Friday, March 24, 2017

Do Pictures Tell A Story?

I love picture books, and I used to dream of filling the bookshelves with ones written and drawn by myself. As time went on, I learned how much time it takes to paint, so I narrowed my goals down to words. Then time went on.

When I had kids, I filled the bookshelves (bottom shelves so they could reach) with picture books written and drawn by somebody else. My head was still filled with stories, but my time belonged to the boys. One night my son rejected all the books I wanted to read. "Okay, I'll tell you a story," says I. But, "No," says he. "It's not a real story if it's not in a book." I bought a notebook and filled it with pictures and stories about a boy and his cat. Then they had "book week" at school. My son took the notebook to show his teacher, it went on a display stand, and it disappeared.

The pictures and the stories are still in my head. And the pictures really did tell half the story. But the kids are grown and now my picture book shelf is high on the wall filled with books just for me--and for my imaginary grandchildren I guess. There's a part of me that still feels like a small child, eager for that comfort of a different world, a well-bound world, a world with beginnings, middles and ends, and a picture for every stage. So here are some picture-world reviews. Fill a coffee mug and enjoy.

First is a picture book that satisfies the adult and the child in me. Inspired by Art the edge of revolt by Uvi Poznansky accompanies the author's definitely adult novels of the Biblical King David. But it stands alone as a beautiful picture book of famous and less famous art works, an introduction to different painting styles, and a background to the world's envisioning of the Biblical tale. The pictures may not all be "pretty," but neither's the story--as a child I would have been intrigued by its darkness without understanding of course. So... I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to children , but it's highly recommended for adults. Drink some darkly powerful five-star coffee and enjoy.

Next is another adult book (I'm saving the kids' ones till last). This is a novel I picked up because of the haunting image on its cover. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro explores memory's impact on reality through the lens of myth and legend, blending Arthurian characters with evocative history and geography, and maybe waking the sleeping giant behind relationships. The novel's as haunting as the cover, and best read over some more dark five-star coffee.

And now for children's picture books:

Clio – The Cat Who Loved To Eat by Rivka Bar-Giora is set in the very real world of a grumpy mom who doesn't want a pet, a child who does, and a street-cat who knows exactly what he wants. The pictures convey emotion and character delightfully, and a special treat is a collection of printable coloring pages for children at the end. The text is a little odd at times, but it's a fun book. Enjoy with a crisp sharp one-star coffee.

The Mouse and The Carpenter by Shabtay Benny revolves around food as well, as a mouse sets out into the world to find his own dinner, and decides to stay with a carpenter. The story offers a nice lesson in the value of compromise, and I just wish it was a little longer. Nice pastel images are pleasingly evocative. The rhythm and rhyme is smooth and unforced. And this nice short story can be easily enjoyed with a nice easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Then there's my favorite - starting and ending with the best. Princess Sophie and the Six Swans by Kim Jacobs retells a Brothers Grimm tale  with a pleasing blend of fairytale myth combined with modern day self-awareness. The princess isn't gorgeous, pampered or boring. The princes are neither fools nor heroes. The wicked stepmother's not nice, but she has reason. and the lessons of perseverance, respect and obedience are wisely drawn, as is true love. The illustrations are really amazing too! Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee, and share it with your kids, your grandkids, or your favorite picture book bookshelf.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What will you read in a dangerous world?

The news is of danger. The world's not as safe as we'd choose. Though, to be fair, we never thought London was safe. Not when I was growing up and gangsters were a strange phenomenon. Not when the IRA held sway. Not when friends asked if we really wanted to risk taking our children there before we left the country. And surely not now, because nowhere is safe. Because safety is an illusion. So I read for escape... maybe. But which books help you escape?

Self help books perhaps? They'll tell me how to protect myself against everything I've thought of that might go wrong. Except my protection goes wrong and I never thought the basement would flood that way.

Children's books? I've read lots of those. They gather me back into innocent certainties with beautifully illustrated calm. But then I grow up when I close the book.

Fantasies? They help, I guess, though I always end up ascribing fantastical beasthood to modern day fears.

Action and adventure? At least for a while I can imagine people who win.

Mystery? As if the mysteries of good and evil can be solved as completely as Sherlock Holmes on the moor.

What else? I'm not sure. But these reads were all action and dark, so find a dark coffee and choose your words well.

First is a short novel or novella, Hunted by Alison Golden. The protagonist certainly sees her world fall apart, and it's a great start to series though I'd have liked more completion in the initial story. I find myself wondering if the questions will be answered or if they'll just be a background to what comes next. It's got cool characters though, and an intriguing premise that leaves the reader free to guess. I'm not sure it will soothe your fears in a dangerous world though, since it leaves things even scarier than they started. Enjoy with a nice short shot of dark 5-star coffee.

