Sunday, May 29, 2011

Review: The Lens and the Looker by Lory Kaufman

The Lens and the Looker (The Verona Trilogy, Book 1)
by Lory Kaufman
Release Date: March 16, 2011
2011 The Fiction Studio
Softcover Edition; 322 Pages
ISBN: 978-193655802-5
Genre: Dystopian / Historical Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

4 / 5 Stars

It's the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences, have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full-sized recreations of cities from Earth's distant pasts.  Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations.  History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. 

In this novel, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347.  These three "hard cases" refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach.  But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices: adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die.  The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away.  In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future.  It could save them - or it could change history.

My Thoughts
I thought the concept of this trilogy was very intriguing and the idea of someone from a post-dystopian future going into the past in order to learn was an interesting idea.  Three incredibly spoiled teens are sent to the most dire and strict of History Camps as a last resort and test their elders to the limit; however, before restitution could be made by the teenagers, all three are kidnapped and sent back to the real 1347 Verona and apprenticed to a lens maker. 

All of a sudden, causing mischief isn't as important as it seemed, and now the three teenagers are tested to the limit as the need to survive in a world in which they have no familiarity becomes the most important thing.  This is the part of the novel that fascinating me the most.  As a history lover, I thought Mr. Kaufman did a remarkable job in bringing 1347 Verona to life and his vivid descriptions of life, clothing, food, housing, and other daily occurrences were rather fascinating.  To the teenagers, who up to this point lived in a very pristing and sanitary world, the daily conditions they saw around them would have come as a huge shock.  The descriptions of Ugilino using the chamber pot, the state of the food they had to eat, when Shamira cut herself for the first time and went into absolute hysterics, when Lincoln broke his tooth on a stone in the bread, and other such happenings, certainly were vivid and brought the world around them to life.  I am impressed by the amount of research that went into the descriptions of the city and the daily life of its citizens. I definitely learned a lot about lens making and the telescope, objects I actually thought were developed around this time period.  It's always nice when a novel can instruct as well as entertain.

Hansum, Shamira, and Lincoln definitely grew on me as the story developed.  As I was first introduced to them, I did not really care for them at all, and thought they were pretty spoiled and selfish.  As the story unfolded however, all three had their own challenges and lessons to learn and not all of them learned them at the same rate.  Some were rather more stubborn about accepting their fate and working harder than others, and it was interesting watching the transformation of these characters' personalities and dedication and commitment to the family and to each other develop.  There were things that made me wince in this novel and I feel sure I could not have accepted them with as much grace as these three teenagers. 

I particularly liked the character Pan, their genie, who helps them negotiate the terrifying new world in which they find themselves.  He is a fount of knowledge and is able to guide the teens skillfully and help them learn the language and the customs of this time period.  I love the scenes in which Pan reprimands the teens for things that they do as they are not fourteenth century customs. And when the teens start introducing advanced technology into this world, they all fear the results and worry about the time line being changed or erased.  But desperation sometimes allows for poor choices, and when one thing leads to another, the teenagers suddenly find themselves thrust into political twists and turns they would never have imagined.  Pan, naturally, doesn't agree with what the teenagers are doing, but at the same times encourages them in their designs and in their presentations.   I always felt like there was a foreshadowing aspect to Pan however, and I still worry that something is going to happen with him in future novels that doesn't portend good for our three teenagers.  It's just little glimpses here and there, but it is what it is.

The Lens and the Looker was a quick, enjoyable read and I found myself engrossed in the descriptions of fourteenth century Verona.  While the events built up quickly towards the end, I found there was little in the way of resolution, although events are certainly set up for a very entertaining and interesting second novel in this trilogy.  I am looking forward to reading The Bronze and the Brimstone as I think Mr. Kaufman did a wonderful job creating a dystopian world with a fascinating historical twist.

Review: The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore

The Splendor Falls
by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Release Date: September 8, 2009 (Hardcover), January 11, 2011 (Softcover)
2009 Delacorte Press
Softcover Edition; 528 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-73691-6
Genre: Young Adult / Gothic
Source: Local Library

4 / 5 Stars

Can love last beyond the grave?

Sylvie Davis is a ballerina who can't dance. A broken leg ended her career, but Sylvie's pain runs deeper. What broke her heart was her father's death, and what's breaking her spirit is her mother's remarriage - a union that's only driven an even deeper wedge into their already tenuous relationship.

Uprooting her from her Manhattan apartment and shipping her to Alabama is her mother's solution for Sylvie's unhappiness. Her father's cousin is restoring a family home in a town rich with her family's history. And that's where things start to get shady. As it turns out, her family has a lot more history than Sylvie ever knew. More unnerving, though, are the two guys that she can't stop thinking about. Shawn Maddox, the resident golden boy, seems to be perfect in every way. But Rhys - a handsome, mysterious foreign guest of her cousin's - has a hold on her that she doesn't quite understand.

Then she starts seeing things. Sylvie's lost nearly everything - is she starting to lose her mind as well?

My Thoughts
Sylvie was a promising young ballerina with a great future ahead of her until a devastating accident ended her career.  Getting accidentally drunk at her mother's wedding didn't help matters, as her psychologically-trained step-father and new step-brother, worried over her state of mind, decide, along with her mother, that several weeks in Alabama learning about her dad's family and his roots would be good for her and her psychological state of mind.  Sylvie, knowing little of her father's family, and not caring too much about it, sets off reluctantly to what she considers another prison, and finds her self amidst secrets, ghosts, and fascinating family history she didn't know existed. 
I really enjoyed this novel and thought the premise was quite interesting.  While a slow-read at first, and a main character who wasn't exactly endearing, it certainly did pick up and became a fascinating novel about the history of the area and characters trying to deal with personal problems and issues in context of their historical pasts.  Having an old plantation-house as a setting was the perfect environment for many things to go bump in the night and to evoke chills and goosebumps and to bring out long-held fears and terrors. 
I didn't particularly find Sylvie endearing at first; actually, I thought her to be spoiled and vain and somewhat condescending towards others.  I liked how she stood up for herself however, and as the novel progressed, and she relaxed and became more self-aware of her actions and her behaviours, she rather grew on me.  I understood where she was coming from, and how difficult a time this was for her, but I didn't felt it excused her behaviour.  I was really glad to see her character develop from one of "poor little me" to one of "I can do anything I set my mind to".  Her little dog, Gigi, while adorable, spent too much time in the limelight for my liking.  The novel was not about the dog and I thought there was too much emphases put on her.  Just a personal annoyance, and I an a total dog-lover.
The two probably love interests were rather interesting, although it was pretty obvious who Sylvie would end up with in the end.  I took a dislike to one of them almost right away, and I couldn't figure out if it was the author's intention or if it was just me for no obvious reason.  Sometimes characters remind us of people in our real lives although we don't always recognize the connection at the time, and I wracked my brain trying to figure it out.  I did enjoy Sylvie's interactions with both of the swains however, as thankfully, she does not act like a love-smitten idiot, but reacts cautiously and realistically towards both of them.  I really like how all of the characters are flawed whereby they can be grumpy as well as friendly, be short-tempered and take things the wrong way, just like anyone.  It makes them feel normal and people in whom we can empathize.
The novel is beautifully written, and while it is longish in nature, that didn't bother me as I really enjoyed the descriptive nature and the spookiness about it.  One concern I have with this novel is the resolution, as I felt that there was something lacking.  Don't get me wrong; I love the paranormal and the supernatural, but something just felt off in the end, although I can't put my finger on it exactly.  I personally didn't feel like everything was resolved nicely in the end, and I wish more of an explanation had been given for some of the ghost-related events. 
The Splendor Falls was an absorbing, interesting reading with a great amount of spookiness and eeriness thrown in.  Beautifully written, descriptive in nature, the somewhat long novel flowed easily between events and chapters, although I did feel that there was something lacking in the supernatural portion of the novel and in the resolution.  That being said, I am really glad I read this novel, and I would definitely read further novels by this author.
Saturday, May 28, 2011

