Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Short's Not Just For Kids

Every once in a while I get to review a short book. It gives me a break from the long ones, refreshes the parts other books can't reach, to paraphrase an old English beer commercial, and lets me feel good about getting a few more book reviews off the waiting list. Of course, reviewing a short book takes just the same amount of time as reviewing a long one. But reading it's faster.

Oddly enough, writing a short book isn't necessarily that much faster. It's faster than writing a novel, simply because the fingers don't have to fly over quite so many keys and pages. But editing short takes way longer than editing long. With fewer words, each one has to count, whether in a children's book or an adult's. With fewer pages, every error sticks out like a sorer thumb. And those fingers that typed so hard hover over the keys while the eyes hover over the words.

I'm editing my Fred and Joe stories at the moment. Each short story needs editing on its own. Then I have to check the placing, the overall arc, the question of whether Fred's younger by the end of the book than he was at the start. And then I find my brain switched off and I typed a correction filled with rhyming words instead of the words I intended. Poor brain.

Anyway, my short books for last week include two children's books and two adult romances - an interesting mix. They were all interesting reads as well, so find some coffee and choose your read:

Oliver and Jumpy - the well-dressed cat and friendly kangaroo - have another set of three stories out in 34-36. Each story has a different illustrator and a different feel, making it an intriguing addition to the collection. There's even a story of how the cat got his hat. Enjoy with some easy-drinking two-star coffee.

President Lincoln, from Log Cabin to White House, by Demi is a very different, and much more serious children's book. Bright images with a pleasing sense of space invite children into the tale, and provide a wise sense of contrast as past moves closer to present. If I were looking for a book about a famous president, this is the one I'd choose. And I'd drink some well-balanced three star coffee while reading.

In more adult fiction, I enjoyed reading and reviewing two more lunch-break e-books for Nights and Weekends:

Eternity Swamp is classic short tale of horror - I imagine reading it on a dark night before Christmas - I'm not sure why. It echoes with strains of the fiddler at the crossroads, and it's told in a beautifully smooth consistent voice. Dark and haunting - your sins will find you out in this swamp, so you'd better drink some seriously dark five-star coffee while you read.

Not2Nite has a really great title, and offers a fun short read (130 pages) to match. It's set in London, in the Blitz, and stars an American trying to organize a future while an English woman wonders about the past.

Monday, February 8, 2016

What's In A Title?

My novels have mathematical titles - I even call them "mathemafiction" when I'm feeling whimsical. The titles have the advantage that there aren't many other novels sharing them, but that doesn't help people find theem on Amazon. You type one title, and Amazon helpfully guesses you really meant another. So my novel (Divide by Zero - the only one published yet) languishes behind Continental Divides and the Zeros of Dangerous Ideas - and then only if you specify you're looking for a book.

Divide by Zero has the disadvantage, of course, that nobody knows what it means, but it's perfect for my book - a village divided under the infinite horror of a terrible crime. Would you pick it up? (Please do!) And will you read the companion novel Infinite Sum, where a middle-aged woman seeks escape from the sum of past trials?

Perhaps you'd rather go for a novel with more fire in its title? I've just read two very different, fiery tales, and enjoyed them both. Their covers and titles are great. And both books languish behind others with the same name when I search on Amazon.

Set the Night on Fire by Connie Dial takes readers back to the early seventies, to the mean streets and demonstrations of Los Angeles, police corruption, genuine police-work, and an under-cover cop who might be even more undercover when she surfaces. After all, back in the seventies, women cops were mostly assigned to policing women's prisons. The protagonist is a younger version of Josie Corsino, from the author's other novels, but you don't have to have read them first. In fact, this might be a great place to start with the series (and I seriously hope there'll be lots more to come, to fill in the gap). Enjoy with this bold intense read with some five-star bold intense coffee.

Donna Fletcher-Crow's An All-Consuming Fire is a Christian romantic suspense that blends English religious history with a modern-day TV show, Christian faith and themes with modern teens, and mysticism with a healthy does of American mother-in-law realism. A very cool blend, to be enjoyed with a nice hot smoothly balanced three-star coffee.

