Category Archives: Books

#bookreview: The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena

the-couple-next-doorJust before Christmas, I finished reading a wonderful mystery/thriller, The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena. This was a book that was impossible to put down, but with one thing and another, I’m only now getting around to reviewing it.

But first, THE BLURB:

It all started at a dinner party. . .
A domestic suspense debut about a young couple and their apparently friendly neighbors—a twisty, rollercoaster ride of lies, betrayal, and the secrets between husbands and wives. . .

.Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

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Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

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What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of  deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

MY REVIEW:

The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena is a tale of love, fear, greed, and secrets. Nothing is what it seems, except for the central plot point: A baby is missing from her crib.

Anne and her husband, Marco Conti have gone to a dinner party in the house next door. The sitter has cancelled at the last minute, and the hostess has insisted on an adults only party, as she doesn’t like children. Since they share a wall with these neighbors, they have brought the baby monitor with them, leaving their baby home in the row house next door.

The baby, Cora, disappears during the dinner party.

No one is free of secrets.

Rasbach is the detective, Jennings is his assistant. As the case unfolds they discover that Anne Conti’s family is more than merely rich. They are old money, and secure in their sense of privilege, and her parents are quick to offer a ransom. At every step of the way, Anne’s parents are interfering, shielding Anne and Marco.

Little by little, evidence emerges about each character, none of it flattering. Anne herself is not without secrets.

Anne is a well-drawn character, with a mysterious history she has never fully told to her husband. She is portrayed realistically, flaws and all. Marco is also a flawed protagonist, which makes him intriguing.

I liked how well the story flows. With many twists and turns, it never stalls or halts. This is a gripping mystery, with an ending that took me by surprise, despite the fact the clues were there all along.

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#amwriting: Tolkien, one-star reviews, and our shifting language

the hobbit movie poster 3Tolkien did NOT use too many words in The Hobbit, and the movie was NOT better.

The book is one thing, and the movies are something else completely. The movies, while they are awesome, exciting, and great fun, do bear some relation to the actual book. The basic plot, some of the high points, and various characters are all taken from the book. However, the movie most certainly does not chronicle the tale as Tolkien originally wrote it.

In the book (for starters) while elves are long lived and it is accepted that he must have been alive at the time, Legolas was not a character. Therefore, he did not have a love interest featured in the book. So, no– Tauriel did not exist in the book, The Hobbit. But she did in the movie, The Desolation of Smaug, and she was a great character there. In reality, no female elves are featured in the original book, The Hobbit, in more than passing, so that pretty much scotched any chance of romance for Kili in the novel.

If you read the credits at the end of the movies, you will see it clearly says “BASED ON” the book, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Now, let me address the concept of “too many words,” a direct quote from one of the many one-star reviews of the book,  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and posted on Amazon several years ago:

J.R.R. Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford. That tells us he was educated, but he was writing stories for his children when he wrote The Hobbit and developed the world of Middle Earth. Because of that connection to his children, we know he was writing at a level they could understand. A master of languages, he invented the elfin language. We should assume he had a moderately good grasp of the English language as well.

What modern readers may not realize is this: Tolkien was writing in the early part of the twentieth century. He served in the British army during the First World War, the notorious War To End All Wars. That war was fought one hundred years ago.  Things were different then, he wrote in the literary style of his time.

The problem with the book is not in Tolkien’s writing. It is in the eye of the modern beholder who has no appreciation for the literary style of that era. That is a fair consideration, as reading the literature of this era takes time and persistence, and many readers don’t have the patience. No reader should feel guilty for not enjoying a book their friends loved. It happens to me all the time.

the hobbit movie posterThe Hobbit remains a classic of modern literature because it details that intrinsic thing all great novels consider, the search for self. That quest to discover who we are and what we are capable of is what drives Bilbo to keep going, even in the face of terrible events. Underneath the trappings of fantasy, the elves and goblins represent humanity in all its many imperfections, as does the hobbit himself.

Writers of modern fantasy might try to read what the early masters of the genre wrote, and discover what made their work classics. It will be difficult because the gap between the style and usages of today’s English versus the English of even one hundred years ago is widening with each passing year.

Readers must be patient and set aside their knowledge of what works in today’s literature. In other words, stop looking AT the words as disparate parts that you could write better, and read them in context. You might be surprised at what you will find.

Writers are always readers, and Tolkien often discussed his fondness for the work of William Morris (b.1834 – d.1896). Morris was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and English Arts and Crafts Movement. Tolkien and many of his contemporaries loved Morris’s prose- and poetry-romances.

Tolkien himself said his own work followed the general style and approach of Morris’s work. The Desolation of Smaug portrays dragons as detrimental to landscape, a motif borrowed directly from Morris. Tolkien had what he considered an accepted canon for how dragons should behave to work from.

But exactly what does “canon” mean in the context of a literary genre?

Wikipedia says, “In fictioncanon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. The alternative terms mythologytimeline, and continuity are often used, with the former being especially to refer to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief (e.g. an entire imaginary world and history), while the latter two typically refer to a single arc where all events are directly connected chronologically. Other times, the word can mean “to be acknowledged by the creator(s).”

The modern image and mythology of the elf as he is written into most of today’s fantasy has been directly modeled on the elves of Tolkien’s Rivendell, whether the author knows it or not. Even the elves we find in the onslaught of modern urban-fantasy-romances are created in Tolkien’s image—close to the earth, immortal, and somehow nobler and more clever than we mere humans.

