Saturday, November 29, 2014

Characters who change along the way

I have just reviewed The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason. If you would like to read the review on Amazon click here. Many of the other reviewers of this book didn't like the main character. I've heard that type of criticism previously. Most of the members of a book club I was in a few years ago didn't like The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver because they thought the main character of that novel had horrible parenting skills. I can't say this is a poor reason for disliking a book. I stopped watching The Sopranos a few years back because that show had no characters I could like. But as a writer this reaction presents a problem. Characters are only interesting if they are flawed and if they change along the way. I was participating in a church study recently when our minister commented that all good stories have a Christ figure in them. I don't agree with that at all. I think all good stories have a Saul/Paul figure in them, someone who starts out one way and changes. The Girl in the Blue Beret certainly has that.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Greensboro City Market 11-20-14

I had a booth at the Greensboro City Market on Thursday night. It was fun with great live music and good food (i.e., beer, pizza, and chicken nuggets). I made some contacts and ended up in the background of a television spot done by the Greensboro station -- WFMY. They were opening their annual winterfest at the same site as the City Market. But despite the two events combining, the cold weather kept the turn out small, small enough that the organizers closed the market an hour early. Still, I met some good people and had some great conversations. I like selling at these craft fairs.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Plotting

The book I reviewed this week is Turkmen Captives. The review can be found by clicking here: Review on Amazon. Susan Williamson's novel got me thinking about plotting because her book has a very action oriented plot. Writers I've known have a few different approaches to plotting. Some outline first, then wrap their final words around what's happening in the book. Others don't outline at all. I've found a compromise of the two approaches works best for me. If I outline everything, the result is too pat. But if I outline nothing, I wander off in dead end directions. So I start with a general idea of where I'm going, then outline specifics along the way. This way I keep on track, but still hold on to the possibility of surprise. A friend of mine (Monica Brinkman) once described an approach many writers use as a zig zag method. When her novels take her in an unexpected direction, she goes back to add the rational for the new plot elements. I suppose we all do a little of that. The job of a writer is to use words that keep the reader's attention. Plot is as important to that goal as ideas and character development.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thoughts on grief

The review I wrote this morning, of An Available Man can be seen at Review on Amazon. It's the story of a man who loved his wife then lost her to cancer. It hit home for a couple of reasons. The first is that I'm the age of the main character. The second is that my wife and I have lost a number of good friends recently. I can imagine what it would be like to try to go on after losing the love of your life, but I'm quite certain I'm stronger in my imagination and the pain is weaker. Yet any kind of grief hits home. I lost my father about 15 years ago, but I still think of conversations with him and there are still times when the waves of grief encompass me. The book I reviewed is about moving forward. I think it's important to move on without losing the memories, respect and love for the people who are gone. I like novels about that process and I hope to discover more.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Categories and labels

I just reviewed the novel Warning Signs by Sheila Englehart. Click on Goodreads to read the review.

It's a paranormal book. Reviewing it made me think about the term paranormal and how broad it is. Sheila Englehart's novel has a séance, astral projection, visits from the dead, and a horrible, dark force, known as a leech.

My own books have also been called paranormal, but all they have to earn that term is past lives.

I use past lives as a means of writing historical fiction the way time travel books do. I think labels can steer readers to what they like, but they can also give them false expectations. I think the majority of books can fit into multiple categories and I wonder how many other writers have issues with those labels.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Considering what readers expect in a book.

One of the most difficult aspects to reviewing books is considering what the author is trying to do, or, more importantly, what the readers will expect from this book.

I just finished Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Before writing the review, I went back to read my review of the first book in her trilogy, Wolf Hall. In that review I stated that I like to test historical fiction by imagining the names of the historical figures being replaced with other names to see if the book works on its own. I'm not sure that's fair. When the subject is someone famous readers bring knowledge to the process and a good writer should consider that knowledge.

It's all right to make things up. Hilary Mantel's books are mostly dialogue. She can't know what was actually said, so the real test is how believable the story is. Some things can't be changed. For example, I read a book once where Napoleon flew to a battle site on the back of a dragon. I can accept that in a fantasy. But if you tell me Napoleon was a tall man without some elaborate explanations, I'm going to stop reading. It's too much a part of what I know about the historical figure.

I think I was wrong in that criticism of Wolf Hall and I think realizing it made my review of Bringing Up the Bodies better.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A hundred years from now

My daughter loves nineteenth century novels and has convinced me to be a fan as well. I like the concept that the thoughts of writers from over a hundred years ago can still be fresh to readers such as me and I wonder if the same thing will happen with any of my work. I've had some stories published in university literary magazines, including one in the same volume as a Grace Paley story, so perhaps copies will be kept in the college library archives. And my current novels are available in Kindle and Nook forms. The internet is a game changer for longevity (just ask any celebrity with pictures he or she doesn't want out there). So writing a novel today definitely has a time capsule aspect to it.
The book I just finished and reviewed is Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I made a few comments on the sexism of the time and on other aspects of Dreiser's thoughts. Of course that makes me wonder what someone would think of White Horse Regressions 100 years after its publication date. Even today, readers have varied impressions of my novels, just as they do with any writer. But there may be additional information available years from now that impacts how people feel about my books. With a little luck I'll be someone they think of as ahead of his time, like Jules Verne, rather than someone, like Theodore Dreiser, whose ideas about women seem dated.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Amy Tan and me

A week ago, I took some time off from the audio fiction I like to listen to and review. Instead I listened to Amy Tan's Opposite of Fate, which she has subtitled A Book of Musings. I like Tan's novels, so I thought I'd enjoy this book and I was right. But instead of a review I decided to respond with a blog posting. This way I can talk a little about my own writing life. In some ways Amy Tan's background is far removed from my own. She grew up in a Chinese American family and lost her father and brother when she was fifteen, both to brain tumors. Her relationship with her mother had its ups and downs, including a time when her mother threatened her with a knife. Yet overall, Amy Tan seemed to love and respect her mother and the elder became the greatest source material for Tan's novels.

I am two years older than Tan. We grew up in the same era, but I was raised by parents born in America who were as much a part of the culture as I am. In addition to being approximately the same age, Tan and I both have stable marriages which have lasted many years. Concerning our writing lives, the greatest difference is that Amy Tan's enormous popularity enables her to write full time, while I have had to make my living as a computer programmer. I also have to spend a good portion of my free time getting the word out about my novels. Tan's books will sell themselves, because of her history of commercial success. The best example of the power of a name came when Robert Galbraith, author of The Cuckoo's Calling revealed that Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. The book's sales jumped by 150,000% in one day.

But commercial success isn't all good. I'm sure there's a great deal of pressure on Amy Tan to produce and I imagine she has to be quite strong willed to keep creative control of her work. (She mentioned this relative to the production of the film The Joy Luck Club.) Authors who publish with small presses have more freedom to write what they want to write, which is why the small publishers are such great sources for fresh writing. And, although it is less of an issue for writers than it is for actresses, I'm sure celebrity status can affect their non-writing lives in negative ways. As the cliché goes – be careful what you wish for.

I liked Opposite of Fate. When I was done reading it, I felt as if Amy Tan was someone I knew and liked. Maybe somebody will feel the same about me as they read my blog posts. If so, thank you for being my friend.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Interview on Poets and Writers -- WEHC

I just had my first broadcast radio interview and, judging by the comments I've received, it went well. It's Henry McCarthy's show, Poets and Writers. Here's his picture:

Click on this link: Poets and Writers then scroll down until you see my name and click on the link there. Thanks.

I've done internet radio and a spreecast interview that included video, but this was the first time I've had an audience in the thousands and one that included station listeners who may or may not be interested in reading my book. I'm hoping they enjoyed the interview and hoping this isn't my last opportunity.