Armchair BEA: Blogging About Blogging

Today's theme is about blogging itself - the technical aspect, the social aspect, the ups and downs of blogging, and the reasons why you may blog in the first place.  There are definitely some things I learned over the past year that I have found incredibly helpful when it comes to blogging.

Keep it fun - Although I've been blogging for less than a year and a half, I did go through a period where I didn't actually enjoy what I was doing.  I put a lot of stress on myself to post almost every day, to visit other blogs and network, to try to come up with original content, and I found myself quickly running out of steam and looking for ways to avoid blogging.  After a break of about three weeks, and a lot of thought, I changed my approach which was less stressful for me, and it rejuvenated my love of writing on my blog.  I think I just got caught up in the stats and in the numbers and forgot why I blogged in the first place.  There was nothing really negative in the comments or anything, other than the comments about maybe focusing on one genre, which will never happen on my blog, but it was the stress I put on myself over the stats and the followers. I remember it being such a big deal whenever I lost a follower. Now,...!?!?  Once I refocused on why I blog, I loved doing it again.  I have taken all the stats counters off my blog, except for the followers, and will never put them on again.

Learn to say no - This is a rule I had to learn the hard way as there are just so many interesting and fascinating books out there, I had a difficult time saying no to review copies.  This has changed and I may have to go through periods where I don't accept any, or hire another reviewer for my blog.  It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of being asked to review books that it is easy to get carried away and get stressed out.  You can't do anything about books being sent to you randomly, but you can take control of those you are asked to review.

Keep a calendar - I now keep a separate calendar for book review posting dates, guest blogs, and interviews as it is so easy to forget about them, especially when you are asked to do them months before.  With a really demanding day job, sometimes my blogging has to take a back seat, especially at certain times of the year, and it is easy to forget about blog deadlines.  I love working with certain tour book groups and with certain publishers because they always send reminder emails.  I almost forgot about one recently and if it wasn't for the reminder email, I would never have published the post.

Keep an open mind - I was dead set against e-books until I finally purchased an e-reader last year.  To my utter amazement, I have developed a fondness for my e-reader that is borderline obsessive.  When it went caput last week, and I had to return it and was told it will take 2-6 weeks before I will get a new one, I was almost in hysterics.  I actually feel lost without it as I am so used to having it always with me.  Who knew I would catch up with technology like that!!  I still can't figure out all of the HTML stuff on my blog and tend to mess it up (I'm so glad I have the amazing Emily from Blogaholic Designs, who designed my blog, to fix anything up when I play around with it), but I am slowly learning.

There are so many different reading blogs out there, so many different types of memes, so many different types of contests, that it can be overwhelming and confusing to those who are new to the game.  When I first started blogging, I found myself doing a lot more memes, but now tend to avoid most of them except for a few I really enjoy doing.  I like Waiting on Wednesday, Enquiring Minds Want to Know, Booking Through Thursday, IMM, and It's Monday! What Are You Reading?  I do not however, participate in these every week anymore, only when I have the time or when I find the questions really interesting.  I still participate in some of the contest hops, but not all of them.  I also never make 'following' a requirement for any of my contests anymore; I also tend to be turned off by contests that make following a necessary requirement for entering.  I follow if I enjoy the content on a blog, and I hope people follow me because they want to read what I have to say.  One day, I would love to have the time to really include a lot of the things I would love to write about.  For example, I would love to take passages from novels and analyze them like we did in university as it would be fun.  I used to love the debates as we would argue about what they really meant in terms of the characters and the events in the novels.  Such fun!!!  I want to include more travel writing in my blog as I travel a lot and would love to share my experiences.

One of the things I wish I had more time to do is visit other blogs.  I try to catch up on those I follow whenever I have time and bookmark certain posts that I think look interesting to read later, but time is so short I've learned I can't do it all.  There needs to be a good balance between life and blogging, and my family definitely comes first in my life.  If I don't post for several days, so what?  I can't keep up with bloggers who are single or those who have made blogging their jobs, nor do I ever want to.  When I do have time, I like visiting and commenting on other blogs as it's fun and interesting, and I love reading what people have to say.  Networking is definitely important at all stages of blogging.  It also reminds people you are still there and still blogging.  I find Twitter to be great as I have reached so many authors and people through that medium; I am still learning the game on Twitter so I tend to make a lot of posting mistakes on that medium.  You need to be patient with me.  And one day, I will show up on Facebook.  Promise!

I was a book reviewer long before I began this blog, so the blogging just sort of happened as part of the reviewing process.  I didn't expect it to be anything more than a platform where I could write my thoughts about something I love to do and will continue doing for the rest of my life.  Discussing books with authors and other book bloggers is an amazing and fun thing to do and I love doing it.  I appreciate it when authors comment on my blog, and I know they appreciate it when I mention their books on my blog.  Besides, I have always been a writer and for too long, I have repressed that side of me; it's time to allow that writer in me to evolve and blossom and this is just a stepping stone. 

For now, blogging has continued to evolve and be an important part of my life.  I hope to continue, grow, expand, and develop some new things as it is always about risk-taking and learning something new.  I am looking forward to seeing where all of this leads us and where the print-industry is headed.  Exciting times, folks, exciting times!!!
Friday, May 27, 2011

Guest Post: Post-Dystopian Writing by Lory Kaufman

Post-Dystopian Writing?!?!

The other week I was talking to a person who said she had really liked The Hunger Games trilogy and that she enjoyed all “dystopian” literature.

“What a coincidence,” I said. “I write “post-dystopian” novels.

“I’ve never heard of post-dystopian before,” she said, a look of interest gleaming in her eyes.