The love of a beautifully crafted tale will always endure. While future generations may have to learn to read and understand English as we speak it today, a true appreciation of Tolkien’s influence on modern epic fantasy literature will live on.

hobbit-battle-five-armies-bilbo-posterWhen I decided to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in their original form, I had to take a college class. In that class we learned to read and understand Middle English, and then wrote our own modern translations. It was a lot of fun, but many great modern translations are out there if you don’t have the patience to read the original.

In the future, modern translations of Tolkien’s work will be published, and new fans of his work will emerge, just as in the case of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a novel fully titled The history of the valorous and wittie Knight-Errant Don-Quixote of the Mancha. It was written in early modern Spanish (the equivalent of Shakespearean English) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered one of the greatest novels of all time. New translations are published every few decades.

So, Tolkien didn’t use too many words, and the movies were not better than his books. They were good, but they were different stories, one based on the other, but not following it.


Wikipedia contributors, “Canon (fiction),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Canon_(fiction)&oldid=760595154  (accessed January 17, 2017).

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#bookreview: The Heart of What Was Lost, by @TadWilliams #OstenArd

tadwilliams-the-heart-of-what-was-lostI just finished reading Tad William’s latest book. Wow! Told from three points of view, Duke Isgrimnur of Rimmersgard, a Norn leader, Viyeki, and Porto, a Perdruinese mercenary, The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams is a gripping, worthy return to the world of Osten Ard.

But first, THE BLURB:

At the end of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Ineluki the Storm King, an undead spirit of horrifying, demonic power, came within moments of stopping Time itself and obliterating humankind. He was defeated by a coalition of mortal men and women joined by his own deathless descendants, the Sithi.

In the wake of the Storm King’s fall, Ineluki’s loyal minions, the Norns, dark cousins to the Sithi, choose to flee the lands of men and retreat north to Nakkiga, their ancient citadel within the hollow heart of the mountain called Stormspike. But as the defeated Norns make their way to this last haven, the mortal Rimmersman Duke Isgrimnur leads an army in pursuit, determined to end the Norns’ attacks and defeat their ageless Queen Utuk’ku for all time.

Two southern soldiers, Porto and Endri, joined the mortal army to help achieve this ambitious goal—though as they venture farther and farther into the frozen north, braving the fierce resistance and deadly magics of the retreating Norns, they cannot help but wonder what they are doing so very far from home. Meanwhile, the Norns must now confront the prospect of extinction at the hands of Isgrimnur and his mortal army.

Viyeki, a leader of the Norns’ military engineers, the Order of Builders, desperately seeks a way to help his people reach their mountain—and then stave off the destruction of their race. For the two armies will finally clash in a battle to be remembered as the Siege of Nakkiga; a battle so strange and deadly, so wracked with dark enchantment, that it threatens to destroy not just one side but quite possibly all.

Trapped inside the mountain as the mortals batter at Nakkiga’s gates, Viyeki the Builder will discover disturbing secrets about his own people, mysteries both present and past, represented by the priceless gem known as The Heart of What Was Lost.

MY REVIEW:

the-heart-of-what-was-lostI became a confirmed fan of epic fantasy in 1988 when I first entered this world of Osten Ard and the books of Tad Williams. It seemed like each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The bigotry and arrogance some members of each race have with regard to their innate superiority struck me as illustrating a sad truth about the real world.

When this new series set in Osten Ard was announced, I was curious as to how Tad Williams would maintain that deep connection to the story after such a long absence. When The Heart of What Was Lost was launched, I bought the hard-copy, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Like some gutter-dwelling book junkie, I read along with his narration–an awesome experience.

This is not a long novel, only 224 pages. It is well-written, with the harsh, beautiful prose I have come to expect from Tad Williams. Most importantly, an inspiring story is encapsulated in those pages. I found the pacing excellent, and at times, heart stopping. There is no place where it slows or becomes pedestrian.

Osten Ard is created from both good and evil, with all the many grey places between those two absolutes clearly defined. For each misery, some small glimmer of hope is introduced, offering a reason for the characters to keep struggling. The unlikely friendship between Porto and Endri is deep despite their humorous rivalry. Through their eyes we see the truth of the conflict and what it means in terms of human suffering.

Duke Isgrimnur is strong and resolute, driven on every level. He is faced with hard decisions, an impossible task, and does what he has to. A many-layered character, Isgrimnur is one of my favorite people in the series, as is Sludig. I had wondered about them at the end of To Green Angel Tower. This ties up their threads well.

Opposite Isgrimnur is Viyeki,  a Norn who has risen high in the Order of Builders. He has also been given an impossible task. It is through him we feel some compassion for the Cloud Children, the immortal Norns, and what they have lost. His thoughts and the way he deals with the constraints he is under illustrate the alien society he loves, making their reasoning more clear to us. He sees many things that worry him, but as a Host Foreman, his position is somewhat perilous. His world is at stake, but faced with conquering the terrors of the deeps or being crushed by the enemy, he is beset on all sides, caught in the middle. He has questions, doubts, and the answers he is given offer him no comfort.

I give this book five full stars. In the watershed series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad Williams originally created the world of Osten Ard masterfully, exploring it through the diverse people’s thoughts and conversations. This novel is a brilliant continuation of that tale. He uses his characters’ impressions to show the setting, the history, and the core of the conflict. Through their eyes, we know this amazing world. At the end of the book, it’s hard to let them go.

