Monday, August 29, 2016

What do you dream?

As I child, I dreamed dark tales of the end of the world, of standing on a tall building watching the bombs fall down. Friends asked why. Wouldn't hiding away give a better chance of escape? But in my dreams there would be no escape. One of the Big Three--America Russia and China--would eventually push the button and the end would come.

I dreamed tragic lovers torn apart by war. I dreamed the last surviving child, maimed and crying. I dreamed... and I wrote down my tales. The English teacher asked why. It's easy to make people cry, she said. Why not stretch myself and make them smile instead?

But I did have other dreams and other tales to tell. I wrote stories of heroes (women and teens of course) fighting evil, saving from disaster, and changing the course of history. I liked those dreams.

And sometimes I heard the monsters go bump in the night. I still hear them on occasion. Every once in a while they call my name, or a small girl (my children are all sons) cries out to me. Sometimes I see the spreading stain of a vivid puddle turn my vision sour, but it goes away. So does the migraine that follows. But I don't have hallucinations, do I? And I don't dream of ill health because, if it happens, it happens and worry won't help. So I'm not really much into reading health books, though I read two this month, one picked out at an airport bookstore (I do enjoy Oliver Sacks' books), and the other given to me. Perhaps the donor was trying to tell me something. Here are my reviews.

First is Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations--hence my ponderings above--a fascinating exploration of PTSD, old-fashioned hysteria, migraine aura, alien spacecraft, fairytale monsters and more. It's complexities might best be enjoyed with a complex 4-star cup of coffee. A fascinating read.

The other is The Patient's Resource and Almanac of Primary Care Medicine by Agnes Oblas. It's more of an occasional resource than a reading book, though it's occasional delvings into medical history do make interesting reads. The book includes much and leaves much out, leaving the reader to search websites for more data. Enjoy it's mild approach with a mild 1-star coffee and prepare to be oddly intrigued.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What if you could travel through books?

Books, glorious books! There's a town on the English Welsh border that's FULL of bookshops, on every corner, every square, and under every awning; bookshops that cross the road; bookshops with themed shelves built into tiny closets set off staircases so narrow you can only pass strangers on the level; bookshops like no other anywhere. It's a wonderful place:
So, of course, we went shopping for books. I found a fascinating series by Jasper Fforde with cool literary titles (like the Eyre Affair) and I couldn't resist. My big regret is I only bought book one, but I'll look for more. We traveled in out over through and off bookstores all the afternoon, until youngest son demanded we do something else.
Okay, it was quite a beautiful something else! It would have been a shame to miss it.

Anyway, having traveled through all those bookstores, and found those Jasper Fforde books, one really must ask, what if you could travel through books as well? So here are some book reviews, starting with...

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde invites readers into a fantasy world not so very far removed from our own. Designer pets are designed using ancient DNA obtained via time travel. And books are preserved with careful attention to forgeries and those who might try to change the past. But what if you could travel through books? And what if the ending of Jane Eyre was, well, somewhat up in the air? Enjoy this cool, zany, fascinating, literary journey with an elegant 4-star coffee to hand.

Exchange by Dale Cozort follows the same multiple universe theme, looking at what might happen if a nearby universe were to impinge on our own. Would disease become rife? Would wild animals destroy our natural flora and fauna? And would those of evil intent set out to colonize the nearby place? It's a well researched novel that includes its facts so naturally and seamlessly you simply believe in it all. Cool romance, scary mystery, fascinating science - enjoy with some suitably complex 4-star coffee.

Time Assassins by R Kyle Hannah imagines a world of multiple possibilities, where time-travelers work to ensure the best of all possible outcomes, using the benefit of hindsight. But something's gone wrong with these Batman-type good-guys and now the whole structure might unravel. It's a cool premise and a fun story. Enjoy with some bold dark 5-star coffee.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan sticks to one time and universe, but blends past and future beautifully. Computer game geek meets print font geek, and you'll love the smell of glue in the morning. It's a cool fast read, thoroughly modern - like Ready Player One combined with the Da Vinci Code perhaps. Enjoy with another elegant 4-star coffee.

Finally, City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin invites readers back to the world of Passage and the 12. It's a scary world, inexplicable perhaps, but City of Mirrors brings all its disparate parts together, invites deep questions of the meaning of life, and totally enthralls the reader. Blending dark and light perfectly, it's the perfect end to the trilogy. Enjoy with some deep dark 5-star coffee.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Would You Read On A Train?

