Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review: Poisoned Arrow

Poisoned Arrow is a fantasy novel from Iris van Ooyen. The author named the main character after herself, which was kind of fun. It always makes me wonder how much of the character's personality traits belong to the author.

The Iris in the book spends her childhood secluded because of her magic. We're in a mystical world, but there's a hint it might be a far future society where electricity has destroyed the world and been banned. A middle ages type of society, the land of this book is perilous. Magic has been purged from the countryside by an evil magician who controls the queen.

The future of the entire kingdom turns on Iris and how she learns to master her magic. She's tutored by a reformed magician and supported by childhood friends who have grown into warriors, one in particular who make her feel things she doesn't expect.

What I loved about this book:

  • Iris is a well developed character and you really feel her anguish as she works to learn to master her magic, loses loved ones and holds fast to her friendships.
  • Several of the secondary characters are also well developed and the author captures their conflicts in a way that connects you with them.
  • The world-building is strong and sprinkled through out in just the right ways. 

Poisoned Arrow starts in the middle of the action, which is usually good, but it took me a minute to realize I hadn't missed a sequel. You get a lot of the history in flashbacks through out the book.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and can recommend it to those who enjoy fantasy, complex character relationships and action. The book leaves you hanging on for the next one!

Note: I received a free copy of this book to review from the author through my awesome writing friend Eileen Curley Hammond. I don't review Cozy Mysteries on this site, but I am very much in love with Eileen's Merry March series. You can find it here.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Review: Mooncakes Graphic Novel Coming Oct. 2019

It's been a while since I've read a graphic novel and I wasn't sure what to expect. Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xi does not disappoint. It's a story of reunited friends battling supernatural forces, while balancing family drama, cultural expectations and falling in love.

Nova is a young witch who lives with her grandmothers and helps run the family bookstore. Tam comes back to town unexpectedly and a whole lot of trouble follows them. Only by teaming up together can Nova and Tam defeat dark forces, and find their own unique places in the world.

What I loved about this novel:

  • The characters are rich and diverse-- ethnically, in abilities, religiously, from a gender and sexual preference perspective and even in magical ways. For example, Tam is nonbinary, Nova has a hearing aid, both are Chinese Americans. But the story isn't about these aspects of who they are. The story is about their situation and how they tap into who they uniquely are to solve their problems and find love. 
  • The supernatural storyline was anything but predictable and it had a few very unexpected twists and turns I don't want to spoil. 
  • The art work engaged me in every scene. I loved the way the illustrations brought the story to life, especially during action scenes. 

Sometimes the action moved a little too fast and I had to back-up to reground myself in what was happening, but overall I really enjoyed this book. I read the entire thing in one sitting and could not put it down. I highly recommend reading this one when it's released!

Disclosure: I received this novel through Net Galley as a reviewer at no cost to me. My beliefs in this review were not influenced by how I received the novel.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review: The Beginning of Everything

The Beginning of Everything is a story of loss, love, terrible coincidences and enduring friendship. Robyn Schneider's quiet and engaging book is about Ezra Faulkner, who once had it all and lost it, but now must face school and life again.

Ezra was a star tennis player. In this world, tennis players are even more popular than football players and Ezra was the top of the heap. He had the most popular girlfriend, went to all the right parties and was one of the guys all the way. One night before the book even begins he is injured in a traumatic accident in such a way that he loses all his friends and his ability to play tennis. 

We meet Ezra just as he's recovering and going back to school for his senior year. He's lucky enough that a former friend who he became too cool for in the past is willing to take him into his group. And, that group includes an exploration of the world of the debate team and a mysterious new girl who captures his imagination and his heart. 

What I loved about this book:
  • Ezra is smart and his internal dialogue is fun and engaging
  • His new friends are also intelligent and their banter brings you into their world
  • Ezra has a physical ability to manage and it's easy to connect with him as he deals with new limitations and frustrations as he adjusts to it
  • Cassidy, his love interest, is complicated and nothing is quite what it seems in her world, which keeps you guessing
The popular kids can feel a little stereotypical and the concept that the tennis team is more popular than the football team is different from most midwestern high schools I know about. But, overall, this story is one you don't want to miss. It will give you all the feels from beginning to end. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Why I read

When I watch TV, I am observing a world, but when I read I am in the world. It's me casting spells and hunting horcruxes. My adventures in the spy world are many. The mysteries I've solved raise the hairs on the back of your neck. I've dated a vampire, fought for my life in a field of teens and conquered the old west. I've been any manner of magical being, all kinds of criminals and every level of royalty. 

I have seen the universe in the crisp white pages of a book-- from Europe, to the Moon, to the inside of a small boy's body. My travels span thousands and thousands of years, millions of pages, decades in the future and eons into the past. I've befriend lions, lived in rugged mountains, danced at weddings after the apocalypse. 

