Sunday, May 13, 2018

Book Review: What I Leave Behind

Book Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee 

Goodreads Description: After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread. 

My Review: I was given a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

"Let your feet find the way. You'll know it when they do. Then let the day drain out of you." 

16-year-old Will copes with his father's suicide the only way he can: by walking out the days and spending his nights trying to recreate his father's famous cornbread. It almost feels like enough, until his best friend, Playa, is raped at a party, and Will decides to stop being complacent with his sadness.  He starts by leaving anonymous gifts for those in his life, like Playa, and the Little Butterfly Dude, his boss Major Tom, or even the dog of insanity, kept tied up on a chain all day barking. When Will stops walking past everyone in his life and starts finding ways to bring them happiness, he discovers a way to reconcile his own trauma and finally move on. 

What an incredible read! As the Goodreads description says, this book is comprised off one hundred chapters, each only one hundred words long. It makes for a short read, but the book still manages an intense emotional experience that lingers long after the last page. Perfect for reluctant readers, What I Leave Behind gives us a tiny peep-hole (the one-hundred word format) with which to view Will's world. It ensures each word is significant and makes the details of Will's life seem more poignant, since we're only offered a handful of them. This book deals with a lot of trauma, from Will's father's suicide to his best friend being raped at a party he was at, and looks boldly into those feelings, yet doesn't exaggerate or dramatize them. Will doesn't have a big breakdown or blow-up scene-- not to say those emotions aren't real, but they are rarer than media would let us believe. Instead, the book looks at the quieter sides of grief and sadness, through observations and showing the effect the emotions have on day-to-day life. In that way, the book creeps under the radar and quietly leaves a bundle of complex emotional truths at your feet, without the fanfare of a huge climax or staggering stakes. 

From start to finish, the book is incredibly heartfelt. Will is a quiet, sensitive boy who feels powerless against the trauma in his life. His father's suicide was completely out of control-- even if he feels responsible for how their last interaction went-- and Playa's rape is something he can't control as well-- he can't be a vigilante and go after the rapists, and he doesn't know how to be the unconditionally supportive best friend. It leaves him in a pretty powerless situation, which I found to be incredibly true to life, especially for a lot of teenagers. Trauma, in whatever form it takes, is a beast that can't be solved quickly or cleanly, even in situations where you do have power to change things. So when we can't change anything, we have to figure out what to do to address the emotions left behind. Will does this by doing anonymous good deeds for those in his life, which gives him mastery over his situation as well as connects him to those most important to him. 

As for writing, the book is simple, straightforward, and well-constructed. The writing was all very purposeful-- has to be, because of the format-- and uses a lot of showing to bring the reader to the emotional points. Instead of showing strong emotions-- having a scene be dominated by the character's emotion-- the author carefully draws up an image that focuses on the reader's emotions about that scene. The author does this by carefully avoiding telling us the characters' feelings, and then by having the narrator be vague about how these scenes make him feel, purposely adding in phrases like, "You know?" to make the reader feel that, no matter their interpretation, the narrator feels the same. It's truly the greatest example of how showing can allow your reader to connect more with your book. As mentioned before, the book doesn't have much for a climax, or stakes, or a lot of tension. What we get instead are these powerful emotional highs and lows that connect with the reader and keeps them reading. If you're easily put off by a lack of tension, stakes, or plot devices, you may not connect with this book as easily. 

All in all, this book is perfect for reluctant readers, or younger readers coping with trauma. I also strongly recommend everyone picking up this book, because it is such a beautiful look at trauma, what to do when you feel powerless in the world, and how to do more than just move forward. 

TL;DR: 5/5 stars. The beautiful story of teen boy learning to move on from his trauma through random acts of kindness.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Book Review: The Falcon Flies Alone

Book Review: The Falcon Flies Alone by Gabrielle Mathieu 

Goodreads Description: As the sun rises on a quiet Swiss mountain village in 1957, runaway Peppa Mueller wakes up naked and stranded on the roof of her employer’s manor, with no idea how she got there. As she waits for help, she struggles to piece together fragmented memories of the previous night. Did she really witness the brutal massacre of a local family? Did she kill them? Her fear of sinister house guest Dr. Unruh fuels her panic—as do electrifying flashes of a furious falcon, trapped inside her.

Wanted for murder, Peppa flees the police, intent on finding out if there’s a scientific explanation or if she’s just going mad. Her godfather, world-renowned chemist Dr. Kaufmann, risks his career to help her. In the meantime, Peppa fights her attraction to the handsome priest from India who offers her shelter. With their help, she not only finds Dr. Unruh but places herself at his mercy. His experiments may be the reason Peppa now shares her body with a bloodthirsty bird of prey—but the revenge she plans could kill them both.

