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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Do you write Her-story, His-story or history?

I'm working on my history of overdue book reviews, and finding several much-enjoyed historical tales in the mix.

This reminds me of my oft-repeated vow that I could never write historical fiction. As a teen I tried to write a child's life from alternating points of view--parent and kid. I was really enjoying myself. But big brother, then a college student studying history, very kindly took an interest and offered to help. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with too many forgotten facts to know what to do with. I buried the lot in my cardboard box where the novel languishes still, beneath the guest room bed.

But I do write historical fiction. I broke my own rule, and I write about children in Biblical times, Old Testament and New, adding whatever history and science I can find to fill out the tale. I broke my own rule with a fantasy story about a mystical cat setting sail from Ireland to America with its girl in Passage--that's my first and only-published Hemlock story (find it in Hero's Best Friend from Seventh Star Press). I break my own rule each day when I work on my novels too, because today's adults are surely yesterday's children, his story and hers being part of tomorrow's history. And breaking rules has made me, perhaps, a better reader of historical fiction, since now I'm inspired to check the occasional fact and question--does it really sound as if the world could have been like that?

These books didn't need much fact-checking. They convinced me of their truth--even the one that thoroughly confused me. So here are my reviews. Find a mug and choose your brew:

Red Cloud’s War by Paul Goble is a beautiful example of historical fiction for kids. Gorgeously and intriguing illustrated, written in simple but evocative language, and offering a pleasingly honest view of events that must surely inspire thought and conversation, it tells the story of prospectors hunting gold, governments hunting order, and a local population simply seeking to retain their land and hunting grounds. The result is a battle won by Red Cloud's band, and a story told with no attempt to indoctrinate or lecture, but lots of pleasingly human emotion and care. Enjoy with some rich elegant 4-star coffee, and expect to share and enjoy it again and again.

The Woods Edge by Lori Benton offers a very different look at Native Americans and white settlers, at the time of the war of Independence. A soldier yields to temptation and steals a baby when his own child dies. But the baby is a twin, and both families will suffer the consequences of separation, hidden guilts, and lost hopes before tale's end. Romance, family life, and Christian faith are nicely and convincingly intertwined in a well-researched novel that completes its own story while leaving the door open to more. Enjoy with a well-balanced smooth full-flavored 3-star coffee.

The tragedy of Fidel Castro by Joao Cerqueira combines magical realism and bleakly cynical humor in a tale of more recent history, pitchining god, Castro and JFK into a surreal battle for the future of the world. Filled with long passages of introspection, it's a long slow read, but there's plenty to intrigue if the cynically surreal is your style. Enjoy with a mug of bold, dark, intense 5-star coffee.

Crossing oceans to New Zealand, The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns invites readers, via a set of intriguingly interlinked short stories, into the lives of settler women and others in historical New Zealand. Reminiscent of Elizabeth's Strout's Olive Kitterige, the author manages to build a complete, convincing and enthralling narrative from these separate tales, imbuing them with that curious sense of discovery, dismay and hope that makes for a truly wonderful read. Enjoy with some rich, elegant 4-star coffee.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Would you rather write or teach dolphins to swim?

Charles Davis returns to my blog today, bringing dolphins, a lesson on why we write, and a healthy dose of idealism, or not, as the case may be. He's the author of Standing at the Crossroads (click for my review - I loved it!) and Pilgrim of Love (which I plan to read soon). Last time he visited, he brought Toy Soldiers with him; I shall soon have a virtual toy box of ideas. So, pour some coffee, sit down in your favorite chair, and enjoy.

Welcome Charles!

Teaching Dolphins to Swim:
Negative Ambitions & Lamentable Idealism

by Charles Davis

Why write? I don’t mean what characteristics define a writing spirit, I had a bash at that in an earlier blog, but what is the underlying motive, what do you as an individual want to do with your writing? It’s a worthwhile question, though possibly one best asked in retrospect. When you start writing there’s such an overwhelming desire to do everything all at once that, if you thought about it too long, you would probably end up doing nothing at all. For the rest of it, the deep motive, the thing that will keep you at it for years on end, will generally declare itself as time goes on.

When I started writing in my twenties, I had two ambitions. One, was to write the ultimate book, the greatest Great Novel, the book that would in sort be The Book for everyone, a definitive book that could be enjoyed as much by a fifteen year old girl as a fifty year old man, by somebody who was barely literate and by an overeducated academic, in short read with equal measures of pleasure but varying depths of understanding by people of any polarity you care to name. The other, marginally more modest ambition, but only marginally, was to write a book that could make a reader weep with pathos then weep with laughter . . . on the same page!