Cold City by LH Thomson is much more down-to-earth, though it's still not always clear who the good and bad guys are--oh, how like real life! Solving a dangerous mystery while simultaneously looking at society's outsiders, recognizing the values and strengths of minorities, and bringing to life the intricacies of culture and place, Cold City is a fast, enticing read (no mean feat when it's also filled with psychological musings). It introduces a great cast of characters, and it's a great start to a series I'd love to follow. Nicely nuanced, it offers real danger with a possibility of resolution. Enjoy with some elegantly complex 4-star coffee.

Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes takes me back to England, contrasting the peace of houseboat life with London's dark underbelly, and filling its world with flawed characters, terrifying danger, and truly scary waters. It won't make you feel safe, but it might make you believe in escape. Enjoy with some seriously dark 5-star coffee.

Then The White Devil by Domenic Stansberry carries its readers to gloriously romantic Rome, except this really isn't a romantic tale. It's dark and cruel, told by a seriously flawed protagonist, and definitely more noir than action adventure. Set at a memorable recent time in history, filled with authentic detail and evocative scenes, and written in short sharp chapters, it's a fast furious read filled with trials and temptations. The danger's very personal though, so perhaps it serves to hide the world's more global, more real threat. Enjoy with several short sharp shots of dark 5-star coffee.

Meanwhile, the world remains dark but the sky is blue, and it's probably time I read something even scarier - Nos4a2 perhaps? I need coffee!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Do you feel Beloved, Loyal and Lifted Up?

I'm still living in chaos, typing at a desk that echoes every keystroke, louder and louder and LOUDER throughout the day; piling books on a bed that's so loaded with spare blankets everything slides to the floor; carefully positioning my feet between the air-vent and the multi-plug, with boxes oneither side; and leaning over a wire rack every afternoon to half-close the blinds against the sun--yes, it really does shine--it shines straight into my eyes. Meanwhile I'm trying to organize times and schedules so our basement--my office, spare bedrooms, and our family room--will get put back together in reasonable order. Plumber comes before handyman comes before painter comes before electrician comes before painter comes before... aghghgh!

Meanwhile I hide in alternate universes and read. Recently, those alternate universe have been the brightly illustrated worlds of childhood. The lessons of children's books seem oddly appropriate to me--perhaps I'm throwing childish temper tantrums as a consequence of our flood. Anyway, I've really enjoyed the books. So pull up a chair, pour a coffee, and see what you think.

Starting with love:15 Ways To Say I Love You by Efrat Shoham introduces many languages and a storyline just waiting for a child to put it into words. The pictures entice the imagination, the languages encourage learning and understanding, and the globe grounds it all in the real world. 15 more ways, with a completely different style of illustration, makes a great companion book. Enjoy them both with some smooth imaginative three-star coffee and have fun getting your child to tell their own tales.

Natasha Yim's The Rock Maiden offers a Chinese folktale with a fairytale ending and beautifully fluid illustrations. It's another story of love, this time with an underlying theme of loyalty rewarded. The text forms an enjoyably smooth read, and the pictures offer an enticing view into ancient Hong Kong fishing life.  Enjoy this one with some two star easy-drinking coffee.

A third picture book, When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner, is enjoyably uplifting and pleasingly imaginative. Naturally rhyming text offers meaning and purpose to life and creativity, and gorgeously illustrations are filled with the splashy colors of a child at play. Read this while drinking some light crisp enjoyable one-star coffee.

Not all children's books are picture books of course, so here's a review of a middle grade novel, Wily and the Canine Pandemic by Michelle Weidenbenner. It's a tale that starts oddly with the point of view of a dog (or does it start with a poem...), but it quickly becomes the adventures of a misunderstood boy genius who loves dogs, some misunderstood creatures from mythology, plenty of science fiction action, and... well, it's just plain fun. Plus there's the lesson that being misunderstood doesn't mean you have to misunderstand, and persistence just might may off. Enjoy this one with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

And not all books about children are children's books. I'll add a few more reviews here, starting with an adult novel about a mother with an autistic child. Yes, I'm personally interested in autism, so the topic was bound to catch my attention. But Daniel isn't Talking by Marti Leimbach isn't a personal experience story or a self-help book. In fact, it would probably be risky to use it for self-help as, among other things, it explores the honest doubts a mother might have about the vaccines and the prognoses given her child. But it's an enthralling novel, filled with memorable characters, humor, pathos and hope. Enjoy with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

