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#BookReview: Calico Lane by Judy Kiehart #amreading

Writers are readers. We were readers long before we became writers, and reading is a habit we can’t break. It is a habit that broadens minds and introduces us to new worlds.

magicOr, in some cases, as in the book I am focusing on today, it takes us back to the world we thought we left behind.

I read in every genre. Memoirs were high on my mother’s reading list, so I borrowed them off her shelf and read them too. The way people think and view their life experiences fascinates me. I enjoy the contrast of the turning points in their lives, juxtaposing them with what I see as the rather mundane moments of mine.

So now, let’s get down to the book, Calico Lane.

But first, the Blurb:

Calico Lane by Judy KiehartHow do we survive when who we are is not the person our family expects us to be?

Judy Kiehart’s Calico Lane deals with universal themes of family, acceptance, faith, and love; it is a memoir of confusion and muddled thoughts that slowly untangle as a sturdy heritage endures.

In a small Pennsylvania town, a neighborhood called The Lane is surrounded by dense woods, creeks, and rutted mining tracks. Not even the rumored child-eating spiders inside an old structure scare Judy. What frightens the ten-year-old is that someone may discover her secret.
Set in a time before sexual identity became a household phrase, Judy develops confusing emotions for an older girl, and, year after year, girl after girl, the feelings continue. Judy’s friends want to kiss the boys. No one talks about girls kissing girls. Over time she fears her emotions are not typical, and if continued, will bring shame to her family and the town’s Russian Orthodox Church. But harboring a secret is paralyzing.

Armed with an affable sense of humor and her mother’s housekeeping principle, “everything in its place and a place for everything,” Judy begins a life of pretense; after all, the best way to survive being different is to hide the truth, isn’t it?

My Review:

Calico Lane is a gentle journey into the troubles and confusions of knowing you are different from your friends in a truly fundamental way. Judy’s struggle to maintain the strong family ties that sustained her early childhood and still negotiate the troubled seas of her teenage years is endearing.

The world she paints for us is both comforting and terrifying in many ways, familiar to anyone who grew up in a strict religious/cultural tradition.

We all can relate to the fear of losing your parents’ love over something you can’t change. I was born just after Judy Kiehart, and while we were raised in widely different parts of the US, many of our experiences, both in school and out of it, were similar. We both grew up in families with strong religious and cultural traditions, beneath the intense spotlight of the post-WWII focus on visible morality.

We of the lower middle class were happy, prosperous, and above all, we always looked morally good no matter what really happened behind closed doors. We faithfully attended church in our respective denominations every week and participated in all the activities that went along with it.

Family secrets were kept from the children. We were raised with the firm belief that heterosexuality was the only sexuality—you were a woman or a man and, of course, heterosexual.

If you were different, you kept that secret, or you could be jailed, brutally beaten, or even killed. You, or even your family, could lose their jobs. There was no blurring of the lines, no gender identity other than male or female, and who you were allowed to love was defined by strict laws that didn’t allow for any other way of life.

My best friend in school was gay, a secret I kept for him until he came out after the Stonewall riots. This is why I found Judy Kiehart’s memoir of growing up knowing she was attracted to girls and not boys so interesting. It brought me closer to an understanding of my friend’s struggle.

I grew up in a Lutheran family, so many of my family’s traditions differed from Judy’s Russian Orthodox background. But the outward, visible values of middle-class America that she grew up with were the same as mine.

The book flows as if she is sitting with you, sharing her story over a cup of coffee. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone who loves a good story about good people.

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About Judy Kiehart:

Judy Kiehart head shotJudy’s writing achievements include two one-act plays that paced among the top three winners in national competitions and were staged in Colorado in 2005 and 2015. She was commissioned to write a ninety-minute program for Stage Left Theater in Salida for the 2010 winter holiday season. She describes herself as a glass-half-full, gay Christian and enjoys traveling—whether exploring faraway places or nearby towns. Judy and her wife managed a real estate appraisal business for eighteen years in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and following retirement, relocated to Olympia.

An excerpt from Calico Lane was a semifinalist in the 2021 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Competition.