Writing a novel is only the first step. A book needs readers to be a success, so marketing is a necessity. Some writers see the process as tortuous, but I'm trying to look at it as a challenge. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Angela Lam Turpin's blog tour

Thanks go out to Angela Lam Turpin for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. I’m proud to have my novels discussed alongside Angela’s stories. She writes from her heart. I knew that as soon as I read the first story in her collection The Human Act and Other Stories (written under the name Angela Lam).  Ashes to Angels is about a young woman, Adele, who is living a life limited by poverty and by choices made by others in her family. But Adele is blessed with a talent for math, a blessing that turns her life in surprising ways. Angela lives in California with her husband, a daughter, and a son. She is an artist as well as an author and writes nonfiction as well as fiction, primarily articles on real estate and finance for SFgate.com. Like many other writers I know, Angela gets up early to do her writing at dawn. Her stories cover topics including sexual identity, poverty, romantic love, parenthood, eating disorders, infidelity, and family relationships. Turpin’s writing is emotional and uplifting, a joy to read. As well as The Human Act and Other Stories, Angela's books include of Out of Balance, Legs, and Blood Moon Rising. Here are the questions she posed to me about my own writing:

Angela: What are you working on?
Steve: I am working on my past life mystery series, of which Motherless Soul is the first, White Horse Regressions is the second, and I’m currently writing the third. The books are set in my three favorite places: Motherless Soul in a church (a place to think about the universe and God), White Horse Regressions in a community theater (a place to watch actors making characters interesting), and the third book at a lake (a place where peaceful water can sooth and inspire). Choosing those settings helps make the process pure joy and at the same time I’m adhering to the old writing axiom to “write what I know.”

Angela: How does your work differ from others in the same genre?
Steve: My books fit into at least two genres: mysteries and historical fiction. They are different from other mysteries because the detective is a hypnotist who brings out people’s past lives. Clues from different time periods are used to solve the crime committed in the present and since the various lifetimes share people with the same souls, determining who is who is a second, intriguing mystery. As works of historical fiction my books relate to time travel books, because they have a plot during the present time that leads the reader into similar situations in the past. But time travel books always have something that doesn’t quite add up. My work travels back to observe, but not to change.

Angela: Why do you write what you do?
Steve: I am interested in the continuity of life, which is why I find the concept of past lives so fascinating. It's also why I'm interested in historical fiction both as a writer and a reader. For the most part, people are alike in different places and times. So it's fun and thought provoking to put characters in different situations then see how they respond. I hope my readers enjoy these situations as much as I do when I'm reading the works of other writers. I also hope it gives them something to think about.

Angela: How does your writing process work?
Steve: I think about the characters and the situations until something interesting comes up then I write it down. That becomes the core I work with. After that I rewrite when ideas hit dead ends or just need imporving or when a something occurs that conflicts with something else. I think the hardest lesson I needed to learn after I decided to become a writer was how to identify and throw out the sections of my work that don't advance the story, even if they work on their own.

I want to thank Angela Lam Turpin again for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Next week, discover the writing of Jean Rodenbough.



Jean Rodenbough is a retired Presbyterian minister, active in church and community, and in writers' organizations. Her publications include:

Published by Lulu.com:
FIELD WATER is a poetry collection
GATHER WITH THE SAINTS is a series of stories narrated by the 12-year-old daughter of an enlightened Baptist preacher. She tells of the strange funerals and residents of her home town of Wheeler, NC.
SIGNS OF HOPE contains stories of loss, a description of the grief process, and a fantasy about Butterfly's journey into the Valley of Sorrow.
PREACHER'S DOZEN is a collection of sermons preached during the fall of 2008.
TREE features poems about trees through the seasons, to accompany color photos.
NOW AND THEN is a chapbook of recent poems.
ICE ON A HOT STOVE is a re-publication of an earlier collection, updated.

Published by All Things That Matter Press:
RACHEL'S CHILDREN:SURVIVING THE SECOND WORLD WAR tells the stories of those who were children during WWII, with poem commentaries, reflections, and narratives about the war.
BEBE & FRIENDS: TAILS OF RESCUE: Stories of rescued animals is a collection of heartwarming stories which also provides information about rescue organizations and statistics about rescues. Poems serve as commentary, and contact information for organizations is included.

The author lives in Greensboro, NC with husband Charles, also a writer listed on Amazon's Author Central. Their four children and families all live in the Greensboro area. They have a Beagle-Jack Russell, Katie, who gives them a hard time.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Competitions?

Most of the people who read my book reviews seem to do so on Goodreads, Librarything, and Amazon. So I'm going to switch things up a bit by posting my reviews out there and making this site more of a traditional blog. The book I just reviewed is J.A. Jance's Cruel Intent. If you want to read the review you can find it here: Cruel Intent. What you'll find on this site will be my musings.

I've been thinking about entering White Horse Regressions in a competition or two. The problem is that although googling novel competitions brings up plenty of hits, most of those seem like scams. Some have multiple categories such as mysteries, historical fiction, or new age fiction. WHR could fit into any of those. But they charge for each category. Goodreads has a site here that shows recent award winners. So I'm thinking I can find legit competitions by working my way backwards through those. I'll have to give it some more thought. I don't mind spending money on competition fees if the award is meaningful.

I picked up a couple of books at the Bookmarks festival last week. Turkmen Captives by Susan Williamson and Warning Signs by Sheila Englehart. They're both written by local authors. I'm looking forward to getting into one of those after I finish the current book I'm reading.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bookmarks Festival this past weekend in Winston-Salem

I attended the annual book festival in Winston-Salem this weekend. The weather was a little too hot to be perfect, but I can't complain because it didn't rain. Here's a shot of the WS Writers table.
I was taking the picture, so I'm not in it. But I got a chance to sell my books there from noon to one. I sold a few and had some great conversations.

I stopped in at the outdoor stage and heard a few authors speak, including Frances Mayes, who wrote Under The Tuscan Sun.
She told a story about how her book became a film. She said it was good luck, because she ran into a producer while shopping for wine in Italy who told her to contact him. Of course, the book was already well known by that time, so it wasn't all luck.

I also attended a workshop with J.A. Jance, a very successful mystery writer with about 50 titles in print. I had never read her work, so before the workshop I checked out a few audio versions from our local library, all from her Ali Reynolds series. I loved the way she manages to mix everyday problems such as issues having to do with sexually promiscuous children or unfaithful spouses with mysteries that have to do with psycho murderers and drug cartels. In her class she spoke about incorporating events from day to day life into her stories, so my impression was right on. One of the main reasons I was there was to check my methods for getting the word out about my books against the methods used by someone who had succeeded in that area. I'm doing the things she suggested, so now it's a matter of keeping up the work. We'll see what happens.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Conversations Among Ruins by Matthew Peters

Conversations Among RuinsConversations Among Ruins by Matthew Peters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Early on in Conversations Among Ruins the ex wife of Daniel Stavros tells him: Dreaming is what gave rise to the idea of the soul. This statement seems to capture what I felt after reading Matthew Peters' powerful novel. Stavros is an alcoholic who slips in and out of reality in a way that causes reality, imagination, and dreams to become indistinguishable.

The book starts in a detox center. Stavros is there because his struggles with the bottle are affecting his life. One of the threatened aspects of his life is his job. Jim Tierney, a department chair at the college where Stavros is an assistant professor, is as supportive as he can be. He's spoken to the dean and arranged for Stavros' position to be held for him if he agrees to enter rehab.

