Thursday, June 8, 2017

Do you prefer books with one protagonist or many?

Some novels are told from a single point of view. Others invite you into lots of different minds and ways of seeing. Some offer a single main protagonist, but open your eyes to things they've failed to see. And still others let the reader float free over a sea of strangers. So... do you prefer books with one protagonist or with many? Or does it depend on the story, or the author, the writing style, the promise fulfilled by story's end?

For myself, I've experimented with multiple points of view (in Divide by Zero), single point of view (Infinite Sum), and a single protagonist who doesn't quite see it all (in Subtraction, coming August 1st from Indigo Sea Press). I read and enjoy books written in many different styles, and I can honestly say I enjoyed all the novels included in today's reviews.

So, choose your novel and choose your brew. Please remember the ratings are for the coffee, not for the book (which by no means suggests the coffee's more important--perhaps it's a close thing--rather that I don't feel qualified to rate books. I'd rather just read and write them).

Starting with a classic, Moo by Jane Smiley, is one that many of my friends have read and recommended. Since I hadn't yet read anything by Jane Smiley, a friend loaned me Moo. It's a comfortably slow read, set in chapters with cool headings and easy endings, so perfect for bedtime. It has a wealth of protagonists, including a pig. The satire is sharp and the humor is starkly real. Characters are colorful and intriguing, and the location evocative. Enjoy this story's rich elegance with a richly elegant four-star coffee.

Brian Doyle's Mink River is another multi-character tale, set on the Oregon Coast. If rivers could speak, they would surely tell this tale, and so one of the protagonists travels to record the water's voice. Another seeks peace in the water. Another falls. A bird speaks its own intriguing thoughts. And the whole is beautifully woven into a truly absorbing song of Mink River's hopes. Enjoy another rich elegant four-star coffee with this one.

Rare Birds by Kathleen Novak also tells its tale through lots of different pairs of eyes, and is another thoroughly absorbing book. Like Mink River, it flows through a summer rather than driving the reader from a to b. It's set in 1960, in a world about to change, around characters whose world is set, yet disturbingly fragile. And it's beautifully, vividly real. Another four-star elegant coffee would suit.

Mrs. Thistlethwaite and the Magpie by J. B. Hawker includes a fine cast of fascinating characters too. The tale's told mostly through the eyes of 85-year-old Tillie, but friends and strangers also take the stage, and Tillie will need the help of many by the story's end. A girl has gone missing. A predator is killing women. And an anonymous stranger is leaving gifts on doorsteps. But what's the connection, and how will an 85-year-old with a motto for everything, great health, and a wonderful sense of humor solve it all? Enjoy this cozy mystery with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

The Landlocked Lighthouse by Mixi J Applebottom is a mystery/horror tale, mostly told through a single first-person point of view, with short passages from another viewpoint. It's sometimes annoying to be pulled out of first-person narration, but here it works, adding tension and hinting at depth. It's a scary Hitchcockian tale that keeps readers and characters guessing. Drink some dark five-star coffee while you try to puzzle out its dark mystery.

And finally, saving one I knew I would love till last, The Devil's Triangle by Howard Owen will soon be the latest novel in the Willie Black Mystery Series. The novels stand alone perfectly, are all narrated in first person (one protagonist...always just the one) by hard drinking, hard-driven reporter, Willy Black, But the character and his world develop convincingly as the stories continue. Black is older. He's a grandfather struggling to hold onto his job in the face of Twitter and cutbacks. And ex-wife number three might need his comfort as a terrorist's plane hits the bar where here husband was dining. Risking life and relationships, true to all he holds dear, Willie Black will surely win through, but readers will find it hard to put the book down till the end. Enjoy with some more dark five-star coffee. It's great.

So what did I like best - I like them all. One protagonist with a clear strong voice. Many protagonists, each with their individual voices and points of view... I guess it really is the writing, the story and the people that count.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Makes a Hero?

Superheroes have super-powers. Magical heroes have mystical skills. Human heroes stand tall in the face of impossible odds. Canine and feline heroes tackle mysteries and monsters. Life coaching heroes coach great lives. Famous authors pen novels that change lives. And readers read.

I'm not sure what would constitute a heroic reader, but I'm wondering, after reading books with titles like "Heroes of the Earth," "Bloodline," and "Magician's Workshop," just what makes a hero.

Masters of magic in the Magician's Workshop create gloriously entertaining productions... like a mystical Disney perhaps--there's surely more, and many heroes in the coming-of-age celebrations that haunt young lives). I can't wait to read more...

Then the cat in "Bloodline" proves to be a hero out to save the girl. When Heroes of the Earth introduces a great cat too, I have to ask, are cats just natural heroes? But I'm not a cat. And I want to be a hero too.

I've no desire to leap tall buildings, though I dreamed of leaping them when I was small. I dreamed, and decided a long boring life would give me time to live lots of exciting lives through stories and books. And I do. I read a lot (to wit, these reviews). But I also want to write so readers will believe tall buildings and walls are no obstacle, cats and monsters no threat, and real life is well worth living. I want to pen novels that change real lives for the better. Sadly, I suspect, to be a hero, I'd have to have them published and read as well, a task I feel I have no control over. Ah well.

Are you a hero?
What makes a hero for you?

And what kind of coffee will you brew when you read these reviews?