You can find her at:

www.judykiehart.com

www.facebook.com/judy.kiehart

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22166296.Judy_Kiehart

Purchase Calico Lane at:

https://Amazon.com/dp/0578340836

or at Browsers in downtown Olympia

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We’re With the Band, a novel by Johanna Flynn #amreading

Today I’m reviewing We’re With the Band, a new novel by the award-winning author Johanna Flynn. This book is a departure from the serious tone of her debut novel, Hidden Pictures, taking a hilarious look at renaissance fairs, bands and groupies, and the cultural importance of Ireland’s historical treasures.


But first, the blurb:

were_with_the_band_johanna_flynnWe’re With the Band, a novel by Johanna Flynn

Publisher: ‎ Palatine Press (November 29, 2021)

Language: ‎ English

Paperback: ‎ 322 pages

Lark’s life at fifty is a tour bus with failing brakes.

Failed marriage, failed social work career, failed romance with a renaissance faire knight.

If fifty is the new forty, her future doesn’t bode well.

A job comes along for a three-week band tour as a backup singer and bus driver in her native Ireland. But the country has changed since she moved to the US.

A lot.

Someone steals priceless artifacts from Dublin’s National Museum, and Lark suspects one of her bandmates is the thief. Can she manage the wild ride through the countryside, survive her quirky bandmates, reconnect with her crazy mom, and find the rare antiquities before they disappear forever on the black market?

We’re With the Band is a comedic romp across Ireland through the eyes of Lark Devlin and her best friend, Bev De Trow.

My review:

Lark Devlin is a hilarious modern gal with a healthy appetite for all that life offers. Bev is the voice of reason, not always heeded. The other characters are unique; some are hilarious, and others are a bit scary.

Rhett, the band leader, is a southerner obsessed with all things Irish. He hires Lark based on her Irish birth and accent.

When Lark and Bev meet the band members, they find a mix of people. Some are not as shallow as they appear at first.

Rhett has a secret agenda, and so do the other band members. Fortunately, no matter how cute the accent is, Lark is too smart to fall for a smooth operator.

However, in any group of healthy people, sparks will occasionally fly, and the members of the Band of Pirates are definitely healthy.

I absolutely love Lark’s mother. That woman is a firecracker.

The theft of national treasures upsets Lark on many levels, and she suspects someone in the band might be involved. These fears grow as they travel through Ireland, and evidence against one band member mounts.

The tour of Ireland is fraught with disasters, but the show goes on. I enjoyed seeing a side of the real country, the ordinary people and places we don’t see in movies. This world feels real, and that is because the author has lived in Ireland and knows the country and the people well.

Lark is sometimes impetuous when patience might be a better choice, but that is part of the fun. I laughed so much in places; the humor makes this book wonderful.

Deceit, treachery, a little of this and that—the journey turns perilous for Lark and Bev but always remains fun.

If you love high drama, dark intrigue, raunchy hilarity, and all things Irish, this book is for you.


About the author:

Johanna FlynnJohanna grew up in Spokane, Washington.

Her curiosity ranges from the arts to science to accounting. All sorts of topics catch her interest. But her biggest thrill is connecting with others and sharing views.

She believes that’s why she wanted to become a writer from a young age and why she likes many different authors and genres.

She wrote her first book at age ten. Sadly, she could not find an agent for it. In reality, she had no idea what an agent was or that she needed one. What counted was she wanted to write a story, to get something on paper, and to share it.

At about the same time her dad gave her a small camera, so the pictures you see on this website are hers.

Like many, the dream of becoming a writer had to wait. But during those years, she spent time learning the craft, taking classes, and joining writers’ groups. She learned that writing is hard, often lonely work. The biggest lesson she learned is to persist.

Johanna feels lucky to belong to a group of talented writers and to have friends and relatives, who are her biggest fans, who give useful feedback, and who support her on this journey.

You can find Johanna and her books at www.johannaflynn.com

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Review of The Slime Mold Murder by Ellen King Rice #amreading

I did receive an advance copy of The Slime Mold Murder. I usually decline to do advance reviews as my blogging and writing schedule means I just don’t have time to write a proper review anymore.

magicAlso, if you have been a reader of mine for a while, you know I rarely write reviews for books I don’t like, no matter how much I like the author because I hate hurting peoples’ feelings.

