Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If Eyes are the Windows to the Soul...

If eyes are the windows to the soul, what are bionic eyes, or cataract-free eyes with replacement lenses - hey, they even gave me the guarantee card that goes with it when they fixed my eye earlier this week.

My soul feels lighter, I must admit; it's easier to see. I can type. I can drink coffee while I type (is that good for the keyboard?). I can read and I can write. So maybe my eyes are smiling brighter now. Who knows? Meanwhile the windows to my home are cleaner, brighter and warmer too - we've just got double-glazing, at last!

Are glasses double-glazing for the eyes?

And why don't kids like to wear glasses? I loved mine because they made it easier to avoid catching the wrong bus and being late to school. I thought they made me special, because my Mum wore glasses. Then I learned to hate them over time, wishing I wasn't always wearing breakable stuff on my face, with weighted arms over my ears, and general inconvenience. So now I'm typing these reviews without glasses - hurray! I can only see one of each letter (a huge improvement over life before cataract removal), and I'm happy!

So... let me happily give you some children's book reviews, and ponder which children are or are not wearing glasses in these books.

I'll start with Kiboko, by Amelia De Mello, a gorgeous picture book which combines wonderful original art (from African artist Edward Kimambo) with a pleasingly lyrical story, simply told and filled with sweet wise lessons. Enjoy this tale of a hippopotamus following his dreams, while you dream of of lively easy-drinking coffee. No eyewear on hippo and friends, but you have to see those pink flamingos, and read those color-coded Kiswahili words!

Another book for small readers is Three Monkeys Welcome to Treehouse Lane. The text offers intriguing questions and multiple choice answers concerning how you view a new house, make friends, and deal with everyday childrens' problems. It's a nicely thought-out, intriguing tale for small kids, and reminds them that friends can look very different from yourself. (They might even wear glasses). Enjoy with some well-balanced smooth three-star coffee.

For older readers (middle grade and above), The Bettanys on the Home Front by Helen Barber is an excellent introduction to a timeless girls series - one my mother enjoyed as a child, and I enjoyed following her. The original Chalet School books by Eleanor M Brent-Dyer were set post-WWI and featured an adult sister starting a school which her younger sister attended. The Bettanys on the Home Front introduces the older siblings aged around 14, while baby sister's still a baby and the casualties from world war have just begun to take effect. If you like Downton Abbey, old girls' school stories, or especially the Chalet School, or if you just want something clean and fun for a girl to read, this is the one for you. Drink some well-balanced full-flavored coffee and enjoy. (And yes, some of the girls do wear glasses.)

How I Met The Beatles (and how they broke my heart) by Barbara J Guardino is another good book for middle-grade girls, teaching lessons for everyday from the convincing story of a girl who worshiped the Beatles. How little life has changed! Enjoy a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee with this lively easy-reading book, and, if you were a Beatles fan, enjoy the authentic sense of time and place - small-town America with a touch of Liverpool!

White Swans by Annamaria Bazzi might be aimed at slightly older or maturer readers. Nicely lowkey romance blends with a regency world, a touch of science fiction and magic, and some fascinating questions of duty, love, and how to treat people as people. For anyone who loves regency romances or magic, this might be the perfect choice. Enjoy with some elegantly complex four-star coffee.

Then, for the guys - possibly mature middle-grade, but certainly young adult and adult - there's Camouflaged Encounters by David Englund. It's not the first in the series, but it represents a step forward from everyman the wannabe Superman to everyman the savior of the world, and it's surprisingly good fun. What if aliens were among us, manufacturing our wars, our politics and more, just for the sake of winning a game? What would you do if you a) knew they were there, and b) were possibly, purely by accident, the only person who could do anything about them? Enjoy some bright lively easy-drinking coffee, and gaze into the windows of an alien's soul.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Does dark weather demand dark reads?

I have some slightly darker book reviews for today - appropriately I guess, since the weather is dark and gray.I'm hoping for brighter days, so I can travel around with Mum. But for now, just being home or damply driving out for everyday shopping is really quite a treat, since we get so little time to spend together.

Anyway, as I take a few minutes off from sharing news with family from England, here are some book reviews (and coffee recommendations) to share with readers everywhere.

Repercussions by Anthony Schneider tells the parallel stories of a white Jewish South-African caught up in the violence of apartheid, and his white Jewish American grandson caught up in the violence of that world's repercussions. Echoing through both stories are questions of what we do, what we can do, and why we do what we do. Enjoy with some seriously rich, elegant and complex four-star coffee.

Target of Opportunity by Max Byrd is filled with a similar sense of history's repercussions dripping through to the present day. It's a novel that blends genres perfectly, combining police procedural with WWII espionage, and offering powerfully convincing portrayals of both. More rich and complex four-star coffee will be needed with this one.

Maribeth Shanley's Crack in the World looks at the more immediate repercussions of child sexual abuse, as the protagonist grows from child to woman, bearing the weight of everyone else's problems without acknowledging her own. Truth will out, in the end, and perhaps truth will heal. But good relationships with a neighbor and friend are the glue that keeps her together. Read this dark but hopeful tale, filled with insights into human motivations good and bad, with a good cup of dark five-star coffee.

Real-world darkness takes the stage in To Live Out Loud by Paulette Mahurin, a retelling of the story of Emil Zola and Richard Dreyfus' politically savage trials in France. Having grown up in England, I was vaguely familiar with the history. Reading it told from a new point of view gives it a haunting immediacy, and brings out its relevance to today. More dark five-star coffee might be needed with this well-researched novella.

Next is Stranger at Sunset by Eden Baylee, a darkly sensuous psychological murder mystery that blends new adult noir with an Agatha Christie-type cast of characters at a beautiful Jamaican retreat. The protagonist's dark morality matches her darkly hidden past and sets the stage for a series to come, while the novel stands alone as an intriguingly modern Christie-style mystery. Enjoy with some bold, dark intense five-star coffee.

And finally a truly dark tale, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares, by Scott Scherr. In the vein of Stephen King's the Stand, it follows a group of disconnected characters at the end of the world. Hints of Assault on Precinct 13, shadows of the Living Dead, and some very convincingly flawed characters combine to make for a novel that's hard to put down, gruesomely scary, and genuinely fascinating. Enjoy, yes of course, with some more dark five-star coffee, perfect for these days of cold dark winter.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Would you rather unpack book boxes or unpack cases?

Last Friday and Saturday, members or our local writers' group manned a table at a local bazaar, where we sold Writers' Mill Journals and other books written by or contributed to by members of the group.


