Victoria

Let's face it: the last two seasons of Sherlock have been, well, disappointing. And Downton Abbey is over. Poldark is between seasons, and does anyone even know when the next Dr. Who episode comes out?

What is a BBC fan to do?

Two words: watch Victoria.

For those of you who have already watched it and are now sad because the season finale just aired Sunday, I'm not talking to you. You obviously know a good show when you see one and are probably already counting down the days until Season 2 premieres.

For all those of you who haven't yet seen it - you're missing out.

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

Dr. Who fans will recognize Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) as the young English monarch and main character of the series. As Queen Victoria, who comes to the throne at the tender age of 18 and somehow manages to hold her own as Queen of England, Coleman is perfectly on point.

Also noteworthy is Rufus Sewell, who plays Lord Melbourne, the young queen's adviser and trusted friend. As a seasoned British actor, Sewell brings gravitas and depth to the series.

Victoria and Lord Melbourne
But there are plenty more reasons to watch Victoria than just Coleman and Sewell.

I once heard an art history teacher describe Downton Abbey as "costume porn" meaning that the show was like porn for people who love historical costumes. If you thought the costumes in Downton Abbey were good, though, you'll find that the costumes in Victoria are even more drool-worthy. Victoria's line-up of gowns in Season 1 alone is gorgeous. And guys, there's a masquerade ball in one episode.

Man I love this dress

The show also features smart writing, incredible shots and sequencing, and a host of diverse characters with their own story arcs and plot-lines. You will also learn a lot about history, which is always a plus in my opinion. With humor, romance, history, and great writing and acting, Victoria has something for everyone. (Unless you're one of those people who prefer to watch mindless television, which I'm thinking that if you're a BBC fan, you're not.)

If you're looking for one final, utterly convincing reason to watch Victoria, here it is: you can now marathon the entirety of Season 1 (8 episodes). Just make sure you have some food on hand (preferably ice cream with fudge sauce) as episodes 6 and 7 will leave you craving some dessert (hint: the head chef to the queen of England is the best boyfriend ever, for obvious reasons).
The reason you will need chocolate

And while we're on the subject of BBC, who's excited for the recently announced SIX-PART BBC DRAMA OF LES MISERABLES???????

(Yeah, me neither. I mean I'm kind of curious about it, but I'm not like trolling the internet trying to find out all the details about it that I possibly can, or anything.)

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Four Stories, Seven Narrators

The Magician's Workshop, Volume One


Title: The Magician's Workshop, Volume One
Authors: Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Date Published: November 8, 2016

Goodreads Summary: Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop. 

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

My Thoughts
Narrating Style: At first this book was really hard for me to read. It was confusing - I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of the story - at first I wondered if I was reading the second book, and not the first. However, a few chapters in, in reality the moment Kai started narrating I was hooked. I read the rest of the book as fast as I could and finished in two days, which considering I'm a full time college student, and I have a job, was quite the feat. 

The thing about this book is that the authors try to do something which I think can be quite difficult - they tell four very distinct stories with seven different narrators. While the stories all occur at the same time, with the same theme of looking forward to finding out if they will be magicians, each child has a very different perspective and way of life going in to this event. Due to that fact, sometimes it was very jolting when the narrator changed. However, once you got into the swing of the book and began to understand the world surrounding it, things made more sense. 

Kai and friends: The story which I think gets the most "screen time" due to the fact that four of the seven narrators belong to it, is that of Kai and his friends in Region 2. This was probably my second favorite overall - I loved the tight group of Kai, Weston, Talia, Luge, and Snap. I loved how they acted like kids, I also enjoyed the chapter we got from the view of Kai's grandma who thinks very differently of things than the children do. 

I especially found the trial insightful in how mob mentality can affect a group of people. In the dark where they can say whatever they like, and names are not used, it is much easier for a group of adults to gang up against a small defenseless child. It was not until an individual who commanded respect came into the light and called out the others by name, that it seemed they realized what they were doing. 

Layauna: I found Layauna's story the most sad, sure she wasn't an orphan, nobody hated her, and her projections were good, but she was alone. She had been taken from her family and placed in a cold and sterile environment where everyday she was faced with the same fears and harshness as the one before. Layauna teaches the reader that you cannot always solve a problem by pushing through it, or going at it head on, sometimes you must think things out and realize what it actually means and how it affects you. It wasn't until Layauna accepted the Hell Dog as part of herself, and thought about what it actually wanted, that she was able to dissolve it. And, she was only able to achieve that because she was treated with love and respect, instead of fear and cold science. 