Perhaps the sea offers a source of good titles. It certainly has for author Aaron Paul Lazar, whose Paines Creek Beach series has just had a new addition in The Seadog. This one actually makes it to the top of the page! Seadog, perhaps, has just the right mix of well-known word and new idea. The book has a perfect mix of sensuality, mystery and scares as well, and should be a great read with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Well-known phrases may be a good source of titles too. So what about Where the Bodies are by L. V. Gaudet? Sadly it's listed way down the page on Amazon. A book asking where the Yummy Tummy is comes before it. Ouch! Where the Bodies are is a story of everyman and everywoman under threat, either as victim or perpetrator of terrible crimes. Each character has a backstory and a reason for every deed, and the sting in the tail might seriously unsettle. Read this one with a seriously dark five-star coffee.

Then there's falling for... Everyone falls for something or someone. Falling for Chloe by D Stearman comes top of its page. At which point I realize the number of positive reviews may have something to do with position on the page, as well as a well-chosen title. Falling for Chloe has 42 of them (a good number), and it's a well-told tale of the lure of fame and fortune, set against true love. There's a nicely underplayed Christian theme that works perfectly with the story, and the voice of the narrator is achingly real. Enjoy some well-balanced three-star coffee with this one.

And now I'll go back to dreaming of 42 reviews and mathemafiction novels that rise to the top of an Amazon page. If you read Divide by Zero, please leave a review! It really needs some more!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Switch In Time?

Once upon a time I wrote a novel in which two timelines intertwined. In one, the protagonist was middle-aged, trying to resolve the issues she still had after childhood abuse. In the other, the abuse was yet to take place, and readers followed along with the child while innocence headed to betrayal. I was told the novel would never sell - it never did - and that writing multiple timelines was a strict no-no, especially for relative unknowns.

The novel truly never sold, but it's been rewritten since then. The later, much better version is called Infinite Sum and I'm eagerly awaiting its release from Indigo Sea Press. Meanwhile, I've snatched some very enjoyable moments from the (also very enjoyable) time of my mum's visit, and read some excellent books that do, in fact, blend more than one timeline successfully and enticingly. I dream and hope my novel might be up to the quality of these.

So, grab a coffee; remember the rating is just to tell the blend of coffee to choose; and pick your book:

Rainbow Gardens by James Malone is an amazing tale of two World Wars, the time between them, the trials, hopes and despairs of being an immigrant, and trolls. If that sounds impossible, please pick up the book and find out how the author intertwines timelines, lifelines and a wonderful touch of mythology, plus the Mark of Cain. If it sounds intriguing, please pick the book up too, and enjoy with a perfect cup of rich, elegant four-star coffee.

The Good Life by Marian Thurm blends a present day timeline, where a family with two young children vacations in Florida, with the story of how the couple met over a muffin, bonded over the longing for stability and family ties, and rejoiced in a good life that was never quite what either of them thought. There's a thread of dread from first page almost to the last. But it's a thread the author ties beautifully and managed to tinge with hope, also from first page to last. A wonderful, surprising, haunting read, this is another one to enjoy with some complex four-star coffee.

Five Bullets by Larry Duberstein blends timelines too, this time following the story of a Jewish family living in Prague during the Second World War, and a successful American businessman in the time that follows. But Carl Barry and Karel Bondy are the same person, and a wall of silence separates the present day from the past. The author brings the horrors of war and holocaust vividly to life, and shows that blood and family can be far more than they seem. It's another wonderful novel, deserving another complex four-star coffee as you read.

Then there's Donna Fletcher-Crow's An All-Consuming Fire which blends a historical narrative of early English mystics with present-day murder, mystery, moderate mayhem, and the wedding of two religiously inclined Christians. It's a very cool mix, full of the magic of English landscapes, well-wrought details of British television, modern teenage rebellion, and genuine faith. Enjoy with another complex four-star coffee.

Highly recommended - all four of these. And coffee too.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What makes a teaching read?

Some books include facts so naturally you wonder afterward where you learned these things. Experiencing life like a different character, we learn, perhaps, where snow falls deepest or how to soothe the savage beast. But other books offer their lessons more directly, like children's picture books with a moral to tell. Of course, if the book happens to be a children's picture book, the lesson's expected. But how much information is too much information in a novel? Or, at the other end of the scale, how much information is needed to make the situation real? Is it a question of teaching the right things, or how they're taught, that makes the difference between an enthralling read and a teaching one? I'd love to know what you think. Meanwhile, here are some more book reviews of stories read in the period around and after Christmas. Pull up a chair, pour a coffee, and remember the ratings are for what sort of coffee (and read), not what brand or value.

