Friday, 20 January 2012

I'm claiming reading back!


I've thought long and hard over this and have decided to stop updating this blog. Recently, my enjoyment of reading has decreased to an alarmingly low level and this is mainly due to the pressure of having to read at least two books a week and reading books I don't necessarily want to read. I am an average pace reader but in order to get at least two reviews up a week, reading is consuming all my time and when I either have to do something else or don't feel like reading, I feel under immense pressure to pick up a book. Basically, this blog has made reading the ruler of me and it's no longer a pleasurable passtime.

So, I'm claiming reading back for myself, I'm taking it back to one of my favourite hobbies and if it takes me two months to read one book then so be it. I'm giving up the deadlines!

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has followed and supported me over the last six months. Blogging has been a real experience and I will certainly still be following everyone else - but as a reader and a fan from now on rather than a fellow blogger.

I'm leaving this blog up for posterity but may eventually get brave enough to delete it. However, as of today, 20th January 2012, I am no longer posting any more content.

I wish everyone the best and thank you once again for your support.

Lyrical Brown

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Interview: Dean Johnson

Today, I'd like to welcome Dean Johnson, author of Moondreams, for one of my grillings. You can read my review of Moondreams here.

How would you describe Moondreams in a tweet (140 characters)?

A warm, toes-in-the sand, beach read about how relationships are the bricks and mortar of your foundation, but you must build your own house. (with a character to spare!!)

How did the story of Moondreams come to you?

When I was younger, there was a time when I was, I suppose, a bit aimless. I had dropped out of college, was working in an auto garage, was doing some stringer work for a couple of local newspapers, but really had no idea what or where I wanted to be.

The fragmented nature of the novel reflects that theme.

I took that, mixed in a little of when I met my wife, added a dash of a few childhood experiences, stirred in quite a bit of imagination, and cooked up Moondreams.

Both Kirah and Bryan are very strong voices, how did you come up with their characters?

I’d have to say that both Kirah and Bryan are composites. Each have some qualities of people I know, but neither is based any one individual. What gives them strong voice is that they both have a little part of me in them, I suppose.

What kind of research did you do for Moondreams?

While I was raised in the region where Moondreams takes place (Southern New Jersey), I had to make sure my landmarks were accurate and my descriptions precise. I visited a few sites for notes. I even pulled to the side of the road once to write out some notes on details of an old highway motel.

What are your writing habits? Are you the kind of writer who plans everything or are you a seat-of-your-pants writer?

I write a lot in my head. I have a tablet nearby at all times to jot down an idea or a detail of a unique setting I run into. I use my phone quite a bit to record ideas – especially when driving. I don’t know what’s worse: writing down notes on paper while driving or talking into my cell phone.

I usually have a scene in mind when I start out, but what I had in mind at the beginning isn’t always what’s there at the end. I love when this happens. The scene takes a life of its own.

What’s the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing for young adults?

Writing for young adults is a balancing act. You have to be careful not to insult them by being too “young,” that is – your themes and scenes too antiseptic, you know, stuff Grandma would expect a young adult to read. On the other hand, your audience is still children and the adults that help make the decisions what their children (their students) read.

When and why did you decide to take the plunge and self publish your book? Did you always plan to publish it?

After I had written this book, I had a few friends read it. I made some revisions and sent it out into the wild, wild world of a dwindling publishing industry. I received a couple of wonderful rejections; you know, not a form letter. Had an agent show some interest, but for whatever reason, that didn’t pan out. So, I put the book aside and worked on other projects.

When I saw how the indie book world was growing and how more people were becoming interested in taking a chance on reading new authors, I decided to dip my toe in the water.

What’s the story behind the cover?

My wife took this picture. It is on the beach in Ventnor, NJ. I photoshopped in the moon and darkened the picture a bit. When my wife and I were dating, she lived in Ventnor, and she and I walked that beach countless moonlit nights.

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe and The Bible

What are you working now?

I am working on several pieces. I’ve finished a memoir called Winter of a Furious Season. It’s the story of a 17 month period when my wife and I were just married and had to deal with the illnesses and subsequent death of both my parents and my wife’s mother (her father had passed away before I had met her). It’s a story of survival amid a tsunami of cancer.