“It’s a phrase I made up to describe what I’m writing. In fact, the first book, The Lens and the Looker, is coming out March 16th, 2011.”

“Cool,” she said. “Oh, I think I saw it advertised on Goodreads in a give-away contest, but I didn’t get time to read what it was about, or what “post-dystopian” writing is.”

“Well, do you know what dystopian literature is?”

“Yes, they’re stories of what could happen if our world society falls apart,” she answered. “Sometimes it’s nuclear war, biological calamity, bacterial plagues, invasions from space, and the story is about how the characters survive the new order or disorder.”

“Excellent answer,” I said.

“And you write post-dystopian stories?” she pursued. “Like I said, I never heard of it and I’ve read almost everything called dystopian.”

“Really? What have your read lately?”

“Oh, besides The Hunger Games, I’ve read Unwind, The Giver, Feed, Uglies and The Adoration of Jeanna Fox.”

“Good choices,” I agree. “They are among the best. How did you get to like that sort of writing?”

“In high school they made us read books like Brave New World, 1984, The Crysalids . . . and what was that one about the kids stuck on the island, where they go feral?” she mused.

“Oh, Lord of the Flies,” I said, with some excitement. “That was my number one fave. In fact, I would say that book inspired me to be a writer.”

“Cool,” she answered. “So, post-dystopian is like post-modern?” she said with a questioning look.

“Exactly. In fact,” I went on, “I would say that people who like all the dystopian books you mentioned should like my post-dystopian stories.”

For some reason, I don’t know why, her eyebrows lowered and she looked a bit . . . miffed.

“So . . . how would you describe it?” she asked.

“Oh, well, like I said, the book is called The Lens and the Looker. It’s the first of a trilogy where three spoiled teens from the 24th century are kidnapped back to 14th century Verona, Italy.”

“Cool,” she said, “but what’s post – . . .”

“Now, the neat thing about this story is the kids are kidnapped from what are called History Camps.”

“History Camps? What are they, and why do the kids come from the 24th century? And what the heck is post -. . .”

“Great questions,” I said, jumping at the chance to practice my elevator pitch. “In the 24th century, humans, with the help of artificial intelligences, have finally created the perfect planetary society. And to make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders create History Camps. These are full-sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, dong the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die.” The young woman was looking at me intently.

“Ooookay,” she said, drawing the word out. I smiled and sped on.

“In this first book – I told you it was a trilogy, didn’t I – this first book is called The Lens and the Looker. This is where you get to know three teens, Hansum, who’s almost 17. He’s good looking and athletic. Then there’s Shamira. She’s 15, very sassy, and she’s an artistic genius. This is really is important to the story. And there’s Lincoln, the youngest. He’s 14, a smart-aleck, but kind of insecure under all the wise cracks.”

“Cool, but what’s post – . . .”

I put up a hand for silence and babbled.

“So, the three teens are sent to a History Camp that’s built like Verona in the early 14th century. Now, all the people who work there, they don’t just walk around in costume and talk about live in the past, they live it. And the teens that are sent there are given new names and expected to work and live like people away back. But these three disrupt things so badly that they expect, and hope, to be expelled and sent home.”

“Don’t tell me,” she said. “That’s not what happens.”

“Exactly!” I blurted and continued excitedly. “An eccentric time-traveling History Camp counselor from the 31st century comes and kidnaps them back to the real 14th century Verona and abandons them. Abandons them!” I repeated. “Now they have only two choices; adapt to the harsh, medieval ways or – die.” My elevator pitch finished, I crossed my arms and smirked.

“And . . .”

“And what?” I asked.

“Do they die? And for pity sake, what’s post -. . .”

“I can’t tell you if they die. That would be a spoiler. But I can tell you that, to try to survive, they introduce inventions from the future. And even among all the dangers that they run into, Hansum, he falls head over heels in love. Now really, I can’t tell you anymore.”

“Well, you gotta tell me one thing or I’ll stomp your toe!” she threatened.

“What?” I asked, taking a step backward.

“I’ve tried to ask you, like, five or six times. What’s post-dystopian writing?”

“Oh, well you should have asked . . .” She glared at me really hard. “Sorry. I got carried away. Well, the word dystopian, you already described it perfectly. Stories of people surviving the aftermath of the world going to Hell in a hand basket, excuse the cliché. But you see, I’m an optimistic person, so I’m writing novels of how the world successfully struggles to come out of the mess.”

“Oh, post, meaning after. It’s what happens after the dystopian times. Post-dystopian.”

“A natural progression I think. Post-dystopian stories are the exciting adventures of young people creating a world that will last tens of thousands of years.”

“Cool,” she said. “And it’s coming out March 16th?”

“Yep.” I answered.

“I’ll buy it.”

“Thanks. You can learn more, and order it, by going to the website, You can also “like” the History Camp Facebook page ( I hope you enjoy it.”
Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interview: Lory Kaufman

Curling Up By The Fire would like to welcome Lory Kaufman, author of The Lens and the Looker and The Bronze and the Brimstone.  A fellow Canadian, he loves science fiction and historical fiction, something he has combined in his exciting Post-Dystopian trilogy.  He also enjoys art, and has acted, written, and directed children's musical theatre. 

 1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I'm a 60 year old guy who’s wanted to write futuristic novels since I read Lord of the Flies when I was 14. Since then, as a young man, I’ve been a children’s theatre writer, actor, director, and then, as an adult, had many different businesses. Oddly enough, all my life experiences surface in my writing career. My children’s theatre stint probably influenced my desire to write young adult books and helped me become good at dialogue. The years I then spent in sales, marketing and graphics, as an adult, is really helping as a starting author, since writers really have to really get involved in the business side of their careers now. And one of the businesses I started was when I was highly involved in the Green Party movement all across North America. I provided election supplies for people running for the Green Party. You can see a lot of my ecological philosophy peeking through the story.

2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, The Lens and the Looker?

The Lens and the Looker is the first installment of a trilogy. It’s based on Edmund Burke quote, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." It’s the story of three spoiled teens from the 24th century who are kidnapped back to 14th century Verona Italy. There they must adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The 24th century where these youths come from is an almost perfected society, where there is no pollution, strife, hunger or degradation of human or natures spirits. And to make sure that society has people in it that really appreciate the world they were born into, all youths must spend time at places called History Camps. These are full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here youth spend time living exactly how their ancestors did, experiencing the depravations that people had to go through. When these “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps have to offer, they are taken back to the real past and abandoned. Now, with no social safety net, we see how the characters cope and, hopefully, grow.

3) What inspired you to write The Lens and the Looker? How much research was involved in the writing?