Off the Chart by Smith McCartney Hagaman is a thriller set in a world of terrorist hijackers, army rebels, back-street gangsters, abused women and more. After a plane crash, the survivors come together to escape an Arctic wasteland filled with perils, and the reader learns how to make an international distress call, engineer a murder to look like accident, hack the wings off a plane, and much much more. The characters come with long and complex backstories, making the book read somewhat like a TV series. Enjoy with some dark five-star coffee, but keep many cups to hand as it's a long read.

The World's Greatest Psychic by Harriet Smith Guardino and Barbara J. Guardino also has many lessons to teach, as readers follow the thoughts of those impacted by a fake psychic's life. The persuit of money and power is contrasted with the faithfulness of a mother's love. Imagined promises contrast with genuine dreams and visions. And faith perseveres even through rejection as David's life comes off the reals. It's a sad dark read, but it's hopeful too, and filled with wise promise for parents praying for children, or friends despairing of those they care for. Enjoy some dark five-star coffee as you follow this tortured life through to eventual hope.

The Bear who Loved Chocolate is a picture book by Leela Hope, in which the author teaches that wise lesson to eat more varied foods. It's sweet, like chocolate, and fun, nicely illustrated, and a good simple read. Enjoy with some mild crisp one-star coffee.

And finally, A day with Moo by Kerry McQuaide s a picture book of a child's real, believable life with a toy called Moo. Lessons are simply everyday life in this one - not as rhythmic as some, but nicely illustrations. Enjoy with some more mild one-star coffee.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What makes a soothing, gentle read?

Some books haunt you with thought-provoking questions and characters. Some relax you with the familiar. Some annoy. Some... well, maybe books are like friends and inspire the whole gamut of emotions. But today's reviews are of books by "old favorite" authors - which is not to the say the authors are old - just that their books are well-read. I know before I open the pages that I'm in for a pleasant ride, that I'll meet a wealth of pleasing characters, that I won't be taken too far from the comfort of my thoughts... but these aren't books that pander - they're too slick to be gentlemanly, and make for sugar-coated reads. So that's the different between soothingly gentle, and sugar. Perhaps it's the spice. A soothing gentle read has to have some spice to bring it to life.

Alexander McCall Smith is a favorite for me. The Handsome Man's Deluxe Cafe fitted the bill as soothingly gentle - never letting me worry that things wouldn't somehow work out, but never soaking me in sugar either, as real questions are asked, in a distant land, that impact my thoughts here at home. Abuse and deportation aren't gentle ideas, but the book deals with them honestly in a soothing gentle read. Enjoy with some fine well-balanced three-star coffee.

Another favorite author is Jan Karon. My Mum and I shared her latest Mitford book, Come Rain or Come Shine, and both thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, there are serious issues to be seen through very human eyes. Prejudice and child abuse stand side by side with the question of how to arrange a wedding in a barn, and it works. Soothing, gentle, and serious enough to be well worth the read, Rain or Shine brings back old favorite characters and well-worn beliefs, making them pleasingly relevant and new. Enjoy with some more well-balanced three-star coffee.

An Amish Christmas at North Star combines the writing skills of several Christian romantic authors to create a single novel, built from four novellas, filled with interesting hints of Amish life, pleasing romance, and that Christmas sense of good endings or happy beginnings on the way. You might want to save it to read next Christmas, or else read now in memory of Christmas gone by. Enjoy with some pleasingly balanced three-star coffee.

Steena Holmes' Sweet Memories come close to being too sweet, but adds its spices in just the right amount. Communication's the key, whether a parent is sick, or a child is angry, or a gesture is misunderstood. It's a short romance, with serious chocolate overtones, but it's worth another well-balanced three-star coffee and it's a good read.

Destiny's Second Chance by Kate Vale is a pleasing blend of family drama and romance, again with a sense that it's bound to turn out well. A mother who gave up her child at birth longs for a lost relationship, but finds herself combining love for child with love for a new man in her life when she receives Destiny's contact information. Meanwhile the mother who loved Destiny from birth to adulthood is afraid to lose a relationship that's already floundering on the rocks of adulthood. It's another one to enjoy with some well-balanced three star coffee, and the last of this collection of soothing, gentle reads.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

What makes a real read?

Did you get any books for Christmas? Print books? Ebooks? Real books? Or are all books real?