My travels in England involved several train and underground journeys, besides the flights from and to the USA. So perhaps it's not so surprising I found myself attracted to books that included the presence of trains... unless you look at how scary some of those books were. Would you really read a horror story set in the London Underground's claustrophobic tunnels, triggered by every traveler's nightmare of a stalled train when the lights go out?

Anyway, here are some of the books I read, starting with that tale of claustrophobia and scares, Signal Failure by David Wailing. It's a short story, perfect for an Underground ride, and it's the sort of scary story that will have you trying to scare through the blackness around you to see what's out there. Then you're out in the sun again, but somehow... Enjoy with a mug of seriously dark 5-star coffee.

My next review is of a short story taking place on the rails overground. OtherWhere: The Crazies by Garry Grierson offers a glimpse of a grown-up wonderland through the looking glass, where rabbits and strange old women might be more than they seem. From a perfectly evocative depiction of an English railway station to a mysterious strange new world, it's a haunting tale best read slowly and warily. Enjoy with some complex 4-star coffee.

Of course, no train-traveling vacation could be complete this year with The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. I wasn't at all sure I like the characters/narrators, but the author makes them so hauntingly real you have to sympathise as time goes on. The clues are well hidden and the mystery only slowly reveals itself. A neat, clever story, best enjoyed with a complex 4-star coffee.

But perhaps you'd rather not read about travel while traveling. A friend recommended The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor as a good book to read on the plane, so I bought and read it. Like the Girl on the Train, it's a haunting tale of a woman's disappearance with no clues to her whereabouts. And like the Girl on the Train, it involves an achingly real analysis of broken relationships, this time between a complicated, deep-thinking husband and his beautiful free-thinking wife. Enjoy with another complex 4-star coffee. Then tell me what sort of book you'd take on your trip/

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Do Picture Books have to include Animals?

I know, I've been away from the internet lately. I've enjoyed a wonderful month of visiting with family and friends in England, including a whole week with two of my favorite animals:
But I haven't actually followed through on plans to read and write book reviews while I was there. There were so many other exciting things to do (think dogs... thing walking dogs for a start). So now I'm way way behind with everything, sending heartfelt apologies to everyone whose promised review is so drastically overdue, and struggling to catch up with catching up.

Since children's picture books are nice short reads, easy to pick up and put down frantic airport travels, and hard to ignore with their bright shining covers looking out from my reading apps or lying on my floor, I guess their reviews are the ones I'm bound to post first. Well... also since they tend to have animals in them. But are their animals as cute as those two dogs?

My first animal picture book review is for Bravo and Elphie by Hagit R. Oron and Or Oron, a tale of a very civilized elephant child and a friendly pet mouse, with a nicely nuanced lesson in family and friendship. I love Hagit Oron's Elphie books - the pictures are filled with so many great (and relevant) details that pull the story along, the characters vividly recreate believable people, and the stories are simple, smooth, and pleasantly inviting. Enjoy with a fine smooth cup of well-balanced 3-star coffee.

Next is a book featuring a cat and a sloth. Purrball Meets Burrball in Brazil by Anne Zoet (slated for release in September). The story may not read quite as smoothly as Bravo and Elphie, but the modern-day touches are equally nice, with a lost cat accidentally tied the charging cable of a mother's lost phone. Much fun ensues with nice detail and exciting adventure. Enjoy with some lively, easy-reading 2-star coffee.

Then there's 15 Ways to say Good night by Efrat Shoham illustrated by Yuval Israeli, an engaging and fascinating picture-journey over the world, told in the goodnights of different languages and cultures. Small child and alien (so not an animal I guess, though there are dragons sometimes) offer good night wishes to all, and a sleepless child will perhaps sleep better tonight. Enjoy with some rich elegant 4-star coffee.

Peter Joseph Swanson's Sleeping Beauty and the Dragon includes a (dragon) animal, of course. But mostly it's about people, real life reflected in a fantastically mixed-up fairy-tale, with those little touches of wisdom that sneak through the smoothly half-rhymed text. Enjoy with some seriously and superiorly elegant 4-star coffee.

