Friday, August 21, 2015

What makes a scifi world seem real?

My husband doesn't like fantasy. When we were dating he always told me he liked his science fiction real, with convincing science and logic holding its strange new worlds together - be they ours or alien planets in the future. So why does he love Game of Thrones? I think it's because the social science is so convincingly portrayed. The history hangs together. The characters act according to their nature, or else reveal their nature convincingly through action.

And what makes me enjoy science fiction and fantasy? To be honest, I like some logic too. Vampires for the sake of added vampire, fairy because we've already used up every other creature, or volcano because it fits the storyline will probably distract me. But creatures that build into essential parts of the plot--they'll hold my attention. And logic. Ex Machine is a brilliant movie! But deus ex machina is not a very convincing plot device.

Anyway, here are three science fiction novels I've read recently, staring with one that I absolutely loved. Grab a coffee and enjoy.

Ted Saves the World by Bryan Cohen is middle grade/young adult science fiction at its best, with age-appropriate affections, great characters, smooth humor, successful nerds, superpowers, and just enough left unexplained to keep the imagination's wheels a-turning. Watch out for the blue-light special, and read with some rich, elegant and complex four-star coffee.

Robin in the Hood by Diane J. Reed is a cool, fast romp through an almost modern world of robbing of banks, the bombing of enemies with red jello, occasional hints of murder, and a high-society girl fallen on bad times. It's also a tale of familial love and forgiveness, mysterious hidden societies, secrets and lies. All told with a cheerfully convincing teen voice, it makes for a fast fun furious read, best enjoyed with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

And then there's Adam’s Tiger by Lawrence Lapin. This one takes place much further in the future, after life on earth has been destroyed by a meteor strike. The mysterious Adam with his ark of frozen embryos and genetic engineering skills is trying to create a better world; one where man won't hunt creatures to extinction, and where populations will all be perfectly in balance. It sounds like Eden before the fall, but of course, there's humanity in the mix, waiting to fall again. No taste for religion in this one, and some rather odd attitudes to science (given our "success" with radiation, it seems a little odd to deliberately irradiate mice in search of better mutations...), it's a long slow novel, packed with intriguing detail, carefully imagined future history, and plenty of thought-provoking ideas. Sometimes dark and definitely intense, it's one to enjoy with a dark intense five-star coffee.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How do you build the world you already live in?

The first time I met the term "World-building" I wondered what it meant. I play lots of board games with my sons, so perhaps world-building meant the art of setting up rules so a game wouldn't be too easily lost or won. I watched my sons play lots of computer games and wondered if world-building was the writing of long lines of computer code to model the buildings, hills and roads. I read a lot of science fiction too. Is world-building the task of adding science to imagination so a new world makes sense? In historical fiction, is it the art of convincingly depicting a distant time? And in the present day?

The present day surely is what it is and doesn't need to be built. But what makes a reader believe in a novel? What creates that willing suspension of disbelief, that leaves us thinking these people lived real lives when we know they didn't? What keeps us turning pages to see what happened next to someone who never really existed?

I guess I'm convinced now that world-building is a part of every fiction, whether board game, computer game, book, movie, opera or more. World-building decides which pieces are needed to create a convincing whole. On the stage, where the whole won't fit, world-building dresses the set. In opera where the dialog's tuned to music, world-building dresses the notes with honest emotion. And in a novel of a present-day average widow falling in love, world-building adds those details that make me believe, she's human, she's real. Then I might care.

So here are some book reviews of titles set in the real world, in the present day. How real the world and characters seem might be a way to measure the author's world-building. So find coffee and see what you think. Meanwhile remember the ratings are there to help you know which coffee to drink as you read.

