Thursday, July 31, 2008

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese
Copyright 2007
WheatMark Fiction/short stories
134 pages
Author's blog

From the cover:

Down to a Sunless Sea plunges the reader into uncomfortable situations and into the minds of troubled characters. Each selection is a different reading experience -- poetic, journalistic, nostalgic, wryly humorous , and even macabre. An award-winning essayist and historical novelist, Mathias B. Freese brings the weight of his twenty-five years as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist into play as he demonstrates a vivid understanding of -- and compassion toward -- the deviant and damaged.

That's one of the most accurate cover blurbs I think I've ever read. Down to a Sunless Sea is a collection of short stories about people who are not whole, either in body, mind or spirit. In "I'll Make It, I think," a young man with cerebral palsy talks about his various deformities. In spite of his sense of humor -- he's named his annoying body parts -- his desire to be just a normal person, accepted and loved, makes for painful reading. I don't see how anyone can read, "I'll Make It, I think" without carrying away an understanding of just how horrible it must be to have the ability to reason and love, but to be trapped in a body that simply doesn't work, stared at and mistreated, unable to express thoughts because a mouth doesn't move right or to simply walk down a street unnoticed.

*Warning: The next few paragraphs may contain spoilers, so please skip them if you intend to read the book, right away.*

The first story that really resonated for me was "The Chatham Bear". "The Chatham Bear" describes the commotion stirred up in Chatham, New York, when a black bear is spotted several times, briefly, by residents. Worried that the bear may be deadly, one man shoots into the woods when he spots the bear. Another hides in his truck, honking madly. Nearby, in neighboring Canaan, a pit bull kills a small terrier in the terrier's own yard and nothing is left of the smaller dog but bones. Yet, the pit bull is returned to its owner. A couple fight in a parking lot, the man openly burning the woman and then tossing her into his truck. But, the protagonist, observing, believes that to interfere would be to invite harm. The author concludes that a bear, terrifying to the people who see it when it briefly emerges from the woods, is harmless by comparison with humans and even their pets, both of which are uncontrolled but whose dangers are overlooked.

Another very powerful story is "Alabaster", the story of a young boy who observes a mother and daughter conversing on a bench. Their regular conversations make little sense to him, till one day the elderly mother asks the boy to sit with her. She tells her story, about how when she was not much older than the 9-year-old boy, she was taken away from her life and broken. On her wrist is a number, tattooed permanently into her now-sagging skin. The reader realizes that the woman's childhood was stolen, her hope shattered during her time in a concentration camp. The most telling sentence, in my view: "It must be wonderful just to grow up."

Another story, "Unanswerable," describes the cruelty of a single German man and ends with this amazing line: "The core puzzle, for all of us, is what ignites a human being to hate feverishly, kill wantonly in huge numbers, revel in genocide and final solutions -- that is unanswerable."

My absolute favorite story is "Little Errands", the story of an obsessive-compulsive who is unsure letters placed in a mailbox have really been mailed and feels obligated to open and close the door of the mailbox repeatedly . . . then is compelled to return to open it a few more times. What if the letter has become stuck in the side of the box? What will happen if the protagonist has simply convinced himself that the letter has been mailed but it really hasn't? This is not his only compulsion. Each little action is so overinflated in its importance that the protagonist's time is spent obsessively repeating movements, then backtracking and doing them all over, again. And, yet, he's convinced that he's saving time because if, perchance, the letter really wasn't mailed because he didn't make absolutely sure that it fell into the box just so, or if the radio wasn't, in fact, turned off all the way and the car's battery was drained, then he'd have to spend a lot more time fixing the problems that could have been avoided.

In a way, "Little Errands" is humorous, at least from the point of view of a person who can't imagine feeling compelled to repeat the same actions, much less to think of such actions as "time-saving". Of course he's not saving time. He's wasting time being compulsive, but to that individual it's impossible to fathom simply sliding a letter into a mailbox and walking away without a second thought. In the end, the reader realizes that the anxiety is real and it's not only troublesome in that repetitive actions consume time, but that his actions are also socially detrimental. Just knowing a bill has arrived is such a relief that when a neighbor asks the protagonist to drop something in the mail, he refuses and is unable to express why.

*End of spoilers*

And, therein lies the heart of Down to a Sunless Sea: the realization that each of us is flawed or broken in our own way. But, it's not necessarily possible for others to understand, even if we're fully able to express our pain. I'd be lying if I said I even understood all of the stories. At least two of them baffled me; I couldn't quite unravel what was happening. And, yet, the vast majority made sense. They're harsh, painful, difficult to read. It's the reality inherent in each of the stories that makes this collection meaningful.

I don't know that I can rate this book with numbers and, in fact, I'm once again considering the idea of ditching the numerical rating system permanently. Instead, I'll just say that I recommend it, but be forewarned: the reading is rough. You may be enlightened, but it's going to hurt. Just don't read this book if you're already blue or you're in the mood for sweetness and light. Read it to try to understand your fellow humans. Because the second story has a lot of sexual references/scenes, I'm going to label this one family-unfriendly; I would not hand it to my teenager.

In other news:

The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Okay, there haven't been any rumors. You probably just assumed I had a busy week, right? School began, today, so . . . yes. Busy week, a couple of whopper storms and late nights that made me groggy during the daylight hours. It's still too hot to think straight, so I'm hibernating. But, I've been enjoying my reading.


Matrimony by Joshua Henkin - review forthcoming but in case you're interested, it's going to be a very positive review.

Almost Finished Reading:

High Altitude Leadership -- haven't even managed to add it to the sidebar, but it's a quick read about applying mountaineering principles to leadership in business.

Still reading:

The Words of War by Donagh Bracken - really enjoying this one, although I was having trouble straightening out who fought for which side and decided to look for an atlas of Civil War battles. Then, the storms hit and we huddled for a couple of days. That was fun, actually. At the height of the big storm on Saturday, kiddo was flopped across our bed, reading with a flashlight. Hubby and I were curled up by the headboard, chatting and listening to the storm. The cat was rolled into a ball on the floor, near the foot of the bed.

Sunday, we attempted to go to the park to look for the atlas but had to turn back and take a different route because a huge, fallen tree blocked the road. The tree was so big, we couldn't see the workers on the far side, although I spotted them from the highway. I found and bought my atlas, yesterday, and hope to make some serious progress on The Words of War, this week. It's really quite a fascinating book and the atlas has already helped me to discover that I understood more than I realized.

The Best of Robert Service - Canadian poetry, eh? Also reading this one slooooowly. I'm finding that Robert Service was, in his way, much like John Muir with a sense of rhythm. Sometimes his poetry actually is laugh-out-loud funny. Some of his poems were obviously written in frustration; he had strong moral standards and loose morals bugged him. Apparently, he was lured to the Yukon with the dream of becoming a cowboy, but was inspired and captivated by its beauty.

Set aside, temporarily:

Travels in Alaska by John Muir - because I want to focus on some other reads, but Muir is still by the bed and I'm not quitting. I absolutely adore his descriptions of the scenery and hope to get back to that book, soon.

In the midst of reading:

When Twilight Burns by Colleen Gleason. Oh, yes, and I'll be doing that drawing in a few hours. I am loving When Twilight Burns every bit as much as the first three books.

News flash about Colleen:

She's having a live webcast Tuesday, August 5 at 8:30 pm, Eastern time, to celebrate the release of When Twilight Burns. All you need is an internet connection and speakers. There will be door prizes, including an ARC of As Shadows Fade. Tune in here and log on early because space is limited!