There are picture books written for adults not children as well, such as Uvi Poznansky's Inspired by Art series. I've just enjoyed Fighting Goliath and Fall of a Giant, amazing collections of images, ordered by storyline rather than by artists, and hauntingly portraying the battle of David against the giant. These picture books form part of the author's David Chronicles. Quotations and comments with the pictures bring artists and art to life, inspiring the reader to see David through different eyes, and surely enticing them to read the novels (which I love!). Enjoy this elegant art with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

And finally, there Christopher Geoffrey McPherson's beautiful little volume, the James Murray Mysteries Companion. Like Uvi Poznansky's Inspired by Art books, this book contains the pictures that inspired the author, together with his research on the history, people, movies, buildings and dreams of old Los Angeles. It's a cool book to read, a great book for LA history references, and a perfect addition to the series. Enjoy with some more elegant complex four-star coffee.

So... will the sun come out this afternoon? Will the basement stay dry if it rains (it has done so far--I think we're winning)? Will I ever get around to writing the rest of my overdue book reviews? I'm working on it...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

What if styles make more difference than style?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Julie Ann Wambach, author of Games of Make-Believe, to my blog. I read and reviewed Games of Make-Believe a little while ago (click on the link for my review), and I was intrigued by the different styles and voices used in the novel. Getting the chance to ask the author why she wrote it that way is a real treat. So, pull up a chair, pour yourself a coffee, and see what she has to say. If you leave your own questions in the comments I'm sure she will answer them.

So, Julie, thank you for joining me here, and please can you tell us:

When writing Games of Make-Believe, why did you decide to write in multiple styles?

To use multiple styles, as I did in Games of Make-Believe, is not new, but readers seldom encounter such a technique. Some readers, as Sheila has, recognize and question the use of multiple styles, while other readers either don’t notice it or instinctively reject it. I agree with those who criticize multiple styles that the technique challenges strong character development and tidy endings. I knew Games of Make-Believe would encounter such responses when I decided to use several styles. Here’s why I did it, anyway.

For me, the decision was focused on Games of Make-Believe being the story of a dysfunctional family with several characters agreeing to pretend they are the perfect family, until it becomes impossible to continue. I wanted subtle family dynamics, rather than the easier overt violence usually imbedded in family stories, and the fairytale feature was there from the start. To describe the family, I needed to show in what specific time with what specific pressures were family members impacted.

These basics meant don’t use a single point of view because a family is not one person. It meant don’t use a third person narrator with multiple points of view throughout. The voice of an omniscient therapist gave me the willies. It meant no series of first person chapters because the real outside elements would be distorted.
So, I decided on snapshots. You might see my design differently if you consider Games of Make-Believe a series of short stories with recurring characters told in several styles. Think of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Eagan.
This decision opened the possibility of varied points of view, as well as several persons, voices, and tenses. I didn’t make separate style decisions arbitrarily. I thought about each part, sometimes for months, and I often tried other styles before I knew I had the best way to tell that portion of the book. You might notice I even used a newspaper to show how Hal really received his honor. You can bet he’d tell a very different story. Renny, as any committed artist, is always in present tense. The fairytale portions are always in third person omniscient because that’s folk tale style. There are even two groups that speak as one in first person plural.

Open up, dear writer. Give yourself room to do more. To write this way is horrendously challenging, but it offers you vast opportunities for artistic expression. Especially when no single traditional style would work.

Thank you Julie. I love your reason for Renny to be present tense! Very cool. And I remember noticing the third person omniscient fairytale portions. It all works really well, and it's fascinating to see how you crafted all the pieces and characters together. Yes indeed, a family is not one person. And yes indeed, we should challenge ourselves! Thank you Julie for challenging us with this explanation, and for your novel.

My thanks to the Cadence group for putting me in touch with this author.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Searching for Inspiration and Character... and Magic?

Today I'm delighted to welcome authors Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr to my blog with a joint guest posts, celebrating their Magician's Workshop series. Volumes 1 and 2 are already available (see details below), but what turns a novel into a series, and will there be more?

 What's New At The Magician's Workshop by Christopher Hansen and J. R. Fehr

The Magician's Workshop is going to be an epic tale that we expect will span several volumes. Volume One introduces the reader to the characters and the world and explores the pressures that exist for kids in a world where everyone can do magic. Volume Two deals with the kids entering the coming of age ceremony that everyone has to participate in.

Our inspiration for characters is everywhere. Every encounter—no matter how brief—is a story waiting to unfold. We’ve also spent a lot of time studying theories of personality. This knowledge has helped us craft the voices of our characters and imagine how they might react in a certain situations. 