A Ripple In The Water by Donna Small invites readers to question preconceptions about rules of love and attraction. Can an older guy love a younger woman? Can an older woman love a younger guy? And how does the love of a parent learn to let go? Great details anchor this story in present day people and activities. Complex soul-searching invites the reader to search their own soul too. And a pleasingly honest relationship proves complex and hard to achieve. Enjoy this tale with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

A wonderful sense of place and weather anchors Aaron Paul Lazar's The Seacroft in the present day too, as two employees at a coastal mansion try to unravel the mysteries of their feelings for each other, loss and betrayal, and a curious employer who's husband is far from home. Sensual, with some serious but nicely drawn sex scenes, it's a story of love in its various forms, trust through all its betrayals, and hope; best enjoyed with a well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Fairy Tale Murders by Kelly Money is set in present day Topeka. While I don't know the location and have never worked in a crematorium, the author's attention to detail makes me sure she knows both well. But details in the lives of every soon-dead victim somehow didn't make me feel for them. I'm not sure what that says about me. There's a nice contrast between strong female protagonist and women viewed as helpless by the killer. But there's a heavy darkness in this novel, so drink some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee as you read.

Khawla’s Wall by Andrew Madigan is set in the present day too, but in a very different part of the world, where women are veiled, poor men send money home to their families, and "wasta" is the hand that guides every aspect of life. The author brings his world and characters to vivid life, giving serious depth to their emotions and concerns, and offering a powerfully convincing glimpse behind veil and wall, as a young married woman takes the risk of a job, and a young man builds the wall she will hide behind. Enjoy this rich, elegant tale with a rich elegant four-star coffee.

Then come back for some science fiction reviews, coming soon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When is a book just for kids?

As a child, I hated fairy tales. I'm not sure why. I loved my brothers' books of adventure stories. I even volunteered to clean my older brother's room so I could read his classics while dusting his bookshelf. But offer me the Snow Queen and I'd run a mile. Alice just felt wrong. Snow White might as well have been Red, but she certainly wouldn't be read by me.

As a young teen, I hated hearing the Hobbit read aloud to class. I therefore refused to read Lord of the Rings. I cleaned my parents' bedroom so I could "borrow" their library books while vacuuming. I loved the novel Oil. I loved one about a farmer trying to tame the top of a hill while his son tamed his love life. I loved... Oh, I just loved books... as long as they weren't fairy tales, or the Hobbit which I now know I had so clearly mis-classified.

As a mom... I still didn't read the sort of fairy tales I'd grown up on. But I read the new ones, the nuanced ones, the Paper Bag Princess... I read fairy tales that had something in them for grownups too. And my kids didn't hate fairy tales (or else they didn't tell me).

Just for reference, I now love the Hobbit, I love Lord of the Rings, I love Alice and all things Carroll, but I'm still not sure about the Snow Queen.

So when is a book just for kids? I'm not sure. I suspect when I review children's books, I'm looking for something that pleases both the child and the adult in me. If there are pictures, I don't want my inner child to complain they're not right. If there are concepts, I don't want my inner adult to say they're riskily simplified. If there's a storyline, I want a depth that lets me believe I can swim... and maybe that's it. I hated fairy tales because they kept me tied to my fairy-water-wings.

And maybe that's it. The best kids' books really aren't just for kids.

So skip the water-wings, grab a coffee, and read on for some children's (and not-so-children's) book reviews:

First is The Green Musician by Mahvash Shahegh, illustrated by Claire Ewart. The words and illustrations are beautifully matched in a story that encourages hope and persistence, evokes Persion history, and even includes characters who age convincingly - all in one short picture book. Enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Another beautifully illustrated hardback is The Hunter’s Promise, An Abenaki Tale, by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. It's a story of mankind, nature, loyalty and love, deceptively simply and delightfully deep. The pictures have a haunting darkness of natural forest and stream, and it's a truly lovely book. Enjoy with some bold, dark five-star coffee.

Now I am Paper, by Uvi Poznansky, is illustrated by author/artist in beautifully simply and flowing style, perfectly complementing the poetry of the tale. Combining the honest truth of how wood becomes paper, with the poetic truths of whispering leaves, this is a delightful book to enjoy with a child and some elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Jess and Wiggle by Uvi Poznansky is beautifully illustrated too with an enjoyable mix of styles, combining harlequin cutout with a child's smoothly convincing facial frown (which of course, is turned to fun). It's fun and nicely untethered, perfect for any child with any caregiver to enjoy. Pour some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored coffee to go with it.