And, finally . . . a photo! Of course! A lizard! What else would it be? Note that he's brown because, till this weekend's storms, we had quite a lengthy drought going and there wasn't a whole lot of green. So, the lizards have been cloaking their little bodies in lovely, matching speckled browns. Here's my lizard buddy:

I also made my first anole hatchling sighting, last week. He was so tiny! Just an inch long in the body, probably no more than 1/8" wide. Unfortunately, I had my hand on a garbage can and no camera nearby. But, trust me, he was adorable.

Hope everyone had a great week!

Bookfool, still melting but now back to chauffeuring (at least till kiddo gets his athletic pass)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

#12 Geeking, Part 2

Time for the answers to Weekly Geek post #12 -- questions about the books I haven't reviewed. There were two books (out of thirteen) that generated some interest. I'm going to hit both books, separately, but in the same post.

Questions about Facts the Historians Leave Out: A Confederate Primer by John S. Tilley:

bkclubcare's questions: I don't know a thing about it so, do tell. Did you learn a LOT? was the tone condescending? What prompted you to read this?

Bookfool's answers: Facts the Historians Leave Out is what I'd call a "factoid book" as it's very, very short (76 pages) and doesn't go into any great detail about its claims -- such as the fact that the Southern states were well within their rights to secede from the Union. But my Civil War knowledge is even skimpier; so, I can say I learned quite a bit -- certainly enough to whet my appetite for more. The tone isn't so much condescending as self-assured and extremely pro-Confederate. In case you're interested in reading about Tilley and his books, there are several paragraphs about him, here (skip down to about the 14th or 15th paragraph to begin).

What prompted me to read Facts the Historians Leave Out? I recently read The Disagreement by Nick Taylor, a novel that takes place during the Civil War. The protagonist in The Disagreement is a doctor but it almost seems like he lives in a bubble -- even as he's treating people who have been wounded in battle, the reader gets no real sense of the war that's raging around him. I closed the book hungry for information about the Civil War -- enough to ensure that I was ridiculously excited when I found Facts the Historians Leave Out on my mother's shelf. I sat right down and read it on her sofa.

Carrie K asked: Do the facts left out change the political outlook? What was the most interesting fact you learned from the book? Did you know any of the facts he included before reading the book?

Bookfool's sort-of answer: Carrie, I'm not sure I know enough to respond well to that first question, although I think the answer is probably "yes". Let me say this much: Tilley really made Abe Lincoln sound like a Bad Guy. He claimed Lincoln deliberately held back supplies from Fort Sumter and then sent war ships rather than regular supply ships with aid when Fort Sumter's inhabitants were on the verge of being starved out of their post . . . in order to provoke Confederates into making the first move -- which, of course, they did. Holding back supplies virtually ensured that Major Anderson and the rest of the Yankees at Fort Sumter would not be able to hold out for long, if attacked. I have a slightly altered opinion about the Confederate attack after reading the section on Fort Sumter in a different book, The Words of War (which I'm in the midst of reading, right now). I'll share my thoughts on that, when I finish the book.

Of all the bits and pieces brought up in Facts the Historians Leave Out, I found the entire story about Fort Sumter the most fascinating. It's amazing how little I knew! I didn't bring the book home, so I can't flip through it to see if there's anything I recall already knowing, but I'd say most of what's in the book was new information. The vast majority of the books I've read about the Civil War have been focused on the Siege of Vicksburg. In fact, I have to wonder if I even would have gotten around to reading about the Civil War at all, had we not moved to Mississippi. As an example of my ignorance, all I knew about Vicksburg when my husband came down here for a meeting, while we were still living in Oklahoma, was that it was a significant location during the Civil War . . . like Gettysburg. The name rang a bell, but it was a distant one. We still laugh about the fact that I kept asking my husband to remind me where Vicksburg was located. I repeatedly asked him, "Which state did you say you're in?" I probably shouldn't admit that. Here's a photo of the interior of Fort Sumter (under the Confederate flag):

Questions about Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

bkclubcare, Chris and Les all asked similar questions (I'm choosing bkclubcare's wording): Which side did you end up on? (love it or not) Did you have any expectations about loving it or not? Which section did you like best and would you read more from Ms. Gilbert?

Bookfool's answers: I ended up on the loving side, for the most part, although there were sections about which I had mixed feelings. Since Eat, Pray, Love has received such polarized reviews, I went into the reading leaning toward the thought that I'd probably hate it. Quite a few people have described it as "selfish" or "self-indulgent". In fact, I think it is pretty self-indulgent. Gilbert begins the book by describing her utter despair as her marriage was falling apart -- and then goes on to say that she had an affair. I thought that was pathetic, but I didn't let my personal notions of marriage and fidelity interfere with what I really wanted to take from the reading. Nor did I let envy intervene, although I honestly think timing is everything with this particular book. I'm almost certain there have been times I couldn't have gotten through it. It just happened that I was more interested in the sense of place, the unique characters she met and her spiritual journey than I was put off by her stunning good fortune, her emotions and personal life. She was one messed-up chick; but, her experiences were pretty amazing.

My favorite section was the first, the part about her stay in Italy. I think part of the reason I liked it best is that Italy appeals to me -- the food, the relaxed lifestyle, the beautiful language and history. India and Indonesia . . . not so much. The change of environment when she left Italy and began her stay in India was actually quite jarring, in my opinion. I had a terrible time getting into the second section. But, I set it aside for a few days and let Italy roll around in my head. Then, I picked it up, again, and enjoyed the rest.

Would I read more by Gilbert? Definitely. But, I really, really hope her sex life isn't mentioned in her other books. That was one of the few aspects of Eat, Pray, Love that I found utterly repellent. I don't know why so many authors think readers give a flying petunia about who they've slept with. Not my business; I don't care. Actually, that may be one of the reasons I liked the section on Italy so much. She chose to become celibate during her journey and, at first, she succeeded. In Italy she was chaste (although still tempted). It's apparently a self-control issue with Gilbert; she's a bit of a sex addict and eventually abandoned her enforced celibacy. But, at least we were spared the details of her sexual romps while she was in Italy (since there were none). And, India. India made me feel hungry and fat, though, and the idea of sitting around meditating for hours on the hard ground almost made my bones ache. So, Italy won. On the positive side, I really liked her chatty, accessible writing style.

My husband traveled to Italy without me, last year. So unfair. Just look at what he got to see:

In other book news:

I finished Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese, last night. Review will appear in a few days.

On this day in Bookfool's reading history, in 1997:

I finished reading Wild Horses by Dick Francis (just after finishing Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl) and began to read Time and Again by Jack Finney.

Right now in my reading travels:

I'm immersed in the Civil War in The Words of War by Donagh Bracken and hiking around Alaska in a three-piece suit in Travels in Alaska by John Muir. Coolness. Where are your reading travels taking you, today?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thinking, Reading and Ranting (not necessarily in that order)

July 27, 2008 in Vicksburg
4:11 pm
Temp: 102
Heat Index: 107

It's supposed to be hotter, tomorrow. School begins in 8 days. The youngsters involved in athletics and many other activities will be obligated to practice outdoors, mostly in the afternoon (the hottest part of the day). The local school-district officials are have mentioned the possibility of going to a 4-day school week to conserve bus fuel. Nobody has apparently proposed returning to the old school calendar -- in which the hottest month of the year was a part of summer vacation. In fact, this year we are going to year-round schooling, which gives rise to alternate concerns (at least for the parents of older children) about earning money for college via summer jobs or attendance at university educational camps -- both of which will become impossible. No mention is ever made of heat stroke, at least until the kids drop (and I don't recall ever hearing a word about skin cancer). Last year they had to call two of these in one day, for a single band practice:

Shortly after, parents received a letter threatening those who skipped practice or wore too much clothing with an unexcused absence.