However, when I was approached about drawing the map that is featured in the front, what I was told about the book intrigued me. I had read and loved other work by this author, most especially Larry’s Post-Rapture Pet Sitting Service.

But first, The Blurb for The Slime Mold Murder :

A Winner of the 2020 IPPY Gold Medal for best regional fiction, Ellen King Rice is back with a fourth biological adventure set in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, this time exploring the fascinating world of the Myxogastria slime molds.

At nineteen, Dylan’s brilliant mind is an asset as he struggles with severe ADHD and deteriorating living conditions. He’s one semester away from completing his college degree in ecology, but he’s out of cash, out of soap, and about to be evicted.

A post-pandemic opportunity to survey a rural property sounds like a lifeline. The owner of a creepy faux-chateau is ready to pay a handsome wage for a list of species found on the property. Dylan can’t believe his good luck. He’s about to be paid to wander in the woods. Sure, there’s some bookkeeping, but how hard can it be to make a plant list?

The neighborhood, however, has other residents, including a metal sculpture artist, nudists, two homeless men, and a conservative county commissioner, each with their own definition of freedom and their own ways of interacting with the land.

When a body is found in the woods Dylan’s work opportunity is threatened. He needs to uncover the reason for the death, but Dylan’s lightning-fast mind is constantly undermined by his poor executive functioning. He can discourse eloquently on the significance of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, but he can’t find his wallet. He longs to adopt an orphaned West Highland terrier, but he’s not sure he’d remember to feed a dog. He certainly can’t afford a bag of dog kibble, much less the repairs needed on his vintage Honda.

How can Dylan’s intuitive grasp of ecology and the complex life cycles of the Myxogastria help to expose a killer? And how does he protect his employer, his professor, his friends and a small, confused dog from those who eagerly embrace violence?


My Review:

51v0Z1IolxSDylan Kushner is a 19-year-old genius coping with absentee parents, financial insecurity, looming homelessness, and worry about paying for his last semester of school. He also lives with ADHD and dysgraphia, which impairs his ability to translate his thoughts into handwritten words. Through his college classes, he is befriended by good people who give him the tools to be independent.

Mari is a fellow student, bumbling her way to adulthood. Alyson is the precocious twelve-year-old daughter of Wade Witecki. All the many characters in this mystery are engaging and either likable or unlikeable as they would be in real life. One even empathizes with the characters who fall into the gray area between good and evil.

I enjoyed how Rice framed opening chapters, introducing us to the players. She uses action and interaction to show the lengths some powerful people are willing to go to when their cherished beliefs are threatened. Once we have met everyone, it’s clear that a clash of epic proportions looms.

While the narrative is a little science-heavy at times, it moves along well, with the events occurring as they might in real life. Each character’s reactions and subsequent actions are logical, yet just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t.

The world Rice presents to us is solidly formed. I found it easy to be immersed in the dampness and subtle smells of the forest as the characters worked their way through the mystery. In the process, we see the general unpleasantness some people have a knack for, the kindnesses people are capable of, and the evil that lurks in the soul of others.

If you love learning about the natural world and also love a good mystery that is strong on science, the Slime Mold Murder is the book is for you.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ellen King Rice is a wildlife biologist who explores the woods while wearing leg braces. Her slow pace has provided opportunities to learn about the Northwest’s small and cryptic species. Her vivid adventures shine a spotlight on the richness found on the forest floor, augmented by crisp illustrations from Olympia artist, Duncan Sheffels. This award-winning pair have been charming woodland lovers since 2016.

You can find Ellen and her books at www.ellenkingrice.com

Please join her on Instagram at:

https://www.instagram.com/mushroom_thrillers.

And on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/mushroomthriller/

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#BookReview: A Cold and Quiet Place by @AlisonDeLuca #amreading

I read many books, and while most novels have some redeeming qualities, a few stand out as stellar. A Cold and Quiet Place by Alison DeLuca is one of those.

While I no longer have the time to put out a weekly book review blog, I do still review the books I love, and when I come across one that is worth sharing, I will gladly share it here.

Everyone who was ever a teenager knows the years between childhood and adulthood are fraught with danger, as the social skills we form either help or handicap us, and the traumas we suffer haunt us forever after.