The absurdity of these ambitions when set against my abilities is so extravagantly ludicrous that it’s not even funny, and they were in any case such thoroughly noisome aspirations that, if I had any shame, which apparently I don’t, I would keep quiet about them. The first, after all, was effectively a desire (this from a professed lover of reading) to write a book that would end all books, terminating the dialogue between past, present and future that is the proper field of the written word, and which no other medium can rival. How sick is that? The second was scarcely less brazen, being a symptom of rampant anal retention, a craving to control and manipulate the emotions of others. I’m not too fussed by all that, though. It’s embarrassing, but nothing more. There was never any risk of either goal being realized and it’s always as well to aim well above the realistic scope of your abilities in the hope that you will stretch them just that little bit further. But the underlying motive as opposed to these expressed aims, that was something else.

Some years ago I was with a group of French friends, strolling along a broad sandy beach on the Black Sea in Turkey when we came across a young dolphin that had been washed ashore. It was in a hell of a state, its body covered with hundreds of tiny cuts where it had been slashed by the razor sharp rocks that lay a little way out to sea, but it was still alive, so we took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our trouser legs and lugged this thing back into the water. It was mid-winter and bloody nippy and the dolphin didn’t seem to think much of our efforts because he promptly beached himself again. Looking back on it now, it occurs to me that a tot of rum may have been more beneficial than immersion in icy waters, but we were young and misguided, and wanted to do good as only the young and misguided can. So we rolled him back into the sea and he rolled right out again, and we rolled him back and . . . well, you get the picture.

Time was getting on, we had a rendez-vous with other friends in the next town, so I told the rest of the group to go ahead while I stayed behind to see what I could do about the dolphin. I didn’t say anything, but I was determined to save him whether the little sod wanted saving or not. I simply would not let him die. Thinking the offshore rocks were the problem, I decided the best thing to do would be to get him round to the next beach where there were no rocks, so I went back to the house to fetch a sheet with a view to slinging him over my shoulder and carrying him across the headland.

I don’t suppose you’ve ever carried a dolphin, but they’re dense little blighters, and even a young one was way too heavy for me. I got him into the sheet all right, I even managed to heave him over my shoulder, but I’d only staggered about ten paces before I realized I wasn’t going to get to the end of the beach, let alone over the headland.  So I stripped down to my underwear, shoved him back in the sea, and waded out with him for a while, hoping he would get the idea of heading north rather than south.

I stayed in the water with him for several minutes, making vaguely encouraging breaststroke gestures (as if I could teach a dolphin anything about swimming!), but it really was very cold, so eventually I patted him on the back and left him to it. Retreating to the beach, I hung about a bit, wringing my hands and generally being ineffectual, but time was passing and I had to get moving to catch up with my friends. It wasn’t a happy departure. The dolphin wasn’t exactly powering his way out to sea. In fact, he was still wafting about a few metres from the shore, probably thinking there was no point beaching himself again while this lunatic was loitering about up there waiting to pitch him back into the water. At least he was in the water, though. He was halfway to doing what dolphins are meant to do. Swim! Swim! Go on, you fool, swim!

I hurried back to the nearest road and hitched a lift with a Turkish peasant who couldn’t keep his eyes off me. At first, I thought he was impressed by my Turkish, then I realized that my clothes were soaking wet and stained all over with long streaks of dolphin’s blood. The gory sheet hanging over my shoulder probably didn’t help, either. I looked like I had just murdered someone in a particularly brutal struggle, possibly somebody with whom I had been sharing a bed. To be fair to the man, he was pretty cool about it all. He did stare, but he didn’t seem unduly alarmed. Perhaps it’s a commonplace of life on the Black Sea coast, bloodstained strangers reeling out of the scrub babbling incoherently about dolphins. Still, I’d love to know what story he told his chums that evening. Probably wasn’t quite as wild as the story I told my friends in very broken French. By the end of it, there was at least one girl who thought I had gone hitchhiking with the dolphin. Wish I had. Little sod might still be alive.

I returned to the beach that night. It was already dark, we were about to leave for Istanbul, but I managed to find my suicidal chum. Somebody who knew better than me about ‘saving’ dolphins when their echolocation is all shot to pieces had been to the beach in the meantime. They’d bashed his brains in and left his carcass to rot.