I've just been offered the chance to review the next book in a series  I love. The author asked if I wanted print or kindle, and I just knew I'd love to have a print copy. But that wouldn't be fair would it? I write enough to know it's free, or almost free, to share a kindle copy. But print and postage involve the payment of cash. So is that what makes writing real - the hard cash behind it? Or perhaps the payment in blood sweat and tears over the keyboard.

The author told me she too prefers print. "Print novels stay in the mind longer," said she, which got me wondering the whys behind that too. Is it that tactile memory thing, like knowing where the keypad buttons are for a phone number, without knowing the digits? Is it the look of the cover, so easily ignored when reading an e-book? Or is it something to do with the fact that a book would never be in print unless its words were worth printing?

This book, when I receive it, will be real and would still be real, were it print or e. I shall look forward to reading and reviewing it. Meanwhile, looking at the reviews I'm about to post, I'm guessing real might have something to do with characters real enough to make the reader care, and situations real enough to demand a resolution: Strangers who come to life, stay in the mind, and want to be revisited - stories that want to be re-read - dreams that demand to be listened to again...

I'd love to hear your opinion of real writing - says she, remembering the day I was given a pen at elementary school and told I could "do real writing" now, which meant "joined-up" and not too many errors to be crossed out.

While you're thinking about it, grab a real cup of coffee and enjoy some reviews of real books, print and otherwise, all received (or remembered) around Christmas and read as soon as I could get to them afterward.

First is Nakamura Reality by Alex Austin, an amazing novel that's so beautifully complex and simple both at once, like a puzzle where every piece is perfectly cut, or a diamond I guess. Sometimes the art of a literary novel might overwhelm the tale, but this novel's got the balance just right, with wheels within wheels, stories within stories, characters that are larger and smaller than their parts, and a story that enthralls, compels and entrances. I love it; can you tell? Enjoy with some wonderfully rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee.

NW by Zadie Smith is artful too, with different fonts and styles for its characters, and a curiously experimental feel - which perhaps makes sense as outsiders experiment with trying to fit into London's NW. One section worked particularly well for me. Others might work better for other readers. It's a complicated read, driven by character and art, best enjoyed with an artful, intense five-star coffee.

Do Not Find me by Kathleen Novak is smoothly constructed, artful and interesting. The author interweaves her stories as a young woman prepares to dispose of her father's estate, while her father's past comes to life Secrets, love, and betrayal bring the stories full circle as each learn the payment required for following the lure. Enjoy with some more complex elegant coffee, four-starred for flavor.

For young adult readers, Pyre by R B Kannon, is another beautifully constructed tale, with well-designed myth and history, beautifully evocative and hauntingly thought-provoking. A child, trapped in a temple, finds release and imprisonment in the voice of its power. But now she must strive to find her own self while the other seeks to guide her. A lovely blend of myth and storytelling, this is one to enjoy with some seriously elegant four-star coffee.

For slightly younger adults, Krim Du Shaw by Talia Haven offers a myth of its own, in telling of the last unicorn. Dark like the old traditional fairytales, it's an ebook, imperfectly edited, yet seriously "real." Pour some more rich four-star coffee as you settle to read.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sex Greed Drug-Abuse and Chicago's North Shore

Today I'm delighted to welcome Dean Economos, author of A North Shore Story, to my blog. It's an intriguing, fairly short YA novel, set among the high-schoolers of Chicago, where... well, you'll have to read on to find out...

Welcome Dean, and over to you.

Sex. Greed. Drug-abuse, by Dean Economos

Now that I have your attention...

Everyone has a hidden vice. We hate to admit it to others; sometimes worse, we hate to admit it to ourselves. We’re attracted to the allure of it, kind of like how you kept reading this blog post after I named a few common vices. Yet we hide our obsessions in secrecy like an addict and, at the end of the day, get engulfed into the lies we’ve created.

A North Shore Story is a combination of three storylines intertwined into one. It includes adolescent struggles, like the ones named in the first line, as well as love and relationships. It delves into how the consequences of one’s actions can affect the other people in their lives. Vices like these, whether we choose to hide them or not, are something everyone can relate to in some form.

While the book is fictional, real-life influences came into play when writing A North Shore Story. The most publicly known situation is a priest embezzling money from a Midwestern church of over $100,000. The media will always grab hold of stories like these because it’ll shock the public and get people talking. While this caused people to gawk and gossip over this unfortunate event, this was the original spark that got my gears turning into an idea for a story.