Starting with Heroes of Earth by Martin Berman-Gorvine, a cool novel for middle grade and up, with alternate histories, a mystical cat, and plenty of thought-provoking real-world facts. It's good old-fashioned science fiction in the very best sense of the word--fiction that makes the reader think, fantasy that brings the real world into focus, and science that's believable if slightly beyond the scope of modern knowledge. Add history, bullying, racial profiling and more--it's food for thought and entertainment at its best. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The Magician’s Workshop Volume 1 by Christopher Hansen and JR. Fehr, closely followed by Volume 2, breaks the mold of teen dystopian coming-of-age novels, combining the breadth and world-building of Harry Potter with the trials of Divergent. I can't wait to read more of these teens as they learn their powers, break their rules, and maybe end the power structure born of color. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

Bloodline: A Witch Cat Mystery Book One by Vicki Vass is aimed at older readers and builds an intricate world on top of our own, blending Appalachian herbs, Eastern crystals, ancient goddesses and more into a new mythology of witches, covens and familiars. The protagonist has a uniquely intriguing point of view, and the blend of Salem's past with almost cozy modern mystery is clever and cool. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

Then there are human heroes. Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves' Blue Lightning, last of the Shetland Quartet, is surely a hero in his beloved's eyes, and in the eyes of those relying on him to find a murderer. His father might once have been a hero in his eyes too. But human heroes fail as this conclusion to the quartet proves so powerfully. Dark, haunting mystery and location, characters and relationships, and more, it's a book to enjoy with another dark five-star coffee.

Deadly Legacy by Daniella Bernett takes the reader to London's coolly civilized streets rather than Scotland's wilds, and offers a mysterious hero courting his heroine through a web of intrigue. It reminds me of a much-loved TV series of my youth--The Saint. An apt reminder on the death of Roger Moore I guess. Enjoy this smooth scary mystery with some well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Thinking of TV series, The State of Wyoming Episode 1 by Gillian Will is the first episode of an episodic novel that  succeeds in having a storyline per half-hour read. I'm not sure the hero is terribly heroic, but the situations have cool political satire--the Office crossed with West Wing perhaps. Enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Finally, Good Enough by Pamela Gossiaux offers a flawed heroine who learns to believe and to teach that we really are good enough, warts, mistakes and all. It's a pleasantly uplifting book, filled with coincidences that are easily excused. Romantic comedy and life lessons all in one! Enjoy with some more easy-drinking two-star coffee.

I think my favorite heroes from these are the magic-weavers of the Magician's Workshop. And my dream is still to be a heroic writer, making heroes of my own. What about you?






Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Will I Ever Release "Faith And..."? Will I ever finish writing it?

I'm working on a non-fiction book--"Faith And..." where I look at how God's relationship to mankind is so much than "faith alone" or "scripture alone." I've been working on it for years, off and on, and just maybe this will the year I let it out the door. Or not. It depends on time and timing--time to write, and the right time to release. Who knows, I may even brave the agent's path--I do so long to have an agent. So I follow authors, read their roads, and dream their victories. Meanwhile I read.

Recently I've enjoyed some intriguing non-fiction books---some that puzzled, some confused, and some even annoyed; but yes, they all intrigued me. I apologize to anyone still awaiting reviews from me, and I promise I'll catch up, some day... (Maybe I'll even have a desk of my own in a space of my own to catch up in, when we finally restore our basement.) But for now, here are reviews of books about success, writing, faith in self and in spirituality, and even getting the kid to bed! Enjoy.

But first, put the water on to brew some coffee.

I'm usually annoyed by Bible Code type books--as far as I'm concerned God guided people to write His words in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, not in code. But The Chamberlain Key by Timothy P Smith claims to disagree with the Bible Code, so I thought I'd give it a try. It turned out not to disagree as strongly as I'd have liked, and it reads like a cross between memoir and a spiritual journal, liberally spiced with persuasive argument, unpersuasive math, and many dreams and visions. For myself, I ended up believing that the author believed his tale, but unconvinced by any of his conclusions. Still, if you like the Bible Code I'm pretty sure you'll love this book too. Enjoy with some seriously intense five-star coffee.

Spirit of the Earth, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald and Joseph A Fitzgerald, offers a gorgeous blend of full-color photography and Indian Voices on Nature. With text and images beautifully paired, showing wilderness, nature, animals and birds, and classical Indian poses, the book reads like a cross between and song and a prayer, which, perhaps, is exactly how it is meant to be read. "We who are clay, blended by the Master Potter," should all find inspiration in the world's beauty and the peoples' wisdom, whatever our religious persuasion. Enjoy this one with some elegant, richly brewed four-star coffee and keep it on your coffee table.

With even more pictures and fewer words, Uvi Poznansky's The Last Concubine continues her David Chronicles Inspired By Art series - an accompaniment to a wonderful collection of novels that portray the life of King David. The story has inspired art through the centuries, and the art in this collection, as in the others, is both intriguing and inspiring--a really enjoyable visual treat. Pour some elegant four-star coffee and browse some familiar and unfamiliar artists inspired by David.

Goodnight, Jeremy by Stacy White is a more traditional picture book, designed to be read with small children. Technically it's fiction rather than non-fiction, but it feels like real life and it fits in this collection with its very realistic depiction of a small child struggling to fall asleep--and of that minor guilt evoked by failing to do as his mother has asked. It's a sweet tale redolent with everyday life and illustrated in pleasing pastel shades. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Filled with a very different sort of pictures is Puzzle Box Volume 1 by Peter and Serhiy Grabarchuk - a perfect coffee table collection of brightly colored, inviting puzzles of all types and levels, beautifully collected for family fun. A social treasure to be enjoyed with some lively two-star coffee and good company.