But Stavros goes back and forth between self destructive behavior and decisions to follow through on Tierney's suggestions. He meets Mimi while at the detox, a woman with her own troubles whom Stavros believes is the answer to all of his. Another quote from his ex wife shows that this isn't the first time he's believed a single solution could be the answer. Mixing the right drink, meeting the right woman, landing the best job, it's always been something, something outside of you that's going to make everything all right. Just before we met, remember, Christianity was going to fill you up?

A mystical side to the novel begins to appear about a quarter of the way through the book when Stavros and Mimi decide to visit a seer named Cassandra. A strange painting hanging in her living room seems to pull them both into its scene. Although we can't be sure what's happening because alcoholism and mental illness could be causing hallucinations, the mystic aspects of the story increase as we read on. As I said before, reality, imagination, and dreams are indistinguishable, but everything is important to Stavros. The painting is tied to other things that happen as the story progresses. In fact, every detail in Peters' novel is tied together beautifully.

Conversations Among Ruins is a powerful book that brings out issues concerning alcoholism and mental illness while pointing out the value of life in a way everyone can appreciate.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Web of Evil by J.A. Jance

Web of Evil (Ali Reynolds, #2)Web of Evil by J.A. Jance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been listening to the audio versions of a few of J.A. Jance's novels as they become available through our library. As a result I'm going through the Ali Reynolds series out of order. But each book reads well on its own and the author's done a great job of providing sufficient background information to understand the characters.

The book I heard this week was Web of Evil, a mystery in which a former news host, Ali Reynolds, becomes a suspect in a brutal murder. I find it interesting that Ali Reynolds is a blogger, because the books seem more about personal problems of the type that might show up on a blog than about the mysteries. Ali uses her blog to vent and in the process receives advice and support. Because there's a crime investigation taking place while Ali is keeping up her blog, she posts information that made me want to scream at her foolishness. But I kept listening.

While the mystery goes on in Web of Evil there is also a story unfolding of raising children in broken families. Ali Reynolds is a single mother. The father of her son, Chris, died years earlier. Ali remarried and, as this book begins, she's heading to California to sign divorce papers. She has a friend, Dave (a detective), who is also divorced. His ex has custody of their two children and has moved quite a distance away from his home in Sedona, Arizona. His daughter, Chrystal, has some serious problems which have caused her to act out in ways that could affect the rest of her life. And a third dysfunctional family appears in the story because the husband Ali is about to divorce has a fiance he's planned to marry the very next day. This young woman has a terrible relationship with her mother and an unwanted child on the way. J.A. Jance weaves these stories together to explore major issues families can experience. Although these issues are extreme, we live in an imperfect world and most readers can identify with aspects of these problems. This is Jance's greatest strength. The characters are extreme, but feel real.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hand of Evil by J. A. Jance

Hand of Evil (Ali Reynolds, #3)Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many people I get into routines and stick with them. I mention this trait in my first review of a J.A Jance book because my morning routine is to listen to an audiobook for the first half of my commute then switch to a radio station for the rest of the drive. I couldn't do that with Hand of Evil. Something about Jance's books (I've now listened to a second one) makes them too intriguing to turn off.

I had a problem with Hand of Evil because the story is woven around two crimes which are connected by their nature, but not by anything specific, and a third crime that is only connected through the main character, Ali Reynolds. For that reason there was a lack of focus in the story and a feeling that so many unrelated crimes occurring at once was unbelievable.

So why couldn't I stop listening?

I think J.A. Jance's power comes through the humanity of her characters. Ali Reynolds has issues and problems. To some extent they are related. She's acts without thinking, which is emphasized with her tendency to confront even in dangerous situations. We readers get to know and care about her, so when she puts herself in dangerous situations we care. We curse at her foolishness, but hope for the best as we continue to read or listen.

I've listened to two of the Ali Reynolds series and I plan to listen to another. The order was based on the availability through our library rather than the series order. J.A. Jance does a good job of letting her readers know what's going on in Ali Reynolds' personal life, so the fact that I listened to them out of sequence didn't seem to affect my final enjoyment. Hand of Evil is a fun story for anyone who likes crime novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions


View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell

The Butterfly CrestThe Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had three reactions to The Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell, depending on the section I was reading. I found the first third of the book captivating, but when I reached the second third there was too much description and not enough character development for my taste. Yet I kept reading and I'm glad I did. The last section brought back some of the charm of the story as I learned more about Elena, the novel's main character, and in the process came to care about her.

The first part has wonderful descriptions of New Orleans along with the introduction of Elena. She is a successful lawyer working for a firm run by Ms. Callas, a demanding and intimidating boss. She is also a single woman, whose parents died when she was a child. Her best friend, Cataline, was also her mother's best friend. To further complicate Elena's uncomfortable work environment, she begins to sense the presence of a force she doesn't understand. Eventually, she's confronted in a dark parking lot where she becomes so nervous she trips then hears laughter from out of the darkness. At this point I was intrigued and eager to read more.

The story moves to Japan. Elena has received a notification of a previously unknown inheritance stored in a safety deposit box in Kyoto. All she knows about the contents is that her mother had insured it for five million dollars. She is required to pick up this treasure in person, so she and Cataline travel to the other side of the world. Here's where some problems began. Eva Vanrell's descriptions became too thorough. Also, she began to use Japanese terms without English definitions, making those descriptions difficult to understand. Elena's life is threatened. To protect her Eiry, the handsome son of Ms. Callas who apparently followed Elena to Asia, takes her to an underworld land populated by gods. At this point Vanrell's descriptions of various gods and of the architecture of the world where they exist slowed the narrative nearly to a halt.

Then, about two thirds of the way through the novel, the writing changed back again. It was less about describing the book's world and more about the problems facing the main characters. I could feel their emotions again, especially Elena's.

For people who love mythology and enjoy thinking about gods from different cultures existing together in their own environment, this novel could be great fun. Readers looking only for a good story will find the middle slow, but in the end The Butterfly Crest is an interesting story, well worth reading.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Out of Crystal Ice by PJ Wetzel

Out of Crystal IceOut of Crystal Ice by PJ Wetzel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The spectacular frozen world created by author P.J. Wetzel in Out of Crystal Ice hurls one dangerous adventure after another at its readers as Adam Windreath Gale, the chosen one, follows the man who has kidnapped his mother and along the way finds his destiny.

Gale and his friend, Perfid Ray, have to battle tribes of violent (yet erotic) nomads, herds of monstrous humanoid beasts, and an environment as hostile as the center of the Arctic Circle. The events that have happened to our world more than 600,000 years in our future originated with a massive volcanic eruption on an island in Indonesia. This disaster led to a new ice age and to the loss of most of humanity. Mankind has evolved into six different species who battle and often eat each other in their competition for survival: Ozyumps, Yeti, Voods, Sky Children, Irula, and humans. Adam is one of the humans and is also the Seventh Shepherd predicted in the Book of Micah 5:5. This hard world, although limited in its technology, is closer to the creator than it was before the disaster.

Wetzel's magnificent descriptions of the world of his novel show it can be as beautiful as it is dangerous.

The sun prickled through the restless air: a thin gusty wind tugged at their hair. A low layer of gray-brown haze obscured the horizon, concealing any view of the Sinking River valley. Chinook had roused the dust and grit off the plain. But above the haze, the view waxed magnificent. Fingers of shredded cloud clung to great lofty peaks: a rank of spires that elbowed one another from south around to southwest. These grand summits shone in all the glory of this bright day, festooned in a patchwork light and dark--of ragged granite and shimmering snow, of sun and shifting shade of cloud.