Of course, this is a book about The Magician’s Workshop, so there has to be some magic in it. But the magic in our book is not like any kind of magic we know of. We spent many hundreds of hours creating all the details around this new magic for our book. We had to figure out what a world that was based on this magic would look like—what rules governed it. Then, as we figured out the wide variety of magical powers possible, we could start thinking about characters. We wanted to find the magical powers that were the right fit for each character. We tried to make these powers feel like they were a natural outgrowth of that character, like an expression of their very souls.

When we started writing, we anticipated a story with a handful of primary characters. But new characters kept showing up, and we liked them. We found ourselves writing additional scenes and chapters with these characters. This was dangerous because soon we had enough material to fill several volumes. We had to make a difficult choice: cut out half of the characters and their stories or allow the story to grow. At first we decided to cut. But when we went to actually delete the scenes, we didn’t want to say goodbye. We looked at each other, and a big smile grew on our faces. “We’re keeping them!” we said. “This is going to be mega!”

So, these novels are really different than a traditional fantasy story. There isn’t one specific main character. There are several point of view characters who our readers can relate to in different ways. Each one has their own gifts and weaknesses. The two who get the most attention in the stories, though, would have to be Kai and Layauna. Both of them have unique talents and have a grandparent with grand expectations. But while Kai wants to do his own thing and have fun with the magic he creates, Layauna is terrified of her creations and seeks the approval of her elders.

Kai is a silly goofball who loves to spend time with his friends. He’s supportive and encouraging to people yet at the same time isolated and cut off from others. He wrestles with a lot of big issues relating to his place in the world. Layauna, on the other hand, doesn’t have the time or freedom to be silly. She desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but instead she makes horrible, savage monsters. 

Like all of us, the characters in The Magician’s Workshop struggle with who they are, who they want to be, and what they want to do.

While we were writing, we got to play with these characters, inside this fantastical world, and now we are so excited to share this world with you, for you to enjoy. 

I'm excited too. I love that the stories are character driven, and that you've made the world make sense - magic as nature rather than deus ex machina perhaps. Add those ever-relevant questions of coming of age, and this will surely be a series to watch. Thank you so much for visiting my blog, and I'm delighted to have hosted you.

About the books:

The Magician’s Workshop, Volume One

Authors: Christopher Hansen, J.R. Fehr
Published by: Wondertale, California
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
ISBN: 1-945353-11-2
Genre: Coming of Age, Fantasy, Magic
Ages: 12 and up.
Length: 85,000 words / 290 pages

Book Links:
Amazon * Goodreads

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.

The Magician’s Workshop, Volume Two

Authors: Christopher Hansen, J.R. Fehr
Print Length: 273 pages
Publisher: Wondertale
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
ASIN: B01N988TW7
Genre: Coming of Age, Fantasy, Magic
Ages: 12 and up.

Book Links:
Amazon * Goodreads

Return to the world of The Magician’s Workshop: Where Dreams Become Reality.

In Volume Two, the Festival of Stars has finally arrived, and the Color Ceremony is about to commence. As children from all over the islands gather to stand before a puller, one question remains: who will have a Color, and who will be found void?

Rejoin your favorite characters as they step forward and receive a label that will have the power to dramatically alter the course of their lives forever.

About the authors

Christopher Hansen

The first glimmering Chris Hansen had that there was far more to reality than he had ever imagined occurred six days after his ninth birthday. “Christopher!” cried a wise, old sage. “Life is full of deep magic. Miraculous things happen all the time and all around us, if you know where to look for them.” Full of expectation and childlike optimism, Chris began searching for this magic, prepared to be surprised and amazed by it. And he was: he found Wonder! Now he’s chosen to write stories about it.

J.R. Fehr

When J.R. Fehr popped out of the womb, he knew there was more to the world than the four boring hospital walls that he was seeing. “Zango!” his newborn mind exclaimed as he saw people appear and disappear through a mysterious portal in the wall. As a child he found life wowtazzling, but as he grew older the cold water of reality hit him, and the magic he once knew vanished. After spending some wet and shivering years lost in a joyless wasteland, he once again began to see magic in the world. He writes because the Wonder of true life is far grander than anything he ever thought possible.

Where to Find Them

Website * Facebook

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Have you ever called someone Messy?

Today I have a very cool young guest on my blog. Her name is Misry and she's here from Paromita Goswami's middle-schoo, teen and YA book, Grow Up Messy, published by Ficus India. So, find yourself a comfy chair and a cup of tea or coffee. Let's talk with Misry.

Misry, can you tell us something about your family and the place where you live?