You can find  The Heart of What Was Lost, by Tad Williams  in paper, as an audiobook, or a Kindle download at Amazon. It is also available at other eBook retailers, and in paper at all brick and mortar stores.

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#amreading: cold, dark days and four books worth reading

the-heart-of-what-was-lostI read a lot, and I’ve become a fan of audio books, especially when I am editing for clients or wrangling tough plot points in my own manuscripts. It frees my mind to enjoy more books when I can put on the wireless headphones and cook or do my house work and never miss a thing.

My current audio book is Tad Williams’ new novel, The Heart of What Was Lost. It was only launched yesterday, and I’m already about six hours into it. (And so far, WOW!) I bought the hard-copy, but also downloaded the Audible book, because I have a monthly subscription. Andrew Wincott is the narrator, and he’s an incredible reader. His narration makes this one of the best audio books I’ve ever listened to.

the-woman-in-the-mirror-cathryn-grantWhile I love audio books, I do still read my Kindle, and one I recently read and enjoyed was The Woman in the Mirror by Cathryn Grant. Published July 01, 2016,  it is a dark, contemporary tale, a psychological thriller. The many twists and turns make what could have been a rant on misogyny and abuse into a many-layered mystery you never quite get to the bottom of. The book is set on the foggy central coast of California, in a house perched on the edge of the crumbling cliff. The precarious state of the house is almost an allegory for Alex’s character: looks beautiful and feels dangerous.

The author, Cathryn Grant, did a good job. The storyline is compelling, doled out in bits and pieces. Each time you have the pieces to one puzzle, another has reared its head. Every character is a riddle you finally begin to understand as the novel progresses, even “sweet, responsible” Noreen. Behind that facade is a scary woman. The author’s voice is unique, and the narrative flows smoothly, although the switching of POV between Alexandra and Jared is occasionally jarring. But overall, it works. I had a hard time putting the book down, reading it straight through, and staying up late to finish it.

The ending is surprising, but when you look back, it fits perfectly. I highly recommend this book to readers of dark, contemporary fiction.

the-couple-next-doorAlso, recently I read Shari Lapena’s mystery thriller, The Couple Next Door. This is a tale of love, fear, greed, and secrets. Nothing is what it seems, except for the central plot point: A baby is missing from her crib.

Anne and her husband, Marco Conti have gone to a dinner party in the house next door. The sitter has cancelled at the last minute, and the hostess has insisted on an adults only party, as she doesn’t like children. Since they share a wall with these neighbors, they have brought the baby monitor with them, leaving their baby home in the row house next door.

The baby, Cora, disappears during the dinner party.

No one is free of secrets.

Rasbach is the detective, Jennings is his assistant. As the case unfolds they discover that Anne Conti’s family is more than merely rich. They are old money and secure in their sense of privilege, and her parents are quick to offer a ransom.

Little by little, evidence emerges about each character, none of it flattering. Anne herself is not without secrets.

Anne is a well-drawn character, with a mysterious history she has never fully explained to her husband. She is portrayed realistically, flaws and all. Marco is also a flawed protagonist, which makes him intriguing. This book was full of twists and turns, and the ending is a complete surprise.

broken-numbersAnd to cap off my recent completed reads was the third installment in Dean Frank Lappi’s dark fantasy Aleph Null series, Broken Numbers. Violent and graphic, this series is not for the faint of heart, as it combines elements of horror, with a magic system based on mathematics and sexual energy. After a brief prologue bringing us up to speed on the Korpor (one of the creepier beasts of dark fantasy), Lappi opens the story with our protagonist, Sid, considering his losses, the death of his mother and loss of his magic being the two worst of them.

Sid, the Aleph Null, is a deep character, a man whose life has been seriously altered by events beyond his control. He has been traumatized by incidents that occurred in his early childhood, yet he remains kind and caring of others. His former childhood friend and now leader of the Oblate, Tris, has managed to rip away the Black Numbers from Sid. It’s a partial victory, but he won’t rest until Sid is dead.

The plot is full of twists and hard-hitting. Sid is desperate to get his numbers back but knows it won’t be easy. Nothing is simple, and every step forward brings another step back. Yet through it all, his companions remain strong in their support of him. This novel also had a surprise ending, and left me jonesing for the next book!

With the new year, we have entered my favorite reading time. Something about the dark and the eternal gloom of the Northwest winter encourages escapism, and what better way than through books?

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#amreading: Night Watchman Express by Alison DeLuca

Alison DeLuca HeadshotOne of my dear friends is author Alison DeLuca, who is the main driving force behind Myrddin Publishing.  Alison is the idea woman, and has the follow-though needed to successfully run the equivalent of a small publishing house these days.

Alison is a superwoman. Not only does she guide 25 authors through the wild west of indie publishing, she is the mother of an active pre-teen, a working author and blogger, and is one of the finest editors I know.

My husband and I share 5 children, and so we have “a passel” of grandkids, as my grandma would have said. While I generally write books more geared for adult readers, Alison has written a young adult Steampunk collection of books, the Crown Phoenix series.

She has written several other novels, and numerous short stories more geared for mature readers, and if there is one thing I can say about Alison, everything she writes is classy and well-crafted.

I am always looking for good, challenging books for my grandkids to read, ones that will keep their interest and stretch their minds, so I was thrilled when I met Alison and discovered her young adult work.

night watchman expressThe first book of hers that I ever read was the Night Watchman’s Express. I loved this book. The story never stops moving until the last page. Miriam, an unhappy young girl is orphaned when her wealthy industrialist father dies. With no other family, her father’s business partners, the Marchpanes, become her guardians. The Marchpanes immediately move into Miriam’s house, and take over her father’s rooms. (Mrs. Marchpane is deliciously evil.) They make their attempt to gain full control of Miriam’s money and her father’s company.