Oliver and Jumpy 22-24, by Werner Stejskal, continues a long-running series of childrens picture books starring a svelte, well-dressed cat and a bouncing kangaroo. The writing has a read-aloud feel and the stories sound like ones a fond grandparent might tell as children gather around his knees. Computerized pictures are bright and fun, and kids, I'm sure, will continue to enjoy the series. Brew some crisp mild one-star coffee to drink as you read these ones.

Mommy What Do I Feel by Sagit Cohen has a slightly stilted style, but offers a nicely illustrated way of describing the sense of touch. It's part of a series of books for children on the five senses. Enjoy with some mild crisp one-star coffee, and see rabbits getting their feet wet.

Finally, here's a book that I thought would be for children, but probably isn't. It's aimed, I'd guess, more at teens and adults and would make a great resource for youth group or Sunday school (for all ages). The Life of Noah by Adrian Pelzer includes patriarchs, pharaohs and more, and is an intriguing combination of ancient and modern - see Noah playing computer games for example. Thought-provoking and fun, enjoy with some well-balanced smooth three-star coffee.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Where do books go when they die?

Ah, the scent of the used book store. Charing Cross Road in London is filled with noise, people, traffic... and books. There's the famous Foyles for the bright and new, a reminder that books are alive and vibrant and fun. Then there are the used book stores, with their peculiar, wonderful scent, and their peculiarly wonderful assortment of fascinating literature. Used, perhaps; rejected even; but these books most surely aren't dead.

Closer to home, Oregon has  Powells, where new and old books share the walls, stand side by side, and proudly complain, we're not dead!

And then... One of my book reviews today proved peculiarly elusive. Not listed on Amazon. Not listed on Barnes and Noble. Not listed on Powells. I tried Smashwords - perhaps it's "just" an ebook - but it wasn't listed there either. I'd only been given the book in May, and my review's just a month overdue. So I wondered, where could the book have gone to in so short a time, and where do books disappear to when they die.

Proving it's not quite dead, I eventually found the book on Goodreads and posted my review. But there's something sad about the fact that the buy link goes nowhere. It renews my determination to keep my books on sale, somewhere, somehow, even if my latest quarterly payment won't buy me a single cup of coffee.

You'll have to buy your own coffee while you read this blog, I guess. Meanwhile I'll  savor its scent and offer you book reviews. Don't forget, the stars are for flavor, not for ratings.

First, I guess, is that absent, semi-demised friend, The Mind of the Living, by J Kaihua. It's more of a short story really, slightly mystical, ponderous, and gorgeously illustrated. Enjoy its answers to the questions of mankind and happines with a suitably intense cup of five-star coffee.

The Last Orphans by N W Harris poses questions of happiness and survival in the guise of a teen horror novel where a teenager balances love for family against care for himself and others, ultimately ending up caring for a band of survivors when the world falls apart. Gory but relatively clean, it's one to enjoy with a suitably bold, dark five-star coffee.

Shadows over Somerset by Bob Freeman is contemporary horror for a more adult audience, but it adheres pleasingly to the old rules of horror, with an authentic feel of plot and counter plot, age-old protagonist, new member in ancient society, and powers greater than mankind. Lots more dark five-star coffee required when reading this classically terrifying tale.

Eternal Curse, Giovani’s Angel, by Toi Thomas is another contemporary horror tale, set around another dark American mansion. The romance is heavier, and the faith more real and weighty than in Somerset. But the backstories run to greater length making it a slower read. Enjoy with another dark five-star coffee, and then...

Twin Powers by David Pereda is more suspense than horror, though there are some pretty horrifying scenes. When a child is kidnapped, both parents find they have dangerous secrets to reveal. The Castro family's involved, but the book spans continents and is chock-full of action, sensual and otherwise. Enjoy with another dark intense five-star coffee---I seem to be drinking lots of five-star coffee at the moment.

But here's something completely different: Storyality, by J T Velikovskyy, claims to present a scientific and empirical analysis of movies in an attempt to determine how they go viral, returning high percentage returns on investment. The result's not terribly scientific, though it's certainly interesting. And the best bit, well-hidden more than half-way through, is the use of golden ratios to design your story/screenplay. Skip the pseudo-science, and jump to the spiral, while enjoying a mild one-star coffee. Then write a book or screenplay that doesn't die.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What do you do when you're asked to review?