Another influence of A North Shore Story were from real-life situations growing up. My group of friends and I thought we were that cool and always talked about how we should have a show like Laguna Beach or The O.C. With the endless possibility of what I could create, I decided to go for it.
I had never written a book before. I had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect, that’s probably the best way to do anything so you’re not limited to any boundaries. My life was very “Work. School. Sleep. Repeat.” I was looking for something different to break up the monotony: a creative outlet. So it was fun for me to start writing down ideas for the story. I developed some character backgrounds, but nothing too in-depth. Then I began to write the first chapter.

As I wrote, I had no idea what would happen next. I figured I’d cross that bridge when I got there. In doing that, these characters took on a life of their own in my head. I would get so involved that I’d think of them by name as if they were real people. While that probably sounds like characteristics of a psychotic person (and I probably was at some point in this process), the story turned out much better because of it.

What I learned throughout this whole process may seem kind of cliché. However, if you want to do something different than your everyday life, go for it. If you had asked me three years ago if I would be releasing a book, I would’ve laughed in your face (and my friends and family would’ve probably laughed harder). But if I never tried anything different for fear of failing or terror of what others thought, I’d regret not doing it for the rest of my life and nobody would be able to enjoy the escapades of A North Shore Story.

Want to know more about A North Shore Story, by Dean  Economos and Allysa Machinis?

For the teenagers of Chicago’s North Shore, everyone has something to hide.
In a daring attempt to impress the elusive Sophia, Michael makes the biggest decision of his life, stealing over a hundred thousand dollars from St. Theodore Community Church.
That same night, Nichole’s insecurities are finally forgotten with a drug she soon won’t be able to control.
When Michael makes his getaway, he sees his friend Joseph cheat on his girlfriend with the priest’s daughter and knock over a candle that sets the church ablaze.
As the consequences of that night unfold, Joseph is blamed for the fire and the missing money. Can the teenagers of the North Shore confess their vices to help their friend? Or will their greed, infidelity and jealousy change all their lives forever?

Want to know more about the authors?

Read the Q&A below and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If Eyes are the Windows to the Soul...

If eyes are the windows to the soul, what are bionic eyes, or cataract-free eyes with replacement lenses - hey, they even gave me the guarantee card that goes with it when they fixed my eye earlier this week.

My soul feels lighter, I must admit; it's easier to see. I can type. I can drink coffee while I type (is that good for the keyboard?). I can read and I can write. So maybe my eyes are smiling brighter now. Who knows? Meanwhile the windows to my home are cleaner, brighter and warmer too - we've just got double-glazing, at last!

Are glasses double-glazing for the eyes?

And why don't kids like to wear glasses? I loved mine because they made it easier to avoid catching the wrong bus and being late to school. I thought they made me special, because my Mum wore glasses. Then I learned to hate them over time, wishing I wasn't always wearing breakable stuff on my face, with weighted arms over my ears, and general inconvenience. So now I'm typing these reviews without glasses - hurray! I can only see one of each letter (a huge improvement over life before cataract removal), and I'm happy!

So... let me happily give you some children's book reviews, and ponder which children are or are not wearing glasses in these books.

I'll start with Kiboko, by Amelia De Mello, a gorgeous picture book which combines wonderful original art (from African artist Edward Kimambo) with a pleasingly lyrical story, simply told and filled with sweet wise lessons. Enjoy this tale of a hippopotamus following his dreams, while you dream of of lively easy-drinking coffee. No eyewear on hippo and friends, but you have to see those pink flamingos, and read those color-coded Kiswahili words!

Another book for small readers is Three Monkeys Welcome to Treehouse Lane. The text offers intriguing questions and multiple choice answers concerning how you view a new house, make friends, and deal with everyday childrens' problems. It's a nicely thought-out, intriguing tale for small kids, and reminds them that friends can look very different from yourself. (They might even wear glasses). Enjoy with some well-balanced smooth three-star coffee.

For older readers (middle grade and above), The Bettanys on the Home Front by Helen Barber is an excellent introduction to a timeless girls series - one my mother enjoyed as a child, and I enjoyed following her. The original Chalet School books by Eleanor M Brent-Dyer were set post-WWI and featured an adult sister starting a school which her younger sister attended. The Bettanys on the Home Front introduces the older siblings aged around 14, while baby sister's still a baby and the casualties from world war have just begun to take effect. If you like Downton Abbey, old girls' school stories, or especially the Chalet School, or if you just want something clean and fun for a girl to read, this is the one for you. Drink some well-balanced full-flavored coffee and enjoy. (And yes, some of the girls do wear glasses.)