I have a big family at my Dadu’s house. Let me talk about them. I visited there during Pallavi Mashi’s marriage. It’s a huge house with lots of people and many different kind of animals.  Dadu, Dida, Nilesh Mama his wife Soma Mami their identical twins Dia and Ria along with Pallavi Mashi live there. And also the white Pomeranian dogs Bura and Buri. You will just love the place. Back home, its only me, Ma and Daddy. And I don’t like it. I have nobody to play with at home.

That sounds sad. Do you have any friends there?

My best friends are Bheeru and Honey. But cross your heart that you won’t share this little secret with anyone else. Its Honey, who is my best friend ever. Bheeru sometimes fought with me and didn’t allow me to play with his goat kids. But I have long back forgiven him for that. But Honey never fought with me. We are the best buddies. 

So... just two friends?

Err.. No.. I have lots of friends. Phulwa, Robi, Boney, Honey’s younger brother are my friends.

That sounds fun. Do you have any enemies?

Enemies?? What enemies?? I don’t have any. Ma says I should make friends and play with everybody. But I am very angry when some of the boys take me for granted and always make fun of me. I don’t mind teaching them a lesson!

I don't blame you. I heard they even call you Messy sometimes. How does that make you feel?

I feel bad when someone calls me Messy. What if I can’t climb up the trees or swim across the river? I don’t ruin the plans deliberately. It just happens to fall apart at the last minute. Am I to be blamed for that? 

Do you think they'll still call you Messy once you make friends with them?

It was Raju who called me by that name first. And slowly everybody else started calling me by that name as if that is my good name. Evem Ma calls me that when she is angry with me. But I am not Messy.

No, I'm sure you're not. I guess I'll have to read your book to find out more about you though. Thank you so much for visiting my blog today.

Childhood is considered to be the best time of one’s life. What if you get a chance to live it once more with a five-year-old?
Misry, a naughty five-year-old girl, lives with her parents in a B.S.F border outpost near Indo-Bangladesh border. But with no schools and friends she feels very lonely. She tries to befriend some local village kids. But they find her incompetent in their rural antics. They nickname her Messy as most of the time she messes up their plan. Can Misry really be a part of the gang?
Set in the early eighties, join Misry in the adventures of her life.


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Paromita Goswami is a writer and storyteller by passion and a rebel by choice. She says the world is full of stories and as a writer she loves to pen them down. Her work is not genre specific. From literary fiction to children book to upcoming paranormal thriller and women fiction, Paromita Goswami‘s books offer the variety of life to her readers. Grow Up Messy! is her second book. She debuted in 2015 with Shamsuddin’s Grave, a literary fiction. Besides writing, she is also the founder of reading club that enhances book reading habit in children. She lives in central India with her family.




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Monday, February 13, 2017

What do Survivors do?

One of my sons views the future with dread, imagines the worst, and believes we might all soon be dead. It's a sad point of view, but I recognize it from my own youth, when I was always sure one of the "big three" (Russia, America or China) would foolishly "push the button" and condemn us all to die. Eventually movie-makers filmed their tales - Australians patiently awaiting the end; triumphant American pioneers rebuilding it all, or downtrodden English survivors slaving on. Meanwhile I grew up and we're still here.

Meanwhile I grew up and some of those parents we relied on might not be here long, and I find myself pondering different kinds of survival--reading about them too, from Atul Gawande's exploration of late-life care to Carl Alves' alien destruction--so here are some reviews.

Atul Gawande's Being Mortal offers an incisive glimpse into that later part of life, where we age, get sick, and maybe even die. The simple idea that in the good old days parents lived and died with their children becomes a rose-colored dream--it wasn't ever what parents wanted or what they might need. And so, as society changes, our dreams of freedom color adulthood as well as childhood; and aging becomes the slow replacement of freedom with increasing loss. Gawande makes it seem possible that not all change need be loss. He offers questions that clarify thought and make decisions make sense. And he offers visions of elder care that I can almost believe I would hope for. It's an excellent book. We should all read it before we grow old, preferable with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

The Orphan by S. R. Nair is a fictional story set in India, telling the tale of a young American orphaned when his parents, who love India, die while helping at an orphanage. Sid is now an orphan too, but with vastly different expectations. When American dream meets Indian reality, his outlook is set to change. The novel explores connected themes of corruption, attitudes to life and death, riches and poverty, and the assumptions we make about other people. It's told with a movie-like detachment, offering vivid descriptions of life and country, and oddly detached insights into characters who don't quite know themselves. Enjoy with some more complex, elegant four-star coffee.

Wish You Well by David Baldacci is set in 1940s Virginia where a city girl and her brother are sent to stay on the mountain with their grandmother when their father dies. Almost orphans, they see the world through innocent eyes while the reader finds today's hates and greeds in the history of yesterday. It's a compelling, convincing tale, and the ending, while maybe predictable, feels perfectly right. Enjoy with some more elegant four-star coffee.