I also am writing a lot of small pieces. I recently had essays published in the Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Atlantic City Press. I’ve had pieces in many other newspapers as well including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer to name a few. I will be collecting some of the pieces I’ve done over the past ten years or so and will probably publish them as ebooks.

I also have two other pots on the writing stove, both in the young adult genre. One is an historical piece about a young child misdiagnosed with a mental disorder in the late 1960s. The other is about a middle school young man who is a middle child of middle aged, middle class parents and how he develops an identity after borrowing a few others.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Review: India Dark - Kirsty Murray

Extent: 336 pages
Publisher: Templar
Pub Date: 1st January 2012

A story of secrets, lies and lost innocence. MADRAS, 1910: Posey Swift and Tilly Sweetrick are caught up in a scandal that will change their lives forever. Singing and Dancing across a hundred stages as members of a troupe of Australian child performers, they travel by steam train into the heart of India. But as one disaster follows another, money runs short and tempers fray. What must the girls do to protect themselves, and how many lives will be ruined if they try to break free?

It's nice to get away from over populated genres once in a while and find a story that sticks with you because of its originality and poignancy and there are few books that do this better than those based on true stories. The originality is in the truth itself as no one writes fiction about real life - it's too dull, lacks perfection and doesn't have succinct beginnings, middles and ends. But once in a while some clever writer digs up a story worth telling and passes it through their magic keyboard to create a book that really moves you. Kirsty Murray is without doubt one of those clever writers.

India Dark's basis in truth is a real asset to this story as you're not just tagging along with fictional characters, you're empathising with real people. Hopelessness and desperation ooze off the page but it's made all more poignant by the fact that this really happened to real people. It's clear that the author has really studied her characters, she knows them inside out and knows exactly how each one would react to different situations. The chapters are told from the point of view of either the innocent Poesy Swift or the feisty Tilly Sweetrick who both have such distinct voices, the reader is drawn into seeing the story from two very different sides. Here's the clever bit: Tilly's voice begins very obnoxious so you immediately side with Poesy, thinking that her innocence and openness are allowing you to see what's really happening, however, as the story moves on, you begin to see that it's not Tilly who is obscuring the truth but it is in fact Poesy. She has sealed her eyes, ears and mouth with innocence tape, leading the reader through her enforced perfect world which leaves you stinging with pity as Tilly and the forces of evil gradually peel the tape off. In the end, I much preferred Tilly's voice as she actually had the maturity and the guts to save the children from a cruel fate.

The setting for India Dark is fascinating. I had no idea people used to tour troupes of performing children around the world and of course there's a lot of socio-political history that goes with it. Everywhere seemed to belong to one European country or another back in the early 20th century and Kirsty Murray has expertly captured the feelings, reactions and trends of the times, the strange mix of east and west that really weren't all that compatible. It's a real lesson in social history and the tour around southeast Asia and India is a colourful backdrop to the story. The episodes of travel work really well with the developing plot line and characters. It's a real treat to get a glimpse into life at this time and the author has created just the right tone for it to be authentic yet relevant to a modern audience.

India Dark is a real gem of a book by the fact that it's a real standalone story. It doesn't fuel any genre craze but instead it stays with you as a unique testament to the human condition. It's a cautionary tale of the danger of innocence and lies but also a tribute to unyielding courage in the face of hopelessness. A great way to start 2012!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Interview: Ciye Cho

Today, I'd like to welcome Ciye Cho, author of Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure, for one of my grillings. You can find my review of Shiewo here.

How would you describe Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure in a tweet (140 characters)?

Shiewo Morose is the captain of a flying ship. With a song and a quest, this young woman is about to discover an adventure without limits...

I thought Shiewo was such an original story, where did the idea for the book come from?

I've always wanted to write a book about a flying ship powered by music. It's an idea that combines several of my favorite things: clouds, colors, music, and fantasy...

I love your cast of varied and original characters and Shiewo makes a great hero. How do these characters come to you?

When I assembled the crew, I thought it was important that they each had a different core trait (i.e. tenacity in Shiewo; shyness in Theo), but I also wanted to create characters that were unusual and unexpected. I think that coming up with characters is sort of like inventing imaginary friends...

How did you go about creating Shiewo’s colourful and fantastical world? Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from some of my favourite subjects: meteorology, horology, nature, and music. For example, while musical flight is obviously impossible, each level of Shiewo's flying ship, the Odyssey, has a basis in real-world musical science.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing high fantasy and setting a story in a world where anything can happen?