I've read and reviewed books by A. J. York before. I know roughly how long they'll be. I know I'll enjoy the storylines, and I know A. J. York's very English voice will appeal to my English heritage. When I receive an email from her asking for another review, it's not hard to say yes. After all, this will be a quick, short, thoroughly enjoyable read, and I'll fit it in between my other commitments... eventually. Ms York is always very willing to wait, which helps a lot, since my other commitments are rapidly wearing me down.

I've read and reviewed lots of wonderful picture books from Wisdom Tales too. They are one of my favorite publishers of children's books, and their stories always blend cultural significance with immediate relevance in a thoroughly pleasing way. When they send an email asking for a review I always say yes. Picture books are lovely, uplifting, quick reads. And the time spent writing a review (probably longer than reading the book) is always time well spent as I get my thoughts and my priorities into order.

The Permanent Press sends me much longer books, literary novels, frequently with a mystery bent. They always arrive with plenty of time to read before the book comes out. I try to read each in a timely manner, and send pre-release reviews, counting myself lucky to be trusted by such an impressive publisher. So yes, I always say yes to them, and eagerly await their parcels.

Then there are websites like Blogging for Books which let me choose my own reads, but do tend to place demands on how quickly they'd like me to review (which is why I'm not doing so many Amazon Vine reviews anymore). Choosing my own entertainment can be great fun though, so I'll say yes, just as soon as I post the last review.

Meanwhile publicists send me emails or letters with information on books. I might agree to review something, depending on timescales, and how the subject or author appeals to me, and depending on my schedule. I'll usually invite the author to be a guest on my blog, hence all those great guest posts here. But book reviews for authors I've not heard of can take a long time - my current schedule is full until late next year!

Finally there are those emails from people who find me, randomly, on Amazon.

We're sure you'd love to review this lipstick, phone case, pencil sharpener... No really. No.
Dear Sheila, I hope all is well with you. I have a favor to ask... depends...
I think you would really enjoy my book... maybe, or
I wonder if you could take time from your busy schedule... perhaps before August 15th, 2016 perhaps?

What do you do when you're asked to review? I used to say yes to (almost) everyone. Then I learned to agree only if the book appealed to me. Eventually even those had to turn into "No. My review list is full until next year." But there are so many great books out there, so many I'd really love to read, so many I'd delight in reviewing, sometime, someplace...

and so many I really, really want to write.

If you asked for a review by August 15th, I've probably already replied and said I can't do it. There's no way I could fit anything longer than a picture book in. If you gave me more time and I still said no to you, please understand, it doesn't mean I wouldn't like your writing. And if I've asked you to wait then made you wait  longer, I apologize. For those who've given me a book to review, who are wondering what's the delay, please feel free to remind me when it takes too long. I always love to know the author cares about hearing back from me.

Meanwhile, here are some long-delayed reviews of some much-enjoyed recently-read volumes. Grab a coffee and see which ones you'd like to read (and review?) - authors love to be reviewed!

Starting with one I chose for myself - lucky me!

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber seems to be everywhere, on all the big displays in all the big bookstores. It deserves to be there. It's a wonderful novel with faith, science, biology, love, hope and more, all perfectly blended together. Don't let anyone tell you what it's about. The story unfolds beautifully with perfect timing and smooth revelations to carry the reader far and further away. Enjoy some rich, elegant, complex coffe and sit down for a seriously good read!

Two children's books just had to be on the list:

Eliza Bluebell by AJ York is a lovely modern-day fairytale fantasy set in a small English country town, where the inhabitants learn from a slightly magical visitor (and her shadow) that they can do so much more than they imagined. Enjoy with a bright lively two-star coffee, and read with a smooth English accent.

The Thunder Egg, by Tim J. Myers, illustrated by Winfield Coleman, is another delightful Wisdom Tales picture book. The illustrations convincingly evoke a Native American background, and the story, though modern, reads with the haunting lyricism of myth, drawing from and speaking to many different cultures. A lonely girl learns just what she'll be willing to give for her community, and a community learns to value the outsider. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Next come two dark novels of mystery and suspense...