I suspect that encounter with the dolphin is pretty much what I’ve been doing all my life with writing, doubtless with a similar degree of success. For years, I have worn a mask of cynicism so impenetrable that, on occasion, even close friends have applied to me during moments of overwrought sentimentality (such as the hysterical mourning of Lady Di), for a dose of derisive realism, but despite that, I am and always have been, and sadly probably always will be, painfully idealistic. And that is the one common thread running through almost everything I have ever written, the motive quest that has kept me writing for twenty-five years, idealism and what to do with the bloody stuff in a world not manifestly governed by ideals, or, at least, not the sort of ideals I would care to subscribe to.

How, in short, do you save the world when it’s bleeding and broken and lost and you’re not strong enough to carry it to safety and it just keeps throwing itself on the beach to gasp its last no matter how many wise exhortations you whisper into its blow hole? That, of course, and the questions that inevitably come afterwards when you take a moment to think about what you are doing: Who the hell are you to ‘save’ the world? Does it demand, need, or otherwise deserve ‘saving’? And weren’t idealism and the desire to save the world from itself the pretexts, if not the motives, for the majority of the most spectacularly destructive movements in history, ranging from the crusades to the colonies, from National Socialism to Stalinism, the brave new alchemy of nuclear fission to the Twin Towers? You only have to look at the history of the United States, a nation firmly persuaded that it was founded on idealism, to deduce that. In 1800 , there were fourteen and a half million Indians; in 1900 . . . 250,000. As Jim Harrison has pointed out, little wonder the Arabs are a bit wary. It maybe idealism gone horribly wrong, but it makes you wonder.

I hasten to add that I offer all this not as a declaration of how uncommonly sensitive I am in order that you may admire the grandeur of my suffering soul. I’ll keep that in reserve in case I become a celebrity. Highly unlikely, but you never know when you’re going to need these things. It would be a lie, anyway. I don’t really do grandeur and suffering souls. Like most people, I muddle through a life of modest selfishness, taking pleasure of the good things that come my way and doing my best to ignore the rest. I'm certainly not patrolling the local beaches hoping to drum up the odd dolphin in need of saving. But the business of idealism, it won’t go away. It lingers, like a bad smell that sooner or later somebody is going to have to admit to perpetrating.

Where all this will take me in the future, I wouldn’t know. Perhaps I’ll write myself into some accommodation between idealism and realism. Perhaps I’ll become a vicious opponent of anyone who wants to save the world. Perhaps I’ll give up in despair and stop harassing publishers with my nagging chimera.

Whatever happens though, I doubt it will do the dolphin much good.

Pity. I was fond of Flipper.

Me too. And thank you for a fascinating story and blogpost.

To find out more:

Visit Charles' Davis' Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Charles-Davis/e/B001JS2IE8/

and meet the author on his website at: http://charlesdavis2.wix.com/charlesdavis

Friday, June 5, 2015

A striking cover for Striker!

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Andrea Buginsky to my blog again with a wonderful cover reveal for the next book in her young-adult fantasy Chosen series. So... what do you think? Striking? Cool?
StrikersApp_Cover_1024x683-1 Final

About the book

As a young hunter seeks a trainer, The Chosen prepare for an unforgettable adventure. With Nature and Phantasma back in order, Halli and Silvor have settled into their new life in Drumple. During a visit from Striker, Kaidyla and Lumina, a request from an old friend of Halli’s family sparks a new challenge when she asks Striker if he’ll train their young son, Dylan. Working with Dylan gives Striker a chance to be a mentor once again, as he had been in his past. This brings The Chosen to an area of Phantasma Halli has never seen before. What new dangers might be lurking in the forest? Will Halli have a reason to use her powers? But Halli and Silvor are facing a new journey of their own, one that will change their lives forever. What is in store for The Chosen’s future? Will this latest escapade prepare them for what is yet to come?  