Is it just me, or are there some folks in charge of our school system who are seriously lacking common sense?

Bookishly speaking:

It's been a slow reading week, but not because of the quality of reading material. I'm reading three excellent books:

Travels in Alaska - John Muir
Down to a Sunless Sea - Mathias B. Freese
The Words of War - Donagh Bracken

and I've begun to read:

The Best of Robert Service (he was Canadian, eh?!)

I'm unable to update my sidebar, even using Explorer, unless I do so remotely. Weird. But, I'll try to get it updated, soon.

I thought this was an interesting article. Thank you to Bookish Kitty Wendy for pointing that out. It's relevant, given past debates about whether bloggers are costing paid reviewers their jobs and given the quantity of time involved in blogging, especially if good blogging etiquette is in play (e.g., responding to comments and visiting other bloggers). Not long ago, one of my favorite bloggers decided blogging was just a giant time suck; she wanted her life back. She posted a final message and hasn't turned back. Would pay for reviews prevent burnout by making bloggers feel as if their time is valued? Worth thinking about.

You can tell the heat is still getting me down. I'm going to go read. I need to find my happy place.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Belated Weekly Geeking (#12)

I'm quite far behind the rest of the blog world on this because I had misled myself into thinking I was totally caught up on blog reviews. And, then I finished a book. And, I realized that . . . oh, yeah . . . I skipped over quite a few because of limited internet access during the time I was working on cleaning out my mother's house.
You've heard them before. Here are the rules:

1. In your blog, list any books you've read but haven't reviewed yet. If you're all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever books you finish this week.
2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books in your comments. Most likely, people who will ask questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.
3. Later, take whichever questions you want from these comments and use them in a post about each book. (Dewey suggested an "interview-review"). Link to each blogger whose question you used.
4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them questions.

Here is my list of un-reviewed books. Ask away!

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior - Ori & Rom Brafman

Eat, Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

Overcoming Hurts & Anger - Dwight L. Carson, M.D.

Facts the Historians Leave Out: A Confederate Primer - John S. Tilley

In the Land of Dreamy Dreams - Ellen Gilchrist

Return from Tomorrow - George Ritchie

The Queen of Sleepy Eye - Patti Hill

The Book of Dahlia - Elisa Albert

Human Voices - Penelope Fitzgerald

Sermons & Soda Water III: We're Friends Again - John O'Hara

In the Clearing - Robert Frost

At Home in Mitford - Jan Karon

Queen of Babble - Meg Cabot

Apropos of nothing . . . really, just because I love adding a photo to each post . . . I give you my grandmother's art class at Weslyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska. Wild guess which one is my grandma?

Grandma is the teacher, on the far right, standing, with her head ducked slightly.

Isn't that a cool photo?

Off to read . . . happy weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What are they up to, now? A chat with Patricia Wood

Photo borrowed from this article, in which Pat is referred to as "the next Mark Haddon". Personally, I prefer to avoid comparisons and think Patricia Wood's writing is too original to be held up to anyone else's. But, that's me.

I was going to toss together all three authors I mentioned chatting with, earlier this week, but then my brain went splat . . . the neurons all lined up in a row and someone knocked the end-domino neuron over, causing a tragic chain reaction.

So, one at a time. My longest chat was with Patricia Wood, aka "Pat", so let's go with Pat, first. Pat wrote the book Lottery, which I read last year and reviewed for Estella's Revenge. It was one of my top reads for 2007 (I laughed, I cried, I could not put that sucker down), so I was all goofy-excited when Pat dropped by to leave a comment about my review. And, I was thrilled for Pat when Lottery was short-listed for the Orange Broadband Prize. I've also become totally addicted to Pat's blog because she's hilarious.

When I wrote to ask her what she's up to and when we can expect a second book from her, Pat replied promptly. What's she up to? Well, writing, of course. Originally, she expected to finish her next manuscript in the spring, but the whole uber-cool Orange shortlisting business threw a kink in her plans and led to a lovely trip to London for the awards ceremony. And, of course, I gave her an excuse for distraction (although, she was also considering an ice cream because it's been just as miserable in Hawaii . . . but I'm betting she won't get a whole lot of sympathy on that score -- you know, dream life on a fabulous boat docked in Oahu?).

Pat doesn't like to talk in detail about her works-in-progress and I loved her reasoning:

I have made the mistake of letting beta readers take a quick peek at the first few chapters and then I get into this big discussion about where the plot is going and that's not helpful. Everything has to come from inside me- with passion - it can't be analyzed . . .

I think part of it is that before you are published you can get to that quiet place- that place that is you the artist -- much more easily -- afterwards I think that a new author has to learn to ignore the readers and media and publishing gurus and just be solitary. Then the story can come. I'm fortunate I have several other manuscripts in various stages of completion otherwise I might feel more pressure.

She had so many interesting things to say that I'm quoting directly from Pat's emails. I didn't ask for permission before I started cobbling this post together; if it disappears for a short time to be reworked, that's why. Just a warning for those of you who subscribe to a feed and might want to comment. More about life between releases:

I think the other thing that happens 'between books' is a lot of reading. I tend to read more after I've finished a first draft rather than during as I'm so engrossed in my own story.

I would like to say one thing. With several high profile writers it seems that putting out a book (or 2 or 4!) a year is the norm. New writers & authors may make the assumption that being able to create a book only months apart is an expectation--I have not found this is so in my case. Both my editors and agent are patient. I have several other manuscripts that 'could' be next but to me are not 'right' yet. My work has to sit and I have to see it with new eyes.

I also am aware of the 'elephant in the room' -- the reader-- It wasn't there before. I have to kick him out and sneak back to my computer so I can write without someone looking over my shoulder.

Pat mentioned that it's difficult not to take negative reviews personally, since they're written in such a personal way, and that her friend and mentor, Paul Theroux, doesn't read his reviews at all. I didn't tell her I think I'd totally lose my voice (and possibly the strength in my knees) in the presence of Paul Theroux. But, it's true. Chances are pretty good that the same thing will happen if I ever manage to get back to Hawaii and meet up with her.

On that note, Pat also reminded me that I was within walking distance when my husband and I visited Oahu in December:

I have wireless on my boat and you could have WALKED from the [very nice hotel] and posted from my there! That will teach you to not let me know you are in Hawaii lol!!

This is a bruise that keeps getting itself poked, every time I speak to Pat or read her blog. I could have met her! Walking distance, people! And, you know, I was out there snapping pictures of every flying, walking, blooming, breathing thing and it would have been nothing to walk a bit further . . . but, I digress . . .

On Pat's agenda:

The Maui Writers Retreat and Conference (this year in Oahu) in August
Some events in Seattle, mid-September
A visit to Books & Books in Miami, Saturday, October 11

What kind of miserable scenery does Pat have to look at, nearby?

Goodness. The real question should be, "How do you get any writing accomplished at all, living in a boat docked at an island paradise?" I'll ask her that, next time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Lied, Therefore I Wahoo

I lied! It's below 90! Wahooooooo!

As long as they're not Katrina-strength and they don't hit you directly, hurricanes can be kind of nice. I'd forgotten about that. We are feeling the far, far outer bands of Hurricane Dolly (see a terrific satellite loop of Dolly, here) and when I walked out to the mailbox it felt cold!!! Okay, yeah, it's still 86 degrees, but after the last few weeks . . . and with a breeze . . . well, it's just very wahooey.

So . . . I can wahoo, again! Wahoo! for cooler weather!!! And, squeeeee!!!!! The breeze won't last long, but we'll take anything.