As I said above, I’ve loved dystopian literature since I read Lord of the Flies when I was 14, and with my green studies, I’ve wanted to use my writing to be part of a conversation with youth about the future. That’s my inspiration. As far as research, I spend over a year studying about 14th century Verona, through books and online, I employed several European researchers and . . . the best part . . . I spent four days in Verona, Italy, after the year of research. As this small city still has many of the buildings and streets from this era, I suddenly felt my characters much closer, and was literally walking through the streets and through the churches with them. I’ve been very pleased that many of the reviews of the book have commented how they got a history lesson, although they didn’t feel it was overt in the prose. That makes me very happy

4) What was your greatest challenge while writing this novel?

Since this was my first novel, the biggest challenge was just to keep going and finish. It took four years, not only to research and write, but to bring my writing craft to the point where I was competitive and caught the eye of people in the industry. However, one thing that is very true . . . a writer does not necessarily write for the success of being published, but because they have to. From that point of view, it wasn’t a challenge at all. I had to do it and couldn’t help it.

5) In this novel, we are introduced to some very interesting and intriguing characters. Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge? Are any of your characters modeled of anyone you know in particular?

I honestly can’t think of anyone specific who influenced my characters. I do try to write colorful characters, like the ones who live in my memory from many Charles Dickens or Mark Twain stories. I tried to draw the characters, like Agistino, Ugilino and Arimus to be bigger than life, earthy and flawed, but occasionally insightful. But even when they’re over the top, I want my characters to still be three dimensional. Even when they’re doing something despicable, the reader must understand their motivation. Everyone is a creature of their experiences. That must come through. As far as a character being a challenge, I don’t find writing and differentiating characters a challenge. It just comes. How successful I am is up to the reader. However, when I’m writing dialogue, I do think of different actors. Sometimes I would think of Patrick Stuart doing the Arimus lines, other times, I would imagine his exact opposite, Dan Aykroyd. Totally different interpretations, but they could still work, I think.

5) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

I like to write in a quiet room, with a comfortable chair and a big monitor. I drink pots of Yerba Mate tea, which is an organic, South American tea that really helps the concentration. Other than that, there’s no ritual, just work that I love. I like to say, though, that I write by ass-mosis. That is, I put my butt in the chair every day and don’t stop until I’ve accomplished something I like. Then, at the end of the session, I spend five or ten minutes writing down the walls I’ve hit, the questions I must answer, before I continue the next day. I then forget about them till the next day and usually my subconscious has done its job and come up with all the needed, creative answers.

6) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future?

The sequel to The Lens and the Looker, entitled, The Bronze and the Brimstone, is being released June 7th. So that’s done. I’m now working on the third book of the trilogy, entitled The Loved and the Lost.

7) Favorite authors?

I’ll break this up by category.

Young Adult Dystopian authors

 1. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley 2. Unwind, Scott Westerfield 3. The Giver, Lois Lowry 4. The Road, Cormac McCarthy 5. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins 6. Lord of the Flies, William Golding 7. The Percy Jackson Series, Rick Riordan (middle grade, but I really like his work) 8. Spin, Robert Charles Wilson Science Fiction 9. Kindred, Octavia Butler
10. Hominoid Series by Robert J. Sawyer
11. Ender’s Game (and the series) by Orson Scott Card (It’s got little kids as heroes, and it works.)
12. Handmaiden’s Tale, Margret Atwood
13. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
14. Ringworld, Larry Niven
15. The House on the Strand, Daphne du Maurier General Fiction
16. 1000 Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (I love this guy’s written voice.)
17. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (One of my top five.)
18. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (My favorite book of all time. He’s the only writer I’m putting in twice. This book informs all my high adventure sequences.)
19. City of Thieves, David Benioff
20. The Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman

8) That is certainly quite a list, and many of those are favourties of mine. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I’m always writing, even when I’m not writing. But I must get away from my desk, from time to time, to keep my body and mind healthy. That’s when I walk, play golf, squash, canoe, go to art galleries, give dinner parties, and go to movies. But my subconscious is always working, as I described before, and when I go to the gym or go on walks, I’m always listening to audio book novels.

9) Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?

Yes, I would like to share that between May 24th and June 6th, 2011, The Lens and the Looker is being given away FREE on Amazon. This is in celebration of the release of The Bronze and the Brimstone on June 7th. My publisher, Lou Aronica suggested this so thousands more people will become acquainted with my work and then will want to buy my second . . . then third . . . book.

(click here, to download your FREE copy: )
Thank you so much for being a guest on Curling Up By The Fire.  Good luck with your release of The Bronze and the Brimstone on June 7th.
Readers, look for my review of both The Lens and the Looker and The Bronze and the Brimstone, as well as a guest post by Lory Kaufman.

Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidel & Giveaway

Dead of Wynter
by Spencer Seidel
Release Date: May 24, 2011
2011 Publishing Works
Softcover Edition; 292 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-935557-69-2
Genre: Mystery
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

4 / 5 Stars

"Dolly, it's your mother.' Dolly. Jackie Ruth Wynter had called Alice that for years. The conversation that followed led her right back to the place she had run from for years. Her twin brother, younger by just a minute or so, had been fading, transforming into an image of their drunken, narrow-eyed father. Now her father was dead, and her brother, Chris, missing.

Alice resigns herself to return, helping her mother and the local police with the mystery surrounding the crime. But there are some family secrets her mother would sooner take to the grave than reveal. As the authorities come closer to solving the mystery of the men in her family, she begins to realize her past life as Alice Wynter is the missing part of the puzzle. But who is searching out the former Alice?

My Thoughts
One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel was the author's use of descriptive language; it swept me into the story rather quickly and seemed to grip me with a ferocity that wouldn't let go until the very end.  As usual, I thought I had the who-dun-it figured out rather early on in the novel, but with some rather interesting twists and turns, everything got turned on me, and I learned how wrong I was to assume and how easily I was led by some very clever writing. 

Dead of Wynter had some rather unique twists to it that I really enjoyed, one of them being the jump back to 1984 when the events first started.  While some people don't enjoy these shifts from one time period to another, they have never bothered me, and I liked learning about the characters and their motives and what drove them to be the way they are in the present.  The boys and what they did was a real exercise in psychology and I definitely reminisced about my own high school days and what would cause people to do some of the things that they do, and what would be the catalyst to send someone over the edge to violence.  It's so easy to lose communication with someone you love and thought you knew, then realize you never really knew them at all; it's how so many miscommunications begin in the first place.  The way a family can fall apart due to so many secrets and lack of communication as well as total mistrust is frightening; what was seething beneath the surface, just waiting to explode, made me leery and made me question my own life and my own communication with my own family.   I have to give credit to Mr. Seidel and to his writing ability, as the time shifts felt completely natural and occurred in places in the novel that seemed totally appropriate to advance the events in the novel.