My Review: I was given a review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. There will be some spoilers in this review, but there will be a warning before they come up.

After her father's death, Peppa Mueller takes a job as a caretaker to a wealthy family to wait out the weeks until her 20th birthday, when she can claim her inheritance and move on with the rest of her life. On her first night in a new town, Peppa witnesses a brutal massacre that lands her right in the center of a murder investigation. She doesn't know how to process the things she sees-- the family that suddenly starts killing each other, her new boss, Dr. Unruh, smiling down on the violence, her own hands reaching out to snap a man's neck, or her body transforming into a falcon and soaring high above it all--so Peppa runs from the police, at least until she can find a scientific explanation for what happened to her. She doesn't believe in spirits or the occult, and is willing to bet Dr. Unruh dosed their drinks that night with a psychoactive substance. If Peppa can prove it, she might be able to clear her name as a suspect. But to find the answers she needs, she'll have to find Dr. Unruh and earn his trust so she can get into his lab, and the doctor may not be so easy to fool.

"I'd taken his bait, and the trap was closing." 

The Falcon Flies Alone is an incredible story of fantasy versus science, filled with well-balanced characters that flesh out a historical setting from not so long ago. The book takes place in 1950s Switzerland and is filled with fabulous notes from the period, from the Elvis records, the fashion, to the political landscape. There was an intimate way of describing things, making it obvious that the author was very familiar with the time period. Characters throughout made comments that were anti-Semitic, racist, and sexist, but they were authentic to that time period, fit well into the world, and the main character did shoot down those comments appropriately. The differences between cultures were highlighted throughout the book, and it was interesting to see the distinctions made for what was appropriate for Swiss culture and what wasn't. The book is historical fantasy and does an excellent job of really bringing the history alive from start to finish.

As for the characters-- wow! They were all incredibly well-constructed and balanced, fitted with their own sets of flaws, motivations, secrets, and shames. I fell in love with Peppa and Tenzin, and even Dr. Unruh. As a villain, Dr. Unruh was positively evil-- rapist, murderer, sadist-- but also very articulate and charming. The way he rationalized his abuse to Peppa was downright frightening at times, and very convincing. Peppa was smart and strong the whole book through; every obstacle she solved creatively, which made for an interesting read. This made it easy to root for Peppa, as she wasn't just bumbling her way through the plot events. It also made Dr. Unruh even scarier, since no matter how clever Peppa was, he was still getting the best of her.

**SPOILERS, skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled** The whole dynamic between the two is interesting, although I am concerned with the way their relationship developed and ultimately, how Dr. Unruh's death was presented. As I said, Unruh is a deeply sick man, but Peppa is drawn into his charismatic spell and develops a bit of lust towards him, even if she expresses a lot of disgust at herself for it. While she's under the influence, of a drug as well as magic, Peppa and Unruh have sex, which comes across as very date-rapey, especially as Unruh sticks something in her vagina while she's still unconscious. Despite all this, when Dr. Unruh is dying, Peppa is kind to him, even gives him a bit of a prayer with sacred sand as he dies. Honestly, the book did such an excellent job of building Unruh up to be a horrific man that to see him being redeemed in his death felt anti-climactic. I expected Peppa to take revenge against the man who had literally tortured and raped her, and instead the book tried to play him off as a tortured soul. It came off as an attempt to minimize the horrible things he'd done in the name of a redemption.  It was disappointing at best, offensive at worst.

The book has some really incredible writing. There were many times where I stopped and marveled at the word choice and the ease with which the author commands language. The book kicks off from the first page with humor and mystery as Peppa wakes up naked on the roof of her employer's, and has to piece together the events of the previous night. The tension mounts and builds at a very steady pace, and the book has well-defined stakes that gets the reader emotionally invested. Even during slower parts of the book, the author was able to uphold the tension to keep the reader eagerly turning pages. The only issue I had with the writing structure is the climax seemed to come too soon. **SPOILERS** Unruh's death was the climax of the book, yet there was still a lot of plot that needed to be resolved. However, those conflicts didn't top the weight of taking out Unruh, leaving the last 20% of the book to feel like a drawn own denouement. The pregnancy, which could have been a big enough conflict to top Unruh's death, had a very underwhelming resolution, which contributed to that feeling.