Then on the Sunday, December 6th, I was honored to be one of the authors at the Oregon Historical Society Holiday Cheer event. (Look who I'm sitting next to - Eric Kimmel, author of Simon and the Bear and other great Hanukkah picture books, and more!).  

There were even Dickensian singers to entertain us all, and offer the promise of Christmasses white instead of blue.  


But now it's all done, and the unsold books need to be repackaged and buried under the bed, ready for next time. Meanwhile two new black suitcases have appeared on top of the bed, waiting to be unpacked. They belong to my mum, who has just arrived for her annual Christmas visit. Which is my way of apologizing in advance if I get even more behind with book reviews because... well, there are so many book conversations going on between me and my Mum instead. And other conversations. And baking of Christmas cakes and steaming of puddings and rolling out of gluten free pastry for the mince pies, and shopping, and...

But I have read some books. Honestly. And I've written some reviews. So here's my latest batch.

Since I was sitting right next to Eric Kimmel yesterday, I guess I should start with some children's books. So.. first is Merry Christmouse by Tess Votto illustrated by Vicki Rushing. It's a fun story told from human and mouse points of view, with the added attraction of bright illustrations drawn from human and mouse points of view. Plus there's all the excitement of trying to survive the onset of Christmas. I'd recommend a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee with this one.

Next is Let’s Make Crepes by Mae Segeti & Nic Monty, where boys and girls work together with Mom and Dad in the kitchen. It's all very convincing, sweet and fun, though I wished I'd seen the mathematician use his skill in measuring perhaps, or the swordfighter in stirring the batter. Ah well; that's just me. It's a fun book to read with a mild crisp one-star cup of coffee and a group of helpful kids.

And then, Oliver and Jumpy 31-33 by Werner Stejskal continues a familiar series with an enterprising cat and his kangaroo friend. The different illustration styles in each story are intriguing and nicely suited to the tales. Enjoy with some light bright two-star coffee.

For slightly older, or more serious minded children, Saint Anthony the Great by John Chryssavgis & Marilyn Rouvelas illustrated by Isabelle Brent is an intriguing historical story with some nicely woven lessons for the reader. The pictures really make this book, giving depth to the text and inviting questions and answers. But for me the best bit is the explanation of demons light nightmares (like monsters in the closet) being just the result of a wild imagination. Enjoy with one with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

While I'm thinking of saints, perhaps this is a good place to add my review of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. This one's definitely NOT for the kids, or for adults allergic to the occasional swear word or alternative lifestyle, but it's probably the most Christian book I've read in quite a while, filled with thought-provoking humor, absorbing memories of events, and the wonderful liturgy of the church year perfectly applied to real life. I can't recommend it enough! Drink bold, dark, intense five-star coffee and enjoy Christ in the real world, and the real, liturgical church.

Time now to read some more and write more reviews. Then, maybe, I'll find time to write more books too. Did you know the first 11 books of Five-Minute Bibles Stories are now in print! If I finish book 12, I'll have my own personal book-a-month club!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Meet two dogs, one parrot, a rare bird, and a vendor of apricots

Meet two dogs, one parrot, a rare bird, and a vendor of apricots, plus many assorted writers in this batch of book reviews. I apologize to the authors for being so late posting several of these. My best excuse is I've been writing. But the animal hero of my novels is neither dog nor bird, but rather a very white, sometimes mythical cat with a red stone in its collar and just a hint of wings. Meet it in Divide by Zero, and soon in Infinite Sum as well, coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.

The dogs and parrot belong in a book of essays, Two Dogs and a Parrot by Joan Chittister, where the authors tells what she's learned, and we can learn, from animals. There's a Judeo-Christian dichotomy, she points out, with two creation stories where one gives mankind dominion, but the other invites us to name. Naming meas relationship, and relationship with animals has helped many a person cope with distress. Of course, the animals too have much to cope with, and their coping mechanisms have much to teach. The book is a fascinating blend of learned, personal, and theological. Enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

A bird of a very different nature flies in Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson, a memoir of loss and love. Real life, real death, dreams, visions and those gentle hints that help and guide but seem so meaningless at the time... all play their part as the author details the loss of her oldest child when his life had so far yet to go. It's beautifully written, painful and honest. It questions whether we can shout at God and says yes. And it touches very gently on that veil between here and there. A great book for those who have lost, or who know those who have lost sometime. This is one to enjoy with plenty of tissues in the box and a well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The dog is a side-character in Paulette Mahurin's His Name was Ben. This story tells of love and loss as well, with protagonists both seeking a cure for cancer, and love struggling to break through the wounds of the past. Spirituality, humanity, sexuality and loss combine in an unflinching roller-coaster ride. And the result is haunting, uplifting, and wonderful. Enjoy with a bold, dark, intense five-star cup of coffee.

Valerie’s Vow by Ashley M. Carmichael, continues that theme of loss and hope. Valerie's close to giving up on God after the loss of her friend. She's still teaching, and teaching Sunday school, but attending church feels like a lie, and she's promised her friend she'll try new things, so now... she's riding the back of a motorbike, going to bars, skipping church, and... still living her life for everyone else. Valerie's Vow is a wonderfully low-key story of a woman keeping a promise and finding a gift. Enjoy with some well-balance, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Love and loss are just two of the themes intertwined in Carrie Jane Knowles' short story collection, Apricots in a Turkish Garden. The stories are beautifully woven, haunting, and evocative. The artistry is as natural as the freshly opened apricots of the final tale. And it's a collection to savor, with apricots I suppose, and a cup of elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Finally, returning to that theme of faith that has slipped in and out of this collection, The Genesis Journey by Sandra Lund is a wonderfully poetic devotional, taking readers through Genesis, drawing inspiration from the Biblical text, and offering inspiring poems and thoughts, without ever overpowering the text. I shall certainly plan to post a review when it's released, and I'll read with well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What do Fairies. Dogs and Dragons have in common?

What fairies, dogs and dragons have in common, of course, is that they all appear in children's books. Specifically they appear in the books I'm reviewing today. But do I have to have kids at home to enjoy children's books? To review them? To write them? Or can I just relate to the kid (fairy, dog and dragon) within myself?

I suspect the answer is as long as my internal child is alive and kicking, she or he (dog, dragon or fairy) is all I need. Certainly she smiles when I pick up a kids' book in the store. She begs me to purchase things I can't possibly afford (have you seen the price of picture books?). And she laughs and cries, appropriately, when I read to her in my head. She's a pretty good child. (I'll not go into how good or otherwise the real-child-me was in her day, but my Mum would happily tell you - little horror are among the words she might use.)