The novel opens with a girl on the edge of adulthood and takes us through a powerful coming-of-age story.

But first, THE BLURB:

A Cold and Quiet Place by Alison DeLuca

Publisher : Myrddin Publishing Group (December 27, 2020)

Publication date : December 27, 2020

Language : English

Print length : 183 pages

The deepest scars can be invisible. Lily’s swimming career is jeopardized when she dates Tyler, her attractive teammate. At first he seems like the perfect boyfriend. But Tyler’s insults and demands increase, and Lily has to decide if her relationship is worth the emotional torture. Between Tyler, the pressure of competition, and an anonymous online bully, Lily risks losing everything she has fought for as a 15-year old swimmer. A Cold and Quiet Place is a YA novel about competitive swimming and the dark world of emotional abuse.

MY REVIEW:

This book is an emotional rollercoaster, powerful and deeply moving. DeLuca’s prose is lean and evocative, and her narrative transitions smoothly from scene to scene. The story is so compelling I was halfway through the book before I knew it.

This is a novel of achievement and despair. It details the chaotic mystery of Lily’s situation and the cold calculation of her abuser, laying bare the toxic high school relationships that are a terrible rite of passage many young people go through in their teen years.

High School in the US generally encompasses grades 9 through 12, and ages 14 to 18, with some variations depending on the school district.

When I began reading this novel, I knew nothing about competitive swimming other than as an Olympic level sport, one I watch every four years when the world meets to compete. I knew nothing of the athletes’ personal journey to get to that place.

Now, I see the humanity of each competitor, the person who has a life apart from their sport. Yet with each event, they challenge themselves to be better than their previous best.

Lilly’s story as an athlete and young woman is both heartbreaking and empowering. When I finished the last page, I felt as wrung as if I had lived that story, and in many ways, I had.

There is no blunting of the trauma, no dancing around the issues. DeLuca takes us into Lily’s world and tells a gripping story that has to be read to the last page. This is a powerful story of a girl growing into womanhood.

I give A Cold and Quiet Place by Alison DeLuca 5 stars.

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#AudiobookReview: The Hope Store by @DwightOkita #amreading

Today I am reviewing an audiobook version of a book I read in the digital form several years ago, The Hope Store by poet and playwright, Dwight Okita.

His debut novel, The Prospect of My Arrival,  was one of the more absorbing sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. So, I was quite intrigued when he first published the The Hope Store.

And how amazing it was to discover that Dwight Okita himself has narrated the audiobook! Okita’s narration of  The Hope Store is perfect, as is the music he has chosen for each chapter break, bringing this wonderful book to life. Wow, where to begin… I was up all night listening to this book.

But, as always, my reviews begin with THE BLURB:
Two Asian American men who are lovers, Luke and Kazu, discover a bold new procedure to import hope into the hopeless. They vow to open the world’s first Hope Store. Their slogan: “We don’t just instill hope. We install it.”

The media descend. Customer Jada Upshaw arrives at the store with a hidden agenda, but what happens next, no one could have predicted. Meanwhile, an activist group called The Natural Hopers emerges, warning that hope installations are a risky, Frankenstein-like procedure and vow to shut down the store. Luke comes to care about Jada, and marvels at her super-responder status.

But in dreams begin responsibilities, and unimaginable nightmares follow. If science can’t save Jada, can she save herself – or will she wind up as collateral damage?

MY REVIEW:

I love Okita’s cerebral yet poetic prose. The narrative feels gentle and approachable, even when depicting the harsher realities of his world, and Okita’s voice is perfect for the tone of the book.

Set in a Chicago of the future, the story opens with Jada Upshaw, a memorable, multidimensional character. A well-educated woman, Jada is, at the outset, intent on killing herself. Her despair and confused emotional state are laid bare, shown with the delicacy and respect Okita brings to all his characters.

Luke Nagano describes himself as “a boy with a big heart but no idea where to put it.” This holds true throughout the entire novel, as Luke himself is the embodiment of hope. Of Japanese descent, Luke is a native of Chicago and is deeply rooted in Midwestern American culture. He is deeply in love with Kazu Mori, a rock-star scientist from Tsukuba, Japan. Luke’s thoroughly American blundering through life causes him to make occasional missteps, inadvertent cross-cultural clashes, which create tension. Kazu is forgiving but is wholly dedicated to his work. Their love/work relationship drives the plot, also creating tension.