Gradually, Miriam begins to find common ground with the Marchpane’s son and their other young ‘guest’ when a nanny, who is both wise and skilled in certain magics, is hired. Mana is a woman who is of a race of people, who are considered to be second-class citizens, and contrary to the Marchpane’s hopes, she turns out to be exactly what both Miriam and the two boys needed.

There is a reluctant camaraderie that develops between Miriam and the two boys. The three of them do a certain amount of exploring the grounds of the estate, and discover a strange machine that her father has constructed. Another interesting thread is also Miriam’s strange emotional attachment to her father’s typewriter-like machine, which she has claimed for her own since his death, and keeps hidden in her room.

This book was so good for a rainy-weekend read that I read it twice. And guess what? It’s currently a free download for your Kindle, but if you are into paper, it also available in that format for $12.99.

This month, Alison is participating in The #BigBookGiveaway, which starts today, July 1st. For avid book lovers, this is an awesome deal! Sponsored by Girl Who Reads, two boxes of books donated by multiple authors and publishers will be given away through Rafflecopter, and the link to enter that contest is here: #BigBookGiveAway via RafflecopterJust click on that link and it will take you to the contest page, and you too could end up with a large box of books to while away your summer with, and Alison DeLuca’s Night Watchman Express is only one of them.

Christmas O'clock 2013Girl Who Reads is a great resource for avid readers like me, as it’s a website where you can find balanced book reviews, many of them indie books. Books are being offered in this giveaway by many wonderful authors, several with larger publishers, such as Penguin Books and Random House. Alison is also including a copy of Myrddin Publishings children’s’ anthology, Christmas O’Clock.

I did pen one of the stories in that collection, a little thing called A Christmas Tail.  I loved writing that tale—I was in a Toad Hall mood apparently, and Ratsy’s adventures with his friends are reminiscent of that wonderful series of tales.

Alison is one of the easiest people to work with I’ve ever known. We began this publishing adventure in the summer of 2012 as refugees from a bad publishing situation, and while it was rocky in the beginning, we have never regretted our decision to go indie. Our publishing cooperative began with a great group of authors who were all as committed to the indie way as we are, and every year we have gained new authors who bring new ideas and new fire to our collective. Alison is the glue that binds us together.

You can find Alison and more of her work here:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Amazon Author Central:  http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

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#amwriting: Desires and Objectives

LOTR advance poster 2When we sit down to write a story of any length, whether a novel or flash fiction, we often begin with an idea for a plot, the possibilities of great characters, and little more. To make those two things into a compelling story, we must discover what the protagonist desires most, and find out what she/he is willing to risk to achieve it.

Objectives+Risk=Story

In The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo is just an ordinary young hobbit, with no particular ambitions. On the same day as his older cousin Bilbo’s “eleventy-eleventh” (111th) birthday, Frodo (Bilbo’s heir) celebrates his thirty-third birthday.

At the lavish double-birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire for what he calls “a permanent holiday.” He does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on the journey detailed in The Hobbit) to disappear. He is aided in that by Gandalf with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe Bilbo has gone mad.

He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and after some heavy-handed persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, he also leaves the Ring. Gandalf departs on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret. Seventeen years or so pass, and then Gandalf returns to inform Frodo of the truth about Bilbo’s ring. It is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord, and is evil. It forges a connection between the wearer and Sauron, and whoever bears it will be slowly corrupted, eventually becoming a Ringwraith.

LOTR advance posterFrom the moment of learning the truth about the Ring, Frodo’s goal is clear to the reader: he must get rid of the ring. In Rivendell, he learns the only way to do so is to carry it into the depths of Mordor and cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.

Frodo wants to achieve this goal badly enough to walk into an active volcano and certain death to accomplish this.

At no point in the narrative is the objective unclear. The path is blocked many times, and each of the characters is tested by the evil ring, some beyond their ability to resist it.

The objective creates the tension, which drives the plot forward.

But what about a book where the goal is not so clear? Let’s talk about Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ulysses chronicles the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, taking place over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce established a series of parallels between the epic poem and his novel. This book has one of the best opening lines of all time:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Ulysses cover 3Structurally, there are strong correlations between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom with Odysseus, Molly Bloom with Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus with Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It is set in early twentieth century Dublin with the events and political tempests of of the time. Themes of antisemitism and the impact of Ireland’s rocky relationship with Britain as a it was felt in those days are the underlying pins of this novel. It is highly allusive and filled with allegories.

There is no obvious quest, although many minor quests are completed in the course of living through the day. The book opens with Stephen Dedalus, the first protagonist, having breakfast with Buck Mulligan, who is perhaps a friend, or maybe a rival. It’s James Joyce, so it’s complicated. Stephen shares his opinions about religion, especially as they relate to the recent death of his mother, with Buck Mulligan, who manages to offend him. They make plans to go drinking later that evening.  Stephen is not Leopold’s biological son as Telemachus is Odysseus’, but he fulfils that role.

What does Leopold desire? In Episode 4, the narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 am, but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. He and his wife have a daughter, Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography.  As the day unfolds, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the affair between his wife, Molly, and her manager.

He also thinks about the death of their infant son, Rudy Bloom, who died at the age of 11 days. The absence of a son is what leads him to form an attachment to Stephen, for whom he goes out of his way in the book’s latter episodes. He rescues him from a brothel, walks him back to his own home, and even offers him a place there to study and work.