Of course, I did have kids at home for many years - the years when I just told stories instead of writing them, lacking time to myself. But now they're grown and I still love to read. I'm in no hurry to have grandchildren, but I can't resist a picture book with great images and storyline. I love tales that introduce small children to different cultures and ideas. And I keep writing my Five-Minute Bible Stories series, eager to pass my dreams on to other people's kids.

The first of my children's Bible story books has just reappeared in print, rereleased by Cape Arago Press. (I self-published it first, but this edition is way, way better, and looks better too!) So now I'm eagerly dreaming of when there'll be an Old Testament series to match the (already in print) New Testament series... and maybe even a separate series in between (for Psalms and the not-yet-written Proverbial Tales). Anyway, if you're looking to introduce small children to Bible stories in a real-world way (no myths or fairy tales in sight), the real world, real people, real God tagline might work for you, and Genesis People might make a good Christmas gift.

So much for tooting my own horn. Now for some book reviews of those children's books my inner child has enjoyed over the last weeks.

Wendy’s Wacky Dogs by Hadas Korb and Ortal Zeret is a definite favorite. Great pictures. Great story-telling technique, with simple rhyming words left out for the kids to find and supply as they look at the pictures. Bright colors. And lots of fun ideas. Pour some juice for the kids, and grab an easy-drinking two-star coffee for this delightfully easy-reading picture book.

Also by Korb and Zeret, Tom and the colorful dragon is an enjoyable bedtime story, just a little short, with a sweet bedtime feeling to it. Enjoy this with some mild light one-star coffee.

Of course, with Christmas coming soon (how on earth did that happen?) I really had to read a Christmas book. A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story by A. J. York fit the bill perfectly - a pleasingly different take on stories and ornaments coming to life, filling their attic days with tales of special events, and mourning the changing world when the children grow old. These toys find a way to keep Christmas going through passing years, and it's a fun story to share. Enjoy with with some well-balanced, full-flavored three star coffee.

Another fairy appears in Fairy Good Heart by Nancy Fagan, the first of her Fables of Fairy Good Heart series. This book's written for children and their parents to share, specifically children of divorce, and it offers a nice background for conversation, with pleasant line-drawn illustrations to keep a child's interest. The story's contemporary and real, and the promise that ice cream and fun will return is much-needed and nicely supplied. Enjoy with a well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

mystery, crime, and the end of the world is at hand!

After recent events, one might be tempted to ponder the natures of faith, freedom, and free will. But beneath any deeds, whether good or evil, lie people trapped by others' dreams and aspirations, real lives informed by cultures and belief, real crimes, real criminals too, and real victims. As troubles loom, it might be well to pray that we be neither doers nor followers of evil. And as Shakespeare wrote, may each of us "to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man" woman or child.

It seemed oddly ironic -- as French detectives seek crime's perpetrators and the faithful, of more than one religious leaning, see the ending of days -- that I should be reading and reviewing a story set in the 17th century, about a monk learning the arts of alchemy and truth. His antagonist, perhaps insane, is sure the world will end soon, and that he's called to act, in ways likewise insane,to bring that end about. But Pilgrim of Love by Charles Davis is no heavy treatise or world-weary mystery. It's a wonderfully atmospheric, evocative, and frequently hilarious tale, set on Mont St Michel where the sands and tides are a mystery all to themselves. It's thought-provoking, an authentic, fascinating and cool mystery like Name of the Rose crossed with the Da Vinci Code. And I didn't even know until the end that it's the second in a series. Great characters, great language, and a highly recommended novel; enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

The Haunting at Ocean House by Christopher Geoffrey McPherson is the 5th (maybe the last?) in the James Murray Mysteries Series. It has its own magical/mythical undercurrents as James (and his fictional alter-ego) investigate fake seances and find themselves involved in very real dangers. It's also another pleasingly atmospheric novel, evoking the early days of modern Los Angeles when railway stations finally combined in one gorgeous building, big bands played, and the other world was all the rage. Enjoy with some more satisfyingly complex four-star coffee, and read the whole set.

In a similar vein is the not-yet-released Detective Fiction by William Wells. This time the protagonist is a former Chicago detective, now retired to Southern Florida, and his alter ego is the protagonist of books written by a very successful friend. Will the fictional detective be able to help the real in solving his crime? Or perhaps real life is fiction too, at least in the telling, just as twisted and changed as stories told over the bar at the Drunken Parrot. The novel is thoroughly enjoyable, told in an irreverent first-person narrative with pleasantly chatty humor and style. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Engaged in Danger (Jamie Quinn Mysteries Book 4) by Barbara Venkataraman is another first-person tale of detection, this time told from the point of view of Jamie, small-town small-practice lawyer with a seriously big-town, high-profile case threatening to fall into her lap. Unfortunately this happens just as her boyfriend goes out of town. And dangers abound. So does good-humored dialog from all the familiar characters. Enjoy this fast read with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Judicious Use of Acronyms with John F. Allen

Today author John F. Allen is visiting my blog, enjoying virtual coffee and cookies, celebrating his book, Codename: Knight Ranger, and offering his opinion on acronyms - The Knight Ranger works for an organization called G.E.N.E.S.I.S. and you'll have to read on if you want to find out what all those letters mean. But first, let's learn how the author really feels about acronyms. Please welcome John F. Allen.

John F. Allen's Codename: Knight Ranger Virtual Tour

The Judicious Use of Acronyms in Fiction by John F. Allen

 Plenty of authors are guilty of using acronyms in their writing. I know I am guilty as charged, as I write Spy-Fi and Action Adventure stories/novels, I deal with a lot of “Alphabet Organizations”, quite a few of my own creation.

Of course the acronyms do come in handy as spelling out the individual words can be a real pain, for both the author and the reader. In creating my “Alphabet Organizations”, I find it fun to—most times—get the initials to spell out a word which works to describe the organization.

But, like with most things too much of anything is BAD. That said, I try to limit the acronyms for organizations to no more than two or three different ones (of my creation) within a novel. This is in addition to any already established ones like FBI, CIA, NATO, etc… And even with those established organizations, a good deal of care should be taken as to not overuse them.

There is another use of acronyms within fiction nowadays due to the abbreviations used in texting. For example, IKR, LOL, OMG, etc… I DO NOT use these in fiction unless they are shown as the contents of an email or text message for the reader. I find such acronyms to be annoying and inappropriate outside of those forums. Younger generations don’t bat an eye in using these acronyms, sometimes even when speaking. Yes, it actually happens…

In my opinion, the use of acronyms should be measured and used sparingly to avoid dragging down the prose unnecessarily and cluttering the paragraphs with them. So, if you’re going to use acronyms make sure to choose them judiciously.

 Thank you so much, John. And Genesis? Please read on, dear reader, to learn what it means...