While I enjoyed the story very much, and definitely enjoyed the interaction between the characters, I couldn't personally warm up to the characters in the way I think was intended.  Even in a thriller, I need to connect with the main characters, and although this doesn't distract me as much as it would in other genres, I did think of it off and on as I was reading.  I remember wondering, Now shouldn't that bother me a little bit more for that character?  or Shouldn't I be empathizing for him/her? and I didn't. Some of the characters were dark and cruel and vindictive, and I wanted a little something more from them.  I was also somewhat disappointed in the ending as I felt it was rather drawn out and didn't quite have the suspense and thrill the rest of the novel had.  While the setting was pretty interesting, deteriorating snow conditions in Maine, something I could picture rather well living in a snow belt myself, there was just something missing in the ending. 

Dead of Wynter was a great debut novel from a fantastic writer.  The storyline gripped me right from the start, and I really enjoyed the twists and turns of a plotline that definitely caught me off guard from what I thought was the obvious solution.   While I thought the ending was lacking a little something, and I didn't feel that connection with the characters, this was still a dark murder/mystery that was enjoyable and I would recommend it to anyone looking for something a little darker.  I am looking forward to reading his next novel, Lovesick, to be published in 2012.

You can visit Spencer Seidel at:
Twitter @SpencerSeidel


One of my lucky readers will have the chance to win a copy of Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidel, courtesy of Erin McNichols.

Contest closes 15 June 2011.  Contest is open to residents of Canada and the United States.

Mandatory Entry: Comment on this post, and don't forget to include your email address. 
Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas

The Second Duchess
by Elizabeth Loupas
Release Date: March 1, 2011
2011 New American Library
Softcover Edition; 387 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-451-23215-1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess's wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke's terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia's death-or she will share her fate.

My Thoughts
The Second Duchess was completely mesmerizing and captivating right from the start.  I fell in love completely with this decadent world of power that Ms. Loupas set before us, totally enthralled by the sights and sounds of Renaissance Italy and its world of wealth and power.  The descriptions of daily life, clothing, routines, furniture, artwork, and other elements of this world, were fascinating and I soaked it up completely.  The fact that I absolutely love the world of the Borgias and the de Medicis and the Estes certainly helped and I thought this was a worthy addition to the literature that already abounds about this period.

Archduchess Barbara of Austria, daughter to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, is a woman after my own heart.  A deeply religious woman due to her religious upbringing, she embraced her marriage and her new life with enthusiasm and excitement, if a little trepidation.  Surrounding her everywhere she went were rumours of the first Duchess, Lucrezia de Medici, who died under suspicious circumstances a mere two years after her marriage to Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara.  Having a will of her own, and an obstinate nature, Barbara set out to find the truth, to protect herself as well as to sate her natural curiosity, and only managed to irk the duke into temper, learning that being Archduchess means absolutely nothing in Ferrara.  Submitting to her Lord and husband takes precedence, and this presents a difficult choice for the independent Barbara who secretly seethes with anger and fear against her restraints.  For me, I was continuously shocked by some of the ways women were treated during this time period, sometimes being beaten by their husbands for disobeying them, and for having independent natures.  Although I have studied a lot of history, being a modern women, it is so hard to reconcile this concept as it is so different to what we have today.  To be at the mercy of someone's whim would be difficult and frightening, particularly if the Lord were not very merciful.  Barbara had a lot of courage and a will of iron, something that really endeared me to her, and made me very sympathetic to her cause;  I felt so much empathy for Barbara and recognized the genius in Ms. Loupas's writing that allowed this to come to pass.

The mystery itself was also rather intriguing.  I knew about Lucrezia de Medici, only in passing, but I did read some of the controversy surrounding her death long before this novel.  While the mystery intertwines many of the events, for me it was the court intrigues that were the most fascinating and deadly.  How Barbara was able to put up with all of the intrigues, day in and day out, is beyond me, because just reading some of the things that were swirling around her and the duke, were giving me a headache.  The world that was created was so believable, I felt like I was right there, part of the court.  And the lack of privacy, and having people constantly around you all of the time, would drive one absolutely crazy. 

The only thing in this novel that bothered me, and only just slightly, was the use of the immobili, for advancement of the story.  While I understand the purpose for its use, I sort of wish it hadn't been included, as I felt it wasn't really necessary; the story and the mystery were great enough that readers could figure out a lot of the ideas without the help of the immobili.  One of the benefits from its use, that I could see, would be to give us a sense of Lucrezia's personality, something we would not have gleaned as much had it not been used.  I'm just not sure it was necesssary.

The Second Duchess takes a look at one of the lasting mysteries of the Renaissance, crafting a compelling tale set amidst a glittering court full of intrigue and deadly secrets.   I had a hard time putting the book down, and was caught up in Barbara's investigation and the truths that were unveiled.  Ms. Loupas's writing style is masterful, creating a novel that was suspenseful, complex, and peopled with quirky and difficult characters.  I was so glad to read that she would like to continue writing about the adventures of Barbara and Alfonso in further novels.  For anyone interested in Renaissance Italy, and the life of the rich and powerful that includes a real-life mystery, then I highly recommend this novel.

Enquiring Minds & A Little Personal Time!

This Monday is Victoria Day in Canada.  And while most people recognize Queen Victoria for what she has accomplished, I also believe most people celebrate her today because of the holiday.  I know I am looking forward to a three-day weekend; three blissful days at the trailer where I can hopefully relax and read, go hiking and biking, and do some more sightseeing trips with the kiddies.  And hopefully, we will get a break from the RAIN!!!!!  

Enquiring Minds Want to Know is hosted by Dollycas's Thoughts.  It's a series of three fun questions that allows readers to get a tiny glimpse into the personal lives of bloggers, something we don't always see because we focus so much on books.  I also tend to guard my privacy, almost too much, so it's nice to do a post once in a while, and share a little bit about me.

1. When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a WITCH!!!  It sounds weird, but I was fascinated by all things paranormal and my mom told me that my goal as a child was to be a witch.  If I couldn't, then I wanted to be what most little girls wanted to be be, a princess.  The paranormal thing is still central to my life, and I tend to be drawn by novels that have paranormal elements to them first. 

2. Did you go to college?
I went to university, three of them and have three degrees.  I have an Honours Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education, a Bachelor's Degree in Education, and a Master's Degree in Education.   I thrive on schooling and was also accepted to pursue my studies for my Doctorate several years ago, something I have been deferring due to time limitations plus I have two children who need me more than I need a Doctorate's at the moment.  I figure when my children are off to university, I will have more time to pursue further education. 

3. Do you attend your high school or college reunions?
Not a chance.  It's not that I didn't enjoy university or high school, but I have no desire to revisit old haunts.  I tend to live in the present and don't really revisit the past very often.  I have no desire whatsoever to go to any of my reunions.

Question: In contrast to last week’s question–What do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?

