Category Archives: Reading

Milo James Fowler Cover Reveal

 

Yakuza Territory

 

 Yakuza Territory by Milo James Fowler will be available November 7, 2014 from Musa Publishing.       Website    Facebook Amazon    Twitter

 

A detective with no way out.  A telepath with something to prove…

Struggling to survive the night, one private eye must rely on his wits to solve a mystery where he’s outnumbered, outgunned, and trapped inside a police station with a soulless killing machine.

 

I enjoy helping my fellow authors get the word out about their publications and I wish Milo the best of fortune with his new work!

Chris

 

 

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Reading: The Former Hero by Jeffrey Allen Mays

The Former HeroThe Former Hero, by Jeffrey Allen Mays, is a complex novel that I can foresee re-reading several times. I attended a launch party for the novel on Facebook and was fortunate enough to win a signed copy. After receiving it in the mail and reading the first few chapters, I went to my iPad and ordered the e-book from Amazon. Yes—I am the type of person that likes to save (or perhaps preserve) exceptional paperback and hardcover books. The Former Hero paperback will have a special place in my library.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Where to begin this book review is problematic for me because there are so many good aspects to the writing. The sense of place, the mythology of the hero, the concepts of good versus evil, the religious allegory, and the rich tapestry of characters created by the author are all stand-out aspects in the novel.

Sense of Place

When the story begins, it could be set in a modern suburban neighborhood where kids play outside during the summer, have tea parties with dolls, chase butterflies in nearby fields, and draw on the sidewalk with colored chalk. Quickly, though, Mays begins to add layers to this world that only appears ideal on the surface.   Readers learn the police rarely, if ever, patrol the neighborhoods. Laws are simply not enforced. The Mayor, Robert Knox, corrupted the police force and employs madmen and costumed villains with names like “The Bombardier,” “Taser,” and “Viper” to keep the populace under control. The closer the characters get to the geographic center of the city, the worse the corruption grows. Children are kidnapped for the sex trade. Women are sold into forced marriages. People are murdered in the street. Good cops, like one of the main characters, Lt. McCarthy, are few and far between.

What gives story world an additional depth is the research that Lt. McCarthy conducts into the history of the town and the supervillain known as The Minstrel. This type of research is banned by the Mayor, but because of McCarthy’s connections in the police force, he is able to find documents about the earliest settlement in the area. Readers learn about the town from the first settlement days when the physical embodiment of evil, The Minstrel, pulled up to a wooden platform and disembarked from a stagecoach. How the townspeople first fell into corruption—how the Minstrel was able to work her brand of psychological destruction until the townspeople were stained by evil and despair—is slowly revealed through the first-hand accounts available in these historical documents.

Characters

Mays creates his characters with an impressive level of complexity. They are heroes and they are villains; they are flawed human beings and they are monsters; they are drifters, loners, detectives, hypocrites, and sometimes saviors. They might be imbued with mystical powers or they might be insane. Reading through the novel, which shifts section-by-section through various character points-of-view, lets the readers “see” each character from multiple perspectives. For example, readers are introduced to The Former Hero, John Common, through his own rather convoluted thoughts, through the experiences of Penny, a child whose cat he once rescued from a tree, through various reports of so-called health care professionals who work for the Mayor, through flashbacks, through interactions with villains, and through observations of other main characters like Lt. McCarthy.

Part of the enjoyment of the novel is siphoning through these observations to reach the “truth” of the characters. Is John Common the hero Omni-man who has been poisoned and trapped by the Mayor and his henchmen in a medical institution or is he simply a man with delusions of special abilities? Did he save a young man named Jimmy Noble by compassionately healing The Viper’s physical deformities, or did he murder Noble as The Viper claims? Did he really save the city over and over again, or is he mad?

Seriously—Major Spoilers Ahead!

 

Religious Allegory

Years ago when I first read A Light in August, by William Faulkner, my American Lit Professor made a comment that has stuck with me to this day. He said that authors take particular care in naming characters, and if an author uses a name with the initials of J.C., readers should look for an analogy to Jesus Christ. This struck me with the character of John Common in The Former Hero, whose super powers dealt with healing and helping people put past torments in perspective so they can move on and live a better life.