How I Met The Beatles (and how they broke my heart) by Barbara J Guardino is another good book for middle-grade girls, teaching lessons for everyday from the convincing story of a girl who worshiped the Beatles. How little life has changed! Enjoy a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee with this lively easy-reading book, and, if you were a Beatles fan, enjoy the authentic sense of time and place - small-town America with a touch of Liverpool!

White Swans by Annamaria Bazzi might be aimed at slightly older or maturer readers. Nicely lowkey romance blends with a regency world, a touch of science fiction and magic, and some fascinating questions of duty, love, and how to treat people as people. For anyone who loves regency romances or magic, this might be the perfect choice. Enjoy with some elegantly complex four-star coffee.

Then, for the guys - possibly mature middle-grade, but certainly young adult and adult - there's Camouflaged Encounters by David Englund. It's not the first in the series, but it represents a step forward from everyman the wannabe Superman to everyman the savior of the world, and it's surprisingly good fun. What if aliens were among us, manufacturing our wars, our politics and more, just for the sake of winning a game? What would you do if you a) knew they were there, and b) were possibly, purely by accident, the only person who could do anything about them? Enjoy some bright lively easy-drinking coffee, and gaze into the windows of an alien's soul.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Does dark weather demand dark reads?

I have some slightly darker book reviews for today - appropriately I guess, since the weather is dark and gray.I'm hoping for brighter days, so I can travel around with Mum. But for now, just being home or damply driving out for everyday shopping is really quite a treat, since we get so little time to spend together.

Anyway, as I take a few minutes off from sharing news with family from England, here are some book reviews (and coffee recommendations) to share with readers everywhere.

Repercussions by Anthony Schneider tells the parallel stories of a white Jewish South-African caught up in the violence of apartheid, and his white Jewish American grandson caught up in the violence of that world's repercussions. Echoing through both stories are questions of what we do, what we can do, and why we do what we do. Enjoy with some seriously rich, elegant and complex four-star coffee.

Target of Opportunity by Max Byrd is filled with a similar sense of history's repercussions dripping through to the present day. It's a novel that blends genres perfectly, combining police procedural with WWII espionage, and offering powerfully convincing portrayals of both. More rich and complex four-star coffee will be needed with this one.

Maribeth Shanley's Crack in the World looks at the more immediate repercussions of child sexual abuse, as the protagonist grows from child to woman, bearing the weight of everyone else's problems without acknowledging her own. Truth will out, in the end, and perhaps truth will heal. But good relationships with a neighbor and friend are the glue that keeps her together. Read this dark but hopeful tale, filled with insights into human motivations good and bad, with a good cup of dark five-star coffee.

Real-world darkness takes the stage in To Live Out Loud by Paulette Mahurin, a retelling of the story of Emil Zola and Richard Dreyfus' politically savage trials in France. Having grown up in England, I was vaguely familiar with the history. Reading it told from a new point of view gives it a haunting immediacy, and brings out its relevance to today. More dark five-star coffee might be needed with this well-researched novella.

Next is Stranger at Sunset by Eden Baylee, a darkly sensuous psychological murder mystery that blends new adult noir with an Agatha Christie-type cast of characters at a beautiful Jamaican retreat. The protagonist's dark morality matches her darkly hidden past and sets the stage for a series to come, while the novel stands alone as an intriguingly modern Christie-style mystery. Enjoy with some bold, dark intense five-star coffee.

And finally a truly dark tale, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares, by Scott Scherr. In the vein of Stephen King's the Stand, it follows a group of disconnected characters at the end of the world. Hints of Assault on Precinct 13, shadows of the Living Dead, and some very convincingly flawed characters combine to make for a novel that's hard to put down, gruesomely scary, and genuinely fascinating. Enjoy, yes of course, with some more dark five-star coffee, perfect for these days of cold dark winter.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Would you rather unpack book boxes or unpack cases?

Last Friday and Saturday, members or our local writers' group manned a table at a local bazaar, where we sold Writers' Mill Journals and other books written by or contributed to by members of the group.


Then on the Sunday, December 6th, I was honored to be one of the authors at the Oregon Historical Society Holiday Cheer event. (Look who I'm sitting next to - Eric Kimmel, author of Simon and the Bear and other great Hanukkah picture books, and more!).  