I'm not in favour of censoring books at all.  I would not have been happy as a child being told I couldn't read something because of my age as I always thought it depended on your maturity level as well as your individual knowledge and experience.  I was well-travelled and my parents always insisted that I learned things about the outside world, that my experience was always greater than what was around me, so I always felt I was more mature than other people my age.  Plus, as I was very widely read, I learned a lot from newspapers, journals, encyclopedias, novels, and so on, that I felt I could handle reading anything that came before me.  If I had questions about what I was reading, I always felt comfortable asking my parents, and we had some great dinner discussions because of the questions I asked.  I encourage my children to do the same thing in their reading.  Obviously, they will come across concepts they will not fully understand until they are older, but does that mean they shouldn't read the books?  No way, not in my world.  It's generated fantastic discussions in my household too, and I want that to continue.  There are many levels to learning.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Giveaway: Central Park Knight by C.J. Henderson

Thanks to Alexis at Tor/Forge, I have one (1) copy of CENTRAL PARK KNIGHT by C.J. Henderson to give away to one of my lucky readers. 

Professor Piers Knight is the Brooklyn Museum's very own Indiana Jones. His specialties include lost civilizations, arcane cultures, and more than a little bit of the history of magic and mysticism. What his contemporaries don't know is that he is also proficient in the uses of magical artifacts. Knight receives a chilling message from Tian Lu, a former lover and an agent for the Chinese government. Years ago, they made a frightening discovery at an archaeological dig when out of the depths rose...a living, fire-breathing dragon. Now, the dragons are waking again from their slumber before their scheduled time. And one particularly diabolical dragon is set on eliminating the others and taking over the world. As civilization plunges into panic, Knight, Lu, Knight's seventeen-year-old techie intern George Rainert, and an untrustworthy dragon ally must use all their resources - magical and otherwise - to stop the destruction before it's too late.


Open to residents of Canada and the United States only.
Contest ends 31 May, 2011.

Mandatory Entry:  Comment on this post, and include your email address.

Good luck, everyone!

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Releases: May 16 - 22

This weekend is Victoria Day in Canada and I can't wait.  It means another three-day weekend for us energy-sapped workers who are in desperate need of a small break.  I am looking forward to heading to my trailer and getting in some serious reading time.  Hopefully, the weather will improve as I am getting really tired of seeing and hearing the rain; and that's saying a lot as I normally like rain.  If it does rain, I will be curling up in front of the fire (I am so sorry for the pun!) and reading, reading, reading.  Here are some of the books I am looking forward to picking up this week:

Queen of Kings
by Maria Dahvana Headley
Release Date: May 17, 2011

Passion and seduction, witches and warriors, and history and mythology combine to bring the timeless story of Cleopatra to life like never before in this stunningly original and spellbinding debut.

The year is 30 BC. A messenger delivers word to Queen Cleopatra that her beloved husband, Antony, has died at his own hand. Desperate to save her kingdom and resurrect her husband, Cleopatra summons the most fearsome warrior goddess, Sekhmet, and against the warnings of her scholars she strikes a mortal bargain. But not even the wisest scholars could have predicted what would follow...

The Jefferson Key
by Steve Berry
Release Date: May 17, 2011

Cotton Malone has been called on to defend his country's safety in many exotic locations around the world, often using his knowledge of history to get to the heart of mysteries and conspiracies stretching back for centuries. But never has the danger been quite so close to home.A stunning opening sets the tone of explosive action and mind-bending intrigue as Cotton battles an extraordinary group of families whose unseen influence dates back to the pages of the U.S. Constitution - and whose thirst for power is about to be satisfied by the craking of a code devised by Thomas Jefferson himself.

by China Mieville
Release Date: May 17, 2011

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties - to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

Desperate Measures
by Laura Summers
Release Date: May 17, 2011

Vicky has always felt responsible for her mentally disabled twin sister, Rhianna, and their feisty little brother, Jamie. So when the foster care system threatens to split them up, they all run away together, heading for a distant relative's home. After a difficult journey, they arrive-only to find strangers living there. With nowhere else to go, they hide in a cave, and must survive by their wits. By the end of their adventure, Vicky is surprised to find that the sister she thought she was protecting is the one who saves her.

City of the Dead
by Sara Gran
Release Date: May 18, 2011

Claire DeWitt is not your average private investigator. She has brilliant deductive skills and is an ace at discovering evidence. But Claire also uses her dreams, omens, and mind-expanding herbs to help her solve mysteries, and relies on Détection - the only book published by the late, great, and mysterious French detective Jacques Silette.

The tattooed, pot-smoking Claire has just arrived in post-Katrina New Orleans, the city she's avoided since her mentor, Silette's student Constance Darling, was murdered there. Claire is investigating the disappearance of Vic Willing, a prosecutor known for winning convictions in a homicide- plagued city. Has an angry criminal enacted revenge on Vic? Or did he use the storm as a means to disappear? Claire follows the clues, finding old friends and making new enemies - foremost among them Andray Fairview, a young gang member who just might hold the key to the mystery.

by Lisa Unger
Release Date: May 17, 2011 (Paperback)

Everybody knows everybody in The Hollows, a quaint, charming town outside of New York City. It’s a place where neighbors keep an eye on one another’s kids, where people say hello in the grocery store, and where high school cliques and antics are never quite forgotten. As a child, Maggie found living under the microscope of small-town life stifling. But as a wife and mother, she has happily returned to The Hollows’s insular embrace. As a psychologist, her knowledge of family histories provides powerful insights into her patients’ lives. So when the girlfriend of her teenage son, Rick, disappears, Maggie’s intuitive gift proves useful to the case—and also dangerous.

Eerie parallels soon emerge between Charlene’s disappearance and the abduction of another local girl that shook the community years ago when Maggie was a teenager. The investigation has her husband, Jones, the lead detective on the case, acting strangely. Rick, already a brooding teenager, becomes even more withdrawn. In a town where the past is always present, nobody is above suspicion, not even a son in the eyes of his father.

Tornado Hunter
by Stefan Bechtel with Tim Samaras
Release Date: May 18, 2011

In the first of five you-are-there accounts, Tornado Hunter opens with a moment-by-moment description of the 2003 catastrophe that engulfed Manchester, South Dakota. The authors evoke the doomed town and its people; the dark menacing funnel; and Samaras’s fearless advance into the whirlwind’s core to deploy the ingenious equipment he devised. They interweave the tornado chaser’s passion, the fascinating science of the storms themselves, and six decades of progress in predicting and recording their onslaught?an art beholden to Samaras’s own ground-breaking inventions.