Finally, we come to Molly. The significant difference between Molly and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is that while Penelope is eternally faithful, Molly is not. Molly is having an affair with Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan after ten years of her celibacy within the marriage.  In Dublin, Molly is an opera singer of some renown. Molly wants to be loved.

Ulysses_(1967_film_dvd_cover)The final chapter of Ulysses, often called “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” is a long, un-punctuated stream-of-consciousness passage, which is arguably the most difficult passage to read and/or follow in the Western canon. (The body of books, music and art that scholars generally accept as the most important and influential in shaping Western culture.)

At the end of the day Molly allows Leopold into her bed, and worries about his health. She reminisces about their first meeting, and about when she knew she was in love with him. This long-winded monologue is comprised of some 20,000 words of her thoughts as she lies in bed next to Bloom, who is unaware of her internal rambling.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have a clear and obvious quest, straightforward and seemingly impossible. In Ulysses, we have a group of people who all want something, but just as in real life, what that may be is not as clear as we would like it. But there is an objective: they just want to get through the day and in the end, they each want to love and be loved, and perhaps be part of a family.

Once we know what our protagonist wants and what he/she is willing to risk to achieve it, we have our plot. Personally, I like a certain amount of literary prose, but I prefer reading books that are a little more straight-forward than Ulysses. That’s why Tolkien’s work spoke to me when I was still in grade school.

How we dress it up is up to us—and, while I admit James Joyce’s rambling is too daunting for me to read for pleasure, I am a confirmed fan of his magnificent one-liners.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Ulysses, Episode 2

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Myrddin Summer Beach Reads — Join The Party! #Giveaway

Rachel Tsoumbakos talks about the Myrddin Summer Beach Reads Facebook event. All the Edgewise Words Inn contributors will be there, along with many more. You just may find the book you’ve been waiting for!

Rachel Tsoumbakos

Myrddin Summer Beach Reads Party promo image

I know here in Australia, winter is coming. But, in the Northern hemisphere, things are heating up. And so it is time for the Myrddin Summer Beach Reads Party!

So just what is this magnificent event?

According to the official event page, the Myrddin Summer Beach Reads party aims to “introduce readers to the wonderful books by the Myrddin authors (and some of their friends) before summer officially starts.” This will give readers a chance to stock up on some great books across multiple genres before they hit the beach.

On offer during the event are the following prizes and giveaways:

  • $50 Amazon Gift Card grand prize
  • 2 “box-set” digital copies of the complete Tower of Bones series by Connie J Jasperson
  • 2 digital copies of Huw the Bard by Connie J Jasperson
  • 1 copy of Dorianna and 1 copy of Witch of the Cards by Catherine Stine
  • A copy…

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#amreading: Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions

IndieGuideCoverOne aspect of an author’s career that we are often temperamentally unsuited for, is the book signing event. Many of us are, by nature, not outgoing or able to sell our own work. But the book signing event is crucial–it is is a way for you to meet with potential readers in person, and for them to develop a sense of connection to you and your work.

A book every indie author should have in their arsenal is Working the Table, by authors Lee French and Jeffrey Cook.  The advice within those pages will pay for the book many times over, because whether you are an indie or traditionally published, most likely you will have to sell your book, and a way to generate a little bit of a buzz is the good, old-fashioned book signing. You will also attract readers at conventions, if you are careful to select cons that play to your genre and your style.

I had the chance to speak to Lee and Jeffrey over the weekend about their book.

CJJ: Working the Table is a useful book in the indie author’s arsenal. What made you decide to embark on such an ambitious project?

Jeffrey: Honestly? Other authors were responsible. Take a look at the dedication page — the people named there were some of the primary culprits, but not the only ones. We’d do shows; people would see us putting up the table, arranging it, putting out set deals, and then handling customers, and tell us we needed to write a book.

For quite a while, we laughed at the suggestion. Then we got an ultimatum at Orycon last year — “You guys write it, or I will.”

We still laughed. Then, that same night, staying with Madison Keller in Portland, I couldn’t sleep. I stayed up until 3:30 AM jotting down notes and ideas. I didn’t know it, but Lee would be up not long after I finally went to bed.

We compared notes on the drive home and got started.

Lee: Even at that point, though, it wasn’t a done deal. The speed with which the book came together is what really made it happen. This project could easily have been one that festers and simmers and takes a while, especially with the demanding publishing schedule both Jeff and I maintain. But it took almost no time to write the first draft between us, and we did a few shows in the middle of the revision process where we turned to each other and said, “The thing that just happened needs to be in the book.” Two days later, it was in the book.

CJJ: Authors are by nature rather introverted. But you two both have a strong presence when you are behind the table at an event. How did you develop the persona you have for events?

Jeffrey: Frankly, I’m not an introvert. I’m not an extrovert either. I like my space and quiet time, but in this job, I have a reasonable amount of it. When convention or activity time rolls around, I’m pretty happy to talk to people.

As it notes in the book, that’s part of what I bring to the partnership. I like talking to people. I’ve traveled all over the US and Canada between moving and a lot of road trips when I was younger, and I’m fairly good at dealing with new people.

Part of the presence you mention also has to do with developing a coordinated plan based around our soft-sell approach. When people come up to the table, our primary aims are to make them feel comfortable there and to match them up with the book or books they want, instead of trying to push any particular thing.