The Six Month Novel Writing Plan by Caitlin Jans is more about words than pictures, and offers nice advice on how to start, keep going, and stick to a timetable. Novels go through multiple drafts, but completed novels don't go through infinite numbers of revisions - and they do go from start to finish. With advice on plotting, workshopping, critiquing, character and more... it's well organized, easy to navigate, and good on those so-easily-forgotten details, like who should narrate the novel or the scene. Read, drink easy-drinking two-star coffee, and write!

Then, if success seems slow to come, (ah doesn't it so), read Finding Success In Balance, my journey to the cheerful mind by Apryl Zarate Schlueter. It's a memoir (so I'm bookending this collection of reviews on the same page). But it's also a self-help manual, inviting readers to examine their lack of success or cheerfulness and be ready to "start anew." You might want a more serious coffee with this one, but don't go too dark. Enjoy a well-balanced three-star cup with a book that balances advice and memoir quite pleasingly.



Saturday, May 6, 2017

Which is harder, self-publishing or cheering up a child who has a broken leg?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Judith Wolf Mandell to my blog. She's had a long career as a journalist/publicist, and the childrens book,  Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It  represents her first venture into picture books.

With her husband and Cockapoo,  Judith Wolf Mandell moved from San Diego eleven years ago to be near family in Nashville--read the book and you'll see how important family is to her. They live in an absurd-for-their-age three-level house in the woods and have a critter control service on speed-dial. This is  Judith Wolf Mandell's first book and I, for one, really enjoyed. Click here for my review of Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

So, find some coffee and maybe a gluten free brownie (yes, I've been baking!) then sit down and learn enjoy the tale of Judith's road to publication. Thank you for joining us, Judith. And over to you:

NINE YEARS TO CREATE A BOOK (BUT WHO'S COUNTING?)
by Judith Wolf Mandell, author
Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It

Nine years to create a thousand-word, 32-page book? No way! Yet that's how long it took.

I was inspired to write the book when my granddaughter had an "oh, no!" fall that fractured her thigh
bone and landed her in a chest-to-ankle (spica) cast for a mostly miserable month. Searching in vain for a book to buoy her spirits, I vowed to someday write a book to cheer glum, grumpy kids in clunky casts. My granddaughter was two when her world turned topsy-turvy; she's eleven now. Ergo, nine years.

The first draft practically wrote itself. My granddaughter's experience was memory-fresh. The whimsical element of the story -- a troupe of kisses who secretly whoosh into the child's life to cheer for her and inspire patience -- came to me as an "aha." If one kiss heals a boo-boo, then a broken leg needs a bazillion kisses.

I've always loved a line from Cyrano de Bergerac: "A kiss is the rosy dot over the 'i' of 'loving.'" The Kisses were from all the people who loved my protagonist and knew in their hearts she was hurting.

What took so long? Life happens, so I was otherwise occupied for some chunks of time. For other chunks the manuscript sat on the shelf because I was stymied about next steps. My best friend had self-published a novel, so I knew about that possibility. But my book needed art. How would I find an artist? Can an illustrated book even go through the same process as a text-only book? Those questions boggled.


Then I heard a sermon about "living your dream." I knew I was meant to go forward. First step was to send the manuscript to friends and family. Most loved it. A few disputed The Kisses as being unrealistic. Oh, c'mon! I banked on Santa, The Tooth Fairy, Peter Pan as beloved improbabilities.  

Next: send the manuscript to professionals for medical clearance. Mission accomplished, with a bonus of endorsements I used on the book's eventual back cover.

While I was taking these steps to make my book a reality, the self-publishing (now known as "independent publishing") world was growing up, becoming a popular route for would-be authors.  At a Community College course on self-publishing, I learned about CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing arm, a low- or no-cost platform: download its template, input your book, upload said book, have a cover designed or DIY, push the "publish" button and voila, you have a POD (print-on-demand) paperback book. Nifty.

Except that pesky issue of illustrations. By now I had given my book a title: Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It. I had a vision for its art: bright, whimsical, insightful. The Internet brought portfolio samples from around the world. None clicked. In my heart of hearts I wanted someone local for what I envisioned as a collaborative effort. Networking rules: through a mutual friend, I found my illustrator, Lise C. Brown, close by. Her quirky style, experience with juvenile art and knowledge of graphic design made her a perfect fit.

While the art was underway, I was on a mission to find a way to produce a hardback version. Envisioning my book in libraries, schools, children's hospitals, doctors' offices, I intuited the need for a durable hardback. A hardback would also be more likely to be stocked by bookstores; time will tell if I'm correct. My search came to an end with my discovery of IngramSpark, producer of deluxe POD hardback and paperback books.

Then Google found me a local graphic designer who specializes in book formatting and is certified to work with IngramSpark's exacting specifications, as well as CreateSpace. Bonus: she had the savvy to make the book available for Kindle and iBook readers. An eBook version is attractive to my target demographic: youngish parents.

My book was technically finished December 7, 2016...but once again, sat on the shelf. I was stubborn about having a Sammy website before publication. Networking rules again: I found my talented, affable web designer locally. Please visit www.sammysbrokenleg.com to appreciate how worthwhile the wait was until we at last "test drove" the website.

On this March 15, I hit the "publish" button at CreateSpace and IngramSpark, making my book -- nine years later -- a reality. Recall that I set out to help kids cope with the challenge of life in a cumbersome cast. Imagine my gratification to read this Amazon review:

                "This book is perfect for our almost two-year-old who is one week into her spica cast     experience. We're already read it dozens of times!"