Like the deadly tornadoes it documents, this potent combination of high adventure and hard science is terrifyingly timely in our era of global warming and climate change. Tim Samaras’s 2004 article in National Geographic became one of the most widely read in the magazine’s history

Review: Hellforged by Nancy Holzner

Hellforged (Deadtown, Book 2)
by Nancy Holzner
Release Date: December 28, 2010
2010 Ace Books
Trade Paperback Edition; 340 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-441-01980-9
Genre: Fiction / Urban Fantasy
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

4 / 5 Stars

After Vicky banished her demon nemesis to the fiery depths of Hell, she thought life would return to normal.  But considering she has a werewolf lawyer boyfriend, a zombie apprentice who's angling to become a pop star, and an eccentric vampire roommate, what is normal anyway?

Then the supposedly banished Hellion starts to trespass in Vicky's dreams - just as several of Deadtown's zombies are viciously attacked and become really dead.  When Vicky realizes she's the only connection between the realms, she suspects that the demon is somehow working through her dreams to become Deadtown's living nightmare.

My Thoughts
When I first started reading this novel, I was afraid that I would find it difficult reading as I had not read Deadtown, the first novel in this series.  Like all sequels, there is always the chance that starting with the second book is never a good thing as you would have no idea what is going on, or who the characters are, or some of the background.  Luckily, this was not the case with this novel, and while I didn't feel like I needed to read Deadtown in order to understand the events in Hellforged, I enjoyed Hellforged so much that I want to read the first book just to get a deeper undertanding of this new world in which I find myself embroiled.

Apparently having saved the world from the evil demon Difethwr, Vicky has resumed her normal job as a professional demon-hunter, hunting them in both the living world and in the world of dreams.  To her utter amazement, Difethwr appears to her in a dream-state, uttering a prophecy about the end of the world.  Scared, unsure, and unable to sleep without someone getting hurt, in particular her zombie friends with which she has contact, Vicky seeks out the one person who can help her, Aunt Mab, an exceptionally strong demon-hunter living in Wales, and her own personal trainer. 

There were some really enjoyable elements in this novel.  First of all, I loved the characters and their zany quirks and personality traits.  Deadtown is a really imaginative place where people with paranormal abilities must live; they also have limited rights in some states and almost no rights in others.  I was trying to imagine what this would be like for people who can't help the way they were born and really struggled with this concept.  The political flare-ups and the discrimination seemed very realistic as many people who believe in monsters don't necessarily want them showing up on their front doorsteps or in their faces.  It's okay to believe in something, but put that something in front of you and it's a whole different thing. 

Vicky is a kick-ass heroine, but I also loved her vulnerability and her flaws as it made her very someone with whom I could connect on a lot of levels.  I liked her character development and how she grows throughout the novel, become more connected with herself as the story develops.  Aunt Mab was perhaps my favourite character thus far.  Anyone who has secrets such as she has is bound to be interesting, and we are given only a few hints and teases here and there as to her story; I really wanted to know more about her and I seriously hope we see more of her in forthcoming novels.  And Kane?  What can I say?  I love werewolves!!  I hope he sticks around as well.  And I say that with trepidation as I was seriously beginning to wonder if some major characters were going to be killed by the end of the novel.  This simply adds to the suspense of the events.

Hellforged was full of suspense, drama, romance, and action; it was pretty much the complete package for me.  There are secrets waiting to be discovered and characters waiting to be flushed out and developed.  The only limitation I found is that it was your typical urban fantasy fare, fun, interesting, zany, and quirky, but for those who are not drawn to this type of genre, I don't really think Hellforged is the type of novel that will make you a fan of this genre.  For those who already love this genre, this novel will certainly be an asset to your collection.  I am looking forward to book 3, Bloodstone, when it is released in September.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Giveaway

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens in theatres on May 20th to the delight of many movie goers everywhere who are eagerly awaiting the next adventures of Captain Jack.  Here is a brief synopsis of the fourth Pirates adventure: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) finds himself on an unexpected journey to the fabled Fountain of Youth when a woman from his past (Penélope Cruz) forces him aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

To celebrate the opening day of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada is offering a really fun prize package to my readers. 


· PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES temporary tattoo (2 per winner)

Giveaway is open to Canadian residents only.  Contest ends 27 May, 2011. 

Mandatory Entry
1) Leave a comment about the post and please include your email.

Bonus Entries
1) “Like” WALT DISNEY STUDIOS CANADA on Facebook and feel free to include a link and a tag if possible:

2) “Like” PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN on Facebook at:

3) Use the following hashtags on Twitter #Pirates and/or #DisneyPirates and include #Canada for easier tracking
Sunday, May 15, 2011

CafePress: Review & Giveaway

Stay tuned for giveaway at the end of this post.

I had the pleasure of being asked to do a review for, which has the distinction of being one of the top websites on the internet for personalized gifts.  Before being asked to do a review, I had heard of, but had never really taken a good look at their site. I had actually come across the name on various blogs which either had shops connected to CafePress or were selling custom items created on CafePress.  I was impressed with the rather large selection offered, and I have to admit, it took me quite awhile to select the item I wanted to review.  In the end, I selected a black hoodie with a Celtic design.

On the website, you can click on the hoodie, and the picture of the design will enlarge which makes it quite easy to see if the design is to your liking.  I rather liked that feature as some of the designs were rather hard to see and it made it easier to know right away if the design would be one you would like or not.  The ordering process was painless as I simply had to set up an account and order.  The package arrived within a couple of days, although I did get an email stating it could take as long as 8-10 days.  Considering it had to cross the border, the package arrived fairly quickly.  It came wrapped in a cute little case, with care instructions included.  On the website, there was a warning about the sweatshirts being rather large, so I took their advice and ordered one side smaller than I usually would, and I am rather glad I did as the sweatshirt that came was rather large.  When I put it through the wash, I deliberately shrank it somewhat and now it fits perfectly; it's comfortable, fits well, and it's warm.  I really, really like it and am planning on ordering some for my kids. 

Take a look at some of the other items I found:

 Angelfire Book Bag
Angelfire Mug

 Angelfire T-Shirt
Angelfire Bumper Sticker
Humour Poster
Nebular Poster (For my son)

Twilight T-Shirt

If you wish, you can also open up your own store and either cash in on your own creativity or sell products from or  If you are interested, there is a lot of information on this page here.  This is why I have seen some blogs with links to this store.  Many authors often have their merchandise created through CafePress and then either sell it on their blogs or their websites. 

Giveaway: One reader will win an item of their choice from (under $50).

Giveaway ends 31 May 2011.  Open only to residents of Canada and the United States. 

Mandatory Entry:  Comment on this post and include your email address.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe

The Sorcerer's House
by Gene Wolfe
Release Date: March 15, 2011
2010 Tom Doherty Associates Book
Softcover Edition; 302 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2459-7
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review Copy from Publisher (TOR)

4 / 5 Stars

In a contemporary town in the American midwest where he has no connections, an educated man recently released from prison is staying in a motel. He writes letters to his brother and to others, including a friend still in jail. When he meets a real estate agent who tells him he is the heir to a huge old house, long empty, he moves in, though he is too broke even to buy furniture. He is immediately confronted by supernatural and fantastic creatures and events. His life is utterly transformed. We read on, because we must know more and we revise our opinions of him, and of others, with each letter. We learn things about magic, and another world, and about the sorcerer Mr. Black who originally inhabited the house. And then, perhaps, we read it again.