Lee: While I’m on the introvert side of the scale, and I have some moderate social anxieties, I’ve found that being behind the table is a relatively comfortable place. There’s an expectation for behavior and interactions not present in other types of people encounters.

My job at the table is a known quantity, both to myself and to people who approach. When you walk up, I want to help you find a book, and you know that’s what I’m going to try to do. That makes the interaction much easier to pursue. No one walks up to an author table expecting to talk about anything other than books, writing, publishing, the surrounding environment, and whatever fandom is dearest to them. With those boundaries pre-established, and the subjects (mostly) ones I can speak on with a certain amount of expertise, the anxieties inherent in relating to strangers are significantly lessened.

CJJ: How do you select the convention with the right buyers for your work?

Jeffrey: Right now, we’re doing a lot of different conventions. Comic-cons, scifi/fantasy cons, street fairs, literary events, etc. Next year, we’re hoping to narrow down the field from about 32 planned events this year (for me, anyway, though most of those are working with Lee) down to about 18 of the best. Then maybe 12-15 in years beyond that.

We know that we both primarily write science fiction and fantasy, so we definitely favor events with a strong scifi/fantasy convention audience and tend to do the best at those. Thankfully, that’s a big market in the Pacific Northwest.

Lee: When I first started looking at picking conventions, my first question was, “Which conventions would I like to attend?” Like most writers, the things that interest me wind up in my writing, making my audience people who are, at least generally, like me. That means gaming conventions are high on my list, as are general fantasy and science fictions shows of all types. Then it comes to subgenre niche conventions, so long as one of us has something in that subgenre, we’ll try it. I actually do well at steampunk conventions despite not having steampunk books because I share a table with Jeff, who has some high quality steampunk. But I wouldn’t go to a steampunk convention by myself.

CJJ: What has been the largest hurdle for you in most dealers’ rooms?

Jeffrey: The unpredictability of some of these shows can be frustrating. We’re pretty good at selling books as long as there’s an audience. Sometimes there’s just not. The long, slow periods can be kind of difficult too, especially because you at least need someone at the table looking engaged and interested, no matter how long it’s been since someone came by.

Lee: Getting into them in the first place. Some conventions are very popular and getting in requires sacrificing your first born child under the full moon with a sprig of fresh mistletoe… Once you’re in, you’re usually in as long as you want to be, but jamming your foot in the door can be challenging. The best bet is usually to keep submitting and when you do get into something, be excellent to the volunteers and staff. Word about vendor behavior gets around.

CJJ: What advice do you have for the author just embarking on the roller-coaster ride that is the dealers’ room?

Jeffrey: Keep your expectations reasonable. When you’re just starting out, conventions aren’t going to be a big money-maker. You’re trying to get your book out there, but also start connecting with fans and potential fans. The investment of time and money can still be worth it in the long run, but you need to look at it as exactly that: an investment.

Lee: That’s also my number one piece of advice. The goal of working conventions is to break even, not to have fabulous financial windfalls. It’s not an end-all, be-all marketing tactic, it’s a piece of a larger picture. One of the most important things we do at conventions is hand out business cards and meet people. Selling books matters, because we have to make enough to afford to do this. Making connections matters more for the long term.

CJJ: If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?

Jeffrey: In broad general terms, I’d have liked to have been better about listening to my editor and her general advice. She had a lot better perspective on some things early in my writing career, and I’d be better off and further ahead today if I’d been a better listener.

In terms of shows and conventions specifically: I’d have loved to have spent some serious time learning how to use media better. Press releases, getting newspaper attention, etc.  It’s important and helpful – and something I’m still not great at.

Lee: For the bigger picture of publishing, I’ve made a number of horrifying mistakes in my career that I wish I could go back and do right the first time. It would take to long to discuss them all. For those considering jumping into this madness that is writing novels, I definitely recommend getting your feet wet with short story publication before throwing your first novel out there. Short story writing teaches the art of brevity, a skill many novelists struggle with.

CJJ: Finally, where can the reader find you two this summer?

Jeffrey: In May, I’ll be at Lilac City Comiccon in Spokane with Lee (May 14th), then Gearcon Day Out in Portland (May 21).

In June, I’ll be at Oddmall in Everett from the 3rd through the 5th, working with Freevalley Publishing, then Maple Valley Days, all of 7 blocks from my home, from the 10th through the 12th. Our books will be at the Brass Screw Confederacy (also the 10th through the 12th), and then we’ll be at the Fremont Solstice Festival from the 17th through the 19th.

In July, we’ll be at Westercon in Portland from the 1st to the 4th. Then we’ll be running our own book fair at Evergreen State University in Olympia on the 16th. Then I’ll be on my own one more time at the Fairhaven Steampunk Festival in Bellingham on the 23rd as a guest of Village Books.

Finally, in August, we embark on the epic road trip — which we’ve kind of planned the year around. We’re still waiting on hearing about a show in Minnesota, but we’re confirmed for Gencon in Indianapolis from the 4th to the 7th, then Malcon in Denver from the 12th to the 14th, and finally, the long haul of Worldcon in Kansas City from the 17th to the 21st.

Lee: I don’t have any additional appearances beyond those Jeff listed scheduled at this point. I’ll just note the name of the book fair on July 16—CapitalIndieBookCon—for anyone interested in a book fair in Olympia.

CJJ: I will be at the CapitolIndieBookCon also, putting your wisdom to work! Thank you, Jeffrey and Lee, for taking the time to talk with me about Working the Table.  In my opinion, any author who intends to get out and do book signing events or work the dealer’s rooms at conventions should consider purchasing this book. The advice contained within was hard earned and is priceless. I have my copy and it is already looking a little well-used!