Wow, what a perfect endorsement for your book! And thank you for sharing this journey. I run a local writers' group where the speaker will discuss publication choices at the next meeting. It will be good to attend armed with my new knowledge of yours, as I've never got up the nerve to go beyond the Amazon Createspace part. Thank you so much!

Find Sammy's Broken Leg Oh No on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Sammys-Broken-Amazing-Cast-Fixed/dp/0997444908/
and on Barnes and Noble here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sammys-brok%E2%80%8Ba%E2%80%8Ben-leg-judith-wolf-mandell/1125988035?ean=9780997444919

and find the author on her website: http://sammysbrokenleg.com/

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Is Beauty And The Beast Just For Kids?

I haven't seen the new Beauty and the Beast movie yet. Somehow it seems odd to look for a live-action version of a Disneyesque version of a familiar fairytale. But I might see it one day.

Meanwhile I was given a copy of "Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales about Animal Brides and Grooms from around the World" to read. I suddenly found that Disney's version wasn't so strange, and that there are far more versions of the familiar fantasy than I'd ever known. Myths and legends, from Greek, Native American and more... stories of wisdom and folly, warnings, and messages of love that sometimes conquers all... a fascinating collection... and not for kids!

"Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh No!) and the Amazing Cast that fixed it" isn't strictly for children either. A fun picture book, it includes, very naturally, an image of the instructions for care of Sammy's cast, plus a very realistic look at how a small child will struggle when unable to play, and how adults can help. Kisses help too!

"Talon: Flight for Life" is a relatively long children's novel filled with word pictures as small protagonist Matica walks through the rainforest with her father, and the beautiful condor meets her on the plain. It's a children's story, but one most likely to be read to the child at bedtime by adults, with wise messages for all.

But what about a book that simply "is" a picture book? "ABC of Sensational Silly Animals" is filled with great pictures, delightfully silly animal combinations, and every imaginable reason for a small child to delight in teaching an adult. After all, what do you get when you cross an alligator with an ant?

But is coffee for kids?

I wasn't allowed coffee as a child, and I loathed warm milk. But find some coffee for yourself while you click on the links above and see which books you'd like to share:

  1. Some bold dark intense five-star coffee with Beauty and the Beast - these legends aren't for the faint-hearted.
  2. a mild, crisp one-star coffee for the light and sensible (and fun) Sammy's broken leg
  3. some lively easy-drinking coffee for Flight for Life, and
  4. a balanced full-flavored three-star coffee to learn those ABCs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

To Kindle Direct Or Not To Kindle Direct

There's a fantastic kindle authors contest going on - kindle storyteller 2017 - and you can enter it any time up to May 19th. All you have to do is

  • release a book on kindle - at least 5,000 words and no less than 24 pages in print; all your own work; not violating any laws etc - 
  • create a print version - easy using the new kindle beta print, which looks almost the same as Createspace but without distribution to other vendors, 
  • make sure you use the right keywords (simple to cut and paste) and
  • enroll your book in kindle direct.

All of which should be really trivial if you happen to have a novella lying around almost completed on your computer. I had three, and I had wonderful friends encouraging me to try. So I published them all.

  • Obey the first rule - easy; 
  • obey the second - fine and a perfect chance to try out that kindle print - I LOVE the covers! (Not sure I like the fact that you have to pay full price to buy YOUR OWN BOOK, but they say they'll fix that when it's out of beta - DO NOT MOVE YOUR CREATESPACE BOOKS TO KINDLE BETA YET!!!)
  • obey the third - no problem
  • and then I forgot the fourth.

Somehow I'd neglected to check that creating a book on kdp is not the same as enrolling in kindle direct. So I followed the links, read the fine print, and panicked.

The question isn't so much should I enroll those three small books I'm so proud of in kindle direct. It's do I dare take the risk.
  • Do I know for absolute sure that no one will find more than 10% of one of the stories cached on, say, the now-defunct gather.com website, or on our (password protected) writers' group site, or in separate chapters posted as separate stories on one of my blogs, or ...? If I don't, I risk breaking the rules by enrolling in Kindle Direct. And if I break the rules, I risk Amazon closing my kindle account, which would remove a whole slew of non-kindle direct books. 
  • But that's not the only risk. What if someone accuses me of plagiarism? I won't know who accused me. I won't be guilty (I know that for sure). But how will I defend myself? - I have a friend whose kindle book was removed because of a false accusation; all his emailed proofs of innocence seem to be read and ignored by robots, not by real people who might understand. Do I want to take that risk? 
  • Then there's the fake downloads risk. Various authors have suffered this one, with strangers blighting their books by masses of downloads in a single day, resulting in Amazon deducing they've gamed the borrowers system and removing the book.

The more I look at it, the more I'm almost afraid to even publish. But for sure I'm scared of Kindle Direct, so I'll skip the contest (I wasn't going to win it anyway), ease my stress, and just enjoy the fact that it did inspire me to release:

Enjoy!

What's In A Mystery?

I read a book called "The Mystery Tomb" recently. Can you guess, it was a mystery? Characters had mysterious backstories. Locations revealed unexpected treasures. Desire and intention collided while truth slipped and slid, awaiting the final reveal. Mystery for sure. "Deadly Spirits" is a mystery driven by a wonderfully human narrator whose favorite spirits come in bottles, but whose life revolves around mysterious deaths. "Raining Men and Corpses"? has to be mystery and humor for sure. Meanwhile "Dead Shot" is a more juvenile mystery-adventure with deeply serious themes.

