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.