My Thoughts
I always tend to approach a Gene Wolfe novel with a little apprehension as I never know what to expect.  On Blue Waters is probably one of my favourite novels from this author, a book I loved so much that I went through a phase where I read as much Wolfe as I could lay my hands on.  There were some misses though, and I've read enough of his work to realize that I never know what the format of any of his novels will be.  The Sorcerer's House however, was fun, and as long as I just went with the flow, so to speak, and suspensed some major disbeliefs, it was easy to enjoy this crazy and zany story.
Fun is not usually a term I tend to use when describing a Gene Wolfe novel, so it is a pleasure to be able to do so.  I think dark, terrifying, and shocking are usually the normal words when speaking about one of Wolfe's novels, but this one is also quirky and different from the norm.  It revolves around Baxter Dunn, an incredibly intelligent man who holds several PhD's and who is down on his luck after spending several years in prison, who finds a seemingly abandoned house in the middle of nowhere.  As he moves in, he discovers the house has been deeded to him along with large sums of money and large tracts of land.  He is surrounded by some wonderfully zany characters, including his brother George, a fox named Winker, a butler, a real estate agent, and a host of otherwordly creatures, who create complete chaos on his life.  As Bax tries to make sense of it all, we are pulled into a mystery that seems to grow and deepen, even as events are made clearer and we get a sense of the bigger picture. 
The story is written using letters as a narrative device and I thought it was pretty effective.  I like reading different literary devices as I find it different from the norm and I enjoyed this format very much.  It gives you an intimacy with Bax that I don't think would have worked otherwise and makes you feel empathy towards his character.  I love how he just seems to go with the flow and takes everything, even all the supernatural events, with stride.  I do have to admit however, that this format did make you feel like you were living inside a glass jar and had very limited access to information as you only saw and heard what Bax reported in his letters; I could never have read this novel in one night as it would have exhausted me.
One of things I've learned is never to take anything Wolfe writes at face value as he is a very subtle writer, only giving the reader information as he wishes.  This can sometimes lead to information overload, but it didn't happen so often that I couldn't handle it.  After I finished the novel, I recognized the genius in the writing, and how subtly information was imparted, leading me merrily along.  If I wasn't familiar with Wolfe's writing, I would have fallen for some of the traps, but I was able to keep things in perspective and avoid falling for the obvious. 
There is so much happening in this novel that it makes it difficult to adequately write a review.  I find that I need to re-read many of Wolfe's novels in order to fully appreciate the complexity and thought that goes into his novels and to really grasp what is going on.  It is no different with The Sorcerer's House as I feel I need to re-read it in order to gain a richer understanding of the events.  As Bax's character and personality developed throughout the novel, I was surpised at how much he grew and changed from when we first met him; my concept of him was completely wrong and he wasn't anything like the person I imagined him to be.  That's what makes this novel so much fun though.
The Sorcerer's House is a quirky, zany novel full of weird, zany characters where fantastic events happen in a non-stop action novel.  The epilogue did catch me by surprise, enough that I re-read the final few chapters in order to see what it was I missed.  The novel was full of surprising twists and turns, fascinating character development, and unique plot elements, but because of the letter format used to explain the story and the use of rich, but subtle, details to explain the story, I did find it overwhelming at times and had to read something else in between.  If you act like Bax and just go with the flow without overly questioning the happenings, you will be one with the story and enjoy it tremendously.

Some Bookish Questions & Enquiring Minds

It's been an interesting week thus far and I am certainly enjoying the weather. It's been so nice to see sunshine instead of rain, although we'll be getting more of that this weekend apparently. I went to Toronto yesterday to visit the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and to a French Restaurant (Le Papillon) and enjoyed myself tremendously; I always enjoy the dinosaur exhibit and the modern art exhibits. I will be taking my children there this summer as they are now old enough to really appreciate these types of activities.

Last night I had a dream where I was attacked by a book again. I think I am taking on too much, both at work and with reading, especially if it's entering my dreams. Reading is a necessary activity for me every day, but when books are entering my dreams as monsters, I think that's a sign to back off a little bit and destress. My kids thought the dream was hilarious as they know how important reading is to me. My son even suggest I write a story about it, something I have given serious thought. A little side note, I was secretly proud of the fact my son got in trouble yesterday for reading during Math class. He had the book hidden under his Math book and was sneaking in the reading whenever the teacher turned her back. Okay, I realize he should not have been doing that, but at the same time he's following in his momma's footsteps and I was sort of proud about that. He got the book taken away for the rest of the day and was upset because he had to wait until last night before he could find out what happened. Boy, do I remember those days!!!! It was on the tip of my tongue to counsel him to learn to be sneakier, but I guess that would have been wrong and he will just have to learn the sneakiness on his own. (It's a good thing he doesn't read these right now.)

Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?

It's funny, but until I was older I never thought of books in terms of children or adult. When I went to the library I just read whatever took my fancy. I was an avid/gifted reader and reading anything was never a problem for me; I could easily read a dozen novels in a week. I did have to re-read some novels as an adult however, as I did not fully understand some of the innuendos of what I was reading until I was older. Flowers in the Attic is an example as I read the novel when I was ten years old, but definitely did not grasp some of the sexual connotations until I re-read it several years later and went, "Oh, so that's what that means!" When I did my Masters degree, I had to analyse some children's picture books in terms of their post-modernism and some of the ones I found were extremely difficult to analyse and were definitely not created with children in mind, even according to the authors themselves. I hate to categorize and label books and especially hate being told to read what people call 'adult' books. Reading is reading!!!!

Enquiring Minds is hosted by Dollycas's Thoughts.

Question 1: What is your favourite thing to do on a sunny bright spring day?

Anything as long as it doesn't involve going to work. I could happily spend time at the trailer, sitting on the deck, reading. I could work in the garden, go for a walk, go to the park, anything as long as it is outdoors and involves enjoying the fresh air. After a brutally long and snowy winter, these days are especially welcome.

Question 2: What is your favourite colour?

RED! Bright, eye-popping red.   And ORANGE!

Question 3: Do you have a favourite month of the year?

Not really. I like them all for different reasons.  I love July and August because I am on holidays and who doesn't like being on holidays.  I love my job and what I do, but man, do I love my holidays!!!  I always enjoy December,...well, it's Christmas.  And we always travel during March Break to the Caribbean so that's enjoyable.  I'm not necessarily fond of November as I find it dreary and long, but I do celebrate my anniversary during that month so there's at least something to look forward to. 

Have a great weekend, everyone!!!