Life After by Katie Ganshert is set in the present day, where the sole survivor of a terrorist attack suffers nightmares and struggles to pick up the pieces of her life while totally absorbed in the wreckage of others'. Smoothly nuanced questions of faith arise--good God, bad actions, why?--all naturally attuned to the characters' lives. There's no preachiness in this novel, but there's much to inspire the reader, and a fascinating storyline to entertain as well. Enjoy with a complex, elegant four-star coffee.

The survivors in Carl Alves' Reconquest: Mother Earth are survivors of a very different type, rebuilding after an alien invasion. The story's classic science fiction action adventure, with tongue in cheek scenes, scary scenes, TV-style scenes, space opera scope and, of course, an all-American hero at the center of it all. It's fast, furious fun, best enjoyed with some bright lively easy-drinking two-star coffee (plus the odd dark five-star cup for the blood and gore).

And so the survivors survive. Will you?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Do you have a favorite publisher?

Disaster struck and our basement flooded - the family room where we watch TV, where I work on my computer, where I live most of my life... all under several inches of water. Now the TV's in the living room, the computer's in the kitchen, the bookshelves (those that survived) are stacked on a tarpaulin, and the books (those that survived) are hidden in boxes in the garage.

My husband has great plans for remodeling at this point, since water has already begun the job. He's not sure, however, how books will fit into the scheme. Perhaps we have too many (still?). Perhaps I should get rid of some... get rid of some bookshelves too... perhaps. But packing the books into boxes was like revisiting old friends - so glad I didn't lose this one; so delighted to share memories of reading another. The thought of throwing out those that were spared has me quietly despairing, and pondering of course, which ones shall remain.

Which leads to my question: Do I have a favorite author (must keep all of yours Aaron Lazar)? Do I have a favorite publisher (Permanent Press books, luckily kept on a higher shelf, therefore dry)? A favorite genre - I'm not sure I can answer that one. A favorite book? They're all favorites - books are my friends.

Of course I have incredibly kind real friends too - you know who you are. And I thank you for helping recover bookshelves, books, TV, computers, other furnishings, and strip out carpets so walls could dry, and take Mum out to a dryer place, and walk the borrowed dog, and generally keep me sane while disaster struck.

Anyway, if I claim the Permanent Press as a favorite publisher, I should probably try to work out how to justify the claim. I'm not published by them - in fact they rejected my novels (I almost said they rejected me). They publish in multiple genres, not always even close to my favorites. They publish lots of different authors, several of whom might be favorites, but several not. And they publish hardbacks, which are definitely not my favorites (they take up too much space). But I'm lucky; my Permanent Press collection is all paperbacks (and all dry). And I'm lucky because they keep sending me books, and I keep realizing, while I might not have chosen this book for myself, it's always well worth the read and always something to look forward to. Those brown envelopes arrive; I read the label; and I think hurray - they've sent me another good read.

So here are reviews of three Permanent Press novels recently or soon to be released:

The Third Hell by Connie Dial is a novel by one of my favorite PP authors, but it's not part of the series I've so enjoyed. Instead it's a standalone novel of love and loss, blending police procedural, social commentary, romance, murder mystery, family drama and more. It's incisive, powerfully convincing, and totally enthralling and I love it. Enjoy with some elegant, complex, four-star coffee, and the story will haunt you in all the best ways.

Our Marriage Counselor by Carl Tiktin is a very different book, darkly humorous, fiercely provocative, starkly real and still, though not my favorite genre, powerfully absorbing. It's the story of characters I don't like, doing things I wouldn't approve, and inviting consequences that hurt. But the characters are so real you have to keep reading. Their motivations are so convincing you have to keep thinking. And the ending, unpredictable and real, makes the whole thing make satisfying sense. Enjoy with some darkly intense five-star coffee.

Then there's The Mask Of Sanity by Jacob M Appel, a novel of grim darkness told with just the right level of detachment to allow the reader to observe, question, dread and ponder without ever being overwhelmed. Violence and horror are there, but told sparingly, with no attempt to shock, so the fact of the character rather than his deeds dominates the tale. It's intriguing, dark, cruel and invites that dark question--how well do we really know anyone? You'll need another dark five-star coffee with this one.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Meet the Cats

My Mum loves cats.
They seem to quite like her too, and we had a lovely time visiting them at a cat cafe recently. But now Mum's back in England. My home is dogless, mumless and catless. And I'm reading books. I love books. Sadly, though, they're not so soft and cuddly as cats and they usually don't wrap themselves around my neck. They were great to share with Mum though, before she left.