Then there's "Girl With All The Gifts." But it's that horror isn't it? Except it's also a mystery, filled with the question of how, why or what she is, and how, why or what she might hold as the clue to the future. A mystery that doesn't  resolve all it's clues, Gifts proves all the better perhaps for not doing so, and lingers in the mind. Does that make sense?

"Enemies of the Batsu" doesn't answer all its questions either, in this case because it's part of a series. Never quite revealing what created this futuristic Japanese culture, it drives another forward arc in the direction of finding out.

"Fever Tree" is literary mystery, starting with the curious question of who its protagonist might be, then wending its way to why he is there and where his path will lead. "The Coyote Hunter of Aquidneck Island" offers one mystery to its characters and a completely different one to intrigue the protagonist and reader--definitely literary mystery too.

But what's in a mystery.

The ones I loved most of the books above had great protagonists--flawed, but serious and caring; not too sure of themselves, so I might like them more than they like themselves. Their mysteries range from twistedly complex to simple human nature, but they're neither trivially resolved nor teasingly hidden away. I guess I might look for an honesty in the story that lets me believe it's worth my while trying to work things out as I read. And I like great locations too--as in locations sufficiently described as to seem real and great, not necessarily ones I'd want to visit.

My question, of course--as I contemplate writing mystery and decide I'm probably not good enough--is what's in a mystery for other readers? Why makes you choose one mystery over another, one mystery author, or one type of mystery?

I hope you'll find yourself a coffee as you follow the links above to my reviews on Goodreads:

  1. Mystery Tomb will be best with some complex four-star coffee.
  2. Deadly Spirits deserves a well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star blend
  3. Raining Men and Corpses will go well with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.
  4. Dead Shot needs a mild crisp one-star cup
  5. Girl with All the Gifts needs some rich dark five-star coffee
  6. Enemies of the Batsu probably merits a strong dark five-star drink too
  7. Fever Tree should be read with some elegant, complex four-star coffee
  8. As should the Coyote Hunter of Aquidneck Island.
Enjoy.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Are the Genders Equal in Childrens Books?

Today I'm delighted to welcome  Sonia Panigrahythe author of Nina the Neighborhood Ninja to my site. (Click on the link for my review, or find it on Amazon here). Lots of picture book and storybook heroes are boys, so it's nice to read this one with valiant Nina as the protagonist. And it's great to read how Sonia feels about those children's characters.

Gender Equality in Children’s Books, by Sonia Panigrahy


Over the past decade, I grew into the role of an aunt to my network of friends and family with children. Having been a book worm as a child, I was excited to share the love of reading with them, opening a new world of imagination and knowledge. We often say that a child’s brain is like a sponge and books are a wonderful way to help them absorb life’s lessons.

The books society produces reflects the lessons of what our society chooses to teach its members, including its youngest members. Progressive societies see education as a social equalizer, as noted by educational reformer, Horace Mann. However, browsing through the colorful spines of children’s bookstores, I found that the books on the shelves were perpetuating social inequality. I continually noticed that it was much easier to find empowering books for boys than for girls. There were plenty of adventurous male characters to choose from, but when I searched for similar stories for young girls, I found the selection dismal. It was heart-breaking knowing how empowering books can be for children, but realizing for girls, many books were doing just the opposite.

Plenty of children’s books, read by our society’s members with the most expansive, impressionable, and open minds, are in fact subtly telling little girls how to and not to behave. The girls I know are adventurous in the same way boys are. Yet, the children’s books available to them, while many portraying girls as smart, they will not put a girl as the lead strong character. What is it that our society is teaching our children by allowing children’s book to foster inequitable gender roles that don’t allow our girls to be both smart and strong?

We continue to lack enough books that allow all children to find universal and valued themes of confidence, curiosity, braveness, creativity, strength, intelligence, kindness, compassion, generosity, and resilience. Storylines are not representative of girls as they are, but rather, what they are told to be. Our literary orbit continues to revolve heavily around boy’s needs, but this needs to change. If the books that are published are about appealing to a mass market, then appeal more to the 51% of the U.S. population-- females. Girls need to have a place in the literary orbit, and that includes also being at the center of the superhero narrative. Children need to see themselves in books—it validates their value in society.

This inequitable portrayal of females in narratives detrimental to girls, but it is harmful for young boys to be taught and then reinforce narrow, limiting stereotypes. It was with this sense of inequity for young girls and boys that I decided to write my book, “Nina the Neighborhood Ninja.” It features a young girl of color named Nina, about 5 years old, who is the brave superhero courageously leading the way using her brains and strength to creatively and kindly rescue those in need. Just like most of the girls I know.

Thank you so much, Sonia, for writing the book, and for bringing the problem to our minds. You've got me thinking I really should try again to get my Hemlock stories published  -  their strongest protagonist is a girl, and she rescues the boys ... well, except for the ones who are teasing her. She makes them think they're frogs.

About The Author:

Author Sonia Panigrahy is a public health professional, world traveler, adventure seeker, and fitness enthusiast. She believes that life is too short to be bored! 
Nina the Neighborhood Ninja was created out of Sonia's lifelong love of reading. As her family and friends begin to have children, she looked forward to sharing this love with them. She believes that books are a powerful way to empower impressionable young minds. 
Sonia was surprised that she could not find books for girls ages 3-6 years that realistically identified females as intelligent, physically tough, brave, and adventurous. She was disappointed that girls continue to be excluded from the heart of the superhero story. 
After unsuccessful attempts to find a young girl superhero protagonist on the pages of a book, especially one of color, she gave up. Then she created her own. 