There were even Dickensian singers to entertain us all, and offer the promise of Christmasses white instead of blue.  


But now it's all done, and the unsold books need to be repackaged and buried under the bed, ready for next time. Meanwhile two new black suitcases have appeared on top of the bed, waiting to be unpacked. They belong to my mum, who has just arrived for her annual Christmas visit. Which is my way of apologizing in advance if I get even more behind with book reviews because... well, there are so many book conversations going on between me and my Mum instead. And other conversations. And baking of Christmas cakes and steaming of puddings and rolling out of gluten free pastry for the mince pies, and shopping, and...

But I have read some books. Honestly. And I've written some reviews. So here's my latest batch.

Since I was sitting right next to Eric Kimmel yesterday, I guess I should start with some children's books. So.. first is Merry Christmouse by Tess Votto illustrated by Vicki Rushing. It's a fun story told from human and mouse points of view, with the added attraction of bright illustrations drawn from human and mouse points of view. Plus there's all the excitement of trying to survive the onset of Christmas. I'd recommend a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee with this one.

Next is Let’s Make Crepes by Mae Segeti & Nic Monty, where boys and girls work together with Mom and Dad in the kitchen. It's all very convincing, sweet and fun, though I wished I'd seen the mathematician use his skill in measuring perhaps, or the swordfighter in stirring the batter. Ah well; that's just me. It's a fun book to read with a mild crisp one-star cup of coffee and a group of helpful kids.

And then, Oliver and Jumpy 31-33 by Werner Stejskal continues a familiar series with an enterprising cat and his kangaroo friend. The different illustration styles in each story are intriguing and nicely suited to the tales. Enjoy with some light bright two-star coffee.

For slightly older, or more serious minded children, Saint Anthony the Great by John Chryssavgis & Marilyn Rouvelas illustrated by Isabelle Brent is an intriguing historical story with some nicely woven lessons for the reader. The pictures really make this book, giving depth to the text and inviting questions and answers. But for me the best bit is the explanation of demons light nightmares (like monsters in the closet) being just the result of a wild imagination. Enjoy with one with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

While I'm thinking of saints, perhaps this is a good place to add my review of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. This one's definitely NOT for the kids, or for adults allergic to the occasional swear word or alternative lifestyle, but it's probably the most Christian book I've read in quite a while, filled with thought-provoking humor, absorbing memories of events, and the wonderful liturgy of the church year perfectly applied to real life. I can't recommend it enough! Drink bold, dark, intense five-star coffee and enjoy Christ in the real world, and the real, liturgical church.

Time now to read some more and write more reviews. Then, maybe, I'll find time to write more books too. Did you know the first 11 books of Five-Minute Bibles Stories are now in print! If I finish book 12, I'll have my own personal book-a-month club!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Meet two dogs, one parrot, a rare bird, and a vendor of apricots

Meet two dogs, one parrot, a rare bird, and a vendor of apricots, plus many assorted writers in this batch of book reviews. I apologize to the authors for being so late posting several of these. My best excuse is I've been writing. But the animal hero of my novels is neither dog nor bird, but rather a very white, sometimes mythical cat with a red stone in its collar and just a hint of wings. Meet it in Divide by Zero, and soon in Infinite Sum as well, coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.

The dogs and parrot belong in a book of essays, Two Dogs and a Parrot by Joan Chittister, where the authors tells what she's learned, and we can learn, from animals. There's a Judeo-Christian dichotomy, she points out, with two creation stories where one gives mankind dominion, but the other invites us to name. Naming meas relationship, and relationship with animals has helped many a person cope with distress. Of course, the animals too have much to cope with, and their coping mechanisms have much to teach. The book is a fascinating blend of learned, personal, and theological. Enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

A bird of a very different nature flies in Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson, a memoir of loss and love. Real life, real death, dreams, visions and those gentle hints that help and guide but seem so meaningless at the time... all play their part as the author details the loss of her oldest child when his life had so far yet to go. It's beautifully written, painful and honest. It questions whether we can shout at God and says yes. And it touches very gently on that veil between here and there. A great book for those who have lost, or who know those who have lost sometime. This is one to enjoy with plenty of tissues in the box and a well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

The dog is a side-character in Paulette Mahurin's His Name was Ben. This story tells of love and loss as well, with protagonists both seeking a cure for cancer, and love struggling to break through the wounds of the past. Spirituality, humanity, sexuality and loss combine in an unflinching roller-coaster ride. And the result is haunting, uplifting, and wonderful. Enjoy with a bold, dark, intense five-star cup of coffee.