JohnAllenAuthorPhoto_NewAbout the author: John F. Allen is an American writer born in Indianapolis, IN. He is a member of the Speculative Fiction Guild and the Indiana Writers Center. He began writing stories as early as the second grade and pursued all forms of writing at some point, throughout his career. John studied Liberal Arts at IUPUI with a focus in Creative Writing, received an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force and is a current member of the American Legion. John’s debut novel, The God Killers was published in 2013 by Seventh Star Press.

John currently resides in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife, son and daughter.

CodeNameKnightRanger_Cover_1200X800About the Book: Codename: Knight Ranger: Captain Alexandre Cornelius “Neal” Du Bois is a US Army Ranger and decorated war hero. When his unit is ambushed by supernatural hostile forces while in Afghanistan, only Neal survives. When he wakes up in a secret government facility, Neal discovers that his whole life has changed forever.

A shadowy government agent named Elijah Bishop arranges for Neal’s brain to be transplanted, without his permission, into a bio-engineered body capable of amazing feats. Armed with advanced body armor and weaponry, he becomes the epitome of the Ultra Soldier.

To protect his family and those closest to him, he must let the world and everyone he loves believe he is dead. With assistance from Dr. Avery Clarkson–the scientist responsible for his new body–Neal reluctantly utilizes his superhuman abilities to work for Bishop and his organization called G.E.N.E.S.I.S. (Global Espionage Network of Elite Supernatural Intelligence and Surveillance), in order to track down those responsible for the slaughter of his unit and keep the world safe from supernatural terrorist forces.

So that's it, the acronyms behind the Knight Ranger, and it's every bit as good as Spectre, or other well-known words.

Where to find the author:
Twitter: @johnfallen1970

Book links:
Print Version:
Kindle Version
Barnes and Noble Link for Codename: Knight Ranger

Where to Find Codename: Knight Ranger
Amazon Print:
Barnes and Noble:

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11/2 On Cloud Eight-and-a-Half Guest Post
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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Creation of a Heroine, with Stephen Zimmer

Today, Stephen Zimmer returns to my blog escorting the wonderful Rayden Valkyrie, heroine of his novel, Heart of a Lion (click on the title for my review). I'm delighted to welcome him as he writes about Rayden's genesis, and I'm delighted to welcome you to read his post, learn about his book, and maybe even enter the cool contest to win a kindle fire HD at the end of this blogpost. So, over to you Stephen. Where did Rayden come from?

Stephen Zimmer's Heart of a Lion Virtual Tour


The Creation of a New Heroine

Rayden Valkyrie truly flowed into my mind at once.  When I was going through some very difficult times in my own life, I had an image of a golden-haired female warrior with piercing blue eyes standing resolute, proud, defiant, and tall.  I knew that this figure had been through hell but still abided by a high honor code that reflected the fact that the storms of her life had not hardened her to indifference.

Her storyline and world rushed in around that image, but looking back on it all I do have some insights about what is important for a heroine who is literally the most critical component of a book like Heart of a Lion. 

A heroine is, at their foundation, still a character.  Whether or not the author reveals everything in a given book or story, I do feel an author should have an understanding of a character's personal history, their personality, and the code, personal values, or set of beliefs they operate by. 

The history of any person incorporates their life experience, which is what teaches, informs, guides, and often forges the substance of a person.  Their personality affects how they interact with their world along the way, and they are guided by the code or set of values that they hold at a given moment.  The latter can change or evolve along the way, often affected by that life experience.

The heroine still has to have all of that, and then they have to have something more, something that sets them apart and makes them heroic.  It does not have to involve fighting ability, but it does have to involve the will to step up when the situation calls for it and do so despite great risk, opposition or danger. 

With Rayden Valkyrie, I think that drives off of the honor code that she has come to embrace and live by.  A lot has not yet been told of her back story, but suffice it to say that she has truly been through a great deal of tragedy and pain and she has found a way to reach down deep and keep going without having it alter her in a negative way.  The essence of her heroism is that she keeps moving forward, grows stronger as a person, and her spirit remains intact despite terrible adversity.

That ability to forge ahead and live consistently by a strong honor code is a big part of what makes Rayden heroic, as that code and will to endure is a big part of why she does step forward to protect the vulnerable, preyed-upon folks in the world. It is girded by compassion and kindness, though none should mistake those things for weaknesses.  She has the will to act, no matter if it will incur the wrath of an entire city guard or empire, as readers of Heart of a Lion will come to appreciate.

Everything that she has been through, learned, and experienced has helped to make her the person she is at a given point in a story, whether in Heart of a Lion or the short story she debuted in, “All the Lands, Nowhere a Home”, from the  Thunder on the Battlefield: Sword anthology.  I think it is very important to bring those formative elements out in the storytelling, even if all of them cannot be tackled at once in a specific tale. 

The focus, therefore, is on who she is, which fuels what she does.  Developing a strong heroine has to establish that in a concise way in order to make the conquering of fears, the courage to step forward, and the ability to follow-through against daunting odds or grave danger fully effective. 

Give the heroine a history, show the strengths they've maintained during that history, show the values they've developed during that history, and then let them live and breath on the page.  The more real they become, the more real their heroic acts will resonate. 

 One day I should love to know more of Rayden's backstory. At the moment, it's part of what makes her so interesting to me as a reader - she's a real character, with history, and I'll have to get to know her more before she'll trust me to know that history. It feels right, and it makes for a really good book - I'm looking forward to more.

StephenZimmerAuthorPhotoAbout Stephen Zimmer: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Sawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk tales and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections.

HeartofaLionCover_1200X800About Rayden Valkyrie:  She walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home.

A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt. To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.

The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion. For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between.

Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power. Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.

Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.

Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion.

Heart of a Lion is Book One of the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.

Author Links:

Twitter: @sgzimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

Book Links:

Amazon Print Version
Kindle Version
Barnes and Noble

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Monday, November 2, 2015

It's all about connection, isn't it?

I keep reading posts about connections. Then I think about books I've read and realize they're about connections too. Then I edit a chapter of Subtraction, and yes, it's all about the connections between a dad and his dead child, and how those connections might help him grow and connect to someone else... or something... I guess I'll have to write a blurb one day, but for now I'm going with:

Special ed teacher takes road trip in search of missing child and finds himself.

Does that work for you?

Anyway, here are some books I've been reading, when I'm not writing, and they're all about connections.

Starting with Mr. Memory by Paul Michael Peters, a short, smooth, cool collection of short stories neatly bounded by the man whose memory can connect everything. My favorite introduces a woman whose cellphone connects her to everything, leaving her narcistically unconnected from everyone. Enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

Next is The Hardest Thing In This World by Nicole Eva Fraser, a novel of sisters and their mother, living normal but broken lives, weaving the everyday around flaws that might drive one sister to be declared insane. The author deals with mental illness and its effects tenderly and sensitively, bringing out the connections that make it all so hard, and so filled with love. Enjoy some more complex four-star coffee with this one.