Having watched all those cats, a book entitled A Cat Is Watching by Roger A. Caras seems like a good place to start. It's an well-balanced mix of psychology, anecdote and opinion, and I really enjoyed it. Share it with your favorite feline and a cup of well-balanced three-star coffee.

Some of the cats at the cafe were more playful than watching. I had great fun with one who loved to bounce after feathered toys. No bird will be safe when this cat finds a home. But surely the cat knows the toy isn't real. Is it playing or training? Do Cats Think by Paul Corey might help find the answer. It's a personal account of life with many different cats, each with their own quirks and natures... and thoughts, perhaps. And it's a lovely book to share with a cat and a warmly elegant four-star coffee.

Turning now to some seriously fictional cats, the felines of Journeyman Cat and other novels by Virginia Ripple do most definitely think. They watch. They plan. And they work with their human companions in magic and politics. Religious themes underpin these stories, giving them focus and strength, but they are never intrusive, and the adventures of cats and their humans are truly gripping. I'm sure Mum would have loved this had she had time to read it. Enjoy with a middle-grade reader or young adult, and drink some well-balanced three-star coffee as you read.

And, should you find a cat cafe near you, enjoy the playfulness of cats.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

An Intimate Plate?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Ukrainian author Olga Petrenko to my blog. Her book has the enticing title, Intimacy on the Plate, which inspires me to wonder

  • What is an intimate plate?
  • And what inspired her to write this book?
If you want to the know the answers to these questions and more, please read on. 

Olga Petrenko grew up in Ukraine, where she learned to appreciate traditional Eastern European hospitality and homemaking. As an adult, she studied the chemistry of foods for their unique effects on the human body and mind. She poured the next 10 years of her life into creating the recipes contained in the aphrodisiac cookbook, Intimacy On The Plate: 200+ Aphrodisiac Recipes to Spice Up Your Love Life at Home Tonight.

Can you resist? Thank you so much for visiting my blog today, Olga. And I guess my first question is... Aphrodisiac recipes? What does aphrodisiac really mean?

The word “aphrodisiac” comes from the name of the Greek goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite. Aphrodisiacs are any substances that increase libido when consumed. A meal created using aphrodisiac ingredients is a delicious feast that awakens sexual desire and builds attraction between two people. Combine the right timing and romantic atmosphere, and anyone can experience the power of aphrodisiacs in their own home any time they want.

Potent and romantic aphrodisiac dinners are available to each of us. Thanks to our modern understanding of the chemical composition of traditional ingredients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and trace elements, we now know exactly how they increase sexual activity naturally for both men and women.

Thank you Olga. So... what can you tell us about your book.

Why I Wrote Intimacy On The Plate

I wrote Intimacy On The Plate to share fantastic recipes that can help you create and share intimate meals for and with your partner. It will help you understand which foods hold the power to help you create passionate meals and enhance lovemaking with someone you care for. I’ve gone out of my way to include scientific explanations about how and why these ingredients strongly affect human sexuality, as well as snippets which will enhance your appreciation of the recipes presented here.

My goal in writing the book was to help lovers create a sensual and intimate meal without having to spend countless hours tracking down hard-to-find ingredients. You will have a new and informed understanding of what special roles ingredients, preparation, and planning play in the way you enjoy cooking.

The recipes presented I’ve chosen come from many diverse sources. Some are very rich and filling, while others are very light. I’ve included full-course meals as well as appetizers, snacks, and smaller entrées, so you will never run out of options for something to spice things up at home. They are all designed to awaken the sexually creative person within you. Used correctly, they will spur your imagination and enhance your hidden erotic nature. Your partner will enjoy both the artistry that goes into the flavor of each recipe, as well as the unique libido-enhancing qualities.

Making the Most of Each Meal

As with all meals, the effort put into the visual presentation is just as important as the preparation of the ingredients themselves. The visual aesthetic of a romantic meal has a strong influence on building sexual desire. Skillfully prepared ingredients and a beautifully served meal will raise both you and your partner’s desires. It will prime you for an unforgettable sexual experience, highlighting the joy you are bound to experience together.

Remember: great recipes are not set in stone. They exist only as a guide, and the motivation to pique your imagination. Figure out what you like about them, try new and exotic ideas, but do not forget about the traditional dishes proven by centuries of use around the world. I am certain that if you take the time to give your body what it needs to optimize its sexual function and give you partner the attention they need to feel ultimate intimacy, you will experience a loving physical relationship like no other. Bon appétit! 

Thank you so much, and I think I feel hungry now.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

What Have Birds And Puppies To Do With Childrens Books?