The most challenging aspect would be finding a way to present something fresh and original. The most rewarding aspect would be bringing readers into a world of your own creation--letting them see, hear, and experience things that don't exist.

When and why did you decide to take the plunge and self publish your book? Did you always plan to publish it?

I decided to self-publish a few months before the completion of "Fantasy Flight." I thought it would an exciting challenge that would allow me to expand my project creatively on my own terms.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals? Do you plan a story from start to finish or just see what happens?

"Fantasy Flight" evolved quite a bit over the course of writing... so I don't know if I really focused too hard on absolute planning. As for rituals, I like to draw cross-sections of every world I work on. I obsess over details, and I've probably sketched out every last gizmo and machine within the Odyssey.

What’s the story behind the cover art?

The cover showcases each character's personality and look. For example, Theo is shown with his perennial expression of worry, while Erduu is seen looking mighty zen-nish. As for Shiewo, if you look carefully you'll see that she's not really smiling or frowning; she's a complex character and I think the central image of her captures that well.

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, James and Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

Book two of Shiewo's Odyssey will see the intrepid captain face off against Horologo's time serpent. Beyond that, you can expect time travel, action, oddball antics, and a bit of romance.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Review: Kevin's Point of View - Del Shannon

Extent: 402 pages
Publisher: self-published
Pub Date: 4th June 2010

To escape the emotional turmoil of his father’s death 12-year-old Kevin Tobin has retreated inside himself, developing his imagination into a dangerous foil and a powerful ally. While he antagonizes everyone with his superhero antics, his ability to escape inside himself becomes critical to his survival after his life is once-again turned upside down a year after his father’s death. When a mysterious package arrives in the mail, Kevin and his best friend are hunted by a ruthless villain who is determined to retrieve the package, which holds the key to his plans for world domination. After enlisting Kevin’s teenage sister and her pizza-delivery boyfriend in a battle for control over time itself, the group escapes into the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado and eventually discover that Kevin’s entire existence is because of the love of someone we never expected.

Kevin's Point of View is Del Shannon's debut novel and shows a deep appreciation for the powers of imagination, family ties, and the desire of young boys to both escape reality and prove themselves within it. The fast-paced, adventure-filled storytelling style makes this a book with wide appeal for readers of all ages.

For a woman in her twenties, I have to confess I'm a real sucker for a middle grade male-oriented action adventure. But I need to be more specific: I like middle grade male-oriented action adventure that has depth and doesn't patronise the reader and it is without doubt that Kevin's Point of View fits very comfortably into that category.

I found the lead character, Kevin, immediately both intriguing and engaging. He is a boy who lives in his imagination, blocking out reality by immersing himself into scenes from superhero cartoons to the point where he no longer engages with reality. Del Shannon is expert at losing his character in his mind and nurtures the reader into empathising with his hero - he's troubled but he's courageous and determined to fix both himself and his family, whatever it takes. As for the baddy - whom I judge very harshly as they are always important to me! - Del's has to be one of the better written ones, a real ruthless, looming threat that gets your skin crawling and your jaw clenching through narrow escapes.

The story itself is cleverly wrought. You begin the book as if someone has just scattered all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you and with each turn of the page you can fit another piece back into place. Mystery is key to this plot and Del Shannon is skilful at creating it, knitting it in comfortably with substantial action sequences. In fact, once the action gets going, there are not many places to pause and take a breath. In some cases this can be a bad thing: maintaining a high level of action and adrenaline leads to blocking out the natural curvy line of highs and lows in a plot that bring dynamics to the story, moments of external threat mixed in with moments of internal reflection. I think what Del Shannon has done, however, is wrap all these moments up, creating strong dynamics within a high adrenaline environment. This is what gets me excited about well written books for boys - how the author goes about sustaining interest in the reader while also putting them through a spectrum of emotions and begging them to form an opinion. Kevin's Point of View is full of those little lightbulb moments when amidst the action realisation dawns and you figure out what's going on - and then it doesn't happen quite how you expected and when it does you're on the edge of your seat. Gasp, gasp, gasp.

This is definitely one of the better MG boys books I've read, it's thoroughly engaging, has plenty of high adrenaline action but yet contains a clever, well-constructed story with characters of great emotional depth. Boys will love it and as a twenty something year old woman, I have to say I love it too.