Deadly Adagio by Carole Howard takes readers to the American community in Senegal, where connections are all-important in knowing what's going on and how to cope. Protagonist Emily takes a friend to the market and teaches her how to be polite without spending a fortune. But accepting the manners of female genital mutilation is a much bigger deal. And coping with her friend's murder, while husband and friends tell her to sit back and do nothing, is almost more than she can cope with. Filled with authentic detail and thoroughly intriguing and enjoyable, this is one for another four-star rich, elegant, complex coffee.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson introduces a character in search of connection with herself before anyone else. Every morning she wakes as a blank slate, not knowing who she or the man beside her is, not even knowing her age. Christine's confusion is very convincingly portrayed, as she struggles to create a journal connected herself to the days before. Soon she's wondering if any of her outer connections are real. A scary, evocative, convincing tale, this is one to read with a bold, dark intense five-star coffee.

E. G. Lewis' Road To Bethlehem looks at those ties that bound communities at the time of Jesus' birth, following the love story of Mary and Joseph, built around wonderfully unobtrusive research that brings their world to life. Enjoy with some smooth full-flavored well-balanced three-star coffee.

Finally, Falling Immortality by Robert Downs introduces a character who's thoroughly averse to connections. First person gritty narration might offend women readers, but it fits this character perfectly, and his penchant for escaping dire situations certainly verges on immortal. Enjoy with a bold dark five-star coffee with grounds for gritty realism.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Do Authors Identify With Their Characters?

I'm delighted to welcome author Kate Vale to my blog today. You can find her books on Amazon at, where you'll see she has written quite a collection, with fathers, daughters, family bonds, friendship and more. Kate's blogpost here gives her answer to one of those "frequently asked questions" which authors so often hear; I'm sure you'll be quickly drawn in to what she has to say. So... over to you Kate. And readers, please leave any questions for the author in the comments.

Do Authors Identify with Their Characters?
By Kate Vale

A question I frequently receive relates to the character I most identify with. That varies with each book, though some characters continue to be among my favorites. Gillian, for example, in Gillian’s Do-Over,  and Suzanna in Dream Chaser, are two characters I’d definitely love to have over for coffee or tea, if only to find out how their lives are turning out now.

When writing Destiny’s Second Chance, I actually identified with two characters. Not because I am schizophrenic, but rather for the reason I had to write this story. My late mother was an adoptee. Back when she was adopted, people tended to hide that status. She never told me she’d been adopted until the day I, an extra snarky teenager, became convinced that I must have been adopted because my parents were so mean to me. When I demanded to be returned to my “real” parents, she was deeply hurt and then admitted that she had been adopted, that I had not, and that being a parent was the same regardless of how the child had come into the family. My guilt at hurting her (it was so obvious when I looked into her eyes and saw her heart) and surprise prevented me from replying. But I knew I had to make amends. Back then, I wasn’t quite sure how to do so.

When I began exploring the emotions around adoption through conversations with adoptees, the parents of adoptees and others, I imagined my mother hopping from my right shoulder to my left, depending upon which person’s point of view I was focused.

When creating Isabella, Mom sat on my right shoulder, reminding me that she really did love her child, even though she had to give up the baby. It was easy to see how quickly Bella might have grown up as a result of that experience, and how she first exhibited her strength of character by refusing to accept the first adoptive parents who sought her out and by demanding to stay in touch with her daughter.

When I focused on Destiny, Mom perched on my left shoulder, insisting that I show her insecurities. Destiny was more financially privileged than her birth mother, but looking unlike her cousins or either of her adoptive parents was only one of the ways in which Destiny felt unsure of who she really was. Even when she is approached by Bella, she lashes out, demanding to know why Bella didn’t keep her.

Another person was insecure about adoption: Destiny’s adoptive mother, Vanessa. She deeply regrets that she was unable to get pregnant, but she loves the baby she has raised, her own fears becoming more obvious as she clings to Destiny after her divorce.

Throughout this story, I tried to show how all three of these people grew in understanding of themselves and of each other. My only regret is that my mother never lived to see how her experience informed me, her daughter, in so many ways.

You can reach me via my website:
Or on Facebook (, 
Google+ (, 
and I review books and place those reviews on both Goodreads and 

It's nice to meet a fellow author/reviewer, Kate. And I really enjoyed your post. I love that image of your mother hopping from one shoulder to the other. My characters have a disturbing habit of perching on my shoulders too. But my mother perches mostly when I'm washing or cleaning; my dad when I'm driving, my brother when I'm trying to understand politics, and my husband... he's there in my mind all the time. I wish you lots of sales of Destiny's Second Chance and your other books. They all sound wonderful.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Where dystopias warn

Utopia never seemed quite real to me. After all, things always fall apart. And so dystopias were the worlds I loved to read about - 1984, Farenheit 451, Lord of the Flies (of course - the first one I read), Tunnel in the Sky, and Philip Dick's many terrifyingly plausible dreams... They were the books I wanted to write as well, as endless stories of the end of the world in my old notebooks attest. One day one of my teachers took me aside and said it was easy to make people cry, so I learned (at least, I tried) to make them laugh. But perhaps it's only easier to make people cry because I wanted company.

Of course, I don't only read dystopian fiction. One of my favorite authors as a child was Rosemary Sutcliffe, writing of ancient worlds every bit as ruined as 1984. I loved the lone, rejected character, the one who saw too clearly, or who didn't dare to see. Meanwhile I imagined one of the "big three" - America, Russia or Chin -, would surely push the button and destroy us all before I grew up. I planned to stand on top of a tower block (there were several near our school) where "I shall / watch the ending / watch the death descending / when we weep / do not cry / in the dying day." (I wrote songs too.)

Anyway, if you'd like to grab a coffee, just to prove the world's not dead yet, here are some great dystopian novels I read while I was away from my computer.

First is Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, a cool, deceptively gentle read about a gene-spliced instantly-gratified world and the dangers that might lie within. Enjoy with a rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee, and ponder the road our world might follow.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline offers a different take on corporate greed, setting up a WillyWonka type search for the Easter Egg in a computer game. But this game is sometimes more real than real life, and the truth behind friends' identities might test friendship to the core. Enjoy a bold dark intense five-star coffee with this one.