Out of Crystal Ice is a wonderful novel for readers who enjoy dystopian fiction with a spiritual side. It is Book One of Wetzel's series entitled - Ice King: The Last Messiah.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Never Let Me Go seems to be one of those books that readers either love or hate, perhaps because it is very unusual, especially for science fiction. I'm in the love camp. It's a book about relationships and about coping with major problems more than it is about the science behind the story. It's also about prejudice, especially the convenience of prejudice. I wonder how many stars Thomas Jefferson would have given this book, if he was alive to review it. The bigotry in this novel reminded me of the way Jefferson opposed slavery, but kept slaves and even had a long affair with a woman he owned. I don't want to reveal too much about Kazuo Ishiguro's book, but I think I can say the form of bigotry in this story helps the general population of the book's England even more than slavery helped America's economy in its early days – with the same type of moral implication.

My wife and I watched the film version of Never Let Me Go on the same day I finished the book, so everything was still clear in my mind. The film was overall a good translation from page to screen. There were times when I thought something important was missing, but each time I checked with my wife, who hadn't read the book, she understood what was happening. I do wish the film had emphasized the relationship between Kathy and Ruth a bit more. Ruth was a more positive character in the book, so her actions and feelings of guilt were less upsetting in the film.

I'm not going to write a synopsis in this review, because I don't want to include any spoilers. I'll just say the story made me think. It would be a wonderful choice for a book club.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions


View all my reviews

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is a Maddie Crum article in The Huffingtonpost entitled 8 Popular Books With Deeply Disappointing Endings. Gone Girl is one of the titles she listed. I was halfway through the novel when I noticed the piece, so I didn’t read it at the time. Now that I’ve finished the book I’ve gone back to see if I agree with Crum’s premise. She has a primary reason why she doesn't like the ending and a different reason, just as strong, why she does. So, without mentioning what those arguments are, I will say I agree with her detail, but I don’t agree with her putting the book on her list. There were times when I was reading the ending that I felt like yelling “Please stop this!” because a number of conclusions were reached and after each one, the plot would keep on going. But the final choice was brilliant. I’ve read elsewhere that Gillian Flynn intends to “tweak” the ending for the movie. It will be interesting to see what she does. The nature of translating a book to the screen forces the story to be shortened, so I think my complaint will be handled automatically. I worry about other changes.

I’m rating Gone Girl as a five star book, despite some aspects I didn’t like. I already mentioned how long the ending seemed. I thought some of the foul language was indulgent and sometimes given to characters I didn’t feel would use it. And there were many moments when characters knew things they couldn't possibly know and other times when they reacted in ways I found hard to believe.

But the story is incredibly intense (Amy’s parents would say amazingly intense) and unique. The way Flynn takes two despicable characters, mixes in tremendous lies, and still has me sympathizing with them both is simply great. There is truth about relationships in this book. It’s exaggerated, twisted, ignored at times and lied about at other times, but it is still truth and for that reason I care about Nick and Amy even as I feel their hatred and frustration.

I picked an excellent time to read Gone Girl because the film is due out in October. I can’t wait to see it.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions


View all my reviews

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Instead of reading The Goldfinch, I listened to the audio version , narrated by David Pittu. I mention this because I noticed how many of the other reviewers think this book is too long. Listening rather than reading gives a different perspective on any book. First of all there's the interpretation of the reader. But there's also the fact that, outside of an occasional rewind, the words keep moving forward. There's less time to dwell on a thought or to wonder about a plot twist or character decision that might be clear a few paragraphs later. So listening rather than reading might have been the reason I didn't feel the plot dragged. Some of the drug scenes, especially the ones in Las Vegas, could have been shorter, but those parts aside, I felt the book moved well. At the end Donna Tartt allowed her characters to reflect on what had happened. I generally don’t like authors telling me how to respond to what they’ve written, but in this case it worked. The ideas were novel and interesting. They made me think.

I read Tartt’s The Secret History less than a month ago, so it’s been fun comparing the two. They certainly have a lot in common: crimes that the main characters are pulled into, almost unwittingly; and plenty of heavy alcohol and drug use among all the characters. But I found Richard (in The Secret History) to be unlikable, whereas, in this book, I grew quite fond of Theo despite his flaws. I felt the same about Boris and thought Hobie was a wonderful person.

There were plenty of moments when I couldn’t stop listening, times when I’d sit in my car for an extra few minutes after reaching my destination. Still, those moments weren’t the reason I loved the book. What made The Goldfinch special to me is the time when I wasn't listening, the time I spent contemplating the ideas. The novel has so much to say about art and its place in our culture, about situational ethics (or doing “what you had to do” as Hobie said), about forgiveness, and about the randomness of fate. If you’re the kind of reader who wants a book that sucks you in then lets you go, The Goldfinch is probably not for you.

Since The Goldfinch is told from Theo’s point of view we readers get more of Theo’s impression of Kitsey and Pippa than we get of their actual personalities, but they both have moments during which their dialogue reveals how they actually feel: Pippa’s frustration with how her injuries have affected her skills and Kitsey’s explanation of how love and marriage do not always mix. Other characters reveal themselves through action. Hobie is always there for the people he loves. Larry (Theo’s Dad) is not. Boris is a great friend who doesn’t believe in rules and wears his emotions on his sleeve. Mrs. Barbour is a formal woman who doesn’t show emotions until events break her. I love how these people are all full personalities and, at the same time, all unique.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Scars by C. Michael Lorion

Scars (Totem, #1)Scars by C. Michael Lorion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Totem: Book 1: Scars by C. Michael Lorion is the story of Kimi, a one eyed Native American woman who has traveled through a "passage" into modern times in search of her brother. She has not made the journey to save her sibling. Kimi and her brother, Achak, do not have anything approximating a close, family relationship. In fact, the book begins with Kimi suffering a serious injury at the hands of her brother and moves on from there as Kimi tries to save the world from her brother's actions.

Lorion has written a page turner with concepts capable of pushing his readers' imaginations while maintaining emotions the same readers can feel. He has combined a mystical Native American story with a tale of suburban relationships, allowing his readers to have legendary characters with magical powers alongside people who could be our neighbors.

The novel takes place in Old Wachusett, Massachusetts during a major blizzard. In addition to the conflict between Kimi and Achack, Lorion gives us David, a college mathematics professor, whose marriage to Connie, the local librarian, has suffered greatly since the death of Julian, one of his sons. David works with an attractive, younger colleague, whose presence isn't helping his troubles at home. David's son Josh, Julian's twin brother, has recently broken up with Abby, the daughter of a minister. The minister is a widower who has gotten into trouble due to his involvement with a married woman. That brief summation touches the main characters, but the novel give us a large cast of people who are all interrelated in a small town way. Lorion does a wonderful job of telling us about his characters through one plot line, then switching to another plot line where those characters are unaware of things we readers now know. This creates excitement as we wonder when and if the truth will come out. Totem: Book 1: Scars is, as its title states, book 1 of a series. So I wasn’t surprised when it introduced a number of sub plots which did not resolve prior to the end of the book. I would have preferred if some of the lines had come to an end while others kept going, but I do look forward to discovering results in the next book.

Lorion writes with a careful attention to detail and gives us plenty of chances to see what’s in the heads of his characters. Here’s an example from Abby’s point of view:

Just the answer she figured she'd get from the One so high and mighty. Not that it mattered. Abby didn't need to look up to an invisible, apathetic God playing hide-and-seek in heaven while his hapless subjects struggled for survival down here on the big blue marble. She didn't need to count on anyone anymore for anything. From now on, everything in her life, everything that would happen to her, and everything that she would do was up to her. She would grab the reigns of her life and take all the responsibility from here on out. No more waiting for her father to fix things, no more wishful thinking that Josh would take her back, and absolutely no more futile attempts at connection to a freakish higher power that only seemed to relish in hiding Himself when people needed Him the most. No more any of that.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I attended a liberal arts school in the late sixties and early seventies, so I knew people who fit the mold of the main characters in The Secret History: reasonably smart, from well to do families, and generally acting as if our interests were less valuable than theirs. I also knew a few students who were more interested in drugs and alcohol than anything else the university had to offer, including their classes. So Donna Tartt’s setup worked well for me. But in real life I didn’t get to follow the lives of those people as closely as I did in The Secret History where I found their self-centered reactions to the complex situation believable. I also found myself pulling for people who had done some horrible things.