And to round out my list, I've just read 3 Hilly books - Hilly Discovers Her Feelings by Meytal Raz-Nave, Hilly Finds Her Quiet Place, and Hilly Colors Her Dreams. These three really aren't about animals at all, though Hilly's dreams include the odd dragon and frog. The first is intriguing but short - certainly a cool way to introduce how to recognize feelings in others and in oneself. Quiet Place introduces the value of meditation, and Dreams introduces colors with some pleasing one-page semi-rhyming stories, adding chakra color meanings at the end. Enjoy all three with some easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What's Your Life as a Writer Like?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Charles Salter back to my blog. His Secret of Bald Rock Island has already been followed by Charlotte and the Mysterious Vanishing Place, and I'm still wondering about vanishing time as I realize I've not yet read either book, despite having interviewed Charles on my blog back in June ( But I will read them, and I'm looking forward to them. I love middle grade fiction, and I love fiction that allows itself to have meaning, not just excitement. Soon I'll read How Three Brothers Saved the Navy (coming soon) as well! Meanwhile, welcome, Charles, to my blog, and please accept my sincere apologies for being so slow to read and review. My life as a writer (blogger, editor, reader, and book reviewer) is ever more frantic and frayed, but what about yours?

My Life as a Writer

ByCharles A. Salter

            Growing up as I did in a writing family, I suppose it was inevitable that I would want to become a writer myself.  My earliest memories include Dad pounding away at his Olivetti portable typewriter for hours at a time, producing copious numbers of poems, short stories, novels, nonfiction articles, stage plays, and various autobiographical journals over his entire life. 
            When we moved to Covington, Louisiana, my father joined the local writers’ group and closely befriended its most illustrious member—Walker Percy, who not long after that won the National Book Award in 1962 for THE MOVIEGOER. Even after achieving his own fame, Percy still tried to help my dad and others with their writing.
            In this environment I wrote my own first illustrated children’s book at the age of 8, a family newspaper by the age of 9, several short stories and mini-plays (which I, along with a younger brother and sister) produced for our parents’ enjoyment between age 10 and 15.  That summer of my 15th year my brother and I started writing film scripts and produced a number of these with family, friends, and neighbors serving as cast members.  By age 16, I had finished my first novel, though it is important to realize none of the above were formally published or reached more than a local audience.
            Not long after college, however, I began to write professionally and for regular publication.  I first achieved success in nonfiction, publishing hundreds of articles in journals, magazines, and syndicated newspapers.  I also published some textbooks, reference books, and general nonfiction books, including a series of teen nutrition books which became very popular in school libraries and won awards.
            In more recent years, my attention has turned to fiction, first in a series of adult novels which won several awards, and currently in a series of middle grade novels called THE KARE KIDS ADVENTURES.  There are four books in this new series so far, two in print as I write this and two more scheduled to be published by the end of summer, 2016.
            I am writing this new series in reaction to what I see as unhealthy trends in society that inhibit kids from growing independent and responsible.  The 9 to 12-year-old characters in my books can’t rely on magic or super-powers to solve their problems.  And these kids really care, not just as an attitude only, but one they translate into real action to help family, friends, animals, and the environment.  I want readers to glimpse how they can find the hero inside each of them, too, using their independence and sense of responsibility to make the world a better place.

Book #1 of THE KARE KIDS ADVENTURES is “The Secret of Bald Rock Island.” In it, 10-year-old Kelcie decides to solve the mystery of what happened to her missing fisherman father years ago AND what the mysterious creature on her island might be.  It has gotten several excellent reviews:

            Book #2 is “Charlotte and the Mysterious Vanishing Place.”  In it, 9-year-old Charlotte seeks to rescue puppies trapped in a sinkhole rapidly forming in the woods behind her home.

           Please be looking for #3 in August (“How Three Brothers Saved the Navy”) and #4 in September (“The Travel Twins and the Lost Secret of the Vikings”)!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Can Casual Evil Be Good?


L. Andrew Cooper's Peritoneum and Leaping at Thorns Blog Tour!
August 8-14, 2016

Today I'm delighted to welcome Andrew Cooper to my blog. He's the author of Burning the Middle Ground, Descending Lines, Leaping at Thorns, Peritoneum and more, and he's currently touring the internet with lots of great posts, a touch of casual evil, and some serious horror blended with fiction and fun - so don't forget to scroll to the end of this post and learn where else to find him. Welcome Andrew, and thank you for a fascinating, thought-provoking blogpost!

