Tuesday, 30 June 2009

No Sensible People: A Wonderful Piece of Fiction

My Review of No Sensible People by Gretchen Lee Bourquin


What happens when the past catches up with you?
Just one of the questions the outstanding novel No Sensible People asks of the reader.
This appealing book presents its story in an engaging style, from the point-of-view of several different characters. This approach presents a fuller perspective on both the narrative and the characters, without losing any flow or causing reader confusion. It works superbly as a character driven story, blossoming into a bittersweet, tangled tale of awkward intertwined lives.

At its heart the book is a family drama, one that is both intimate and engrossing. It begins with two deaths that leave poor Jennie Halifax an orphan and makes her married Aunt Lucy her guardian. Jennie would far rather stay with family friend Denny Ferguson in her small town home, yet she has no choice but to move to the big city to live with her aunt. Lucy’s life too, is thrown into disorder by the deaths and the sudden presence of Jennie, as well as the arrival of Denny, Lucy’s old flame. These events bring past secrets bubbling to the surface, and make everyone face current problems head on.

“She walked into the kitchen and spotted me sitting at the table. She didn't say anything. She stared at me the way any nine year old would stare down reality coming to take her away.”

I found the book a realistic view of a family, complete with complicated problems, dysfunctional relationships, genuine connections and feelings. The layers from past and present are slowly peeled away to show you the characters, while giving enough to connect with them and care about their troubles; the reader is provided a remarkable panorama of life. I also found the ending satisfying, never wrapping everything in a happy little bow, yet still giving the sense the characters and their lives had concluded a difficult chapter.

“Aunt Lucy and Uncle Frank went silent as if an electric cord controlled them and I had pulled it from the wall. Uncle Frank went to the closet for his coat and walked out the door. Aunt Lucy went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. I went to my room to draw.”

I usually don’t read a great deal of general fiction, tending to favour genres like mystery or fantasy, but I am glad I read this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a high-class, wonderful novel.


The book is available on Amazon.com:
No Sensible People

And at Lulu.com:
No Sensible People

Monday, 8 June 2009

A Sublime Book of Poetry: Review of Crenellations


My Review of Crenellations by Ann B. Keller


Crenellations by Ann B. Keller is an interesting mixture of poetry, with some compelling visual imagery. Each rhyme is a story told in poetry form, and takes the reader through an enchanting and varied journey.
“Could a dragon have a home, like you or I,
A place where the younglings grow strong,
With mother and father feeding their babes
Teaching them honor and magic, right from wrong?”
The poems range in topic from ageless fantasy and history to quiet ruminations on nature and life. I found the tone old-fashioned and lyrical, in the grand tradition of a bard. It is a bursting world, full of musings on fair maidens, knights, castles, myths, innocence, flora, family, love and God. The author seems to be channelling, with great aplomb, the spirits of poets past.
“In this secret place, I dance with shadows
And waltz with creatures of the night,
With thundering heart, I cling to thee,
As midnight steals over my soul.”
There are no avant-garde poems in the book’s pages, simply odes to the time-honoured forms of poetry.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen a bit more structure in the format, perhaps with the poems categorized, but this quibble certainly does not detract from the delight taken in the reading of the poetry or the skill of the poet.
Crenellations is a picturesque and comforting book of poetry and I greatly recommend it.

The book is available from Lulu.com:
Crenellations

It is also at Amazon.com

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Today's Guest, Fantasy Author Sandy Lender

I have a two-for-one treat today.
First up is the delightful guest post by Author Sandy Lender, on researching a fantasy novel.
Then immediately following the article is a spotlight on her book:
Choices Meant For Gods.


Ms. Lender is currently on a blog tour, (courtesy on Goddess Fish Blog Tours) and you can find her complete schedule here: Blog Tour for Sandy Lender
And one lucky commenter will win an autographed, hard cover, first edition of Choices Meant for Gods each week, drawn from the comments on the blogs featured that week.


Finding Fantasy Resources for Research by Sandy Lender


I’m sure that many of the fantasy authors who’ve participated at this site or had their work reviewed at this site have the same basic problem when it comes to research: ya can’t really research stuff that isn’t real. You can’t pick up an encyclopedia and find the origination of The Ungol race. I made it up for my fantasy world in CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS. (In my early scribbled notebooks, you’ll see them called Lognu, but I thought that sounded strange.) The Ungol are a peaceful, artistic race that lives in the underground network of sapedrels known as Tiurlang. (And then, this spring, I found a reference to ungol in a Tolkien book and, once again, cursed Tolkien for being a literary god. I was already upset with him for using the ultimately perfect name Smaug for a dragon.)

Be that as it may, we fantasy authors CAN research alien elements for world-building. I’m fortunate because I have 21 years of practice at it. As an English major attending a liberal arts university, I wrote dozens of research papers. Upon graduation, I entered the magazine publishing industry where I ended up writing articles that required interviewing and researching sources. But let me tell you; research for real, modern topics in journalism versus research for made-up fantasy realms with dragons and wizards and a Sandy-created form of magic take two different mindsets. I know no one wants to hear about my day job, so let’s focus on the research I do for my fantasy novels.