The Secret History is a crime novel from the point of view of one of the criminals. That’s clear from the beginning, so this isn’t a spoiler. Richard Papen is an impulsive young man with a family that doesn’t want him around. He picks his college for arbitrary reasons and picks his major because overcoming the challenge of signing up for Greek is more important than thinking of his future. Right away we see his decisions are a little edgy, but we like and sympathize with him. I find Richard very believable in the context of the novel. I know some reviewers have felt Tartt’s male characters are not male enough. Perhaps Richard thought a little too much about what he and his friends were wearing, but other than that I had no trouble with his masculinity.

Henry Winter and Bunny Corcoran are the two most interesting characters in the book. In a way they flip roles over the course of the book. Although, there are other things going on that push them in unique directions. I can't say much more than that without revealing the plot. Camilla and Charles are interesting in a very broad way, yet I didn't feel I got to know them as well as the other students of Julian Morrow. And every college has its Judy Pooveys, who might be attracted to someone or interested in something that's going on, but always too stoned to care. The teacher, Julian, is also fascinating because he epitomizes the concept of a college environment as a sanctuary where ideas can grow and anything can be discussed, but he has been living this ideal for so long he's lost all concept of the way events stimulated by his ideas can affect him. As the story unfurls, his reactions are wonderful.

The main characters in The Secret History meet as students in a Greek class. This, however, is unlike any language class I ever took. It's more about thinking and philosophy than it is about communication or reading. Here's a quote about that subject. Richard Papen is reflecting on something Julian Morrow has taught him:

The value of Greek prose composition, he said, was not that it gave one any particular facility in the language that could not be gained as easily by other methods but that if done properly, off the top of one's head, it taught one to think in Greek. One's thought patterns become different, he said, when forced into the confines of a rigid and unfamiliar tongue. Certain common ideas become inexpressible; other, previously undreamt-of ones spring to life, finding miraculous new articulation.

It seems like a wonderful thing, to gain a new way of thinking, but it depends on what the new ideas are.

What I liked the most about the book was the slow way Donna Tartt built her plot, carefully giving her readers enough information about her characters to believe the plot was progressing. I read this book and I’m currently listening to the audio of Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch. I waited to finish this one before starting The Goldfinch. They aren’t linked in any way, so the order doesn’t matter, but the style is similar. I’m glad I didn’t try to read them both at the same time. But they are both great reads.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many of the reviews of Rules of Civility compare the book to The Great Gatsby and I can see that connection. But the story that came to my mind when I read Amor Towles' novel was Breakfast at Tiffany's (the movie more than the novella which I read too many years ago to discuss). Both stories take place in New York and seem to celebrate the city's whirlwind culture. Also, Tinker Grey has a connection to Paul Varjak that is obvious at the end. But the greatest link is in the characters of Eve Ross and Holly Golightly. They are both young women who have come to the city from rural settings determined to make a life for themselves – primarily by finding the right (i.e. wealthy) men.

Katie Kontent is the narrator and primary character in Rules of Civility, so I find it interesting that Towles decided to follow up his novel with a short story collection about Eve rather than continuing with Katie's story. I like that choice. Katie's character was a little too knowledgeable to be believable. She knew the current culture enough to recognize jazz numbers, recite specific lines of poetry by poets she hadn't brought up, and recognize the work of contemporary artists when she happened to see their paintings hanging. She was like a walking culture encyclopedia, but nobody ever commented on her wealth of knowledge. Instead Tinker simply found her a more interesting conversationalist than her roommate. This read as if the author was intruding his own interests on the story.

Towles has received some criticism from other reviewers because Katie seems to think from a male perspective. I agree that her first description of Eve reads as if it was written by a man with a very romantic view of women. But after that I wasn't bothered by thoughts that seemed masculine. Of course, women would naturally be more sensitive to that issue than a male reader.

I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Rebecca Lowman. I found her even toned, slightly apathetic interpretation perfect for the sophisticated feel of this novel, so I would recommend listening to this one.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions


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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Laika in Lisan by Maron Anrow

Laika in LisanLaika in Lisan by Maron Anrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Laika in Lisan by Maron Anrow, the author has built a fictional world apparently inspired by North Korea. Lisan is a country with closed borders, a leader who has manipulated his people to make them worship him, and a son of the leader who is biding his time to gain the power his father enjoys.

While the accuracy of what we know about such a closed off country will always be in doubt, Anrow has created her own world where conjecture and imagination are not only allowed, but probably bring us closer to truth than any list of facts ever could. Also, the villains (both individuals and governments) of Anrow's novel aren't entirely evil and the heroes aren't without their own flaws. This alone brings a truth that can't be found in most news articles.

Lakia is a young woman who lives in the democratic country of Trea, but has always been fascinated by the neighboring country of Lisan. She is also fluent in their language, which apparently is not common among the people of Trea. When Lord Hamin, the autocratic leader of Lisan, decides to open a new university, Laika jumps at the opportunity to become a visiting scholar. Her decision forces her to leave her position as a tutor for the children of a wealthy family and to disappoint her family, especially her father who had fought in a war between the two countries and is still bitter about the experience.

At times I felt Anrow's writing lacked detail, causing the plot to move too quickly and some important scenes to lack credibility. I also thought Anrow told too much of what her characters were feeling rather than allowing her readers to discover their feelings through their actions. One area where this criticism was not true was in Lakia's relation with Rodya, a young man she encounters after she and her guides are attacked on their way to the Holy City. The relationship between Lakia and Rodya grows slowly with twists and turns that are fascinating to read.

Laika in Lisan is a story about making important decisions in a world that isn't black and white. Laika is put in positions she isn't prepared to handle and as a result is consumed by doubt. This is what makes Anrow's characters real and what makes her novel an interesting read.

Steve Lindahl – author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul


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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Don't Tease the Elephants by Jen Knox

Don't Tease the ElephantsDon't Tease the Elephants by Jen Knox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don't Tease the Elephants is a collection of five short stories by Jen Knox the author of Musical Chairs, one of the best memoirs I've ever read. This collection, although short, is packed with emotion and with complex, interesting characters. Knox's people are intelligent and self aware, yet they still learn and change throughout her stories. Meanwhile, there are elements of pain for most of the characters, like irritations to scabbed wounds.

When Pretty People Disappoint is narrated by a young girl who is infatuated with Dory, her baby sitter. Meanwhile Dory has a thing for Ramon, the narrator's brother, who is a player. So this love triangle is a heartbreak triangle from the start, at least on two of the three sides. Dory is a fascinating character who overdresses with religious morality as much as she does with clothing and makeup. It's a story of how people hide behind their chosen images and of how others can see through them.

Nothing is the story of someone who tries to live in two worlds, a family man who secretly patronizes bars and strip clubs. Of course, he can't keep these lives apart, but in his case they come together in a particularly surprising and painful way. In the process he learns something about respect for himself and for the people around him.

Knox makes excellent use of metaphors throughout her work, but in Getting There she adds the twist that her characters are aware of the metaphor. This story is about people who give in to their weaknesses, but manage to maintain hope. The metaphor, which is clear from the first paragraph, is of the Monarch butterflies who can fly thousands of miles to reach their destination. It has other aspects to it, but I can't say what they are without spoiling the story.