Measure Twice By J J Hensley is part mystery, part police procedural, part psychological thriller. An unready detective works through the 12 steps of recovery, and salvation comes in unexpected guises. A dark, haunting tale with great dialog, well balanced horror and humor, and some fascinating complexities, this is one to enjoy with a bold, dark, intense cup of five-star coffee.

Blue Flame by MC Schmidt presents a different kind of mystery as an elderly man falls prey to the problems of the day, and his estranged son finally faces up to the past. It's an oddly powerful, compelling novel, told through multiple points of view. And it carries a great touches of hope in spite of its sorrow. Enjoy with an elegant complex four-star cup of coffee.

Finally, here are two novels that take Christian romance to more serious levels - not for unquestioning readers I guess:

Wind over Marshdale by Tracy Krauss is a story of romance, suspense, faith, listening to God, and the clashing cultures of indigenous peoples with comfortable small-town life. The drawing together of faiths is beautifully done, making this much more than the usual Christian romantic suspense. Enjoy with well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee. Then read Lone Wolf by the same author, and see how the story continues in the life of Thomas Lone Wolf. More well-balanced smooth three-star coffee would go well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What books would you take on vacation?

I went to England to spend time with family, and, of course, I carried some books in my case. I did also take a tablet computer pre-loaded with kindle and kobo reads (plus a few pdfs), but I'm still neurotic about running out of battery power in the middle of nowhere. Real books, though heavy, do have the advantage that they don't need to plugged in on the plane. So... what did I take?

I didn't take I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes because it's too big and heavy, but I did read it during my trip, because my sister-in-law loaned it to me when I arrived. So... not a book for the journey so much as one for the destination. I have to include it though, or I'll mess up my review list. And I loved it--a complex story that weaves multiple histories and characters, intersecting timelines, mysteries, terror and more, all tightly drawn so no thread pulls free, all compellingly told, and all so horrifyingly, hauntingly convincing. Not for the overly squeamish, it's a thoroughly character-driven thriller, best enjoyed with some serious, bold, dark, intense, five-star coffee.

I did take the Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline on the plane. My husband, who knows my tastes so well, bought it for me before I left, and I liked it so much I ended up loaning it to my sister-in-law (above, she who also knows my tastes so well). Sister-in-law and I both loved it, a novel told in nicely convincing voices, bringing together young and old, rich and poor, and showing that history's still relevant today. The history's well-researched and deeply sad, but the story's brings its own well-drawn ending with a pleasing sense of hope. Enjoy with some rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee.

The Orphan Train is literary, therefore by some definitions, literarily heavy (though physically light). But long journeys--17 plus hours including connections--need a good balance of light and heavy reads. So my next book was Currency of the heart by Loree Lough. It tells of a more distant history, and it's more heavily weighted with romance, making it much lighter to read. Set in the late 1800s around the city of Denver, it's a nicely nuanced Christian romance, with pleasing non-judgmental attitudes, moral complexities, and fascinating details. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Long journeys maybe need some travel books too, though The Martian by Andy Weir goes a little further afield than usual. Still, I love science fiction, so this one had to come with me. It offers a convincing and compelling look at the near future, together with clever science and fascinating detail. Okay, so occasional details aren't quite right, but the overall sense of a modern day Robinson Crusoe is great--best enjoyed with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored coffee, and a readiness to read all the real and gritty flavors of survival. I loved it.

Every journey needs a bit of mystery too, so I also took David Freed's The Three-Nine Line, fourth in a much loved mystery series about an aspiring Buddhist with a dubious past. In this novel, the past starts catching up with him, and he's sent from Californian skies to Vietnam waters to find who killed a torturer. Drink some richly elegant and complex four-star coffee while you read.

Then there's Cop Job by Chris Knopf, nth in the Sam Acquillo mystery series, and another great character-driven read. The Hamptons, the bars, the businesses, the offices, the scenery and the water all come to life, while a veteran soldier dies. Issues of mental health, societal responsibilities, and fractured parenthood all weave into the tale, and the result is compelling and powerful. Enjoy this with a rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee as well.