The book deals with a lot of YA themes-- firsts, coming of age-- but I would recommend the readership as upper YA, even adult. The book deals with a lot of adult themes, but it's the voice and the mature way it's viewed that makes me slot this as an adult book rather than YA. It is heavy at times on the science, which was fascinating, but I could see teen readers getting turned off by the long periods Peppa spends in the lab.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, aside from some concerns. It made for such an enjoyable read with truly awesome characters that stole my heart. I'm definitely looking forward to the next books in the series.

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A beautifully written period piece where fantasy and science collide.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Guest Post: Breaking Out of My Comfort Zone by Stacy McAnulty

My comfort zone—quite literally— is my office. I share the space with my three dogs. It’s close to my coffeemaker and a bathroom. The internet is speedy, and the phone has caller ID (allowing me to choose which calls to answer). And I alone control the thermostat. I spend most of my waking hours in this home office, feeling safe and secure except when I start reading political threads on Twitter.

But as an author, this safe and secure feeling is not something I want for my characters. That would be boring and also, not true to life for most young readers. In my debut middle-grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, 12-year-old Lucy is a homeschooled math savant, who is academically ready for college. She’s content with life in her apartment and chatting with “friends” on math internet forums. But Nana decides to send Lucy to middle school for the first time, and Lucy ends up lightyears away from her comfort zone.

The start of the story is an example of a kid being forced out of her comfort zone. This was Nana’s idea (and Nana’s fault!). This is often the case for kids. They don’t choose to move to a new town. They don’t have a choice to participate or not in gym class. I can clearly remember the unit I hated most in PE class—gymnastics. I’ve never been able to do a cartwheel, and I’m as flexible as a dining-room table.  Gymnastic in gym class was agony. I’d fake injuries and illness to avoid tumbling across the large orange mat. But you can’t avoid a month-long unit. Eventually, I was forced onto the balance beam and uneven bars. Was there anything gained by forcing 12-year-old me to humiliate myself in front of my peers? I certainly didn’t go on to the Junior Olympics. It was more about learning to handle the uncomfortableness and embarrassment—something that happens to everyone, maybe not in gym class, but sometime during one’s public education. The seeds of empathy had been planted.

My dad tells a more uplifting story. When he was a kid about 7 or 8 years old, his mom (my sweet grandmother) told him to go play ball at the park with the other boys in the neighborhood. When my dad cried and refused to go, she dragged him to the field and left him. When he tried to return home, she locked him out of the house. (This was in the 1950’s and totally normal parenting.) With no other options, he went and played baseball. And as he tells it, he loved it and played for the next 40 years. Gram wrenched him from his comfort zone with great success.

Knowing adults can push kids into new activities and situations—sometimes with positive results and sometimes not. Then there are times when kids choose to make that leap for themselves. In the book, Lucy does not like to draw attention to herself in class. When teachers are looking for volunteers, she hangs her head and hides behind her hair as if she could make herself invisible. But there comes a point where she does speak up.  She can no longer stay silent.

Kids aren’t actively thinking, “I’m going to step outside my comfort zone.” Sometimes the choices are split-second decisions. Do I confront this person? Do I raise my hand when I’m not sure about the answer? And sometimes, they’re longer and more agonizing decisions. Do I try out for the play even though speaking in front of an audience is terrifying? Do I ask the teacher for extra help, something I’ve never needed before? Do I go to this event where I won’t know anyone? Big or small, kids are handling these issues often. It’s important for young readers to see characters doing the same things with both positive and negative results. Plus, it would be boring if we all just hung out in my home office all day. Although I do have lots sugary snacks to share.

About Stacy: 

Stacy McAnulty is a children’s book author, who used to be a mechanical engineer, who’s also qualified to be a paleontologist (NOT REALLY), a correspondent for The Daily Show (why not), and a Green Bay Packer coach (totally!). She is the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Recipient for Excellent Ed, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Her other picture books include Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, illustrated by David Litchfield; Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert, illustrated by Deborah Hocking, Brave and Beautiful, both illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff; Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite, illustrated by Edward Hemingway; and 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath, illustrated by Joy Ang. She’s also authored the chapter book series Goldie Blox, based on the award-winning toys, and The Dino Files. Her debut middle grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, will publish in May 2018. When not writing, Stacy likes to listen to NPR, bake triple-chocolate cupcakes, and eat triple-chocolate cupcakes. Originally from upstate NY, she now lives in Kernersville, NC with her 3 kids, 3 dogs, and 1 husband.

About the Book:
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Pub. Date: May 1, 2018
Publisher: Random House
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Pages: 304
Find it: AmazonB&NiBooksTBDGoodreads

Middle school is the one problem Lucy Callahan can't solve in this middle-grade novel perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by 7s.