Don't Tease the Elephants is available through Amazon in Kindle format.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philipp Sendker

The Art of Hearing HeartbeatsThe Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is fascinating. In this novel a successful American woman drops everything and heads to Burma to discover what happened to her father, who had disappeared years earlier when she was a young girl. This plot provides a chance for the author to make a comparison between a culture based on acquiring material goods and one based more on looking within oneself. Jan-Philipp Sendker does this well, although there are times he slips into cliches and, worse yet, into statements of moral fact that don't stand up to scrutiny. I didn't like the way Julia was told that she shouldn't doubt her father's love, since he was her father. Perhaps fathers loving their daughters is the natural state of things, but it is by no means universal. I also didn't like Sendker's one dimensional portrayal of Tin Win's uncle. But the part that disappointed me the most has to do with two separations. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a story within a story and each plot has a separation at its core. Julia's reaction to the similarity of these events didn't make any sense at all.

What I liked the most about this novel was the picture of love found through two people depending on each other or, perhaps more accurately, each person compensating for the abilities lacking in the other. There can be no single definition of love, but this is certainly an interesting one. This is also one of the most quotable books I've ever read. Perhaps this is because Sendker's purpose seems to be to teach rather than simply to tell a story. Here are a couple of examples:

We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. Any other way makes as uncomfortable. We respond with doubt and suspicion. We misinterpret the signs. We do not understand the language. We accuse. We assert that the other person does not love us. But perhaps he merely loves us in some idiosyncratic way that we fail to recognize.

The true essence of things is invisible to the eyes...Our sensory organs love to lead us astray, and eyes are the most deceptive of all. We rely too heavily on them. We believe that we see the world around us, and yet it is only the surface that we perceive. We must learn to divine the true nature of things, their substance, and the eyes are rather a hindrance than a help in that regard. They distract us. We love to be dazzled. A person who relies too heavily on his eyes neglects his other senses--and I mean more than his hearing or sense of smell. I'm talking about the organ within us for which we have no name. Let us call it the compass of the heart.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every year when Christmas is approaching our local supermarket puts Christmas cards out by the registers. The idea is to gather as many signatures as possible before sending the cards off to some of the troops. On the one hand the effort is nice. At least someone remembers those soldiers are still over there. But on the other hand there's a certain satisfaction in signing one of the cards that is undeserved for such a tiny action. This attitude is the main subject of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

A violent fight with Iraqi insurgents has made the Bravo squad into American heroes. So the army has shipped the surviving members back to America to appear in a Dallas Cowboy's halftime show. After the show they are scheduled to return to Iraq to continue their tour of duty. They fully expect to stay there for a long time due to the government's stop-loss policy, which means that any soldier can be kept in the military for as long as they're needed. But for now they're home and Billy Lynn, the young man whose actions during the fight are celebrated the most, gets a chance to see his family and to connect with one of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

During their leave in America the soldiers are constantly greeted with “Thank you for your service” and “We support the troops.” But the people who say those things then either pull back into their own lives or, worse yet, exploit the heroes. The owner of the Dallas Cowboys, named Norm Oglesby in Ben Fountain's novel, is the most serious offender as he negotiates the film rights to their story. Again, here is a mixed motivation. Oglesby appears to be honoring the troops, but he's doing so in a way that will earn honor for himself and plenty of money as well.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk has a second subject which is just as interesting, although a little less unique. When America had a draft there were lots of soldiers sent to war who hadn't volunteered. Without the draft our military is filled with people who either wanted to be there, had thought they would only be spending a couple of days each month at an Army reserve center, or simply had no other options. Billy Lynn is different. He was told he had to join by a judge. But while he is in the army he finds men he admires, especially Shroom, a soldier who was killed in the battle that brought fame to the Bravo troops. He doesn't want to be there, but he also doesn't want to let down the people who depend on him or disappoint a few of the people who admire his warrior status.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is wonderful in the way it presents the complicated responses brought about by war, for both the soldiers and the people who stay behind. It's earned the praise it has received.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions


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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Corrag (or The Highland Witch) by Susan Fletcher

CorragCorrag by Susan Fletcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The burning of women labeled as witches is a part of human history that is a horrendous travesty of justice. But prior to reading Corrag (also released with the title The Highland Witch) I never considered why women were labeled as witches. I had a picture in my head of a number of misunderstood loners who paid the price for the prejudices of the day. Corrag is a loner, of course, but her biggest crime is healing. During that period, prayer was the only acceptable method of curing disease or treating wounds. Since doctor and witch were synonyms, Corrag found herself in situations where she would help heal someone's loved one, only to be chased through the woods by witch hunters. She had to go to the Scottish highlands to find people willing to accept her and to embrace her gifts.

What I liked most about Susan Fletcher's novel is the history behind it. I loved what she had to say about prejudice, especially religious prejudice, and I enjoyed learning about the Massacre of Glencoe. I followed up my reading with a quick check of Wikipedia to learn more about the event and was please to see that Fletcher had remained true to the history.

Susan Fletcher's prose seems to evoke polarized opinions among other reviewers. Some people feel she's written the most beautiful book they've ever read, while others feel it's too long and the attention to detail slows the pace too much. I am somewhere in the middle. There is no doubt that Fletcher understands how to write to the senses and pay attention to detail. For example:

And it snows. From the little window, I can see it snows. It's been months, I think, of snowing – of bluish ice, and cold. Months of clouded breath. I blow and see my breath roll out and I think – look. That is my life. I am still living.

This is beautiful writing. But, as her critics have said, detail can also slow down the pace of the story. It's a balancing act. Sometimes she can be somewhat redundant. Months of clouded breath and I blow and see my breath roll out say the same thing in different ways. Although both phrases evoke wonderful images and lead the readers in different directions, they could be combined to make a tighter phrase. This is further complicated by the character, Charles Leslie, who has come to Corrag's cell to learn more about the massacre and in the process is enthralled by Corrag's words. So, as part of the plot, Fletcher has to write words that Leslie can love. I believe she succeeded. Here's another quote often pulled from the novel:

Your heart's voice is your true voice. It is easy to ignore it, for sometimes it says what we'd rather it did not - and it is so hard to risk the things we have. But what life are we living, if we don't live by our hearts? Not a true one. And the person living it is not the true you.

Those are words anyone can love.

Steve Lindahl – author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul


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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Brief Reading of White Horse Regressions by Steve Lindahl

I've created a short video of my reading of Hannah's first Regression in my second novel, White Horse Regressions. I hope you enjoy it. White Horse Regressions is available online through Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. It's also available at the following bookstores: Barnhill's in Winston-Salem, NC; Scuppernong in Greensboro, NC; The Purple Crow in Hillsborough, NC; Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC; The Quest in Charlottesville, VA

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig

The Deception of the Emerald Ring (Pink Carnation, #3)The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Deception of the Emerald Ring is the third book in Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series and I have to confess I haven't read the first two. But it seems to stand well on its own. It's a light read, which means that although the characters get into some dangerous situations, they never stop tossing quips at each other. That's fun, but I suppose it could be disappointing to someone expecting a serious spy novel, especially since this is based on a real situation when France, England's enemy at the time, was conspiring with Irish rebels against the crown.

The plot is about a nineteenth century, English marriage between Letty Alsworthy and Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale that comes about through a series of events including a mistaken identity, a botched elopement, and an over the top sense of honor that doesn't seem well advised. The romance in this book starts with a marriage rather than ending with one.