It's been a long, long time (weeks -- horrors!) since I've taken any new photographs. But, I haven't forgotten that I promised to show you the history books I snatched off my mother's shelves. Well, most of them. The wooden antelopes (I found them, Debi!!!) belonged to my father. And, the quilt has a typewritten tag that says it was given to my grandmother in the 1930s by Great Aunt Something-or-other. I confess; I forgot to look. It's pretty though, isn't it?

Titles, top to bottom :

Upstairs at the White House - J. B. West
Journey into Christmas - Bess Streeter Aldrich
Nebraska Moments - Donald R. Hickey
Nebraska Folklore - Louise Pound
The Pioneers - various authors (publ. by Reader's Digest)
175 Battles - Shaw & Vestal
The Old West: The Pioneers (don't see an author -- a Time-Life book)
At War in Korea - George Forty
Historical Atlas of Oklahoma - Morris & McReynolds
The Colosseum & The Tower of London - both appear to be Newsweek releases

Wahoo for inherited books!! I had to save them from my (possibly insane) sister, you know. She wanted to "get rid of" all the books. But, not the toaster.

I did get a replacement for my favorite lens, the one that broke, several weeks ago, and when it arrived I took one photograph to make sure it worked. This is the photo, a bit of detail from the mirror in our front entryway:

Silly photo, but isn't that a wahooey design?

Last wahoo before I have to get off the fat fanny . . . and it's a good one . . .

I've been thinking about doing a "What are they up to, now?" post about some favorite authors I've talked with or interviewed in the past. With that idea in mind, I emailed Colleen Gleason, Simon Van Booy and Patricia (Pat) Wood. All three responded, so yesterday was spent batting emails back and forth with three authors that I truly adore. Wahoo for a day of chatting with super cool authors! Look for a post about what they're up to, within a day or two.

Wait!!! Latest wahooey book arrivals (or, Why the Postman and UPS Guy Know My House Well):

The Words of War - Donagh Bracken
Matrimony - Joshua Henkin
Walking Through Walls: A Memoir - Philip Smith

Wahoo wishes to all!

A much more cheerful Bookfool, thank goodness

Monday, July 21, 2008

Three things: A contest Two contests, the heat, the links

First things first: The Story Siren is having a contest in honor of reaching 20,000 hits at her blog. Read the post and email answers to her questions in order to enter the contest. Okay, uck, I've edited three times and I can't get that link to the contest to work, so if you're getting http:// and in front of the second http://, please just delete everything in front of that second http and it should work. Blogger is really starting to tick me off.

And, another one! Dar at Peeking Between the Pages is giving away a copy of The Host, here! All right! I am so dying to read that book.

Second, it's 99 degrees out. I am melting. I can't accomplish a thing. Someone send me a breeze, please? Just a little bitty bit of that nice, cool Canadian air or, you know, a UPS box full of glacial ice (I know, it'll melt, but it's the thought that counts) or maybe . . . penguin thoughts. Anything cool will do.

Third, I am sitting on my butt far too much and realizing that I need to tidy up the link list in order to stop myself from wasting time visiting folks who don't visit me or haven't linked to my blog or (ick) those who have ditched me. However, I really don't want to offend anyone. So, if you've meant to link up to my blog or you're just a fly on the wall and you want me to leave you as is, put you back up, add you, etc., just let me know. I love my fellow bloggers. I just don't want to turn into a giant toad because I sit too much. Plus, I have a few friends I have to add because I love them.

Obviously, I adore you if you're reading this post. Doesn't it feel good to be loved? Here's another cold photo, just because . . .

Bookfool, all gushy with bloggy love and still dreaming of mountains and ice and breezes

Washington's Lady by Nancy Moser

Washington's Lady by Nancy Moser
Copyright 2008 (released in June)
Bethany House/Historical Fiction
289 pages, including "Fact or Fiction" notes and discussion questions
Author's website

What led you to pick up this book? Brittanie very kindly sent it to me because she thought I'd enjoy it. Thank you, Brittanie! You were right!

Describe the book without giving anything away. Washington's Lady is a fictionalized account of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington's life, from the time of her first husband's death until the loss of her second husband, the first United States President, George Washington. The book is written from Martha's point of view, except for the epilogue.

What did you think of the characters? I found Martha absolutely fascinating. I don't know that I'd ever given her, as an individual, much thought. I certainly had no idea that she endured so much grief in her life (she outlived all 4 of her surviving children), that she was wealthy when she married George, that she gathered women to sew for soldiers during the Revolutionary War and that she followed her husband to lodge near battlefields yearly, while he was away from home (for over 6 years). She was truly an amazing woman and one can see how her influence must have strengthened George Washington and helped him become the leader chosen to rule a new nation.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I can't think of a particular favorite, but there were none I disliked. The book is what I'd call a "quiet" book, paced slowly and evenly, with lovely description and believable dialogue. The writing is almost flawless, fact and fiction are interwoven nicely and Martha Washington's emotions, her faith and her devotion are portrayed in a way that is so perfect that I feel as if I've met her and peeked into her life. In fact, when Martha's son Jacky reminded her of Patrick Henry's famous quote, "I know not what course others may take; but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death," I was so caught up in the emotion of the moment that it brought tears to my eyes. The further I got into the book, the more swept up I became in Martha's world and felt her pain or joy. The author's notes on what is truly fact and what she fictionalized rounded out the book.

4.5/5 - Quite nearly perfect, although a bit slow. I enjoyed this book so much that I looked the author up while I was in the library. They carry her books! Wahoo! I will definitely read more by Nancy Moser.

Side note: Because Martha and George Washington were people of strong faith, God is mentioned frequently. Excerpts of genuine letters indicate the fact that there simply was no separating this famous couple from their beliefs. When the beginning of the U.S. Constitution is quoted, the reader understands the inclusion of "one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all," and it's a heart-pounding, awe-inspiring moment. I am absolutely thrilled to find that there is solid, clean historical fiction of such quality and will seek out more books published by Bethany House. I've known about this Christian publishing company for years, but was under the impression that Christian lit still wasn't quite up to par. I'm really glad to find that I'm wrong.

Other reviews, here:

A Book Lover
Devourer of Books
5 Minutes for Mom (this one includes a giveaway copy of Washington's Lady!)

Highly recommended. I noticed Nancy Moser has written a book about Jane Austen, while perusing her website. Ah. I know which of her books I will be looking for, next.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella and Holy heck -- a very close call -- plus, Booking through Thursday

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
Copyright 2008
The Dial Press/Fiction
389 pages

This is going to be a quickie review because Sophie Kinsella books never really vary dramatically, at least in style. Remember Me? is the story of Alexia Smart, aka "Lexi", a young woman who suffers from amnesia due to an accident. After she's bonked on the head, Lexi wakes up to find that she has forgotten three years of her life. And, during the time her memory doesn't cover, there have been some major changes. Much like Jennifer Garner's character in 13 Going on 30, Lexi finds that she has a great job, but she's become a totally different person; and, she's not nice. What happened to Lexi that made her so different? Why do her former friends shy away from her? And, how on earth did she end up with those great teeth and that terrific body?

Remember Me? is written in Sophie Kinsella's trademark light, sweet style. I whipped through it in a few hours (partly because the library due-date was looming) and enjoyed it immensely. As in the Shopaholic books, Lexi eventually figures things out and comes up with a clever solution to the many dilemmas her loss of memory has created.

5/5 - A cheery, quick read that would be terrific for poolside, beach or plane fare. Apart from a predictable ending (which is part of the joy of her books, in my opinion), I can't think of anything to criticize. Just don't grab it if you're in a deep-thinking mood.