>>><<<

Jeff1Jeffrey Cook lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. He’s the author of the Dawn of Steam trilogy of alternate-history/emergent Steampunk epistolary novels, the YA Sci-fi thriller Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets, and the YA Fantasy novel Foul is Fair. He’s a founding contributing author of Writerpunk Press and has also contributed to a number of role-playing game books for Deep7 Press out of Seattle. He is part of a speculative-fiction authors’ co-op, Clockwork Dragon (www.clockworkdragon.net). When not reading, researching, or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football.

You can find Jeffrey Cook’s books by visiting his author page at Amazon.com:

Jeffrey Cook on Amazon.com:

  • Dawn of Steam: First Light
  • Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun
  • Dawn of Steam: Rising Suns
  • Foul is Fair
  • Street Fair
  • A Fair Fight
  • Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk
  • Once More Unto the Breach: Shakespeare Goes Punk 2
  • Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk
  • Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets
  • Airs & Graces (Angel’s Grace 1)
  • There But for the Grace (Angel’s Grace 2)
  • Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions

www.Authorjeffreycook.com

www.Clockworkdragon.net

Jeffrey Cook on Facebook

Dawn of Steam Trilogy on Facebook

Follow Jeff on twitter: @jeffreycook74

>>><<<

Lee1Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending too much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don’t get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.
You can find Lee French’s books by visiting her author page at Amazon.com:

Lee French on Amazon:

  • Maze Beset #1: Dragons In Pieces
  • Maze Beset #2: Dragons In Chains
  • Maze Beset #3: Dragons In Flight
  • The Greatest Sin #1: The Fallen
  • The Greatest Sin #2: Harbinger
  • The Greatest Sin #3: Moon Shades
  • The Greatest Sin #4: Illusive Echoes (coming soon)
  • Spirit Knights #1: Girls Can’t Be Knights
  • Spirit Knights #2: Backyard Dragons
  • Spirit Knights #3: Ethereal Entanglements (coming soon)
  • Damsel In Distress
  • Shadow & Spice (short story)
  • Al-Kabar
  • Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions
  • Into the Woods: a fantasy anthology
  • Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk
  • Missing Pieces VII: short stories from GenCon’s Author’s Avenue (coming in August)
  • Unnatural Dragons: a science fiction anthology (coming soon)

www.authorleefrench.com

www.Clockworkdragon.net

Lee French on Facebook

Clockwork Dragon on Facebook

Follow Lee on Twitter: @AuthorLeeFrench / @DragonClockwork

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#amreading: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Queen of the Night alexander cheeEvery now and then I find myself reading/listening to a mainstream bestseller, and enjoying it. Alexander Chee has written just such a novel, in The Queen of the Night.

This novel has one of the best openings since Patrick Rothfuss’s brilliant opening lines in The Name of the Wind.

Quote from The Queen of the Night: When it began, it began as an opera would begin, in a palace, at a ball, in an encounter with a stranger who, you discover, has your fate in his hands. He is perhaps a demon or a god in disguise, offering you a chance at either the fulfillment of a dream or a trap for the soul. A comic element—the soprano arrives in the wrong dress—and it decides her fate.

These lines presage an immersive, sumptuous reading experience.

But first, THE BLURB:

Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.

As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.

Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation — or destroy her with the secrets it reveals.

The book so far:

From those intiguing opening lines forward it is filled with every kind of emotion, every human tragedy and triumph imaginable. It resounds with the pomp and grandeur of the most thrilling opera–as it should since it details the life of a Parisian opera star of outstanding brilliance–a true diva in the operatic sense.

Rumors abound regarding Lilliet–she is the topic of many conversations, but rumors barely touch on the truth of her life. Even she is not truly sure of who or what she is. Despite having achieved everything and more, she lacks something and is waiting for a “meeting with destiny” which she hopes will transform her life into the paradise she wants it to be.  That moment comes in chapter one, but the transformation….

You will have to read it to see.

This book is not cheap–the Kindle edition is $14.99. I bought it as an Audible download ($17.95) because I am heavily involved in editing right now for a Myrddin author and am also making revisions on my own work under an editor’s guidance. Then I bought the hardcover edition.

I am unable to read for pleasure until I am done with these two tasks. And because of some interesting style choices on the part of the author, such as not enclosing dialogue in quotes, I especially dare not attempt to read this particular book just now.

But I can listen to audio books, and what I am hearing in this book captivates me. When I am once again able to read for pleasure, this book will the first I crack open.

To purchase a book published by the large traditional publishers is a hefty financial commitment. To make your decision a little easier, Longreads posted the first chapter here: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee. Please go out to their wonderful site and if you like what you see, consider becoming a member.

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#amreading: The Well at World’s End, William Morris

TheWellattheWorldsEnd423x630First published in 1896, and now in the public domain, The Well at World’s End by William Morris has inspired countless great fantasy authors. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were students at Oxford when they became devotees of Morris’s work, to name just two. I first read this book in college (back in the dark ages) when Ballantine released it as a two-volume set. The original Ballantine covers are below, at the end of this post.

This fairly unknown literary treasure is available for free, as a download for your Kindle or any other reading device. I got my Kindle version through the Gutenberg Project on Google–and it reminded me of what my true roots as a reader of fantasy are. Give me the beautiful prose, the side-quests to nowhere, and wrap them in an illusion of magic, and I’m yours forever.