Kalaya: Personally I didn't enjoy Kalaya. She was whiny and insecure, unable to accept her talents, instead focusing just on one small detail and not being able to appreciate the rest. Yes, her wallaroo was blue, but everything else about it was perfect. I think as people we often focus on our faults and flaws instead of our talents and goodness.

Kaso: Kaso was my favorite. Hands down. I loved everything about him. He seemed more intellectual than the other kids, and more mature. Maybe that comes from being an orphan and raising your little brother. He wasn't as pliable as Kalaya, obedient as Layauna, or oblivious as Kai and his friends. This was a kid who knew what was up and couldn't be deceived by the world around him. When something happened he immediately went on the defensive, but still weighed out the situation and then decided how to act. I loved his special ability to project warmth, and what that meant to me. I was so worried and intrigued on how he was going to get a sponsor, that when I turned the page and found it was the end, I yelled out loud. I was upset. It took me about 2 minutes to pull up my email and send a message to the authors asking for Volume Two!!

Overall:Like I said before, four stories, seven narrators. Whew. 

If ever there was a book that had extreme rising action, this would be it. The entire novel is one rising action. I guess it ensures that the reader will want the second. 

I applaud Hansen and Fehr for creating a unique world which combines apocalyptic, distopian, and magical elements. As well as telling a compelling story. I look forward to reading Volume Two!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Beat on Ruby's Street + Giveaway


Want to read The Beat on Ruby's Street? To win a free e-copy, enter our Rafflecopter giveaway!
Title: The Beat on Ruby's Street (A Beat Street Book)
Author: Jenna Zark
Publication Date: June 1st 2016
Publishing Company: Dragon Moon Press
Number of Pages: 139

Erin's favorite quote: "It's okay," he says. "Write."

What Goodreads has to say:

The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.
It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.
As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.
Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

What I have to say:

Endearing, engaging, and thought-provoking, The Beat on Ruby's Street is a fantastic middle-grade novel set in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1958. 

The story follows eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata, an aspiring poet born into a Beat Generation family. Defiant, unconventional, and full of dreams about Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets, Ruby is a spirited, lovable protagonist with a strong voice, and readers should have little to no trouble relating to her, despite differences in time and location.

Ruby's troubles begin when she tries to attend a Jack Kerouac reading (Kerouac was a famous Beat Poet). Unfortunately, she never makes it to the reading. Instead, she gets waylaid by a neighborhood bully, arrested by the police, kidnapped by a social worker, taken to a children's home, released, and moved to a new house. 

Somewhere in there she hides in an Italian restaurant, breaks a few wine bottles, goes on a hunger strike, and sneaks out of her room in the middle of the night to attend a poetry reading. 

The gist of it all is that, while Ruby may be at the mercy of people who are older and have more authority than her, there's absolutely no way she's going to let them dictate her life. 

As a historical fiction novel, The Beat on Ruby's Street paints a vivid picture of what life was like for the Beat Generation in 1950s New York. The story is both informative and fun, and the author sets the stage brilliantly, working in little details about Kerouac and the Beatniks without coming across as heavy-handed or textbook-oriented. Both readers familiar with the Beat Generation and those who know nothing about it will find this an enchanting, moving read.

I loved The Beat on Ruby's Street. Honestly, I can't say enough good things about it. Even though it's not the kind of book I usually read, once I started, I couldn't tear my eyes from the pages (metaphorically - I read the Kindle edition). I think this was mainly due to the strong voice and perfect pacing. The story moves along at a natural pace that pulls the reader in and makes them want more. 

Besides all this, the story raises issues that are as relevant today as they were in 1958. Ruby wrestles with the realities of family, education, society, marriage, money, friendship, immigration, art, leadership, and authority. Her relationships with her family members are complicated and touching. Her view of the world is both insightful and innocent, but always relatable. 

Ruby is a wonderful character. The flashes of poetry scattered throughout the story are magic. And the last chapter is especially moving.

This has to be one of the best historical novels, and one of the best middle-grade novels, I've ever come across. Whether you're looking for a good historical fiction or a sweet middle-grade adventure - or just really good writing - pick up The Beat on Ruby's Street and you won't be disappointed.

Rating (out of 5) :

Until tomorrow.