The 1800s story is bracketed by a modern tale about a woman researching the nineteenth century events as part of her work on her doctorate. I couldn't see any reason for the modern story, although it might have made more sense to me if I'd read the preceding books in the series.

One of the aspects of the book I found most interesting was Letty's relationship with her older sister, Mary. Lord Pinchingdale was supposed to marry Mary, not Letty. Letty was the less attractive, less sophisticated, sister. Mary had been trying to catch a suitable man for awhile and Lord Pinchingdale seemed her best hope.

Letty had a fair inkling of what Mary had been thinking. Letty's older sister had passed three Seasons as society's reigning incomparable. Three Seasons of amassing accolades, bouquets, even the odd sonnet, but shockingly few marriage proposals. Of the offers that had come in, three had been from younger sons, four from titles without wealth, and an even larger number from wealth without title. One by one, she had watched her more eligible suitors, the first sons, with coronets on their coaches and country estates to spare, contract matches with the chinless daughters of dukes, or bustling city heiresses.

Mary hadn't wanted to take any more chances so she planned an elopement. That's when things started going awry. Letty compares herself to her sister throughout the book in an intriguing manner that says more about her own self confidence than it does about her sister.

The Deception of the Emerald Ring is a fun read based on a real event. I enjoyed it.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions


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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

ParísParís by Edward Rutherfurd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first remark I need to make about Paris by Edward Rutherfurd is that it is not written in a linear time frame. New York, the other book by Rutherfurd I have read, is linear and for that reason I found it easier to keep track of the characters. This book, like New York, follows a few families through the centuries, so the focus might be on the young adult years of a single person during one chapter and on his or her father's early life in the next. I noticed this point was made in many of the other reviews, but it is important enough for me to mention it again.

My wife and I went to Paris about a year and a half ago. It was my first trip to Europe, so I was excited to learn more about the city I had visited. The novel did not disappoint. During our trip my favorite section of Paris was Montmartre, the mountain where the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located. In Rutherfurd's book a working class family named Gascon lives there. We get to follow Thomas's work on the Statue of Liberty and also on the Eiffel Tower and then we get to follow his brother Luc's less than reputable life.

This is historical fiction, so some of the characters are based on the lives of real people while others are created for the story. The kings were interesting, or course, but I really enjoyed Thomas' relationship with Monsieur Eiffel and the discussions they had about the engineering of the tower. Also, Montmartre is interesting in ways I didn't realize when we visited it. The mountain consists primarily of gypsum, from which plaster can be made (plaster of Paris). Gypsum is a soft material and is valuable enough to motivate the creation of numerous mines. For these reasons the mountain wasn't the best place to build a huge cathedral. The builders had to establish a foundation by digging a number of giant shafts and filling them with concrete. As a result the comment was made that Montmartre isn't holding up the church. It's the church that's holding up Montmartre.

I enjoyed learning about the history of the Louvre and Versailles, but what was more fascinating to me was the history of bigotry in the city. Antisemitism was prevalent in Paris through the centuries and there were other forms of bigotry as well. The hatred between Protestants and Catholics created a great amount of violence and death. France is a Catholic country. The Inquisition went on within its boundaries for centuries. Rutherfurd does an excellent job of showing his readers the results of this political decision on individuals. And he shows antisemitism through the lives of the Jacob family. Sometimes the bigotries are subtle and sometimes they are massive.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I didn't think this novel was put together as well as Rutherfurd's New York, but it's still a five star book.

Steve Lindahl - author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul


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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Out of the Box: A Soul's Surprising Journey by Barbara Lucerne Woolley

Out of the Box: A Soul's Surprising JourneyOut of the Box: A Soul's Surprising Journey by Barbara Lucerne Woolley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of the Box by Barbara Lucerne Woolley is a guide book for the soul with beautiful lessons on each and every page. It is also a memoir, since all the experiences and lessons learned either happened to the author directly or were told to her by teachers and mentors she sought out. These two halves fit together to make a beautiful whole because of Woolley's nature. She is an amazingly open woman – open to the messages around all of us every day and open to sharing those experiences with her readers. It was a wonderful experience to be one of those readers.

The book, which has the full title of Out of the Box: A Soul's Surprising Journey, starts out by describing the complications of the author's birth and the complications of her relationship with her parents. Barbara's mother did not have time to bond with her in the days that followed the birth because Barbara had to stay in the hospital while her mother was sent home. This fact impacted their relationship for years. Her relationship with her father was also strained, but the latter case was the result of an event in a past life they had shared. This is a good example of the way Woolley mixes facts from the physical world with facts from the spirit world without emphasizing one over the other. I like the way she does that.

Barbara travels all over the world in search of spiritual understanding. Her experiences take place in Brazil, Canada, Turkey, India, Bosnia, across the United States, and in countless other locations. At each place, Woolley finds mentors and teachers who guide her in ways she and her readers aren't always expecting. Their teachings are Christian, Buddhist, Pantheist, Native American, and countless other traditions. Yet everything we learn through her writing seems to bring home a similar theme of our need for peace and love. Here's how Woolley expresses the choice:

Without doubt, the self- and seemingly other-created non-love energies that slide into our fields are our responsibility to expunge through love, whether we like it or not. If we do not take this responsibility seriously, we will find ourselves in deep trouble.

Barbara Lucerne Woolley is someone who is seeking a greater understanding of life. Her book, Out of the Box, is a perfect read for others on the same mission.


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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death, #2)The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Serpent's Tale is the follow up to Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death, the story of Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a brilliant doctor living during the rule of King Henry II. Adelia, as she is most often called, cannot return to her homeland of Sicily because the king, who knows of her ability to identify the cause of death from the remains of a victim, finds her useful and is keeping her in England.

The Serpent's Tale is a good read, but doesn't live up to Franklin's wonderful first book. Adelia has a love interest, Rowley Picot, who, after Adelia turned down his proposal, accepted a royal appointment to become a bishop. Rowley is the father of Adelia's child. In Mistress of the Art of Death Adelia's relationship with Rowley grew during the course of the book. In this novel, Adelia's feelings for Rowley are mostly in her thoughts. There's one scene on a barge where they are tied up near each other that's interesting, but other than that the couple spends most of the book apart. Adelia's focus in this novel is more on her child than her lover.

The plot is about about the aftermath of a rivalry between Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry's queen, and Rosamund Clifford, the king's mistress. I didn't know the history before reading this book, so it was interesting to google Eleanor of Aquitaine to learn about this period. Eleanor supported her son's rebellion and, in Franklin's book, the people who could benefit from this conflict took advantage of Eleanor and Rosamund's hatred of each other.

What I find most interesting about Franklin's writing is the way she takes a modern perspective to her historical novel. The people of twelfth century England are not accepting of a woman doctor or a woman stepping out of her traditional role in any other way. So Adelia, who is educated, brilliant, and willing to raise her child alone, has to contend with the bigotry of the period. It's fun to see how, after she decides not to submit to a marriage requiring her to sacrifice her career, she deals with the reactions of the people.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Announcing Release of White Horse Regressions by Steve Lindahl



"delicately layered and immediately engrossing" -- Jen Knox, author of Musical Chairs and To Begin Again.

"a powerful tale that keeps the reader riveted" -- Ken Weene author of Memoirs From the Asylum, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne, and Widow's Walk.

"a profound and poignant narrative" -- DM Denton author of A House Near Luccoli, A Friendship with Flowers, and The Snow White Gift.

"a compelling supernatural thriller" -- Patrick S Lafferty author of Anno Domina, Thinking Out of the Box, and Miller Time

PROLOGUE

Stuart and Hannah sat in the audience of a small community theater in Springfield, Vermont, examining the set of A Doll’s House while they waited for the performance to begin. Paige was cast as Nora.