Follow Sonia on her Facebook Author PageTwitter @SoniaPanigrahy, and on Instagram



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Who do kids learn their lessons from?

Who do kids learn their lessons from? The obvious answer is from teachers at school. Perhaps from parents at home. But what about from teddy bears, dogs, birds or snakes? If they're reading books, they might learn lessons from all of these. And if they read the first book in my list below, the parents just might learn the odd lesson too. So from where or what did you learn your most important lessons?

Creature Comforts, the extraordinary life of Cassandra Jones, by Tamara Hart Heiner is the first in a series of novels for pre-teen girls, centering on the adventures of a very ordinary ten-year-old. She's a fairly observant 10-year-old, and parents would be wise to learn that their disagreements and distractions are easily visible to their kids. I'd like to have seen more resolution to the tale, but it looks like a good series with a very convincing character and voice. Enjoy with some two-star easy-drinking coffee.

Talon 2 On The Wing by Gigi Sedlmayer offers life lessons from a condor, and gentle wisdom from parents and friends. The tiny protagonist has a growth problem, but she learns to fly on her favorite bird - a really enjoyable way to make her handicap an advantage. The story touches on discrimination and loss, and doesn't sugar-coat its pill. But it soars with the birds and offers plenty of wisdom. Enjoy this modern story with an old-fashioned feel while drinking a balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.

Then there's the dog, Shadow. Lessons from Shadow by Shadow/Wally Bregman is a short large book, easy for children to hold while parents or grandparents read. The stories are told from the dog's point of view and include lessons on how to cope with bullying, how not to run away from home, and how to deal with loss. It's nicely presented, simply and briefly illustrated, and the sort of book parents and children will enjoy together - perhaps with a two-star easy-drinking coffee for the adult.

A teddy bear offers counting lessons in 12 Days at the Beach with Theodore – learn to count – by Ashlee and Trent Harding. It's short (12 days long) and fun. Each day has a two-line rhyming story, a counting puzzle, and a fullpage illustration telling the tale. Children will love to "read" the pictures, moving on to counting in answer to the questions, and then maybe counting even more (how many legs on a starfish perhaps). The colors are bright. The illustrations are simple and clear. The lessons are well-drawn. And it's a really neat book, to enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

As to where the snake is, you might have to read the books to find out, or guess from what these reviews don't say. That's your puzzle perhaps.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Different Genres, Different Names?

Some authors change their names when they write in different genres. Some change their publishers. Some publishers have subgroups for different genres. And some just ... publish ... write ... go for it.

I think I was trying to be "organized" when I "went for it" and tried to get different publishers for each of my genres. I didn't want to change my name - it's mine! But I didn't want to confuse readers, so I sent my children's Bible stories to a Christian Publisher, Cape Arago Press (actually, they asked me for them, which still fills me with hope). My contemporary novels went to a literary publisher, Stonegarden.net, who closed down. Then they went to a contemporary publisher, Second Wind Publishing, who slowed down. Now they're with another contemporary publisher, Indigo Sea, and I'm wondering if book 3 will ever be released. Meanwhile my speculative fiction went to Gypsy Shadow, who "released" me for lack of sales. Then they ... well, then they went to Indigo Sea which would kind of negate the one genre, one publisher idea, except IS doesn't seem to be in a hurry to release them. Meanwhile my children's stories are with Linkville Press which .., well ... doesn't just publish children's fiction. In fact, they might be better know for more adultly scary stuff such as ...

Purify My Heart by Ruthie Madison pits Christian, Wiccan and evil against each other, offering seductive temptation to a newly Christian woman whose husband is away at war. Lots of wise lessons, lots of backstory; coincidences that aren't all engineered by God, and wise advise lurks in the shadows. It's a slow read but interesting. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee.

Maya Initiate 39 by Mr Ben involves another young woman seduced by evil forces. Never quite resolving the issues it raised, the novel takes a teenager through to adulthood, and offers readers the hope of redemption despite bad choices. Read this dark tale with some more dark five-star coffee.

Then there's Psychotic State the Novel by William Pattison, currently out of print. This ones definitely a dark dark five-star coffee book, with gratuitous violence, complex backstory, and a mix or horror, don't bully, and don't go off your meds themes that never quite gels.

I'm not sure how my innocent puppies and kittens fit with these, but Linkville Press deserves to be known for a broad spectrum of different books, from the curious fantasy of Torii, to the deeply relevant real-world issues of Etched in History, and from crime-drama Jack Stenhouse mystery to sweet animal mysteries (mine) in Tails of Mystery.

Perhaps a publisher that publishes many genres has a better chance of making sales and staying afloat than one that covers few. But what about the writer? Should I have stuck to one name, stuck to genre, or just stuck to being me?


Friday, April 7, 2017

What's In A Title?

I got a book in the mail the other day. It's title was "This Book Needs A Title." I read a poem in the poem with the same title. And I pondered, what's a title there for anyway.