On to the almost-huge oops:

The Insect Murderer was here when hubby arrived home from work and we have a narrow driveway, which said Poison Dude's vehicle was blocking, so Huzzybuns parked the Toyota in the street. It's a stick shift. We live on a street that looks like a rollercoaster. And, he forgot to put on the emergency brake. Thank heavens I went outside to greet him. Husband was about halfway across the yard when he noticed my eyes boggling. I started waving and shouting at him to run back and put on the brake. The car was inching backwards -- slowly, but we're on a fairly steep incline and it wouldn't have taken long for the car to gain some serious momentum. He didn't understand a word I said (great -- I scream, "The brake! Put on the brake!" and my husband turns around expecting to see a giant spider) but he did figure out the problem. So, you know, big thanks to the Guardian Angel on duty, here.

Still reading:

Washington's Lady by Nancy Moser -- about Martha Washington. So far, I'm really enjoying it -- don't let the fact that I'm reading slowly fool you. Moser has a writing style I like; I'm pretty sure I'll be reading more by this author.

What if . . . ? by Steve N. Lee -- Also very well-written. I'm about halfway into the book and I think the philosophy is a little heavy-handed, but I'm reserving judgment on that till I find out where it ends up. The author is particularly good at dangling the facts just enough to keep the pages turning. It's very suspenseful.

Just arrived:

Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas by Brenda J. Ponichtera -- a spiral-bound cookbook that has tips for losing weight and includes shopping lists, quick-fix recipes and weekly menus. Looks good, just from randomly flipping through and reading a few recipes/tips, etc. More on that when I've played in the kitchen.

It's not Thursday, but I like the Booking Through Thursday question, inspired by the destruction of Bunch of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard, which burned on the Fourth of July.

Do you buy books while on vacation/holiday?
Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit while away on a trip?
What/Where are they?

We don't have a regular vacation spot that we repeatedly visit, but on road trips home to Oklahoma we always make at least one stop at a Hasting's store -- usually, the one in Conway, Arkansas. We consider it the most important of our leg-stretching breaks and seldom emerge without something. In Tulsa, I love Gardner's Used Books -- a warehouse-sized used bookstore. And, in Ponca City (my hometown), Brace Books & More is a favorite. Anywhere else . . . we always seek out bookstores, no matter where we go. I always drag home at least one book, usually more. It's an incurable malady. I've recently taken to buying a book or two about the region or written by local authors. Regional books have become one of our souvenirs of choice.

Two years of book blogging and that was my first Booking Through Thursday post!

It's hot enough to fry an egg on the driveway, this week (no, I haven't tried that one, yet). I want to be here:

Happy weekend!

Bookfool, hot and tired and fussy -- next time I'll try to be fresher when I post.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Will Storr vs. the Supernatural by Will Storr

Will Storr vs. the Supernatural: One Man's Search for the Truth about Ghosts by Will Storr
Copyright 2006
HarperCollins Non-Fiction/Occult
310 pages, incl. "The 10 Most Haunted Places in America"
Author's website

*Update*: I somehow managed to hit the wrong category and had this book labelled "not recommended". HUGE oops. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and highly recommend it. Apologies to the author and big, huggy thanks to SuziQ for bringing the error to my attention!!!!

What led you to pick up this book? I'm going to say it was recommended to me by Tammy. She seems a natural scapegoat.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Journalist Will Storr set out as a firm skeptic when he went on assignment to interview "demonologist" Lou Gentile in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Loaded magazine. But, his initial experience with Lou made him question his personal beliefs. Could that white orb that followed a woman up the stairs of her allegedly-haunted house be a ghost? Or, was it just a trick of light, a speck of dust, an illuminated insect? And, what about that sensation that Will had been shoved out of his seat? Curious after his initial experiences with Lou, Will Storr decided to investigate further. The result is a sometimes-terrifying, often hilarious, and utterly absorbing book that should probably only be read during the daylight hours.

From the author's website:

What Will expects to be a straightforward piece, poking gentle fun at an amusing eccentric, turns into a terrifying nightmare of spectral ghost lights, suburban possession and horrific demonic growling. It is an experience that instantly demolishes all of his safe, adult preconceptions.

What did you think of the characters? They were characters, all right. Some of the folks Will Storr interviewed seemed, at the outset, completely normal people with an interest in the supernatural (usually because of past personal experience). But, those who were most convincing often made their apparent normality disappear via a single sentence. And, yet, he described his experiences without ever being judgmental; rather, Will Storr presents information and dialogue then leaves the reader to formulate his own opinion. The author has a great sense of humor and a deft turn of phrase, which makes the book a combination of light and fun paired with turn-on-all-the-lights-please frightening moments. I loved his ability to step back and analyze what he personally viewed, the information from those he interviewed, scientific data and historical research with a neutral eye. Well, mostly neutral.

4/5 - Really enjoyed this book, although it occasionally scared the peawaddin' out of me and I found myself setting the book aside, taking Lou Gentile's advice to "bathe yourself in a Jesus light". It sounds funny, but just try it . . . Jesus light is massively soothing.

In general: I'm never touching a Ouija board after what I read. Did he convince me that there is such a thing as supernatural activity? Actually, I've had my own singular ghost experience about 8 years ago and I'm still iffy. I wrote about my experience for a humor column during my 3-year stint as an ezine columnist. You can read my account, here. I don't think it particularly matters how I ended up feeling about the supernatural. Will Storr vs. the Supernatural is a fun read that is well-written if occasionally disjointed. I'm pretty certain I'd read just about anything written by Will Storr.

Recommended for daytime reading. Not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Root Karbunkulus Drawing

I've just used a random number generator to draw a name out of the proverbial hat and the winner of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus is:


I see you have no accessible profile that leads to a blog, Ashley, so please contact me at bookfoolery (at) yahoo (dot) com. Congratulations!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Legerdemain by James J. Heaphey

Legerdemain by James J. Heaphey
Copyright 2008, History Publishing LLC
297 pages
Author's blog

I had heard a little about Qutb, who was considered to be the father of modern Islamist Fundamentalism and the most famous personality of the contemporary Muslim world. His ideology had spread throughout the Muslim world, particularly to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. When I studied Russian at Syracuse University, as a new recruit in the U.S.A.F. Security Service, one of my instructors, going at that time by the name of Grishko Baguta, told us that the West would prevail over the Soviet Union, but would not see what was coming next, a conflict with Islamists that would defy our mindset and confuse our military stragegies and tactics. I didn't remember his warning because it made sense to me at the time. I remembered it because of the way he phrased it. "You will be an Alice in Wonderland. You will try to understand in the way you have learned to understand. And that will not work." [p. 184]

What led you to pick up this book? I requested a copy from publicist Lisa Roe because it sounded like a really fascinating bit of spy history. Wow, good decision.

Before I go any further, I must mention that Legerdemain is one of those rare, enthalling books that I feel completely unqualified to describe well enough to do it justice. Do you like history? It's worth rushing right out to buy, in my humble opinion.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Legerdemain is the true story of the author's experience as a U.S. Air Force undercover operative stationed in French Morocco in the 1950's, during the Cold War. At the time, the United States stored atom bombs in Morocco and it was to the U.S.'s advantage to secretly side with Moroccan nationalists in order to ensure that bases within range of the Soviet Union remained in place after the French colonial empire crumbled.