The relationships and thoughts of both Jada and Luke are shown throughout the narrative. However, they still have secrets from the reader, keeping me turning the pages.

Okita shows the actual science behind the Hope installation with masterful strokes. Instead of devolving into a drawn-out explanation, he offers just enough information about the key elements, a framework for the reader to hang their imagination on.

Beyond the great characters and the futuristic setting is the deeper story.

Belief and disbelief, hope and the lack of it, the desire for it, and the lengths we will go to acquire it is what drives this tale. Intrigues, private agendas, and in some cases, desperation drive the story to a satisfying, logical, yet surprising finish.

I highly recommend the audio version of The Hope Store, as much as do the kindle and paper book. I found it cerebral, sexy, and thought-provoking, as all Okita’s work is. His narration takes this novel to a new level. If you are looking for a good winter’s read or an audiobook to take your mind off the end-of-the-year doldrums, this is one I can recommend with no reservations.

Definitely five stars.

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Defiance, by Lee French #amreading

I talk a lot about the books I read. I read in a wide variety of genres, and sometimes I get hung up on one particular author for a while. So, while I gravitate to literary and fantasy, I also devour women’s fiction, sci-fi, poetry–you name it, I read it.

I have several grandchildren who are young teenagers, so when I hear about a good YA (young adult) book, I read it. Then I can make informed recommendations to them.

If I feel strongly enough about the quality of the story, I purchase the books for them.

Forcing a gift on the grandchildren obligates my little darlings to read. Once they start, no matter how unwilling they are at first, they become hooked.

The Harper Revolution series by Lee French is one I buy for them. Defiance is a prequel to Porcelain and explores characters whose stories will join Emma’s in book four. (I read this on the author’s website.)

Abbie Park’s story is one of bravery, compassion, and loyalty. She is proud of her heritage but has avoided the family’s dojang since the sudden death of her father. Still, the training and discipline her uncle guides her with have made her into a strong young woman.

When aliens kidnap everyone who is in the dojang, Abbie’s sense of honor and her fighting spirit are a bastion of strength to her uncle as he tries to keep everyone together. Loss of home and family, loss of freedom—loss of a future are all shown with sensitivity.

I like the way Lee French takes a character from confused and powerless to strong and competent, through believable events. Abbie’s reactions are true, and her interactions with her sister, her friends, and her uncle are realistic.

This is how it would unfold, if such a thing did happen.

I want my grandchildren to read stories of bravery, of strong women and men.

I want them to think about ALL aspects of equality.

I want them to ask questions about what sentience might be, and what constitutes the quality we call “humanity.”

I want them to see opportunities for small heroisms as well as the large.

With this book, the Harper Revolution series has fulfilled all those requirements, and more. Defiance is a fitting prequel for this series.

You can find Defiance in the limited edition collection of fantasy and science fiction books, Rogue Skies, available now for .99 cents. When you buy this set, you get 20+ speculative fiction books on your eReader of choice. Twenty books for .99!

That’s a screaming deal. My understanding is this price won’t last. I bought the set for Defiance, but I’m finding much gold in this mine.

Buy Rogue Skies on:
Amazon
Nook
iBooks
Others

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#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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#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.

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

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#amreading: Mad Science Institute, by Sechin Tower

mad science institute front-coverI have been catching up on my long-put off reading, starting with a book by fellow Northwest indie author Sechin TowerMad Science Institute . I had a great time reading this particular YA novel. But first, The Blurb:

Sophia “Soap” Lazarcheck is a girl genius with a knack for making robots—and for making robots explode. After her talents earn her admission into a secretive university institute, she is swiftly drawn into a conspiracy more than a century in the making. Meanwhile and without her knowledge, her cousin Dean wages a two-fisted war of vengeance against a villainous genius and his unwashed minions. Separately, the cousins must pit themselves against murderous thugs, experimental weaponry, lizard monsters, and a nefarious doomsday device. When their paths finally meet up, they will need to risk everything to prevent a mysterious technology from bringing civilization to a sudden and very messy end.