Valerie’s Vow by Ashley M. Carmichael, continues that theme of loss and hope. Valerie's close to giving up on God after the loss of her friend. She's still teaching, and teaching Sunday school, but attending church feels like a lie, and she's promised her friend she'll try new things, so now... she's riding the back of a motorbike, going to bars, skipping church, and... still living her life for everyone else. Valerie's Vow is a wonderfully low-key story of a woman keeping a promise and finding a gift. Enjoy with some well-balance, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Love and loss are just two of the themes intertwined in Carrie Jane Knowles' short story collection, Apricots in a Turkish Garden. The stories are beautifully woven, haunting, and evocative. The artistry is as natural as the freshly opened apricots of the final tale. And it's a collection to savor, with apricots I suppose, and a cup of elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Finally, returning to that theme of faith that has slipped in and out of this collection, The Genesis Journey by Sandra Lund is a wonderfully poetic devotional, taking readers through Genesis, drawing inspiration from the Biblical text, and offering inspiring poems and thoughts, without ever overpowering the text. I shall certainly plan to post a review when it's released, and I'll read with well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What do Fairies. Dogs and Dragons have in common?

What fairies, dogs and dragons have in common, of course, is that they all appear in children's books. Specifically they appear in the books I'm reviewing today. But do I have to have kids at home to enjoy children's books? To review them? To write them? Or can I just relate to the kid (fairy, dog and dragon) within myself?

I suspect the answer is as long as my internal child is alive and kicking, she or he (dog, dragon or fairy) is all I need. Certainly she smiles when I pick up a kids' book in the store. She begs me to purchase things I can't possibly afford (have you seen the price of picture books?). And she laughs and cries, appropriately, when I read to her in my head. She's a pretty good child. (I'll not go into how good or otherwise the real-child-me was in her day, but my Mum would happily tell you - little horror are among the words she might use.)

Of course, I did have kids at home for many years - the years when I just told stories instead of writing them, lacking time to myself. But now they're grown and I still love to read. I'm in no hurry to have grandchildren, but I can't resist a picture book with great images and storyline. I love tales that introduce small children to different cultures and ideas. And I keep writing my Five-Minute Bible Stories series, eager to pass my dreams on to other people's kids.

The first of my children's Bible story books has just reappeared in print, rereleased by Cape Arago Press. (I self-published it first, but this edition is way, way better, and looks better too!) So now I'm eagerly dreaming of when there'll be an Old Testament series to match the (already in print) New Testament series... and maybe even a separate series in between (for Psalms and the not-yet-written Proverbial Tales). Anyway, if you're looking to introduce small children to Bible stories in a real-world way (no myths or fairy tales in sight), the real world, real people, real God tagline might work for you, and Genesis People might make a good Christmas gift.

So much for tooting my own horn. Now for some book reviews of those children's books my inner child has enjoyed over the last weeks.

Wendy’s Wacky Dogs by Hadas Korb and Ortal Zeret is a definite favorite. Great pictures. Great story-telling technique, with simple rhyming words left out for the kids to find and supply as they look at the pictures. Bright colors. And lots of fun ideas. Pour some juice for the kids, and grab an easy-drinking two-star coffee for this delightfully easy-reading picture book.

Also by Korb and Zeret, Tom and the colorful dragon is an enjoyable bedtime story, just a little short, with a sweet bedtime feeling to it. Enjoy this with some mild light one-star coffee.

Of course, with Christmas coming soon (how on earth did that happen?) I really had to read a Christmas book. A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story by A. J. York fit the bill perfectly - a pleasingly different take on stories and ornaments coming to life, filling their attic days with tales of special events, and mourning the changing world when the children grow old. These toys find a way to keep Christmas going through passing years, and it's a fun story to share. Enjoy with with some well-balanced, full-flavored three star coffee.

Another fairy appears in Fairy Good Heart by Nancy Fagan, the first of her Fables of Fairy Good Heart series. This book's written for children and their parents to share, specifically children of divorce, and it offers a nice background for conversation, with pleasant line-drawn illustrations to keep a child's interest. The story's contemporary and real, and the promise that ice cream and fun will return is much-needed and nicely supplied. Enjoy with a well-balanced full-flavored three-star coffee.