The super villain known as The Minstrel also has an analogy in the Christian religion. Much like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, she started the townspeople on the path to corruption. She is still there in the current day, literally worshiped by the Mayor and his people. As Lt. McCarthy learns through studying the town’s history, she began by sowing discord, and then managed to tempt the wife of one of the settlers, Eva Calhoun, who then tempted her husband, Adam. Instead of the gift of knowledge, though, The Minstrel offers the gift of beauty. It is a false gift and Mays’s description of the temptation, and the fall of Eva and Adam, is one of the most chilling and disturbing scenes in the novel. Adam’s father eventually catches The Minstrel and curses her so her skin changes and becomes scaly like a serpent. He does not disown Adam and Eva completely, but banishes them from their beautiful Eden-like farm in the countryside to live in the now-corrupt town.

 

The Former Hero, by Jeffrey Allen Mays, is not a novel to be read quickly; it is something to be enjoyed and savored; to be analyzed and discussed among friends. It has elements of a mystery, a gritty urban crime drama, a noir detective story, and a superhero comic book. It has a mixture of action, adventure, mythology, philosophy, and spine-tingling horror. It is a novel that readers will continue to re-visit in their own libraries for years to come.

 

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Reading: 10 Minutes a Day Could Change a Child’s Life

This is a moving Public Service Announcement from England concerning the importance of literacy in today’s world.

Ten Minutes a Day Could Change Everything

Find out more: http://save.tc/DCV0

 

 

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Reading: Maureen Daly and YA Literature

seventeenth

 

*First I would like to take a moment to explain the terminology I am using in this post. When I reference Young Adult literature I am describing literature written for teenagers (ages 12 to 19). These works can and do appeal to younger children and to adults as well. For example, my friend’s 70+ year old grandmother simply loves the Hunger Games. She reads it with a different perspective than her granddaughter, but the enjoyment of a good book is the same for both readers no matter their chronological age.*

Young adult literature is a relative new literary genre, but it has a richer history than many critics would credit. Many scholars note that the first book written especially for teenagers is Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly (1942). Prior to Daly’s work, books were written either for children or adults. Works about adolescents existed—just look at Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but the concept of novels specifically targeting adolescent readers began with the Seventeenth Summer.

Daly’s work interests me because of her ties to the Midwest. Although she was born in Ireland, she grew up in Wisconsin. Seventeenth Summer, which she wrote at the age of seventeen, is set in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. It has sold more than a million copies worldwide (Fox, 2006).

The novel is a coming of age story that centers on Angie Morrow. The summer before she leaves for college, she meets the local basketball hero, Jack Duluth, and they fall in love over the course of the summer. Other romances play out in the novel, including those of Angie’s sister and friends, Friz and Margie. By the end of the summer, Angie and Jack face the life-changing decision on whether or not to continue their romance.

Daly explains: “I was so wildly and vividly happy about love and life at a particular time in my existence. I wanted to get all that fleeting excitement down on paper before it passed, or I forgot the true feelings . . . it was not until the reviews came out (and the royalties came in) that I realized I had recorded universal emotions and joys — and people would want to read about them year after year” (Fox, 2006).

But—seventy-plus years out—how does the book hold up? Does it evoke the “universal emotions” that the author believed people “would want to read about” year after year? You be the judge:

“The sun was warm on our backs and Jack stood with water drops running from his hair and glistening on his face. I had a sudden impulse to reach out and run my finger lightly over the even, dark arch of his eyebrows as he stood looking at me. But there was an odd look in his eyes, an odd, warm look that made my lips tingle as his eyes met mine, and I knew it would be better not to touch him, not even to talk to him, just then.” 

Daly wrote a ground-breaking novel that resonated with readers world-wide and introduced a new literary genre. It is hard to overstate her importance on the current literary landscape where young adult novels dominate the bookstores and the movie screens.

Fox, M. (2006). Maureen Daly, 85, Chronicler of Teenage Love, Dies. New York Times: Books. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/29/books/29daly.html?_r=0

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Reading: The Big Read

Book_stack_small

The National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with Arts Midwest, created The Big Read program to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens. It provides people with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities.

In 2006, ten organizations in the United States participated. In 2014 there are now organizations in all 50 states along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Organizations selected to participate in The Big Read receive a grant ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to support their Big Read projects, access to online training resources and opportunities, and educational and promotional materials designed to support widespread community involvement. The Reader’s material, Teacher’s material, and Audio material are also available free of charge on their web site.