From the cover:

Reading like a novel of high adventure, Legerdemain unveils the working of undercover operatives of Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, America's CIA, France's Security Services, the Soviet Union's KGB, as well as the French Foreign Legion. Heaphey describes his mission, which took him from the coffee houses and bathhouses of Casablanca to the fairs of Marrakech and the mountainside villages of Cyprus, and from Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains to foreign Legion outposts on the apron of the Sahara. Through it all, Heaphey examines the Islamic thinking of the period and unravels geopolitical operations that would continue to set the tone for the Cold War for decades to come.

What did you think of the characters? Truly an amazing, fascinating cast of real-life characters (some were given pseudonyms for the purposes of telling the story, but not all). The author had a startling depth of understanding of the economic and political situation in the region(especially given his age -- he was 22, when the story began), was generally calm, even in situations of extreme danger, and moved easily from country to country in his role as a spy posing as a journalist.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I really enjoyed the tense scenes, when Heaphey and his cohorts were in dangerous situations -- driving through the Atlas Mountains (Berber territory), rushing to attempt to save the life of a Moroccan nationalist who posed as pro-French, hiding in a Moroccan bath while a gruesome mass murder went on just outside the building. James Heaphey and his contacts were truly courageous people.

I also liked Heaphey's subtle sense of humor. When he interviewed Anwar Sadat with a view to gaining information, he closed the chapter about the experience with this comment:

I learned a number of things at that interview, one of which was: Always request a glass of water to go along with Egyptian coffee. It is almost too thick to swallow.

4.5/5 - Enthusiastically recommended: I found Legerdemain more gripping than most spy novels I've read. Last year, I read a memoir by a gal who whined her way through the entire narrative about her training and experiences in the CIA. What Heaphey experienced as an undercover operative is, I think, the kind of work she desired as a spy. However, Heaphey wisely skipped over his training (Air Force, not CIA) and early experience, then referred back to it only when necessary to give perspective and depth to his narrative. He really jumped right into the spy game and told the best stories.

In general: I refer to myself as "history stupid". Politics? Oh, dear. Even worse. So, I read the book slowly and let the author's explanations of the political climate sink in, discussed with my husband (who has a much better understanding of history, military policy and the complexities involved when people of different backgrounds, histories, traditions and cultural climates interact), and kept the world globe handy. In spite of my total ignorance, I found the book was clearly written and believe I came out of the reading of Legerdemain with an understanding of quite a few things that have always baffled me. It wasn't just an exciting read; it was a learning experience.

My only complaint: Editing trouble, again -- or maybe the problem had to do with the formatting, which I hear can be very tricky, although there were some misspellings. I noticed quite a few misplaced, extra or missing quotation marks, in particular. Occasionally, one person's quote ran into another's and I had to stop and sort out who was speaking.

Read other reviews, here:
Cheryl's Book Nook
Blogger News Network

Eva of A Striped Armchair took her copy of Legerdemain along on vacation, so she should have a review posted soon, also.

Next up: Drawing for that copy of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus and a review of Will Storr vs. the Supernatural.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Copyright 2006
Harcourt, Inc./Young Adult Fiction
337 pages

Right now I'm reading about the American Revolution.
The soldiers had a tough time of it at Valley Forge.
My heart bleeds for them. [p. 276]

6-word review: Moon's orbit altered by meteor; disaster!

A great deal has been said about this post-apocalyptic young adult novel in the blog world, lately. I'm not sure I have much to add, but I really enjoyed Life as We Knew It, in spite of the fact that the word "harrowing" describes it well. The book is told from the viewpoint of Miranda, in journal form, and was written in a more simplistic form than I anticipated. But I thought it worked for the journal of a teenager. There's the usual teen angst before the meteor hits; and then, the world becomes a different place as the moon's changed orbit sets off immediate tidal waves that cause massive devastation, followed by volcanoes, earthquakes and dramatic climate change.

Why on earth do some of us enjoy post-apocalyptic literature? My viewpoint: The end of life as we know it is an endlessly fascinating "What if?" that can be imagined from numerous angles and really makes you ponder the skills we've lost, what we would have to learn to get by, how we would cope as individuals in a time of disaster, and just how bad it could really get.

Anyone who lived throught the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina or has been through some other major natural disaster (tsunami, earthquake, flood -- there have been plenty, in recent years) can probably relate Life As We Knew It on some level. I found myself reflecting back to our time without power, cell and telephone service after Katrina. The inability to find out what the heck happened out there; the panic as reality set in; the discomfort and boredom; the mile-long gas lines, fights over gasoline and the eventual dollar limits and security; the empty grocery shelves and bare freezers, immediately stripped as they were stocked . . . all of that happens in Life as We Knew It, just as it happened in real life.

The only thing I didn't like about the book: The two Christian characters in the book were portrayed pretty much as a lunatic and a greedy . . . um, bastard. Not sure how else to describe the minister, but he was really nasty and Miranda's friend Megan was just flat delusional. Faith is not always radical and I really find it horrifying when belief in God is portrayed in such a narrow way.

3.5/5 - Worth reading because it makes you think.

Other reviews, here:

The Rabbit and the Snowman by Sally O. Lee

The Rabbit and the Snowman written and illustrated by Sally O. Lee
Copyright 2008
30 pages
Children's picture book
Author's website

From the press release: The Rabbit and the Snowman tells the story of a group of small children who build a snowman in a field far away in the forest. They subsequently leave and the snowman is left alone. He is not sure if he has done something wrong for them to disappear. Maybe his carrot nose is too crooked or maybe his stick arms are too skinny. He meets a small rabbit and they become fast friends. When the snowman suddenly disappears as spring arrives, the rabbit is left alone. He also wonders if he has done something wrong. Maybe his ears are too furry or his eyes are too small. The two find each other again and continue their friendship once winter returns again.

My thoughts: The illustrations are marvelous, but the story is lacking. The author has written several children's books and I haven't read any of the others, but this particular story brought to mind the old publishers' rule of thumb that picture books for small children are best done as a collaborative effort between an artist and a writer. A stronger storyline with this artist's illustrations could make for a rocking fine children's book.

When the rabbit went looking for the snowman, my first thought was that maybe he would find the remains of his melted friend (makes sense to me) and eat his carrot nose. Fortunately, the book didn't take the cannabilistic turn I probably would have given it.

Illustrations: 4/5 - great illustrations and nicely laid out -- the author shifts perspective, zooming in and out, changing angles, using things such as sticks, chunks of coal, pine cones and the snowman's scarf to surround text on pages where there isn't a full illustration.

Text: 2.5/5 - Bland story and I didn't think it really made sense that the snowman and rabbit would assume that some physical characteristic drove away friendship. However, I don't have a small child around to give this one a test run. Illustrations can sometimes overcome poor text from a child's-eye view and the illustrations are very well done.

Check out the author's website to see her other offerings, printable coloring projects and (my favorite) bookmarks that can be printed out on card stock.

Overall: Average, but I think the art is good enough that the right story with her artwork could make for a truly wonderful children's book. Nightie Night, Lucy sounds particularly appealing to me.

Yes, I'm back a wee bit early! I've finished 4 books and felt like writing. I hope to be back to blog-hopping by Wednesday or Thursday. Hope everyone had a terrific weekend! We had a busy and productive weekend, so I'm a happy camper.

Next up: Reviews of Life as We Knew It and Legerdemain

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Out of Here (briefly)

My Laundry Injury has finally healed, so I'm going to take a week off to catch up on housework (and read, of course). I'll be back next week with reviews of Legerdemain and Life As We Knew It. Of course, I'll drop in to do the drawing on the 15th. I also hope to resume Wahoo! Wednesday posts, next week, but don't hold me to that. I haven't taken a single photo since my favorite lens broke. Hope everyone has a terrific week!