Next is Cast me not away by Zara Heritage, offering a haunting vision of a near-future where lives are so much devalued that anyone under four can be declared useless and euthanised, for the greater good. There's a strong anti-abortion theme underlying the story, but it's kept well within the viewpoint of the characters, never preachy, and deeply thought-provoking. Another bold, dark, five-star coffee might be needed while you read this one.

Finally, here's a book that's definitely not dystopian but it's written by an author who's penned many dystopias, and it just might help me write my own dystopian novel one day. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin is so much more than just another book on writing. It's filled with well-annotated excerpts, memorable one-liners, and well-presented lessons and advice, and it's a book I'd love to read again and again. Keep lively, keep doing the exercises, and keep some bright lively two-star coffee to hand.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Swords, Sorcery or Heroes, with Steven Shrewsbury

Today I'm delighted to welcome Steven L Shrewsbury, author of those wonderful Gorias La Gaul stories, to my blog. I love his books and his characters, and I love that mystical tagline - Deliverance Will Come! When I heard he was going to visit me here, there was one question I simply had to ask, so here it is, with his answer. Thank you Steven, and welcome to my blog:

Steven L. Shrewsbury's Born of Swords Virtual Tour


WHICH CAME FIRST? The sword, the sorcery or the hero?

Until a reviewer trashed me for doing so, I never realize I wrote “character driven” fiction before. Um, ya mean where the folks in the story are more important than “world building” and a game scenario that can be created from a BOOK? Yeah, guess I do.

So, yes, Gorias La Gaul, my 700 year old merc, the fighter and lover of great capacity DID appear in my mind as a character to be used in works. THEN the tales flowed as he sort of told them to me, out of sequence. Several fantasy (or S&S) ideas are always billowing in my brain, but he grabbed a few and turned them inside out. THRALL was an idea I had in pieces that mated up as the first Gorias book. OVERKILL, that takes place a bit in the time line before THRALL. It rushed out of my head like a train. BORN OF SWORDS is a mash of several ideas that held a killer punchline.

But, in the scheme of these tales about him, I find myself pondering new yarns devised just for him, not trying to shoehorn or adapt him into older concepts. I have other notions for novels that are not based on a single character, but my books usually have a strong male lead. Why? Well, I’m a guy. These things happen that way. I do intend to pen a few books about Gorias La Gaul’s daughter someday, but those concepts are in their infancy.  

The precepts of sword & sorcery as simple and in the world I look at, easy to come by. The world itself won’t be the star of the piece, but it is an excellent canvas to paint on. I don’t practice the time honored tradition in fantasy of taking real history and setting it on another PLANET or WORLD just to make it LOOK like the dark ages on steroids. I usually will give it a real historical place like in my epic PHILISTINE or set in a time before the great flood where things were rather murky in terms of history.

In my opinion, characters do make a novel but the story cannot bite severely or there isn’t anything to go for. One can have a host of humorous, intriguing folks in a work, full of harsh monsters and beautiful girls (not to sound like a sexist piglet)…but if there is no plot or point, it isn’t worth crap in a handbag, as my dad used to say, and not so gently. 

Indeed, I hear of certain people who think of a creature or a wizard’s powers and want to base a yarn off those abilities. That’s fine if there’s a plot to go with it and the characters are plausible. Let your voice come through, not the results of hit dice and no life experience.

Also, if I were suggesting things to writers, READ. Read other types of fiction than fantasy or S&S. Read westerns to see how stories can be told. Read horror and yes, choke, read romance. Frankly, romance outsells most everything and something can be learned from these tales. Read nonfiction, too. I adore bios and tomes of history, but true crime is great as well. Why all this stuff? It expands one’s mind and takes a reader to different places. One will be surprised how this benefits an author in the future.

Talk to people, too. Not just on Facebook or a buddy in texts, real flesh & blood bodies that still breathe. Get outside and enjoy the world and don’t be chained to a keyboard, a phone or whatever leech takes you away from the actual world.

Fiction is escapism and I always grabbed books to escape the world at times. Offer that to a reader, a portal into another world, a place more amazing and certainly more stimulating than what the reader did at work that day. Give them a release. Give them life. Give them some happiness.

And they won’t even wonder which came first, the sword, the sorcery or the hero.

Thank you Steven, and I'm really  looking forward to escaping into more of your stories.


About the Book: Born of Swords: Deliverance will come... But that is another story. What makes a legend but the stories told about him? Interviewing Gorias La Gaul, the biggest legend of them all, is a dream come true for young scribe Jessica. Where other girls her age would swoon beneath the steely gaze of the warrior, Jessica only has eyes for his mouth, and the tales that come from it...when he takes a break from cursing or drinking. Unfortunately for Jessica, Gorias doesn't really have time to babysit. She's found him in the midst of an annual pilgrimage of sorts, and though he agrees to let her come along, it's not without a warning: You may not like what you see and hear. Just don't come crying afterward. Whether viewing past visions with magical gemstones or jumping into the fray alongside the barbarian, Jessica's about to get firsthand accounts she won't soon forget...and discover legends are far from reality, and just as far from being pretty. You wouldn't expect a youth of love and friendship from the greatest killer to walk the Earth, would you? These are tales of some of Gorias' earliest days, back before he'd found his swords, to a time when a dragon needed killing. Tales back before his heart had hardened. Maybe. For most men, the future is not certain and the past is prologue. For a legend like Gorias La Gaul, even the past is up for debate. One thing is for certain about these tales. They will be bloody. Such is always the way for a man... Born of Swords...

Where to find it:

Amazon Print Version
Kindle Version
Barnes and Noble Link for Born of Swords

ShrewsburyAuthorPhotoBWAbout the author: 

Steven L. Shrewsbury lives, works and writes in rural Central Illinois. Over 365 of his short stories have been published in print or digital media since the late 80s. His novels include WITHIN, PHILISTINE, OVERKILL, HELL BILLY, BLOOD & STEEL, THRALL, STRONGER THAN DEATH, HAWG, TORMENTOR and GODFORSAKEN.

He has collaborated with other writers, like Brian Keene with KING OF THE BASTARDS, Peter Welmerink in BEDLAM UNLEASHED, Nate Southard in BAD MAGICK, Maurice Broaddus in the forthcoming BLACK SON RISING and Eric S. Brown in an untitled project. He continues to search for brightness in this world, no matter where it chooses to hide.

Where to find him:

Find out more: Follow the Tour:

10/26 Armand Rosamilia, Horror Author Guest Post
10/26 Man's Midnight Garden Review
10/26 Sapphyria's Book Reviews Guest Post
10/27 Azure Dwarf Review
10/28 Book in the Bag Interview
10/29 Creatives Help Board.How may I direct your call? Interview
10/30 WebbWeaver Reviews Guest Post
10/30 Sheila's Blog Guest Post
11/1 Dice Upon A Time Top-Tens List

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Would You Rather Write Short Or Long?