I’m weird so I devour books with titles like THE ELEMENTS OF OLD ENGLISH and SWEET’S ANGLO-SAXON PRIMER. These books helped form the foundation of my research for the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series because I put a medieval flair in my epic fantasy tales. Let’s start with the name of the land where most of the action takes place: Onweald. Onweald is an Old English word that means “power.” The names of gods, goddesses, villages, and rivers in the land of Onweald are reminiscent of OE words and people. Symbols all over the series hearken back to OE themes of exile, ring-giving, serfdom, and loyalty to one’s leader that send me to the research books from time to time. The problem with checking on something in, say, BEOWULF or THE BATTLE OF MALDON, is that I get sucked in and end up reading the whole thing. The next thing I know, I’ve used up my writing time for that evening…Bummer!

Now, having said all this stuff about including OE goodies in my writing, I have to say I didn’t make everything medieval. For instance, the “hero” of CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS is a lady. It’s all girl power with my Amanda Chariss. And I’ve brought all the characters’ lodgings forward in technology. Being perpetually cold myself, I just couldn’t stand the thought of putting these characters that I love in those drafty huts and stone buildings that the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts and Celts lived in. (And I needed good ductwork to connect the fireplaces in the fancy Taiman family home.)

Of course, there’s more to writing fantasy than researching the time period I want to borrow themes and symbols from. I’ve been reading fantasy literature since I was a youngster so I’ve got a familiarity with the general elements that fantasy enthusiasts expect in their novels. Magic, sorcerers, wizards, elves, faeries, dragons, trolls, dwarves, the hero’s journey, magical items, prophecies, prophets, etc. I needed to select which elements I’d include in the world I created, but I had the luxury of recalling great fantasy writers like Tolkien, Weis, Goodkind, Brooks, and Eddings to look to for inspiration and influence whenever I doubted myself.

Other than that, it all comes from my slightly off-kilter imagination. My research books for Onweald and the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series currently consist of tons of spiral notebooks, file folders full of stories and legends and character descriptions on the computer, a recipe box full of vocabulary words, and a bunch of other papers and notes and napkins with scribblings. My research includes a huge desk calendar with the phases of the moons of Onweald mapped out so I know exactly when both are full and when both are waning. It’s important when a god has an announcement to make by their light, you know.

I’ll include a few other researched items at the end of this post, for those of you with an interest in the Old English/Anglo-Saxon stuff*. But that’s the way I research something that isn’t real for a fantasy realm. I borrow from the Anglo-Saxon past, keep track of what I’ve made up, and double-check the traditional elements against the pros when I can. Thank you all for checking in!

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

* Godric = a traitor who turned tail and fled, leaving his lord at the Battle of Maldon; I used this name for an overbearing, arrogant character whom few other characters trust
Ofersey’n = a word I made from the Old English word “oferseow” (over and see); there are 17 “governors” in the land of Onweald and they are called ofersey’n
Wepanchiele River = a name I made from the Old English words wepan (weep) and ciele (chill or cold); the Wepanchiele River is located on the mid-western side of Onweald and can be viewed on the map my artist Megan Kissinger prepared for the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series

You can check out more of her insights at her blog: http://www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com






Book Spotlight on Choices Meant For Gods:


Blurb:

Not even the gods noticed when Chariss was born with the mark of The Protector. Now she and her wizard guardian seek shelter from a mad sorcerer in a household not just full of secrets and false hope, but watched by the god who will unwittingly reveal her role in an impending war.

When an orphan sets aside a lifetime of running and fear to accept the responsibilities of guarding an arrogant deity, can she face the trials in the prophecies she uncovers? Will Nigel Taiman of her latest refuge dare to use his dragon heritage to bind her to his estate or to help her in her duty?


Excerpt:


This is a romantic scene as Nigel Taiman and Amanda Chariss ride from the estate at Arcana to Arcana City. Her wizard guardian has already clued her in to the fact that Nigel wants to court her, and she's upset over it. The scene mentions the bear-like ryfel creature that nearly killed Nigel in the training arena...


Nigel frowned at her. Spurring his horse slightly, he reached out to take hold of Shadow’s bridle. Bringing them both to a stop, he turned in the saddle to face her.

“Hey!” she objected.

“Indeed. Have I done something to anger you?”

Her cheeks reddened with embarrassment.

“’Manda?”

“You’re staring at me.”

“By the gods, Woman. All right, I’ll look at your horse. ’Manda,” he said to Shadow, “what have I done that’s made you angry?”

“I’m not angry.”

“You’re not a liar,” he spoke to Chariss again.

“All right, so I’m a little angry. It will pass.”

“And you don’t want to tell me what it is?”