Bookfool on a Break

Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Originally published in 1908
306 pages, including afterword

Finally! I've meant to read Anne of Green Gables for quite a while, but the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh? finally gave me the kick I needed. And, I loved every minute. Eons ago, I watched Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea on TV. The actress who played Anne managed to brand herself into my brain, but I really didn't remember much at all about the show -- just the faces of Marilla and Anne. I loved the characters and the vivid descriptions of Prince Edward Island in the book and will definitely try to dig out my copies of the second and third books, as soon as humanly possible. Anne is a fun, imaginative, spunky character.

The afterword in my copy, an illustrated edition published by Reader's Digest, describes Matthew as a "weak" character. On this one point, I disagree. I thought Matthew, the brother of Anne's adoptive parent, Marilla, was realistic. There are plenty of people who have little to say, like Matthew, but whose characters show through their few words and hard work. That's how I felt about him; I thought he was a gem. Definitely a book to hold onto and reread, if only for the reminder of how easy it is to find joy in life if you just bother to look around you.

I'm going to go back to my numerical rating system with this book, which I consider a timeless classic. 4.5/5

Meet the Author: An Interview with Kamilla Reid

An Interview with Kamilla Reid, author of The Questory of Root Karbunkulus
by Bookfool
Photo of Kamilla Reid borrowed from Author's Den.

[explanatory notes added by interviewer in brackets]

BF: Tell us about the book.

KR: It's a teen fantasy that's kinda like 'magic meets the great amazing race'! The first item up for grabs is the Miist of Kalliope, apparently some dead magician's elixir. No prob. But wait. Out of hundreds of teams, there are only six of these Miists to be found? Leaving only six teams left to go after the next item? Then five, four, three, two…whoa...this could get ugly....hmmm...compete and win...or go back to exfoliating those hard, crusted entities called Auntie Octavia's feet? Root Karbunkulus accepts the invitation. It will be a race of many, many hated things. But it will also be a contest of courage, friendship and the rising of soul. Within it Root will learn the terrifying truth behind the mysterious items. She will also discover, to her horror that she is not a player in an innocent kid’s race but a pawn in a vicious adult game.

BF: The cover of Root Karbunkulus is absolutely beautiful, as are the illustrations within the book. Who did the artwork and how did you locate an artist to work with (or is it your own design)?

KR: I used to be the resident writer/director of a theatre company and my set designer, Matthew Brett was also an artist (often the case!). So, I thought of him right away. After he read the manuscript, we got together often to discuss the characters and then he'd go away and bring something back and we'd hone it more. It was a thrill to collaborate like this! Then, when I was developing the website, the technicians were kind of stumped for location images that they could work with so I got Matthew to sketch locations and they were so awesome they just had to be put in the book.

BF: Did you work with an artist/web designer to create your website or did you do that on your own?

KR: Oh no, I could never in a million years do what they did. But I had a good idea of what I wanted. So, I researched several web developers and they were really, really....well, dull. They'd been too long in the business or something and were just too corporate. So, finally I met with 350 Designs and they were these 20 year old self professed computer geeks who were like "Cool, man! This'll be awesome! We can do this and this and ...." And then I knew I had the right pulse. It took months to get it done but in the end it was just amazing. And it has been a real key feature for readers who want to interact once they read the book. The music was total serendipity! In the theatre I wrote lots of musicals and I showed my book trailer to my music producer friend, Marcel Hamel. Right away he showed it to Alan Gililand, who was the Composer in Residence for our symphony and was wanting a way to move into film soundtracks. It was all just ridiculously perfect! So, in the end he composed a full scale orchestrated soundtrack for....$200!! I'll never forget when they played it for me for the first time. There I was in the coffee shop with headphones on bawling my head off! I was so blown away.

BF: I googled you because I'm a curious chick, and found that you have already sold over 1000 copies of Root Karbunkulus. That's pretty substantial. Apart from the internet, how are you going about self-promotion?

KR: Most of my sales were the result of my school book tour. I wanted to make it more than just a reading. I wanted to make it an exciting theatrical experience for the kids. So, I played the trailer on the big screen and I entered in the dark with a long, red Valador cloak ["The Valadors" is the chosen name for Root's team of 3 on the quest] and just a lantern to light my way. I used Matthew's pictures on a power point and had a Q and A session with really cool prizes of Valador dogtags and Chorm [chocolate drink, the description of which makes Bookfool drool] kits that my friend and I had spent way too many late nights making :) I think that it's so important for an author to connect with his/her readers, in a fun way, not to sell but to share. Because, in the end, that is what sells. I absolutely love doing the readings. I love the interaction with the kids and feel like everything I've done in my life has led to this. It's been just wonderful!

BF: What's your favorite color toque? [Sneaky way to insert the word "toque", my favorite Canadian word]

KR: LOL, that's funny! Well, I love my daughter's jester looking toque in rainbow colors. It's pretty nifty :)

BF: Do you have any special rituals or routine for your writing?

KR: I write early, early in the morning. Stupid early. And when I'm kind of stumped, I take a bath. But then it sucks because the ideas get flowing again and then I have to keep getting out, soaking wet and jotting them down. It took me awhile before I realized I just had to bring a pad of paper in with me :)

BF: There are 6 items to be found on the quest and the Miist of Kalliope is the only item covered in the first book. Have you already written the other 5 books?

KR: They're not written yet but they're all plotted. Before I even started book one I had to work out every major plot point and every main character’s arc for all six books first. Sometimes I have no idea what the event specifically will be, only that something has to occur that will plunge so-and-so into emotional turmoil or great joy or even death…that sort of thing. But, yeah, I've got the whole thing swarming around in my brain.

BF: When will the next book in the series be released?

KR: I am hoping this fall....fingers crossed!

BF: Do you have any pets? If so, how many and what kind/breed? Do they help you with your work (lie at your feet, climb on the keyboard, etc.)?

KR: I've got two dogs and you'll probably get a kick out of this; their names are Stogie and Hana...hee hee. Yes, they were the basis of the Hovermutts. [Hovermutts are a mode of transport on Dre'Amm.] I love dogs to death. Stogie sleeps in his little bed at my feet whenever I write and Hana holds down the fort from under the dining room table. Here they are....aaawwwwww! Gush, gush!

[Bookfool stops to send virtual head-pats.]

BF: In the video previously mentioned, the interviewer asks you about the fact that you're a single mother and makes a comparison to J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter series. Root's quest is a fantasy and your first book and Rowling was also a single mother at the time she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but that seems to be about all you have in common since Root's story is quite different and you were already apparently successful as a writer. What made you decide to write a book and what other writing have you done?

KR: I had always wanted to write books but I was just too chicken. I found my way comfortably in theatre as a performer and then writer and director and this was very fulfilling for awhile. I had the idea for DréAmm, the location for my book many, many years ago and at the time wrote it as a musical. But I never really liked the feel of it in this format. It felt limited. Plus, I hadn’t quite come into the ‘hook’ yet, that thing that made me go “yes, this is it!” It wasn’t until years later when I caught a snippet of that TV reality show “The Amazing Race” that I finally got that ‘aha!’ moment. I loved the idea of teams of kids all racing against each other in a glorified kind of scavenger hunt to find something very, very important. DréAmm then became a magical land where virtually anything could happen. That’s when the main character, Root Karbunkulus just showed up and showed me around. Of course then the plot got really got good with all sorts of agendas going on, personal and otherwise. In the end, the name ‘DréAmm’ stayed but everything else was ditched. Around this same time I was leaving the theatre. The constant restriction of budgets wore on me and I just couldn’t treadmill out another 6-person musical. I was also facing a new role as Single Mum. All in all, the perfect combination for finally doing that thing that you promised yourself that you would do but never did.