The author has now produced TBNAT 2. Meanwhile I struggle to write, struggle to get my publishers to release anything, and struggle to catch up with book reviews. The writing's fun - it's just a pain being squished into an ever-shrinking corner of an ever-more-cluttered bedroom when I HATE CLUTTER! (Pause while I dream of dry redecorated basement, maybe by Christmas if I'm lucky, but hey, I'm pretty lucky to even have a basement. Why am I complaining?) Pushing publishers to publish is less fun - my publishers tend to have babies, get sick, get overwhelmed, and even close their doors - please don't close your doors, PRETTY PLEASE! But the book reviewing is always fun and doesn't tie me to that cluttered bedroom. If it's a real book (the sort that can come in the mail) I can even read and review it when the power's out. (Yeah, the power's enjoying one of its it-a-bit, out-a-bit days and the wind's driving me crazy.)

But what's in a title? I posted a picture of spooky trees and someone said I should use it as a book cover - for the Hemlock novels perhaps? But they don't have a title or a publisher, never have had, probably never will. And besides, I need to work on rewriting them. Hemlock's not a bad title on its own though, is it? At least, not when paired with spooky trees (some of which happen to be hemlocks, but hemlock trees aren't the same as hemlock's poisonous plants ...  it's still a cool picture).


Does a title have to be paired with a matching cover? This Book Needs A Title has a cool, plain, white cover with clear black text. It fits the title perfectly. Is The Bible Good For Women (the next book in the list of reviews below) has a serious brown-shaded cover with thick book-ends, and the Bible's a thick book.It conveys serious and organised (did I mention, I HATE CLUTTER), and the words are clear and bright, so maybe it works. Certainly the title is one that would catch a Christian woman's eye, and that's the idea.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple is another book for women (and I hope today will be different!). The title's certainly catchy. The gray cover with everywoman hiding her face. That's catchy. That's me. I had to read this book! Then there's Movie Trivia Madness, a title that catches my husband's eye since he loves movie trivia. He's not read the book yet, and he'll probably just get his trivia from the internet. The cover's black and bright, has a movie reel (from a distance it reminded me of a skull, perhaps not the intent), and it includes popcorn, soda and movie tickets. I think the title would attract me first, before I look at the cover.

Anyway, you can follow the links below for the covers and reviews, and find yourself a coffee to enjoy while reading:

This Book Needs A Title by Theodore Ficklestein is a freeverse, enticing and easily read poetry book. Frequently stream-of-consciousness, by turns humorous, thought-provoking, memorable or silly, it's a surprisingly enjoyable read and I'd happily pick up book 2. Find some bright, lively 2-star coffee to enjoy with it.

Is the Bible Good for Women by Wendy Alsup is a kind of whole-Bible study, looking at the fate and redemption of women from Old Testament times to New. Insights from contemporary culture turn OT tragedies into surprisingly empowering stories, and I just wished the NT applications had been viewed the same way. That said, it's a really good read, and has great reader-questions at the end for small groups to share. Enjoy this one with an elegant, complex, thought-provoking 4-star coffee.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple is another book for women, fitting a lifetime of memories into a very ordinary day that turns out very different. The protagonist (most frequent narrator) is a fairly everyday mom, struggling with life, kid and spouse. There are interlocking mysteries - strange kid, absent spouse, imaginary sisters perhaps - and interlocking "stories" told in pictures, poetry, even a book within the book. It's intriguingly different and it works. Enjoy with some seriously complex 4-star coffee!

Then, for the man in my life, there's Movie Trivia Madness by Bill O’Neill and Steve Murray. It's got lots of movie trivia.  And it's surprisingly entertaining simply as a mad, fun read. Enjoy with some bright easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

So what do you think. Do titles matter as much as covers, more than covers, or not much anyway?


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Does the Real World Hide Behind Fictional Fear?

Fear wears many different faces in novels I've read recently. In one, a dying woman is afraid for the daughters she'll leave behind. Others fear revelations from the past and struggle not to touch its memories. One woman is convinced her memories are false because nobody believed them--now she calls herself insane. There's a man who fears, very sensibly, how misguided decisions will effect his land and neighbors. Another fears the end of the world; yet another, the end of the world as he's imagined it. Some take action to end their fears, others start more fear, and others hide. But all these fears can be seen as mirrors held up to the present world. Do we hide behind our fear? Do we hide our fears in fiction? Or does fiction help us explore and recognize fear so we can act wisely instead of hiding?

Find a mug, pour some coffee, and decide which fears and which books you'd like from these.

In South California Purples by Baron R Birtcher, rancher Ty Dawson can see trouble looming (and a gruesomely dead cow). The world of 1973 is changing, but he channels his fear for the future into wise care for the present, even taking on the unwanted task of preserving law and order for a fast-growing crowd of environmentalists, hippies and bikers. The story's told with unflinching detail, lyrical prose, fast action, and a wonderful sense for people, time and place. And it's set in my beloved Oregon. What more could you ask for? Some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee perhaps?

As Close As Sisters by Colleen Faulkner takes place on the opposite coast, where four girls who grew up together now face forces that might drive them apart. One might be dying. Another contemplates having a child. A third is entering a new relationship. And a fourth keeps secrets for them all. Fear of living, fear of dying, fear for the future, fear for the secrets of the past--all these are in this novel, where communication just might hold the key to moving on. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

More wounded women star in Outrageous by Neal Katz, the first in a sequence of books depicting the real life of Victoria Woodhull. Home life, filled with abuse, is truly terrifying, but Vickie learns to trust the company of women over that of men, and finds solace as well as fear in spirits. The real world, life and scandals are truly outrageous, but the characters are achingly human. And fears are truly overcome. I wish it was more than just part one of the story though. Well-balanced with well-told research, this is one to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Play House by Saikat Majumdar is set in India. The Play House in question might be the theater where a boy's mother works as an actress. It might be the home run by his grandmother, where mother is soon unwelcome. Maybe it's the apartment, never quite a home, where the mother plays at being mom. Or is it the house in the young boy's mind, where he puts together half-images, draws half-conclusions, and brings the whole construction down on everyone? This is a truly absorbing haunting novel, filled with the fears of adolescence, and best enjoyed with some dark five-star coffee.