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test--middle school!

Lucy's grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that's not a math textbook!). Lucy's not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy's life has already been solved. Unless there's been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty's smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

"An engaging story, full of heart and hope. Readers of all ages will root for Lucy, aka Lightning Girl. No miscalculations here!" --Kate Beasley, author of Gertie's Leap to Greatness
Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL, US Only.

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
April 23, 2018: Beagles and Books - Interview
April 24, 2018: Mrs. Knott's Book Nook - Review
April 25, 2018: A Dream Within A Dream - Excerpt
April 26, 2018: Here's to Happy Endings - Review
April 27, 2018: She Dreams in Fiction - Excerpt

Week Two:
April 30, 2018: 100 Pages A Day - Review
May 1, 2018: Wonder Struck - Review
May 2, 2018: Nerdophiles - Review
May 3, 2018: The Underground - Guest Post
May 4, 2018: Feed Your Fiction Addiction - Review

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Author Interview with RJ Garcia

Hey all! In partnership with RockStar Book Tours, I interviewed RJ Garcia, author of Nocturnal Meetings of the Misplaced. This YA debut comes packed with horror, mystery, and romance, so I was stoked to have a chance to talk with RJ about the book and her writing. RJ has also worked as a social worker and foster parent, and as a fellow social worker I was interested to see how the job influenced her writing. Please help me welcome RJ, then check out the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy of Nocturnal Meetings (US only.)

1) What was your inspiration for Nocturnal Meetings? 
Nocturnal Meetings was inspired by some kids I met as a social worker. They had parents who were either addicted to drugs, alcohol or mentally ill. These kids had to take on adult roles to keep their families together. I don’t think you see this dynamic in YA very often. It was also inspired by my fascination with true crime and cold cases, in particular.

2) What motivates you to write for kids? 
 I have always been drawn to coming of age fiction and movies. I think it is an interesting time in your life to explore.  I also write about some dark and heavy subjects. Nocturnal Meetings would be good for kids 12 and up. I hope to show that just because something bad happens to you, it doesn’t define you.

3) How do you think working with foster kids has influenced your writing?
I met a lot of amazing kids who ended up in the foster care system.  Their resiliency definitely inspired me. It also made me want to give a voice to this fringe group.

4) What has been your greatest struggle as a writer? 
Having dyslexia was probably my hardest obstacle and a lack of confidence at times.

5) Are you a planner or a pantser with your writing? Do you prefer to outline or just dive right in?
If I’m writing a short story, sometimes I will just sit and write. When I wrote Nocturnal Meetings, I did have this story in my head and certain scenes planned out.  I scribble some story ideas down or cool descriptions from time to time. I guess I am a planner and a panster.

6) What's your highest hope for Nocturnal Meetings? What would be your "dream come true" moment?
Just to find a small home for it was the original dream. Now, I would love for people to connect with these characters.

7) What's your favourite part of writing? 
I like the act of writing much more than the editing and querying process. So basically, the whole make-believe part.

8) What advice would you give aspiring authors? 
Don’t give up. I know it is said a lot, but you have to keep going if you really want it. If you’re going to query a small publisher invest in one of their books or what they are looking for to see if your works are a good match.

About the Book:

Author: R.J. Garcia
Pub. Date: May 1, 2018
Publisher: The Parliament House
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Pages: ?
Find it: Amazon, Goodreads

Mystery surrounds the town of Summertime, Indiana, where fifteen-year-old Tommy Walker and his little sister are sent to live with relatives they’ve never met. Tommy soon makes friends with Finn Wilds, a rebellious local who lives with his volatile and abusive stepfather, who also happens to be the town’s sheriff.
Finn invites Tommy to late night meetings in the woods, where Tommy gets to know two girls. He forms a special and unique connection with both girls. The meetings become a place where the kids, who don’t fit in at school, or home can finally belong. As the group of friends begin to unravel clues to a cold case murder and kidnapping— they learn the truth is darker and closer than they ever imagined. Even if they live to tell, will anyone believe them?

About R.J.:

I’m a writer, avid reader, and HufflePuff, who wants a re-do at the sorting hat. I am a wife and proud mom, too.

I’ve earned my MSW and have worked with foster kids. Writing has been my other great love.