BF: My absolute favorite creation was the Dre'Amm phone system. Is that wishful thinking on your part? I ask because I'd certainly love it if AT&T were to come up with a phone that showed my husband in miniature when he called home from some exotic location (he travels to really terrific places without me).

KR: Oh yeah! I just thought that it would be such an awesome way to communicate! I had a lot of fun with that idea :)

BF: The cast of characters in Root Karbunkulus is pretty large, as is the number of creatures that they encounter. Would you consider adding things like a map, a cast of characters and list of creatures in future books?

KR: I put a really detailed list of all the characters and beasts on the website but, yeah I still think, with so many of them a companion guide would be useful. But someone else would have to do the maps. I'm terrible at that, always forgetting how I got somewhere and getting lost. A lot like Geckerling Pint running into the same Oxbush over and over again. But as the books continue, it will be easier as we focus more and more on the main characters. The first book, as in the first act of a play, seems to always be the most expository.

BF: Dre'Amm is not a perfect place -- in fact, it seems to be battling a curse. I think that's one of the characteristics of the novel that I liked the most about the book. If you had a choice, would you live in Dre'Amm or on Earth?

KR: Hmmm...that's a toughy. In so many ways DréAmm is Earth at its best, the flowers, trees, water, everything is more pure and vivid in sight, taste and smell. But then there is this magic that seems so volatile in DréAmm. Hmmmm...gosh, y'know I guess I would have to say...DréAmm...but only if I could have my daughter and my 'Hovers" and my mum and George Clooney there, too :)

BF: What's your favorite place on Earth?

KR: I have a dream of one day living in my garden house in the mountains on a beautiful lake with crisp scented pines and soft, soft grass. That is one of my favorite places.

BF: How long did it take you to write Root Karbunkulus?

KR: Well, after I got the inspiration from the "Race", I took off with it. Every morning at 4:30 or 5 I'd go at it. It took about three months. But as every writer knows writing is re-writing and so in the end it took about a year.

BF: Please list a few favorite books and authors.

KR: Oh gosh, how to pick. Well, for children's books I love, love, loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, I really love Angie Sage's Septimus series. In adult fiction I love Terry Pratchett and I really enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Love, Pray recently.

BF: Have any of your favorite authors influenced your work? If so, how?

KR: I have to say JK Rowling influenced me, not necessarily her writing, even though I loved the Harry Potter series, but because at the time I could relate to her single motherhood situation and that really gave me the boost I needed.

Great answers, Kamilla! Thank you for taking the time to share with us and good luck with your book!

Next up: A review of Anne of Green Gables (hopefully, a brief one -- still working on the brevity issue, obviously).

I hope to return to the regularly scheduled Wahoo Wednesdays, next week. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Questory of Root Karbunkulus by Kamilla Reid

The Questory of Root Karbunkulus: Item 1 - Miist by Kamilla Reid
Copyright 2007, Book Surge
306 pages
Root Karbunkulus Website

What led you to pick up this book? I requested the book to review for a July book tour and received two copies (one to give away) directly from the author.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. Root Karbunkulus, an orphan from the world of Dre'Amm, has been raised on Earth by two women who claim to be her aunts in a half-orange, half-puce house where she is treated more like a slave than a "niece". When Root is invited to join in on a quest in the magical world of Dre'Amm, she jumps at the chance to leave her awful home. The children are divided into teams in order to go in search of the first item, the Miist of Kalliope. During their quest, they face dangerous creatures and frightening ordeals. Will they succeed in finding the Miist of Kalliope and live to face the next 5 challenges?

What did you like most about the book? I liked the creativity of the author. There's a huge cast of characters and creatures -- at times, almost overwhelming -- but very few of them gave me the sense that they were borrowed from other works.

What did you think of the characters? Root is the main character and I think she's a likable heroine. She's courageous and she has a good heart. The rest are quite a hodgepodge. Teammates Dwyn and Lian each typically have strengths and weaknesses that occasionally add tension. As teammates, they bring their own unique and useful skills to the table. My absolute favorite character is Argo Bumplekins. I never wanted his scenes to end. And, I loved his crazy spying vine, Betty.

Share a favorite scene from the book: No contest -- definitely the scene in which Root discovers the source of the ringing sound she's been hearing for hours and hours is a phone in the basement. The phone splits in half and shows the caller, Argo Bumplekins, in miniature. This is how the Dre'Amm telephone system works and I loved it. I want a phone like that.

Thumbs Up: The Questory of Root Karbunkulus is told in the standard fantasy/quest manner, with a wildly imaginative set of characters, settings, creatures and events. Fantasy is something I only occasionally read, in part because I tend to find strange names annoying. In this case, I rather liked her name choices although I thought there were a few too many characters. I'd say the book is above average on creativity. One unanswered question I had was "Why?", meaning "Why were children chosen for this quest?" The author says the reason that children of a certain age have been chosen for the quest will be explained in future installments of the 6-part series.

In general: I enjoyed the book, but I have a few minor complaints. The beginning seemed a little complex and adult for children (I thought it might be a bit confusing), but the book gradually became an easier read. I felt a little overwhelmed by the number of new characters and creatures that were introduced. However, the book is so vividly described that it's easy to visualize every character and setting. The book also seemed pretty well-edited until about page 100. From then on, I found numerous grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors. And, the final annoyance (which may be a personal taste issue) was the use of the word "kids" rather than "children" throughout the book. There was one short section during which a group of children were referred to as "children" . . . but then the author reverted back to the word "kids". I once had a teacher who pounded this into our little heads: "Kids are baby billy goats. Children are human." That lesson apparently stuck.

Read other reviews, here:

Next up: An interview with the author of Root Karbunkulus.

Totally unnecessary but interesting side note: The author is Canadian! I'm not going to list this book as one of my reads for the 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge, Eh? because I'd rather focus on books that are actually set in Canada. But, still . . . cool. Look for my excuse to use the word "toque" in the interview.

Ugh. Oh. Argh. The roofers are here. It sounds like the house is being attacked, like an earthquake on top of a storm on top of a bunch of hammering noises. The cat is decidedly displeased. Kitty is actually a little sick, so we were planning to take her to the vet, but she has hidden (surprise, surprise) and refuses to emerge. I keep hoping she'll come out, if only so we'll have an excuse to leave the house.

*Update* - The roofers have left, our new turbines are rotating up a storm, and the cat has emerged, but a bit too late. Just after writing the paragraph above, the kiddo declared that he'd had enough banging for one day and was monstrously hungry (which is pretty much always the case). We dashed out for a bite to eat -- in two separate vehicles -- and then he branched off to work at the pool and I spent my afternoon with Anne, Marilla and Matthew on lovely Prince Edward Island but really in the local library, where the nearest person sitting in the window had his feet propped on a skateboard.

I roamed around in the library, a bit, and found that Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer was finally on the shelves. Wahoo! I read 3 chapters of that, as well, and then checked it out.

Hubby strictly forbade me from photographing the roofers on the off chance that they might find my presence distracting, darn it. So, to keep this post from looking entirely too dull, I'll share a photo I re-photographed from my father's first photo album. Thank goodness he wrote on the photo or I'd never have been able to find him. This is my father returning from the Philippines on the U.S.S. President Adams at the end of WWII (barely visible at the back, but isn't the photo great?). He had an entire series of photos, apparently taken by a professional as the ship arrived at the dock.

Off to finish Anne of Green Gables with a box of tissues nearby. Smiles all around!