“Isn’t that picture odd?” Stuart whispered to Hannah, referring to the Asian-looking painting on the set. It did not belong to late-eighteen-hundreds Norway by any standard. “I’d like to have a closer look.”

“If we stay after the show’s over, there might be a chance we could go up on the stage. I’ll ask Paige.”

Stuart’s wife, Jamie, was also an actress, and when rehearsal and performance schedules prevented Paige and Jamie from attending each other’s shows, their significant others often went together. Jamie was currently in rehearsal for a production of The Drowsy Chaperone, so here they were.

The non-acting partners enjoyed their arrangement. Hannah had known Stuart and Jamie for years; before Paige, she’d been the tag-along friend, but had always felt welcome— more by Stuart than by Jamie.

The lights dimmed then slowly came up again. There was no curtain in this theater, so this was the signal that the performance was about to begin. Paige came out on stage, a dominant figure as always due to her red-orange hair. She set down the presents she was carrying and crossed to a Christmas tree on the far end of the stage. She started to add ornaments when Torvald Helmer, her character’s husband, joined her on the set.

There was no doubt Paige was the star as she made Nora’s transition from naïve to inured believable. Still Hannah could not stop thinking about the odd Asian painting, so out of place on the set.

When the play was over, while the cast was being congratulated by fans, Hannah asked her girlfriend if she and Stuart might look at the set up close. Paige took hold of Hannah’s hand and led them both up onto the stage.

Hannah and Stuart went straight to the Asian painting, which was a watercolor depicting a scene that was, they thought, taking place in China. There were a number of people dressed in the types of robes associated with ancient times in that country who were watching what, at first glance, appeared to Hannah to be a film; a closer look revealed that behind the screen men were holding objects up to cast shadows It was a form of puppet theater.

“What is this?” Hannah asked Paige.

“It’s been the talk of the cast. No one knows why it was included on the set, but you have to admit it’s fascinating. I suppose it draws attention because it seems out of place, but I wouldn’t want it taken away. There’s something warm about it.”

“Warm?” Stuart asked.

Paige shrugged. “Hard to say why. None of us saw it prior to tech week, so nobody was prepared. Some board member wanted it hung here. I heard he’s a history buff. Anyway, he’s got money so it’s hard to say no. But enough about the set. Tell me what you thought of the show.”

“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, turning to Paige to hug her again. “You were fabulous. I can’t say that enough.”

“Were local models used for this?” Stuart asked, still focused on the painting. “Some of these people look familiar. This young girl in blue, for example, where’d they get her?” Paige pulled away from Hannah, laughing a little and shaking her head. “I have no idea where or when that painting was done. I know what you mean, though. There’s a man in it I thought might be someone I used to know. I think it’s the way he’s standing, with his shoulders hunched forward. I had a teacher who used to do that, but he wasn’t Asian.” “Do you two want to go out for coffee?” Hannah offered. Paige agreed, but Stuart begged off; he needed to pick up his daughter, Starr, from his parents.

***

Their happy mood turned gloomy as Paige was pulled for running a light almost as soon as they started to drive toward downtown Springfield.

“It’s not fair,” Paige said. “I swear someone’s out to get me.” “It’s just a ticket.”

“No, it’s more than that.”

Hannah tried to convince Paige she was being paranoid, but later the words would seem prophetic.

***

The next night Paige’s performance was as spectacular as it had been on opening night. By the following weekend, the show was canceled. Paige was dead.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Technically, the idea of writing a book from the point of view of Death has problems since there are many scenes in The Book Thief where Death isn't present. But the choice works. Markus Zusak seems to be saying that Death is hanging over everything in Germany during the time leading up to and throughout World War II. This is something that has been said many times before, but his way of saying it is unique.
Like all well written books, The Book Thief is about different things. The story looks at the power of words in multiple ways. The most important of these is as a mechanism to convey Hitler's message of hate. Late in the novel the pages of Mein Kampf are painted over in a wonderful symbol of the resistance to that hate. But the story isn't only about Hitler's words. Liesel steals a book and becomes enthralled by words even before she can read them. She connects with her father, with Max Vandenburg (a Jewish man her foster family is hiding), and with Frau Ilsa Hermann (the mayor's wife who has a large personal library) through their shared love of words. Rudy, Liesel's best friend in her community, doesn't share her love of words and for that reason her relationship with him always seems to be missing something.
Although the theme of words runs throughout the book, the core story is about a German family and their need to resist the hate that is pervasive in their country. Rosa, a foul mouthed, strong willed woman, and Hans, her gentle, but equally strong, husband, take in Liesel, a foster child who has lost her mother to the brutal politics of the time. Later they hide Max, who comes to them because his father had saved Hans' life during World War I. Hans hides Max, but also tries to do what his community considers proper by applying to join the Nazi party. Yet Hans can't put his heart into it this act of hypocrisy. He cares too much and so does Rosa in her own way.
The Book Thief is a wonderful book about, among other things, keeping ones humanity while living through horrible times and coming of age in a world that's falling apart.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary PLUS Three Short TalesMadame Bovary PLUS Three Short Tales by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Madame Bovary has been on my list of books to read for decades, but for various reasons I always made other choices. Then my wife decided to learn French and as part of that process read the novel in its original language. I decided to finally pick up this book because it would be fun to discuss when we were both done. I read an English translation by Eleanor Marx Aveling who was one of the daughters of Karl Marx and, following in her father's footsteps, a socialist. I didn't know Marx's background at the time I read the book, but find it interesting, since the results of Emma's decision to pursue a life of self indulgence seem to exemplify the horrors that can happen to people who seek self gratification. In other words, if you believe “greed is good” you probably won't like this book.

I read somewhere that Madame Bovary along with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina are the two greatest “adultry” novels ever written. I'm not sure how anyone can make a statement like that, since so many novels have been written about adultry. But there is definitely a connection between these two works. Anna, however, is somewhat sympathetic, being drawn to a single lover she can't resist. On the other hand, Emma's true love seems to be herself. Here's a section from the book when Emma is sitting at an agricultural fair with Rodolphe, the man she's currently attracted to, and reflecting on all the men in her life – except, of course, her husband.

Then a faintness came over her; she recalled the Viscount who had waltzed with her at Vaubyessard, and his beard exhaled like this air an odour of vanilla and citron, and mechanically she half-closed her eyes the better to breathe it in. But in making this movement, as she leant back in her chair, she saw in the distance, right on the line of the horizon, the old diligence, the "Hirondelle," that was slowly descending the hill of Leux, dragging after it a long trail of dust. It was in this yellow carriage that Leon had so often come back to her, and by this route down there that he had gone for ever. She fancied she saw him opposite at his windows; then all grew confused; clouds gathered; it seemed to her that she was again turning in the waltz under the light of the lustres on the arm of the Viscount, and that Leon was not far away, that he was coming; and yet all the time she was conscious of the scent of Rodolphe's head by her side. This sweetness of sensation pierced through her old desires, and these, like grains of sand under a gust of wind, eddied to and fro in the subtle breath of the perfume which suffused her soul. She opened wide her nostrils several times to drink in the freshness of the ivy round the capitals. She took off her gloves, she wiped her hands, then fanned her face with her handkerchief, while athwart the throbbing of her temples she heard the murmur of the crowd and the voice of the councillor intoning his phrases. He said—"Continue, persevere; listen neither to the suggestions of routine, nor to the over-hasty councils of a rash empiricism.

I loved the process of following Emma Bovary as she made selfish decisions, rationalized her behavior, and paid the consequences. There are many reasons to read Madame Bovary, including its influence on later novelists, but it is the careful, detailed exploration of Emma's character that make this novel a masterpiece.

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