For encouragement and humor while waiting for planes and trains to be called, I took a fine volume of short essays in my flight bag: I used to think I was not that bad and then I got to know myself better by Dorothy Rosby. The essays are short, honest, and honestly good to read. The author's voice is pleasantly self-deprecating. And I'd love to have coffee with her. Enjoy these pieces with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee, and you'll want to meet the author too.

And finally, there's a book I'd recently won from a blog and was eager to read, never having read anything by this popular author before. Terri Blackstock's Twisted Innocence is another Christian novel, romantic suspense this time. It contains some singularly American attitudes,  fun to read while traveling to England. But it also has a good message behind the plot. Enjoy with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

So, what books would you take to read on your trip?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

One day you might hear him!

It really doesn't seem so long since I wrote a blogpost about "The Best Singer you might never hear," Liam was a finalist in Britain's Got Talent, and his soprano voice was just incredible. Then he became an alto with an amazing range, and still his voice changed. Record producers didn't want to know - they just told him to come back when his voice had broken. But Liam breaks records. His voice never broke and he's always been able to sing. Now, aged 19, he's an amazing tenor, studying at a prestigious college, coming top of his year, and looking forward to the sort of career where yes, you will hear him.

Meanwhile I got to hear Liam sing Ave Maria. I've never before been in the presence of a voice like this. I've known there are singers and good singers and more, just as there are writers, authors, good authors and more. But I'd never imagined how wonderful a seriously good singer would sound to my untrained ear. Now I know - there is nothing like it. And a CD, however good, will never seem the same.

One day, when you're famous Liam, I'll show people this photo and tell them, "I met him when..." I suspect you'll be famous long long long before I will, and that's fine. I can write, but so can half the world. You can sing like nobody else in the world. All I can say is Wow, and I'm really glad I finally got to meet and hear you.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Do you prefer long books, split books, or short books?

I was searching the bookstore for something to read on a journey. Not too long, I thought, as it would be a pain to carry. (Yeah I know, I could have taken a kindle, but the battery might have run out.) Not too short, or I'd finish it too soon. And not one of those unfinished, wait-for-the-sequel type books or I'd just get annoyed. So what would you choose? And why was the bookstore suddenly full of delightfully huge and enticing tomes that wouldn't possibly fit in my handbag?

So what did I read? You'll have to wait and see. For now I'm just posting reviews of what I read earlier. And Deadman Switch by Sam Powers is both long and split. It's the second volume in a trilogy, and it's probably best read after reading the first. Better still, read one, then two, then three (which I haven't read yet), as the story really doesn't reach an end, and there's lots to be resolved. Drink some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee while reading - there are some pretty intense scenes of fighting and torture and more.

In contrast, A Dangerous Man by Anne Steves is both short and complete. It wouldn't do for a long trip but it's a perfect length for lunch-break, which is why my review will appear in Nights and Weekends Lunch-Break E-books column soon. Where Deadman Switch trots the globe, A Dangerous Man stays grounded in one small town of the old West. Where Deadman Switch details multiple fight scenes and torture, A Dangerous Man contents itself with one battle, won with a combination of surprise, good luck, and good management. And while Deadman Switch has an undercurrent of potential romance, A Dangerous Man wears romance on its outer sleeve. It's short and fun. Enjoy with a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Then decide if you want globe-trotting or home-staying fiction, long or short, with fulfilling or unfulfilled relationships. And read on.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Would you read romantic suspense with dragons?

My brother used to ask why anyone would read science fiction. It's about people and worlds that don't exist and probably never will. Why should anyone care?

For myself, I used to wonder why anyone read romance. It's about repeated misunderstandings and you always know she'll end up getting the man. Why should anyone care?

Then we grew up. Big brother doesn't read any fiction if he can help it. I guess as a historian he learned that even historical fiction's mostly unreal too. Meanwhile I read pretty nearly anything and everything.

This week I read two books in a series of romantic fantasy novels with winged people, otherwise known as dragons. And I cared. Those people and worlds that don't exist can change our point of view, making us see our own world through different eyes. Those misunderstandings, eventually resolved, give us hope, making us see our own mistakes and failures are less final after all. And the sensual love scenes that I surely never read when I was a kid--they can be very nicely done, especially when there's the added intrigue of what to do about dragon-fire.