Today I'm delighted to welcome award-winning author and filmmaker Stephen Zimmer to my blog, as his wonderfully seasonal Hellscapes II tours the internet. Steven is the author of the Fires of Eden series, Rising Dawn Saga, and Heart of the Lion which I read and thoroughly enjoyed earlier this year (click for my review), but he's also master of Hellscapes short fiction too. So, if you've ever wanted to try your hand at writing to a different length, this post from him must surely be a  must-read. And if not, read and enjoy it anyway - learn how a writer directs and is directed by his career.

Plus, there's a great giveaway attached to this tour, so don't miss out on the details, down below!

Stephen Zimmer's Hellscapes, Volume II Virtual Tour

Writing Long, Short, and In-Between
By Stephen Zimmer

 Hellscapes, Volume II represents my eleventh book release.  It is a collection of short stories in the horror genre, my third collection released overall.  As with any release, it represents another step forward on the writing path, especially in the area of writing short fiction.

At his stage in my career, with the release of Heart of a Lion at the beginning of the year, I have titles out that represent the very long (such as my Fires in Eden Series or Rising Dawn Saga, which are around 600 pages or greater in print), the medium (Heart of a Lion, around 250 pages) and the short (the aforementioned short-story collections).  I enjoy writing stories in each of these categories, and am drawn to continue creating in all three spheres. 

I find that each of them offers a different challenge to me as a writer.  It must first be said that no matter what the length of story, the core engine of having good, compelling characters and interesting plots applies across the board.  It doesn’t matter whether it is a short story, a novella, or an eight hundred page epic tome, you have to have characters that connect with the readers and have them in a plot that a reader finds interesting.

That being said, the three spheres offer some fun benefits of their own.

The short story challenges the writer to be very efficient and grab the reader early.  With a short story, you do not have long to connect a reader to a character, and the challenge lies in doing that as quickly as possible.  The skills developed in doing this can definitely be applied to the longer formats, but in a short story it becomes the make or break essence of whether the reader will be satisfied with the reading experience.  In a similar way, you have to get the plot unfolding in an efficient manner as well.   Get to the point, quickly, in a manner of speaking.

The longer formats, such as epic fantasy, offer a lot in the area of plot development, ensemble casts, and planting seeds.   A reader of a larger scale story is going to be a little more patient and allow you, as a writer, to set things in motion and plant seeds for later payoffs in the book or series.   Of course, this adds more intricacy and complexity to the overall work, and as a writer you have to keep a close eye on everything you are putting in place so that the story stays tight and does not become unwieldy.  But it is great fun to put a seemingly unrelated element in a book one that turns out to have a significant impact when it blooms in the third or fourth book of a series.   In these kinds of areas the longer format offers a lot of room artistically and in the depth of the story you can tell.

The longer format also gives you the ability to have a well-developed ensemble cast of principle characters.  The simple length of the story and scope of it gives room for fleshing out multiple principle characters in a way that is not possible in shorter formats, simply because you don’t have the room to develop many characters thoroughly in those kinds of stories. 

In the writing and release of Heart of a Lion, I came to experience the mid-range.  It proved to be a happy medium between short fiction and longer format fiction in terms of the plot complexity and ability to develop secondary characters.  At the same time, I found myself focusing on Rayden Valkyrie at the forefront and not developing an ensemble, so in the end I had a nice group of secondary characters established and one thoroughly developed main character.  This represented a bit of a balance between the short stories I have done and the ensemble-cast longer formats I have written. 

Each of the three offers something different and a challenge of its own and that’s why I will continue to enjoy honing my craft in all three spheres.   Creating a character that instantly grabs a reader’s attention and having a plot that unfolds quickly in a short story is very satisfying,  just as it is satisfying to see a reader have that “aha!” moment in the third volume of a series when something happens out of a seed that you planted quietly in the first book.   Heart of a Lion brought in a bit of the best of both worlds for me, in giving me room for some seed planting and depth, but also demanding a good level of efficiency in the areas of character development, plot and focus.

I encourage writers of any of these formats to try their hands at one of the others, or all of them.  I think they’ll discover what I have, that each offers its own benefits and skill sets!

Thank you Stephen. I'd never really thought about the difference between long and medium-length writing. I suspect I've been growing from short to medium over time, but epics have eluded me. My fingers are itching though after reading this - you're encouraging me to try (but can you tell me how to find the time?).

So, dear readers, here is more information about the book and author... and don't miss the giveaway!

Book Synopsis for Hellscapes, Volume II: Return to the nightmarish, shadowy realms of Hell in the latest installment of the Hellscapes series by Stephen Zimmer. Six brand new, macabre tales of the infernal await you … but be that you only visit these realms, you do not want to share the fates of the inhabitants you will encounter!

Included in the pages of Hellscapes, Volume II:

In “The Cavern”, a man finds his way into a nightmare, subterranean world that leads to an even greater, and more devastating, revelation.

A police officer takes pleasure in violently executing his duties and it appears to be open season in “The Riot” when he is part of an operation sent to crack down on a gathering of people protesting an economic summit nearby. But this is an operation that is going to take a very different kind of turn, one that opens his eyes to a new reality.

A woman finds herself stranded on a high, rocky ledge, along with many other men and women, surrounded by a frothing sea in “Above as Below”. Shadows glide beneath the surface and soon she will discover what lurks within the depths.

“Spots Do Not Change” tells the story of a man who has never had any qualms lying, cheating, or deceiving the women in his life. A reckoning day looms as he comes to understand that his actions have harmed the lives of many others, actions that in the realms of Hell take on forms of their own.
Having spun webs of intrigue and personal destruction at the heights of national politics throughout his life, a man finds webs of another sort to present grave danger when he finds himself lost within a strange wilderness in “Weaving Webs”.

Many are drawn to “The Club” in the heart of the decaying, shadow-filled city of Malizia, hoping for some entertainment and release, or even safety from the monstrous dangers lurking in the darkness. One man struggling against amnesia finds his way to the seemingly popular establishment and its confines give him momentary hope; until he discovers the nature of this night club and those who run it.

Where to find Hellscapes, Volume II
Barnes and Noble

StephenZimmerAuthorPhotoAbout the author: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Sawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk tales and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections.