The current program runs from September, 2014 to June, 2015. For a list of participating organizations in your area, please visit The Big Read web site at http://www.neabigread.org/

I was excited to see The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin on the list. Let me know in the comments what books you are interesting in reading/re-reading!

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Reading: Happiness Decoded

Happy Coffee and Book

In the August 2014 issue of Prevention magazine, Kate Lowenstein’s article “Happy on Purpose” presents some interesting ideas on the topic of happiness.

Lowenstein’s article cites psychologist Barbara L. Fredricson’s research on the subject of happiness. Fredricson divides happiness into two categories: Hedonistic and eudaimonic. According to Fredricson, hedonic happiness is “pure pleasure—that delicious but fleeting feeling derived from eating an excellent meal or getting a massage” (as cited in Lowenstein, 2014, p. 69). Eudaimonic is “big-picture, meaningful-life happiness you might get from satisfying work or meditating” (as cited in Lowenstein, 2014, p. 69).

These categories make perfect sense to me as a writer. The type of happiness I experience when I drink a delicious cup of coffee is different than happiness I experience when I write. The feelings from drinking the coffee are fleeting, but the happiness derived from writing lasts. Simply thinking about a story I am working on, or one I have completed, causes a feeling of full-hearted contentment.

In the same issue of Prevention, Susan Ince mentions that hedonistic pleasure can be derived from reading. Ince reports that “just 15 or 20 minutes of reading” can have a positive impact on your emotions (2014, p. 70).

So my two favorite activities—reading and writing—can help maintain the balance of hedonic and eudaimonic happiness that Fredricson believes will help people derive “a bigger positive emotion yield out of everyday events, which in turn feeds our happiness some more” (as cited in Lowenstein, 2014, p. 69).

So what makes you happy? Do you look for hedonistic or eudaimonic happiness? Let me know!

References

Lowenstein, K. (2014). Happy on purpose. Prevention (8), pp. 67-69.
Ince, S. (2014). Read one of these 55 books. Prevention (8), pp. 70-71.

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Review of Shannon A. Thompson’s Take Me Tomorrow

takemetomorrow

Shannon A. Thompson, author of the YA dystopian novel, November Snow, and the Timely Death Trilogy, asked me to review her newest YA novel, Take Me Tomorrow, and I am delighted to do so.

**Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead**

Sophia Gray, the heroine of Take Me Tomorrow, is bold, courageous, smart, and strong. She is thrust into the center of a mystery that encompasses both her friends and family when she encounters an enigmatic young man named Noah near her home. Sophia has to find the truth behind secrets that have been kept for years by those closest to her; she pushes forward, even when there is danger, even knowing that the truth could drastically change her life, because her conscience will not allow her to just walk away.

Take Me Tomorrow is set in a dystopian era, although this is very slowly revealed by the author. The similarities to the present time in North America are evident from the start; the differences are exposed through snatches of imagery, through introspection, and through conversation between the characters until readers are left with a story world that is a frightening vision of a future that could potentially develop from our own society.

When reading Take Me Tomorrow, my thoughts drew comparisons between the current immigration crisis in the United States, where unaccompanied minors are illegally crossing the border in vast numbers fleeing faltering economies, rising crime, and gang activity in their Central American homelands, and the issues faced by Thompson’s characters as they flee similar situations. Obviously Thompson had envisioned and written the novel long before the current immigration crisis occurred; yet the fact that the novel delves into these issues adds one more layer of veracity to the themes in the story.

I enjoyed Take Me Tomorrow quite a bit. Thompson always creates likeable and believable characters in her novels. I particularly like Noah in this story. (I do not want to provide additional details about his character because I feel it would give away too much of the plot. Other readers should have the same opportunity to experience Noah in the same manner that I did—without spoilers.) The story itself is fascinating. Thompson unravels the mystery slowly for her readers; I read it in one sitting (which I planned for in advance) and I found that it kept that sense of suspense until the very end. The resolution, which leaves opportunities for future novels, was satisfying.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Take-Me-Tomorrow-Shannon-Thompson-ebook/dp/B00LUCOLT8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405484930&sr=1-1&keywords=Take+Me+Tomorrow
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/457218
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22054027-take-me-tomorrow

Disclaimer: The author provided an advanced copy of Take Me Tomorrow in exchange for a timely and honest review.

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