Sometimes a children's book offers just the change of pace that an adult (this adult anyway) needs. Typically (but not always) shorter, it's great for those brief moments between unwelcome tasks (like throwing away memorabilia destroyed in a basement flood). Usually upbeat, at least by the end of the story, a children's book can be great for lifting the spirit. And the questions raised, while frequently fascinating, might be just far enough away from everyday life to provide an open window where real ones feel closed. Plus, kids books often include animals - birds and puppies in these...

The Strange Round Bird by Eden Unger Bowditch isn't short, but it's an excellent children's novel, nicely written so periods of fast action are comfortably interspersed with periods of dialog, problem-solving and thought. Sadly you might not get to read it yet, as it's still pre-release. But why not read books one and two of the series, so you'll be ready (The Atomic Weight of Secrets and The Ravens of Solemano)? If you know any young readers with intelligence and imagination, why not feed them by letting them read too? Strange Round Bird is an elegant complex tale to be enjoyed with elegant complex four-star coffee.

Shorter, but similarly well-researched, with a similar basis in science (more turn of this century than turn of the last though), Purple Pup by Karl Steam introduces children to the ideas of modern genetics through the eyes of a purple puppy. There's a delightfully clean and simple storyline--Black Beauty meets modern science perhaps--and there's plenty of adventure and food for thought. Enjoy with some well-balanced smooth three-star coffee.

Then there's Talon, come fly with me by Gigi Sedlmayer, a tale that's filled with fascinating facts of geography and nature as a missionary's daughter tries to save the egg of an endangered condor. Matica has faced human cruelty herself, but she learns to value her differences as the story progresses. Love and patience are rewarded, and purpose is revealed in the problems God sets before us. The action's fast but the storytelling is slow, making this a good book perhaps to read to a child at bedtime. Enjoy with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

I'm sure I must have read more children's books recently, but my records are out of date, my to-read list is buried in emails, and my basement ... well, let's not think about that. It must be time to sit down again with a good book.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Which comes first, the mystery or the murder?

Our family mystery is how did so much water get into the family room, bedrooms, storage room and furnace room of our house. It's an ongoing issue, so no story arc yet--no sense of completion. But at least I've got my computer up and running again, except I have to put it away to feed people since it's sitting on the kitchen table.

In between disposing of soggy boxes bursting with ruined memorabilia, watching sons cut up and drag away soaked carpet and underlay, moving furniture, panicking about surge protectors that clearly didn't protect (perhaps they didn't have water surges in mind when they designed them), ..., I have on occasion sat down and lost myself (and my woes) in a mystery novel. Such novels are good for losing yourself (and your woes). They helped a lot (as did amazing family and friends -- you know who you are; I couldn't possibly have coped without you!). So here are some reviews. If your coffee maker's not plugged into the same socket as your computer, pour a mug of favorite brew and see what you'd like to read next. Meanwhile, I will hope you don't have too many woes.

The damp, I supposed, reminds me of cold damp places like the Shetland Isles. So my first two reviews are for books two and three of Ann Cleve's Shetland Quartet. White Nights introduces the concept of being depressed because of too much sun rather than too little. In the gray of an Oregon winter, it's almost hard to imagine, but the author brings those nights of endless day to vivid life with mysteries hidden in the mist. Then the third book, Red Bones creates a cool blend of murder mystery and family drama. They're both thoroughly satisfying reads, whether or not you're following the TV series, best enjoyed with well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Killer Christmas, an Emma Wild Mystery by Harper Lin is the first mystery in a romantic holiday themed collection. It's a short, fast, enticing Christmas read with pleasing family relationships and recipes! Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee and a plate of Christmas cookies (if you have any left over).

Then there are the ghostly cat paws in Leighann Dobbs' Ghostly Paws. Cozy with a touch of paranormal, Mystic Notch looks like being a fun series and I'd love to read more. The cats are great, and their point of view is very pleasingly rendered, as is that of Wilhelmina, struggling with her curious inheritance and the mystery of a sweet lady's death--oh, and the fact that the sweet lady's ghost wants her murderer found. Enjoy this lively mystery (especially if you love cats) with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

And finally, since I also love dogs, I have to include one more mystery in this collection--The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club by Duncan Whitehead. It's kind of a cross between Pushing Up Daisies and James Bond - slightly detatched narration, oddly detatched characters with quirks and horrors and more, and a murderer hiding in a high-class park where sweet dogs walk. The dogs' owners probably aren't sweet old ladies though, and this is a cool tale filled with clues that find and lose the scent, very civilized murders and betrayals, and great good humor.

Enjoy, and I'll post some more reviews when I switch the computer back on, after making lunch perhaps... Life is lived in the kitchen!