So here are some book reviews:

First is Dragon Lover by Jeanne Guzman, a romantic suspense where demons may not be demons, black and white may not denote motive, and orphaned twins might soon come into a curious heritage. I wasn't so sure about the cover, but the myth-and-world-building is very cool, and there are some intriguing questions of guilt and forgiveness, trust and betrayal, and more. So enjoy an elegant complex 4-star coffee while you read.

Next is the sequel, the Dragon Within. Darker than the first book, the paranormal romance in this one is balanced with edgy realities of abuse and recovery. The author expands on the mythology of fires of prophecy too, and the result is another exciting tale, with fire-drawn sensuality and a pleasing undercurrent of the need to forgive oneself. Enjoy with some bold, dark intense five-star coffee.

Striker’s Apprentice: the chosen series, volume III, by Andrea Buginsky, is set in a very different fantasy world. The romance is low-key, with characters enjoying their honeymoon while friends learn to hunt. Friendships are quickly formed in this novella of elves and dwarves, designed for younger readers. There's a nice thread of respect for earth and life, plus a touch of magic and fun. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Finally, a short sweet book for even younger readers is The Prayer by Stephan J. Myers. Like the Chosen series, this is a book for all faiths and none. Evoking the Night before Christmas, it invites small readers and listeners to see a Dickensian underworld where the child with no hope wonders why the world ignores him. Lyrical, haunting and beautifully illustrated too, it's highly recommended. Enjoy a well-balanced smooth full-flavored three-star coffee as you read.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Do you need a round tuit to write a non-fiction book ?

I want to write a non-fiction book. Shortly after Christmas I was all excited, knew what it was about, and even had a plan to build it up, chapter by chapter, idea by idea. I'd written myself a nice little schedule, detailing how soon I'd have just enough planned and tested, on all those wonderful beta-testing reading who must surely be out there, eagerly awaiting my next inspiring thought. Then...

I'm honestly not sure what happened then. Time ran off without me perhaps. I slipped into a time-warp and couldn't find my way out. Virtual reality took over from real virtuality. And now I'm so far behind with book reviews I have to preface almost every email with an apology. I'm so far behind with writing I feel guilty asking my publishers when the books I've already written might be released. I'm so far behind with social networking I can't remember if I'm meant make friends, help friends, sell books or sell ideas...

Which takes me back to that non-fiction book - an idea in search of a volume to call home. When I finally get around to it (or a round tuit - I suspect I may find one of them first), it might be called "Faith and..." or "Just-if-ied Faith" or "A journey in faith and science" or... What do you think would work?

Meanwhile, every once in a while I still review a non-fiction volume. So, lacking round tuits, and having utterly failed to follow my schedule, write my plan, or test my chapters on unwilling readers, I'll offer some book reviews instead of that still mostly imaginary book. Grab a coffee and enjoy.

If your answer to the question in my heading was "Yes," How to write a book from outline to finish line by Shelley Hitz just might be exactly the volume you need. It's short, neat, practical, sensible, readable, and even fun. And it will go well with some bright lively easy-drinking coffee as you try to organize your life.

I can't organize mine. It's a lost cause.

So perhaps I need to reread Strive to be Satisfied by Celestine Washington, the memoir of someone whose life has been truly difficult, but who found blessings in all her pains, and learned forgiveness, generosity of spirit, and a truly non-judgmental nature. The memoir is truly dark and hard to read at times, but it feels like listening to a friend or preacher telling the tale, with digressions and distractions, or her life and lessons learned. The lessons are wise. Enjoy with some bold dark five-star coffee.

But now perhaps I'll go back to writing... something. Maybe I'll finish those fiction books before working on that non-fiction one. But it's still there in the back of my mind, and the hard drive of my computer - still half-planned, half-built, half its chapters organized.

Where's that round tuit?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What entices you to a Little Serious Reading ?

So many books... So little time to read... and write... and review. It's a serious issue!