Every page is a new opportunity for me to see a different point of view, to appreciate that we are each the hero or heroine of our own story. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book Review: Dumpin' and Leah on the Offbeat

I finished both Dumplin' and Leah on the Offbeat recently. I love both books for their body positivity, smart, thoughtful protagonists and nice attention to the secondary characters.

SPOILER ALERT!! Do not read on if you are not looking to spoil either (or both) of these book endings for yourself

***** You have been warned!!

Here's the crux of my problem: Both books are about characters who come to love and appreciate their bodies, but they are also about characters who chose the hot, not so nice person who will finally come around to being with them. They both throw over the awesome, always there nice guy who liked them all along for just being themselves for the person who finally decided they were, I guess, worth it in the end. Not exactly super inspiring. If the idea is that girls of any size should be appreciated for who they are, why do they have to end up with hot people who are not such awesome people aside from being hot?

It killed me when Willowdean in Dumplin throws away Mitch like he means absolutely nothing to her because she just feels that magic with Beau, who treated her like a dirty secret at the beginning of the book. And Leah running off to be with Abby when Garrett is being so sweet and likes her for who she is. (Also, the way she has no problem screwing over her friend Nick is a little off-putting, as well). Why do these girls refuse to find "magic" with great people who treat them well? What's so magical about someone treating you like crap?

So, while I enjoyed both of these books, I just can't get onboard with the happily ever afters because they felt like settling for something less in both cases. Maybe Mitch and Garrett weren't the ones. The magic just wasn't there. Still, each of these characters could have been way kinder to them and then gone off to find a nice person (male or female) who treated them the way they deserved to be treated from the beginning.

Enjoy these books if you want to, but please promise me in your real life you'll give those nice folks a chance when they turn up!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Permission to be

Tonight is the last night of my vacation. I'm sitting in a dark wood paneled room on a sunken, too-soft mattress with purple pedicured toes tilted toward the ceiling. Outside, the kids, who are nearly adults now, are soaking in a hot-tub under the stars. I've spent most of the week laying around, cutting into my rituals of relaxation for an occasional and quick jump in the frothy ocean water or a couple of laps in the pool. We went out to dinner once and out for ice cream twice. The kids took turns cooking and cleaning. I believe I may have made a peanut butter sandwich one day and a tuna sandwich the next.

I expected to get tons of writing done, but instead I read historical romances with Dukes and young women debuting for a season in society. I watched a couple of movies. I played a bunch of board games with the kids and my husband. I really honed my skills at Scrabble and Uno. I didn't think about my job that much, though I did check email. I obsessed a little about PTA, but not as much as I probably should have.

And I refuse to feel bad about it. I needed this break. Sometimes we need to just check-out and relax. Sometimes we just need permission to be.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Exploring my Tourette's through the lens of neurodiversity

I recently learned about a concept called neurodiversity. The idea is that a lot of public attention and effort has gone into searching for ways to cure folks with autism, ADHD, Tourette's syndrome or other neurological anomalies. Yet, having one of these can also come with positive things. For example, one article I read claimed that people with Tourette's tended to have a strong capacity for memory, a stronger than average ability with grammar and the ability to hyper-focus on tasks.

While I'm sure more studies are needed, its interesting to me because I do have Tourette's and several of these positive traits (for the most part, I still can never remember where I left my keys). It's really gotten me thinking about how I've been conditioned to think about my tics as something that I should desperately want to cure. Living with even the mild form of this condition takes energy to manage. I liken it to an anti-virus program that is always whirring in the background taking computing power but not showing results on your screen. My mind is always reserving some part of it's energy in the background to manage my tics-- either to suppress them, to ignore them or to move them to a more acceptable outlet than the way they want to express.

I love the idea of thinking about what my condition has potentially brought to me and my personality versus what it takes away. What am I getting in return for all that spent energy? If I were able to take the available drugs that treat Tourette's, which I can't because of my particular constitution for the side effects, what would I be giving up? Would I be able to make the connections my mind makes as quickly as it does? Would I still remember the specific ending of a movie I saw twenty years ago or the directions for making chocolate chip cookies with a recipe I've never written down? Who would I be on medication versus who I have always been?

The concept of neurodiversity is something to really think about. Should we be focusing on finding cures, helping people appreciate and live more fully as who they are or some combination of both as we tackle the realities of living with these neurological differences? It's a big question and one I don't think I've taken enough time to sort through in my own mind yet.

And, of course, as an author it has me thinking about how we represent these differences in our stories. I haven't written a character with Tourette's yet. Each time I imagine doing that I shirk away. It feels so personal. Maybe it's time to take that jump. If it can help someone else see the total complex package of appreciating their own condition maybe it would be worth it. My Tourette's hasn't slowed down my life or my career. I'm happily married, a mother, a college graduate, a successful executive and an aspiring author. What could embracing my own neurodiversity and sharing that with the world translate into for someone else?

I think it might be time to find out.