Nos4a2 by Joe Hill is meant to scare you, of course. It's horror fiction at its best, building terror on a seriously cool premise, and contrasting good and evil in the form of a woman who thinks she's crazy but dearly loves her son, and a man who truly is crazy and loves all children. I was lost from the very first mention of a bridge between lost and found, and didn't find myself again until the end. Enjoy with some seriously rich, dark, five-star coffee.

Similarly, 1999 by Stanley Baldwin is meant to scare readers. Of course, the dreaded Y2K has been and gone, but this depiction of religious fervor and fear remains as a haunting warning against seeing answered prayer in the temptations of success. A father is drawn into the web of a charismatic teacher. His wife is subtly torn down and driven to despise herself. And his career, his work for God is blooming, except... Well, you'll have to read it if you can find it. I really enjoyed how1999 is simultaneously wise, scary, entertaining, non-preachy, and a really good read. Pour some dark five-star coffee to go with it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Does the real world hide behind fantasy?

Does the real world hide behind fantasy? Or is fantasy a way to reveal what the real world hides?

I guess I'm including George Orwell's 1984 as a favorite fantasy novel, though I might have called it science fiction once (futuristic fiction?). It certainly hid a wealth of truths that time is still drawing to light. So did Animal Farm. And so do many other books, old and new. Perhaps even the ancient plays of the Greeks had the same allure--a way to reveal what we're not meant to see, not meant to talk about--or else a way to hide, laying those truths at fiction's door.

Sometimes it's not just the weather that seems dark around here. But perhaps I'm influenced again by Brexit and the pain of my once-safe world growing ever more strange. Things that weren't talked about are okay. Things that should be talked about are hidden. And fantasy novels both hide and reflect, reflections that, maybe, reveal truths.

And maybe you'll want some dark cups of coffee with these novels:

First, not too dark, is The Trials of Nahda by Merita King. The story's narrated by a somewhat jaded investigator, sent to arrest an art thief who might hold the key to reality. Combining myth, magic and science, and reading like a science fiction adventure game, it just might make you wonder what makes you believe, and what belief entails. Enjoy the lively tale with some lively easy-drinking 2-star coffee.

Droidal by Andy Graham is a short story offering an odd blend of dark and light. Set in a dark, 1984-style world, it slowly reveals a character who is more than he seems, wounded by more than should be allowed, and strangely at peace with himself. It's an elegant, well-wrought story, best enjoyed with some complex elegant four-star coffee.

Growing darker, the next book is another short story. Tony Bertauski’s The Maze blends two different worlds—a real world tale of genius, family and loss; and a cyber-world adventure of death and rebirth, leading into different lives and the clues to escape. But will the cyber-protagonist ever be free? The story’s computer Maze blends into a maze of memories half-lost, and the reader is pulled inexorably toward a solution, just as the protagonist is pulled toward escape. Rumor has it this story might become part of a trilogy or be included in the Game Chronicles, so watch out for it. I love Tony Bertauski's books, best read with elegantly complex four-star coffee.

Everville the First Pillar by Roy Huff is set, at least in part, on our own world. Aimed at teenage readers, it offers wise lessons hidden in intriguing adventure, as college freshman Owen Sage is drawn into a mysterious world outside time, whose fate might be tied to ours. The story's slow, combining epic prose with prosaic modernity. But it's an intriguing tale, complete in itself and clearly promising more.

Aijlan by Andy Graham is a novel of a broken world not so unlike our own, mistrustful of foreign people or ideas, overly committed to technology, and where power is valued more than honesty or relationships. It holds a mirror very effectively to present society. And it's definitely dark, best enjoyed with some definitely dark 5-star coffee.

Finally, The Angel Solution by John C Stipa is set in the real world, but has a computer game feel that just might be more than fantasy. As duelling archeologists seek a precious treasure, some people might be both present and absent, and some items might hold more power than can be imagined. It's an oddly enticing tale of science gone awry,computer gaming perhaps, and human ingenuity misapplied. Enjoy with some more dark 5-star coffee.

And the tales, like the world, have grown increasingly dark.



Friday, March 24, 2017

Do Pictures Tell A Story?

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

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

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

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

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

And now for children's picture books:

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

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What will you read in a dangerous world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Friday, March 3, 2017

Do you feel Beloved, Loyal and Lifted Up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, March 2, 2017

What if styles make more difference than style?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Searching for Inspiration and Character... and Magic?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

About the books:


The Magician’s Workshop, Volume One

Authors: Christopher Hansen, J.R. Fehr
Published by: Wondertale, California
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
ISBN: 1-945353-11-2
ASIN: B01MQGHGBH
Genre: Coming of Age, Fantasy, Magic
Ages: 12 and up.
Length: 85,000 words / 290 pages


Book Links:
Amazon * Goodreads

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

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

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

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



The Magician’s Workshop, Volume Two

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


Book Links:
Amazon * Goodreads

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

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

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

About the authors


Christopher Hansen

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




J.R. Fehr

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

Where to Find Them


Website * Facebook