Casual Evil, or, The Really Offensive Stuff in my Horror Collection Peritoneum

by L. Andrew Cooper

Melia looked at her long painted fingernails. Their colors changed as she contemplated them, lavender to aquamarine. “I like to get back to good old NYC. By the way, avoid the subways tomorrow.”
“Casualties?” Eli asked.
“Meh. Not many deaths. Some nice footage of burn victims on the news, though.” Melia regarded her fingernails with dissatisfaction.
                                                — “The Birds of St. Francis,” Peritoneum

The subway violence that Melia promises Eli during this exchange from “The Birds of St. Francis” has no direct connection to that story’s main events. Melia likes to plan spectacles, so a subway strike, like repainting her nails, is an amusing pastime. She and Eli discuss murder with nail salon gravity, making fiery death trivial. Sitting at the top of a tower in Manhattan, they show no humanity as they destroy lives, and if readers notice what they’re doing, readers will probably find them offensive.

But readers might not notice. The exchange I’ve quoted is mere chatter while Melia, Eli, and a few of my other recurring villains come together as The Consortium for a “confab.” Maybe evil blends in so easily because of that Manhattan tower setting I mentioned. Eli also has limitless funds to buttress his evil: in the story “The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies,” he offers a kid a billion dollars to kill his parents. While parricide still stokes curiosity, little is less remarkable than corruption by greed, and the financial deal probably doesn’t stand out as one of the story’s most crucial features. Nevertheless, it’s there, and maybe, in retrospect, the price-tag’s initial lack of noteworthiness makes the parricide more sickening.

I’ve just mentioned Manhattan towers and billionaires: maybe you’re thinking the point is that murder becomes a sickeningly casual evil in the shadows of corporate greed and the excesses of the rich. Maybe, but consider your own responses to mass shootings. Does each new report shock you beyond words, or do you sigh and say, “How many died this time?” Most of us can’t help it. If we let ourselves be shocked too often, we’d get fried senseless. Horrific crime is too common not to receive a casual reception. Evil is a regular customer who earns free appetizers instead of outrage. It munches comfortably in all our shadows.

In the story “Leer Reel,” movie-obsessed Consortium associate Louis Jardin rambles about his life in a mental institution. Convinced that he needs to pace his rambling so that he keeps hitting the reader with “whammos” (a term for big moments that producer Joel Silver said an action film ought to have every ten minutes or so), he glides over the most important information and rushes to gory bits. Like most media-saturated minds, he’s lost all proportion.

Will we ever regain proportion? Yes and no, but mostly no. There’s danger in the prefix “re.” We will not regain our old sense of proportion because we will not turn back time. We will, however, develop new tools for the growing world, and since we’re now beyond 7.4 billion people, we require entirely new senses of proportion.

I’m fairly silly about the horrific difficulty of proportion in a massive, corporatized world in the story “DNA.” The main character, a survivalist, must navigate a maze of office cubicles covered with company logos, fight off unshapely human-ish characters, and face other distorted beasts. The story ends at a McDonald’s, and though I don’t say so, I imagine the giant McDonald’s in Times Square. How do you deal with such an environment? Give in and order a sandwich.

Horror is an outlet for the nightmares of disproportion; it’s a tool for dealing with the world’s growing pains. It doesn’t end our complicity in evil’s casualness, but it does allow us to see our naked responses. Maybe if we see ourselves more clearly in nightmares, we’ll be able to handle ourselves better when we’re awake.

And fun! What’s the point of volunteering for nightmares if we can’t enjoy them? In the stories I’ve mentioned, I caricature evil. I have lots of theories but truly don’t understand why some people are so awful, and sometimes I have to snicker at the absurdity—and while I can’t laugh at real tragedies, I can sneer at the ridiculous at fiction. Use horror stories to benefit from evil however you can. Horror makes evil good for something, and in the end, I think it makes good better at confronting the real world.

Thank you Andrew, and now I know ... casual, fictional evil really can be good for something! Time to read some seriously good horror stories ...