Where to find the author:
Twitter: @sgzimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

Where to find the tour:
10/26 Anasazi Dreams Review
10/26 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
10/26 Shells Interviews Guest Post
10/26 Sinister Scribblings Guest Post
10/26 Kentucky Geek Girl Author Interview
10/27 Pulp Reports Review
10/28 Creatives Help Board. How may I direct your call? Guest Post
10/29 Bee's Knees Reviews Review
10/29 Sheila's Blog Guest Post
10/30 L. Andrew Cooper's Horrific Scribblings Review
10/31 SwillBlog Review/Interview
11/1 I Smell Sheep Review
11/1 Sapphyria's Book Reviews Top-Tens List
11/1 Armand Rosamilia, Horror Author Guest Post

And how to enter the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 19, 2015

After the Fall

The gaze of a mother to child at her breast
Falling the infant that’s learning to walk
Calling and crying and learning to talk
Shifting and sighing, a mother’s gaze falls
To the child, to the child who has left.

The leaf that was green growing red on the tree
Falling the season of warm into cold
Calling and sighing the birds are grown old
All migrating, the leaf oh so gently now falls
Not so late, not too late to be free.

In bad ways, in troubles, in pain and in loss.
Falling from grace was the infant grown old
Calling for mercy the infant grown bold
Mercy denied him, a mother’s gaze falls
To the child, to the child, to the cost.

Falling after the Fall.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Who Illustrated That?

My review-list led me to a cool collection of kids' books this week. Though I hadn't expected it, they were all illustrated. So I wrote my reviews, each with that nice easy title "This book by this author" and suddenly realized "This book by this author illustrated by this artist" would be more accurate. I guess as a kid, I rather liked words more than pictures - perhaps that's because so many picture books were just black and white. I remember part of my delight in moving up to the "grown-up books" section in our local library was that the lack of pictures gave more space for a story to be told. But I love to draw, and now I delight in those images I  used to skip over. I smile at pictures that remind me of books from my childhood (though now they're in color and filled with fascinating detail rather than ice-queen gray and frowns). I delight in pictures that transport me to a different culture and teach me of a world I never knew. And I laugh at pictures designed to change my mood.

So now it's time to post those reviews. I'll do my best to remember the illustrators. Coffee will help.

First is a picture book for older kids, older boys to be precise. Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert is illustrated by author. It's a very teen-boy novel with deep irreverence and a persistent fascination for bodily functions, noises, smells, etc. The illustrations are pleasingly dark. The names (Johnny Nothing, Ebenezer Dark, etc) are pleasingly descriptive. And the storyline has plenty of twists and turns - even the occasional touch of wisdom. Enjoy with a dark five-star cup of coffee.

A Cat Named Mouse by Patti Tingen illustrated by Mary Erikson Washam is a more traditional picture book, written for small children, illustrated with colorful images of cats, mice, dogs and more. The images illustrate the action beautifully, and the storyline is simple and fun, deals nicely with the problem of teasing, and reads smoothly. Enjoy with some smooth well-balanced three-star coffee.

Whispers of the Wolf by Pauline Ts’o illustrated by Rosemary Lonewolf is a deceptively simply story about a boy and his dog. But the boy lives in a lovingly imagined, well-researched and gorgeously illustrated Pueblo Indian world of 500 years ago. The dog is a wolf. And lonely child and dog will grow together to take their places in society. The illustrations fit the story beautifully, including minimal but beautifully chosen details that fill out to make the world real. Enjoy with some rich elegant four-star coffee.

Princess Rosie’s Rainbow by Bette Killion illustrated by Kim Jacobs has the feel of a good old-fashioned fairytale while being wholly new and intriguing. The illustrations are filled with fascinating detail to keep any child occupied for hours. The story's fun. And the bonus science lesson is a really cool touch. Enjoy with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

And now to return to reading and writing... I hope to post a review of Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft soon - a great book for writers!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sometimes I just don't want to "Help myself"

"Mom, will you help me with my homework?"
"In a minute. Try helping yourself a bit first."
Mom continues to cook dinner. Child turns pages back to read the instructions.

"Mom, may I have more potatoes?"
"Of course. Here. Help yourself."
Mom offers the ladle and child piles more food onto plate. Some falls on the floor.

"Mom, I didn't mean it. I couldn't help it." Guilty looks.
"You'll have to learn to help it," Mom replies.

And, "Mom, why won't God change me into a good little girl?"
"God helps those who help themselves."

Last week's reading included lots of self-help books. Some tried to offer a ladle so I could help myself to happiness. Others promised to hold the plate, so I wouldn't spill my problems on the floor. Still others offered a place where I could find help. And all together... well, I'd offer you coffee, but you'll have to find your own brew while I just offer book reviews instead.

Since we're relaxing over caffeine, let's start with Relax More, Try Less, The Easy Path To Abundance by Neville Goddard and Tim Grimes. Goddard's book has a Bible-as-metaphor spirituality, but Grimes offers excerpts with a more secular aim. There's plenty of sensible wisdom in the pages, but exhortations to just imagine what we need remind me awkwardly of religion's "Just have faith and you'll receive." Still, the injunction to relax is well-argued and well-received. Read this short volume with some mild crisp one-star coffee, and relax.

Maximum Mental Health by Aleks G. Srbinoski aims to improve motivation, mood, means and mastery in readers who are of normal to moderately depressed mental health. It's a very user-friendly, easy-reading book, heavy on reminders that the author offers hypnosis tapes etc., but with plenty of sensible down-to-earth advice. Enjoy with some more mild crisp one-star coffee.

Continuing the theme of happiness, Lucky Go Happy, Make Happiness Happen by Paul Van Der Merwe, is easily my favorite of these three. A book of pleasingly humorous animal fables, with a touch of science and plenty of wise advice, it's smooth enjoyable reading and my only complaint is I'm not sure happiness really is the goal of all my actions. Still, this one's well worth reading. Enjoy with a three-star, well-balanced, smooth-flavored brew.

Signs in Life by Deanna Nowadnick offers a Christian approach to happiness, comparing life-signs to road-signs and God-signs. The author's nicely conversational tone feels like sitting in a bookstore discussing, well, life. And the author's life lessons are relevant to all. Never preachy, offering advice from many sources, and well-tended with personal questions for the reader, it's one to enjoy with some more well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Finally, there's Devotions for Moms by Heather Bixler and Christina Fox, a self-help, faith-help book for busy mothers with well-arranged topics (healing, feeling burned out, life seems pointless, etc) and well-placed links allowing e-readers to navigate simply and surely. With honest, open opinions, wise advice, prayer and practical suggestions, these devotions almost read like phone calls with a friend. Pour the coffee first, another full-flavored three-star brew.

So now I'll help myself to some lunch, wonder where the time's going, and dearly wish someone would help me download an extra few hours a day. But perhaps the memory of these books will help me slow down (and achieve more?). The wisest advice might be to spend a moment or two in prayer as well. What about you?