My Opinion: This book totally lives up to it’s promise. Soap is a great character, and so is Dean.  She is a little too adventurous in the laboratory, and things sometimes go awry. The story opens with her, and immediately shifts to Dean’s story, but shifts back again.

Dean is older, is a firefighter who loves his work, and has relationship issues, which launch him into the thick of things.

Soap is a feisty girl, who is launched into a series of immersive adventures. She’s a bit testy and awkward when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

The author, Sechin Tower, is a teacher in his real life, and I think he must be pretty awesome in the classroom, because the story contains a lot of historical information imparted in regard to Nicola Tesla and his scientific legacy, presented in such an entertaining way the reader doesn’t realize they’re learning.

All in all, I have three grandkids who would really enjoy this book–and Santa will be obliging this year!

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My #beachreads: Tenth of December & The Husband’s Secret

For my vacation reading this year I had a bit of a split personality book-wise. I had packed George Saunders’ book of short-stories, Tenth of December, and while we were in Cannon Beach, my oldest daughter, Leah, and I went to the local book stores. She found a book by an Australian writer, Liane Moriarty, called The Husband’s Secret.

She liked it so much I had to make a Kindle purchase.

The two books are radically different. Tenth of December is literary science fiction. The Husband’s Secret is contemporary fiction. Both books are about the human condition, and both books are character driven.

Although they are widely different, they are windows into the human soul, and both authors had me thinking about their work long after I finished them. These reviews are now up on Goodreads ,  so my work there is done.

the husbands secretFirst up is The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty. Released in 2013 by Berkley, and Penguin in the US, this book is currently a #1 bestseller at Amazon, and Moriarty is listed in the top 100 authors there.

First the Blurb:

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My review: This book is about loss and grief in Sydney, Australia–but it could easily have been set in Seattle or London and it would still feel true. These women are people you feel you know, and while they are not always likable, they are always true to who they are.

Several characters in the book have secrets they hold on to that they eventually reveal. The concepts of guilt and betrayal loom large in this tale, driving it to the shocking conclusion. Ethics and morality shift and bend under the stress, and three good women do things they consider heinous, and each finds herself justifying her actions.

The Berlin Wall is referred to throughout the novel as Cecelia’s daughter, Esther, works on her school project. And in fact, we learn that Cecilia met John-Paul on the day the Wall finally came down. The Wall is symbolic of many things in this tale, as Tess also has a connection to it.

Rachel is pinched and afraid to love anyone but her grandson. Her son is devastated by the loss of his sister and hurt by his mother’s distance. No matter how he tries, he can’t get close to her.

These are complicated women, faced with an unbearable situation. Their actions and the final resolution is completely true to their characters. This is a slow-moving tale action-wise, but it literally tears through the emotional gamut. I give The Husband’s Secret four and half stars.

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Tenth_of_DecemberNow we come to Tenth of December, by George Saunders, a book of short-stories, also first published as a book in 2013. I reviewed this book as an Audible book before, so you may have a feeling of déjà vu here!

First, the blurb:

In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill—the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December—through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit—not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”

My Review:

Wow! For once, a book that has a blurb that really tells the truth. Saunders has the ability to get inside each of his characters’ heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren’t always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning.

For me, the most powerful tale in this collection of stunning tales was “Escape from Spiderhead.” This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has in regard to criminals and what punishment they might deserve.

This was not my first trip through this book–the first time was as an Audible book, narrated by Saunders himself. He reads his work with passion and life–I loved hearing him read these tales. But reading them for myself was also a treat–I savored the written word the way he laid it down. I love authors who bend and twist words and phrases into works of art and that is what Saunders does.

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While I was on vacation, I enjoyed two wonderful books written by authors who couldn’t be more different in their approaches to writing. They both write in ways far different from my own approach. Both authors have given me ideas for my own work, in the way they approached certain technical aspects of the craft.

Yes, I was on vacation, but I can’t just leave writing behind–you know me better than that. In between grandkids and the family, I managed short bursts of work on two short-stories and continued revisions on the third book in the Tower of Bones series. Bless my hubby–he tolerates and encourages my obsession with this writing life.

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