She couldn’t blame her reticence today on worry over Drake. She also couldn’t blame her health because she’d completely recovered from her telabyrinth poisoning. With Hrazon and The Master attending the summer festival, she couldn’t blame some sort of timidity at being ‘alone’ in the city. No, she had to take a deep breath and be honest with him. Considering the number of suitors she’d sent packing in the past few years, this should have been an easy thing to do again. It wasn’t. She sighed, closing her eyes as if she could make the scene disappear.

“Do you agree that you’re my friend?” she finally asked.

He watched her open her eyes then, realizing where the conversation must be going.

“Yes.” It was said with exasperation.

“And that I’m your friend?”

“Yes.”

“And does that please you?”

He sighed, but didn’t get a chance to answer.

“You see, Nigel, it pleases me. I appreciate your kindness, and I would be disappointed if we hadn’t built such a…such a…”

“Friendship?” he retorted.

“Such a rapport.”

He rolled his eyes. “A fancier word with even less affection.”

“My stay at Arcana is much more pleasant because I have this relationship with you. But someone has tried to convince me that your…your…”

“Feelings?”

“Well…your…”

“Intentions?”

“Well…your opinion of our relationship might be somewhat different from mine.”

“’Manda, just say what you’re thinking. You won’t hurt my feelings.”

She looked miserable then. “I don’t want to say what I’m thinking.”

“Good!”

“No, that’s not good. Hrazon thinks you’re…Hrazon believes you spend time with me because…” She paused, searching for the words.

“Because I’m in love with you?”

She nearly fell backward. “Just blurt it out!”

He chuckled slightly. “This is uncomfortable, isn’t it? I’m sorry to embarrass you. This conversation would be better in a darkened corner of Arcana’s parlor. ’Manda, I’m not going to lie to you. Hrazon has every reason to believe I’m after his ward because I am. It’s no secret to anyone I enjoy your company. What, where are you…You’re the only woman I know who can scoot that far away on a saddle without falling off.”

“I don’t think you should say those things.”

“Aye,” he sighed, watching her fidget with Shadow’s reins. But he made a decision to press the matter. “I’m going to say them and get them out in the open. Then we can decide if you’re to die of embarrassment, or slap me across the face.”

She couldn’t help smiling, even though her heart beat as if it would burst through her bodice from the tension she felt.

“I enjoy being with you because you’re my perfect match,” he said. “Have you noticed that we agree on almost everything? And the few things we don’t agree on are intriguing to argue because you make them intriguing. There’s no one at that entire estate, The Master and every intelligent student combined, who can hold my attention as you do. None of them compare.

“I’m attracted to everything about you, including your compassion. Even now, when you’re on the verge of falling off a horse with embarrassment, your concern is for my feelings, not your own. Godric, who doesn’t deserve to wash your feet, who finds every excuse to correct you, gets your respect because you remind yourself that he’s your benefactor. Do you know what strength of character that shows? Do you know how it endears you to me to know you bite your tongue after his arrogant remarks to save my mother’s feelings?”

She merely nodded, her eyes cast down.

“And do you know how it endears you to me to know you would fight to the death for little Kaylin?”

She nodded again.

“And do you know how it endears you to me to know you instinctively threw yourself into healing spells to save my life?”

“You shouldn’t assume that means—”

“I remember sliding toward death that night, life spilling out of me, and poison seeping into me from that thing’s claws. But do you know what I remember most distinctly? I remember you commanding me not to bleed to death…and I remember your hands afterward. Once I was healed, once Master Rothahn became preoccupied with the dead ryfel, you crawled over to me and put your hands on me again, as if you had to be sure He’d done a good enough job of healing me. But you would’ve done it for any member of my family. I daresay you would’ve done it for any student in the school. And it’s because you care about others, and you want the best for everyone around you. And you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

The last comment caught her off guard. It didn’t seem to fit with the logical argument he tried to make.

“I fail to see how these things tell you you’re in love. Kaylin enjoys my company. Mia enjoys arguing with me. I saved Sorne’s life once. Does this mean they’re in love with me?”

“If love could be explained that easily, it wouldn’t be real.”

“But what makes you think it’s real now? If you can’t explain your feelings, how do you know you’re not misled?”

“How does the rose know to bloom in spring?”

“Oh, now that talk I’ve heard before. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t think you should let yourself believe it now.”

“’Manda, I’m telling you the truth and I’m telling you what I know. If I’ve made you angry by falling in love with you, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Because you’re not currently interested in me, you have to give me time to change your mind.”

They were silent then; he waited for some sign that she wasn’t going to cast him aside, she waited for her heart to stop beating so loudly in her ears. As far as she was concerned, she was often a foolish girl, but her intentions at the beginning of this conversation were foolish beyond compare. She realized—with alarm—that the blood rushing through her veins, the lightheadedness, the excitement at getting to spend an afternoon with him, were all signs she had chosen to ignore.

She swallowed hard against the fear in her throat, and, with as much calm as she could muster, said: “What gives you the idea that I’m not interested in you?”


Choices Meant For Gods is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

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