First, The Blurb:

The rich, interwoven tapestry of William Morris’s four-volume epic, “The Well at the World’s End”, is brought together in a handsome edition featuring the tale of Ralph of Upmeads. Literally and figuratively, this story is the wellspring that gave rise to both C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”. Many elements of the story will be familiar to those who love these and other modern narratives of fantasy and adventure, set in a mythical world.

Ralph of Upmeads is the fourth and youngest son of the king of a small monarchy, and the only one forbidden of his elder brothers from going in search of his fortune. He runs away, but not before his godmother gives him a necklace with a bead on it, which unerringly directs his destiny to seek out the legendary and titular well at the end of the earth. Along the way, he encounters friends and foes in an ever-changing landscape of rolling hills and barren wood, towering mountains and meandering rivers. Through them all pass roads down which many heroes since have sojourned; united in fellowship, or alone on solitary quests.

Great and splendorous cities await, and in between, thriving towns, tiny villages, and protective farms at the edge of vast wildernesses. The further our intrepid wayfarer gets from home, the more he misses the simple pleasures of his hearth, table, and bed. Many have followed in his footsteps since, both character and reader alike.

Its language is that of another age, but its archetypical settings and denizens are the timeless stuff of once and future legend.

William_Morris_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_13619

Portrait of William Morris by George Frederic Watts, 1870

My Review:

William Morris wrote beautifully crafted poems. The prose in this narrative is both medieval and sumptuous. He was born in 1834 and died in 1896. He was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, but breaking with that organization over goals and methods by the end of the decade. Famous as a designer of textiles and wallpaper prints that made the Arts and Crafts style famous, Morris devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891. Kelmscott was devoted to the publishing of limited-edition, illuminated-style print books. The 1896 Kelmscott edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.

The Well at World’s End is a real departure for the literature of the Victorian era, in that the morality is indicative of the free-thinking bohemian lifestyle of the famous and infamous artists of the day. William Morris was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and was a man who enjoyed an unconventional lifestyle in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, all of them celebrating musical, artistic, and literary pursuits.

Using language with elements of the medieval tales written by Chaucer and Chrétien de Troyes, who were his models, Morris tells the story of Ralph of Upmeads, the fourth and youngest son of a minor king. The king is wise and his kingdom prosperous, but nevertheless his four sons are not content. The three older brothers set out, with their father’s blessing. Ralph is still young, and his father wishes him to remain at his side.

Not happy with his lot, Ralph departs without his father’s blessing. He yearns to find knightly adventure and is encouraged by a lady, Dame Katharine, to seek the Well at the World’s End, a magic well which will confer a near-immortality and strengthened destiny on those who drink from it. The Dame is childless, and sees Ralph as a son; she gives him a necklace of blue and green stones with a small box of gold tied on to it, telling him to let no man take it from him, as it will be his salvation. She also gives him money for his journey.

The well lies at the edge of the sea beyond a wall of mountains called “The Wall of the World” by those on the near side of them but “The Wall of Strife” by the more peaceful and egalitarian people who live on the seaward side.

Ralph meets a mysterious Lady of the Dry Tree, the Lady of Abundance who has drunk from the well, and they become lovers. Together and separately, they face many foes and dangers including brigands, slave traders, unscrupulous rulers and treacherous fellow travelers. The lady is murdered, leaving Ralph bereft. Later, Ralph meets another lady, Ursula, and with her help and the aid of the Sage of Sweveham, an ancient hermit who has also drunk of the well, Ralph eventually attains the Well, after many more adventures.

Because the main character, Ralph, and a nameless lady become lovers with no thought of marriage, the novel was not well known in its time, until twenty years after Morris’s death when it was discovered by free-thinking university students, to the dismay of their strait-laced parents.

The underlying story is strong, with many twists and turns. The relationship between the Ralph and the Lady of Abundance is well portrayed, as is the jealousy of her former lover, the death of her husband, and the way she is either loved or feared by everyone around her driving the plot forward. She is a woman of mystery, alternately cruel and kind, one minute the Lady of the Dry Tree, and the next, the Lady of Abundance.

Ralph’s story really begins after her death and the intertwined threads of fate and magic are compelling. The characters Ursula and the Sage of Sweveham are both deep and well-drawn.

I freely confess that in the same way as the works of William Shakespeare are hard for a modern reader to translate, the language of William Morris’s work is difficult to follow. A quote will show you what I mean: “But Ralph gave forth a great wail of woe, and ran forward and knelt by the Lady, who lay all huddled up face down upon the grass, and he lifted her up and laid her gently on her back. The blood was flowing fast from a great wound in her breast, and he tore off a piece of his shirt to staunch it, but she without knowledge of him breathed forth her last breath ere he could touch the hurt, and he still knelt by her, staring on her as if he knew not what was toward.”

When you read it aloud, it rolls off the tongue with beauty and grace and is somehow easier to understand.

I was always intrigued by the works of the medieval and renaissance authors whose works I had to work to translate into modern English. Once translated, reading it was like opening a time capsule. It was a window into a lost world of romance and mystery.

The Well at the Worlds End is a foundational work in the canon of modern fantasy literature. All the great works of the twentieth century have some roots in this novel. The hard-core devotee of true fantasy literature will not be intimidated by the archaic prose. A wealth of tales lies within this volume, all of which come together in the end.

The_Well_at_the_Worlds_End_1-2


Parts of this review were originally published  on 31-Jan-2014 on Best in Fantasy

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