Coming soon to an eBook store near you

About the author

My Headshot  Andrea Buginsky is a freelance writer with a BA in Mass Communication-Journalism from the University of South Florida. She has always wanted to be a published writer, and decided to try to write children's fantasy books. The Chosen was her first book, and was released on December 14, 2010, to her delight.  Andrea has written five more books since:
  • My Open Heart, an autobiography of growing up with heart disease.
  • Nature's Unbalance: The Chosen, Book 2
  • Striker's Apprentice: The Chosen, Book 3 (coming soon)
  • Destiny: New Avalon, book 1, a YA fantasy
  • Fate: New Avalon, book 2, a YA fantasy
She is currently writing the fourth book in The Chosen series. Andrea lives in Kansas with her family, which includes her two precious puppies. You can visit Andrea on her website or Google+

So, thank you for visiting my blog Andrea, and good luck with all your ventures (and your puppies!) I'll look forward to meeting Striker's apprentice in words as well as in this cover image.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Do you prefer real life stories or fantasy?

My sons declare I have no taste because I listen to too many different kinds of music and read too many different kinds of books. But perhaps I just have eclectic tastes - I certainly remember seizing on that word "eclectic" when I first learned it, and deciding it sounded pleasingly vital and electrically bright - something I could at least aspire to, if never quite achieve. The problem of course, when I read in so many genres, is deciding which genre works best for filing the reviews of books I've read. And writing in many genres is a problem when I submit my books to publishers as well. What constitutes real life, and what is sci fi or fantasy? It romance if someone falls in love, and how much can I tell...?

Luckily I have a wonderful publisher for my novels - Second Wind Publishing. Divide by Zero sews a patchwork quilt of characters whose lives might be torn apart by crime in a small, quiet town. Then Infinite Sum, coming soon, paints  pictures with a victim of that crime as she re-draws the boundaries of her life. The novels might probably count as real life stories... but there is a cat wandering through the pages with its promise of hope. Now what does that mean?

Anyway, enough about me and my books. Here are some book reviews of real life, sci fi and more. Grab your coffee cup. Fill it with your favorite brew. And enjoy. But please remember, I'm not qualified to rate the books - only the coffee. So the numbers are simply recommendations for the palate.

First is a very grounded tale of real life, mid-life, empty-nest refilling. Unexpecting by Lori Verni-Fogarsi deals unflinchingly with a perfect world gone awry. There's a pleasing blend of serious issues, complex introspection, and gentle humor in a tale where all the characters seem achingly real and nobody really means the hurts they cause. This is one to read with some sobering, dark, intense five-star coffee perhaps; but it's not all gloom, and the author's light touch might welcome some two-star lively coffee as well.

Killing Rush by John Calvin Hughes offers a similar blend of pathos, humor, and the tragedies of modern life. The language is harsh at times, perfectly suiting the characters, and there are depths of complex mystery and relationships hiding within these pages. A truly absorbing tale, this one merits a rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee as you read.

This next one starts in a very real world, but quickly moves to realms of horror - touches of middle-age Twilight tinged with faith and hope perhaps. Be Not Afraid by K. R. Morrison reminds me of Christian horror from Teric Darken. The protagonist infuses every terror with hope, prayer and conviction. But the world is darkening around her, and just maybe she's been chosen for a special need at his time of special fear. God doesn't protect from everything, but he does have a plan. Enjoy this tale with some intense, bold, dark five-star coffee.

Torii by Amanda Marie spends part of its time in a very recognizable real world too, but the rest is set in time-traveling myth and fantasy, as modern-day teens find perhaps they are not quite who they thought they were. Blend Twilight, Harry Potter, a touch of Tolkein, maybe even a thread of Ender's Game and you'll get the idea. It's a fairly slow read though, so have plenty of dark intense five-star coffee to hand.

Raven's Choice, by Harper Swan, has roots in the present day too, but branches far into the past as the source of modern neanderthal DNA is explored, and its consequences are maybe just hinted at. Raven, left without a spouse, has a choice to make about her future - a choice that might echo through the years. Well-researched, nicely told, but short, this is a tale that leaves much to come in future installments, but it's a cool beginning to enjoy with some well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee.

Stephen Zimmer's Heart of a Lion feels beautifully historical too, while offering delightful fantasy, filled with thrilling warfare, complex and believable societies, a great heroine, and a wonderful sense of threat and adventure. The novel tells a complete and satisfying story, while setting the stage for a complex drama to come. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting more! Enjoy with some rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee.

And finally, for something completely different, here's a thoroughly enjoyable collection of poetry, Colours of Poetry by AF Stewart. Beautifully organized, pleasingly lyrical, and crowned with a pleasing explanation of various different poetic forms (which blend so naturally in the author's writing), it's a step above the modern poetry book and a great one to read with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored three-star coffee.