And now it's summer so the sunshine (aka yard work) is calling. One of my friends said this morning that he knows when summer comes - his wife disappears into the fruit and flower beds. Not that I've had any success growing fruit, and my flowers are struggling to survive. My friend's wife has green thumbs, while mine are stained with messy virtual ink. So I'm trying to discover if my laptop will function outside; then I might enjoy the sun, ignore the weeds, and read and write all at the same time.

Ignore the weeds... ignore the weeds... It's a serious issue! And why does grass grow so much more effectively where it's not wanted than where it is?

Meanwhile my serious second novel, Infinite Sum, might, I hope, be both a serious and an enjoyable, uplifting read. It should come out soon with Second Wind Publishing. I keep wondering what the cover will look like. Would something like this entice you to read it, d'you think?

She paints in red and black, as if the colors might define her mood, or else declare it. She pictures beauty, turns her back, and finds her wandering paintbrush pares the colors into night. She lives, enjoys, an ordinary life. And yet that red keeps bleeding; that black keeps intervening over light.

Anyway, here are some reviews of some serious pieces of fiction that I've enjoyed reading recently:

First is The Bottom by Howard Owen. I enjoyed the earlier Willie Black novels tremendously, but this one's the best yet. Strong clear narration, an authentic sense of decay as jobs are lost, news is replaced by sound-bites, and life's distractions take over from life's aims. Meanwhile a serial killer's on the loose. Guilt and innocence are shrouded in the same smoke as past and future, all wrapped up in the potential fate of an area known at the Bottom. Wonderful evocative, told with pitch-perfect narration, and totally un-put-down-able, the Bottom is one to enjoy with a bold, dark, intense five-star coffee.

My Impending Death by Michael Laser is one I wasn't so sure about reading. Bleak humor. Suicidal narrator... Hmmm...  Bear in mind, I hated the Elegance of the Hedgehog. But I love this book! The humor sets just the right pace, and is perfectly balanced by irony, determination and folly. Then fate takes a hand rendering it all so evocative, mythical, perfectly grounded, and... well... making for a really good enthralling page-turning read. Meet overweight, miserable Angus and enjoy his countdown, breakdown, and more with a rich, elegant, four-star coffee.

Next is a children's book, Countryside: The Book of the Wise, by J. T. Cope IV, with a serious feel to it. It's the first in a series, slightly heavy-weight perhaps, with lots of ground to cover in the creation of new worlds, just a gateway away from our own. There's a nice blend of middle-ages and present day in the way that Countryside works, and a good blend of fantasy and real life in the youngsters portrayed there. A little confusing at times, it's one you might need several fairly intense five-star cups of coffee for. But the series promises more of a four-star elegant complex coffee feel.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

From Tails of Mystery to Tales of picture books

I wanted to advertise my upcoming book of children's animal mysteries, so I collected together the pictures I'd drawn and made a quick video. It's not terribly professional, and it's nothing to write home about. But I'd love to know what you think, so here it is:

Of course, Tails of Mystery isn't a picture book: it's a book of children's stories where Fred and Joe (and sometimes Cat and Kitcat) solve mysteries. But here are some reviews of children's picture books to go with the pictures above. Find a brew to match the reading style you choose:

Ernie the Elephant and Martin learn to share by Leela Hope uses short and simple rhymes to tell how not sharing hurts both parties at once. It's a very short book, but it might make a quick bedtime read when there's no time for more. Enjoy with some light crisp one-star coffee.

Little Brown Animal by DiMari Bailey is a nicely surprising picture book. At first I wanted to guess what the brown animal was, but it's best to wait, enjoying instead the mythically musical tones of an enjoyable childrens read. Smooth artwork with glowing tones complements the writing beautifully, and nymphs and dryads call. Enjoy with a rich complex four-star coffee.

For both younger and older readers and listeners, and for their parents, Nuts about Nuts by Shir Guez offers lots of bright photographs, plus graphics, and the odd kid-oriented illustration, together with a wealth of well-researched information about nuts. I learned about what happens to nutrients at high temperatures--not something I expected to learn from a children's book. I'm nuts about nuts, so I enjoyed learning, and this is a neat short book to learn from. Enjoy with (nuts and) a lively easy-drinking 2-star coffee.