About the author: L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the 70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. Louisville locals might recognize him from his year-long stint as WDRB-TV’s “movie guy.” Find him at,, and

PeritoneumCover1200X800About the book (Peritoneum): Snaking through history–from the early-1900s cannibal axe-murderer of “Blood and Feathers,” to the monster hunting on the 1943 Pacific front in “Year of the Wolf,” through the files of J. Edgar Hoover for an “Interview with ‘Oscar,'” and into “The Broom Closet Where Everything Dies” for a finale in the year 2050–Peritoneum winds up your guts to assault your brain. Hallucinatory experiences redefine nightmare in “Patrick’s Luck” and “The Eternal Recurrence of Suburban Abortion.” Strange visions of colors and insects spill through the basements of hospitals and houses, especially the basement that provides the title for “TR4B,” which causes visitors to suffer from “Door Poison.” Settings, characters, and details recur not only in these tales but throughout Peritoneum, connecting all its stories in oblique but organic ways. Freud, borrowing from Virgil, promised to unlock dreams not by bending higher powers but by moving infernal regions. Welcome to a vivisection. Come dream with the insides.

LeapingatThornsCover1200X800About the other book (Leaping at Thorns): Leaping at Thorns arranges eighteen of L. Andrew Cooper’s experimental short horror stories into a triptych of themes–complicity, entrapment, and conspiracy–elements that run throughout the collection. The stories span from the emotionally-centered to the unthinkably horrific; from psychosexual grossness to absurd violence; from dark extremes to brain-and-tongue twister. These standalone stories add important details to the fictional world and grand scheme of Dr. Allen Fincher, who also lurks in the background of Cooper’s novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines.

Where to find the Author:

Twitter: @Landrew42
Amazon Author Page:

Where to find the books:

  Amazon Links for Peritoneum
Print Version
  Kindle Version
  Barnes and Noble Link for Peritoneum 

  Amazon Links for Leaping at Thorns
Print Version
  Kindle Version

  Barnes and Noble Link for Leaping at Thorns

And How to Follow the Tour:

8/8 MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape Interview
8/8 SpecMusicMuse Guest Post
8/8 Darkling Delights Guest Post
8/8 Beauty in Ruins Guest Post
8/9 Jordan Hirsch Review
8/10 The Seventh Star Interview
8/10 Vampires, Witches, Me Oh My Top Ten List
8/10 The Sinister Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn Guest Post
8/11 Guest Post
8/12 Reviews Coming at YA Guest Post
8/13 I Smell Sheep Top Ten List
8/13 Bee's Knees Reviews Review
8/14 Sheila's Guests and Reviews Guest Post

Friday, August 12, 2016

History and Mystery in The Movie Star and Me

I love books. I love fiction. I love to see the lives of imaginary people, the way their tales play out with shape and form, reminding me my own story has meaning after all. And I love movies - like books read in concert with family and friends, spending time together in an imaginary world where symbols all have meanings, and stories have beginnings, middles and ends. So what about this book - The Movie Star and Me. My first thought was, is it fact or fiction. I'm not a great reader of biographies or watcher of star interviews. But it's fiction, set in Old Hollywood, with all its cool technology and eagerness to please. I really think I'll like this one. The protagonist sounds intriguing. The mystery sounds cool. And if "people aren't always what they seem to be" then I immediately want to know more. What about you?


Author Kelly Durham has captured Old Hollywood in his entertaining new novel, The Movie Star and Me (August 9, 2016) and exposes readers to the history of the movie business in this historical fiction tour de force. Movie magic, labor strikes, HUAC committee hearings and the business of show business are revealed as a colorful cast of characters fight for their self-interests--with surprising results.

The Movie Star and Me follows Frank Russell, a young veteran just returned from the Pacific war.  On the ship home from Okinawa, Frank discovers several cans of newsreel film in his duffel bag.  Once he lands in the States, Frank returns the film to its owner, Pacific Pictures in Hollywood.  Over the course of a couple of visits to the studio, Frank impresses its owner Abe Baum, who offers Frank a job.  Frank continues to impress and is quickly promoted, earning the attention of Vera Vance, an up and coming starlet. Under Frank’s tutelage, the ambitious Vera becomes the studio’s top box office attraction.  But there are secrets at Pacific Pictures that threaten futures, and Frank gets caught up in a high-stakes battle where people aren’t always what they seem to be.


Kelly Durham lives in Clemson, SC with his wife Yvonne.  They are the parents of Mary Kate, Addison and Callie and also provide for their dog, George Marshall.  A graduate of Clemson University, Kelly served four years in the US Army with assignments in Arizona and Germany before returning to Clemson and entering private business.  Kelly is the also the author of THE WAR WIDOW, BERLIN CALLING, WADE’S WAR and THE RELUCTANT COPILOT.  Check out all Kelly’s books at

Tweet him on Twitter @KellyDurhamAuthor