I have published several non-fiction pieces about teen issues and wrote short stories since I was a kid. A longer story began keeping me up at night, and I finished my first novel! I am now thrilled to announce that this story, Nocturnal Meetings of the Misplaced has found a home at The Parliament House! Parliament House Press

Nocturnal Meetings of the Misplaced (81,000 words, mystery, suspense) – Mystery surrounds the town of Summertime, Indiana, where a group of teens must unravel secrets in order to expose the town’s dark past.

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive a finished copy of NOCTURNAL MEETINGS OF THE MISPLACED, US Only.

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Tour Schedule:
Week One:
April 23, 2018: A Dream Within A Dream Excerpt
April 24, 2018: Literary Dust Review
Today: The Underground Interview
April 26, 2018: Literary Meanderings Excerpt
April 27, 2018: BookHounds YA - Interview

Week Two:
April 30, 2018: Malanie Loves Fiction - Review
May 1, 2018: Owl Always Be Reading Excerpt
May 2, 2018: Novel Novice Guest Post
May 3, 2018: A Gingerly Review Excerpt
May 4, 2018: K.L. Knovitzke – Author Spotlight

Guest Post: Purpose of a Bucket List by Mia Kerick

A bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die. And if you think that A YA novel about teenagers consumed with the notion that they need to undergo certain significant lifetime experiences before they “kick the bucket” to be rather morbid, maybe you’re looking at bucket lists in the wrong way. Maybe you’re thinking about a bucket list the way Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) did in the movie The Bucket List; their age was advancing and their health was failing—time was running out! And so they decided, maybe there’s still time to squeeze in a few long-procrastinated “bucket list items”!” This isn’t exactly what is happening in my book.

The purpose of creating a bucket list is to get something done that you have put off for way too long. Brainstorming the list helps you understand what your priorities are—and to better know yourself. It’s an eye-opening activity. The act of writing these goals down—or otherwise recording them—makes this list more than a bunch of far-fetched wishes, but real possibilities.


Now, in The Weekend Bucket List, Cady and Cooper did not create a list of items they want to accomplish before they die. And this leads to the next area of discussion: there are many different kinds of bucket lists. There are bucket lists of things a person wants to accomplish before turning fifty or before getting married. A bucket list can be of vacation spots you want to visit with your children. The possibilities are endless. In The Weekend Bucket List, model children and students, Cady LaBrie and Cooper Murphy, come up with a bucket list of all of the rebellious things that the other kids in their grade have done, and they have missed out on because they were too busy studying. And they give themselves the forty-eight hours before graduation to cross each item off the list.

I don’t want to spoil the book by filling you in on all the dirty details, but I will say that Cady and Cooper’s list is not at all parent-approved. It includes the consumption of a few bottles of beer, the presence of a piercing gun, and the requirement for first kisses in the dark. But what Cooper, Cady, and the third wheel they pick up along the way, high school drop-out Eli Stanley, don’t realize is that the bucket list they create is not as much about checking off items as gaining self-knowledge. And they will be further surprised to discover that some of this self-knowledge comes with a hefty price tag.

The Weekend Bucket List will definitely make you laugh, and where it may not make you cry, it will make you think. And when you’re finished reading you’ll want to create a bucket list all your own!

Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.

Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Guest Post: The Imagination of the Reader by Sam B Miller II

How much should an author leave to the imagination of the reader?

Some readers want detail such as 'The rectangular dining room was lit by a small chandelier centered in a high ceiling over a long table covered with a stained tablecloth. The four high-backed, cushioned chairs were mismatched and more suitable for a casual kitchen. Sunlight from eastern facing windows was muted by faded gold-colored drapes.' Other readers like little detail. They fill in the missing descriptions with their mind such as 'The dining room was crowded with a table and four chairs.’

Of course there is an in-between but which approach is favored?

My stories have tried both ways of writing scene details. In the 3-book science fiction series, ‘The Origin of F.O.R.C.E.’, I provided detail of the characters. Height, weight, hair color, eyes, type of glasses, clean-shaven, clothing and disposition were all described. I controlled how the reader visualized my characters and even had characters drawn by professional artists based upon those descriptions. Many people said the descriptions brought the characters to life. Others said the detail bogged down the story. Here are the links to ‘The Origin of F.O.R.C.E.’ series. 


My fourth story, ‘Smith’, is a paranormal/supernatural tale written in a completely different way. The reader knows who is male, female or inhuman, but the character’s appearance is completely up to the reader. Ethnicity, hair-color, height and other identifiers are left to the reader’s imagination. Descriptions of buildings, rooms, army bases, hospital rooms, and hidden bunkers are minimal as well, leaving the readers to picture scenes as they wish to interpret them. I suppose I would name the technique ‘World-building in the reader’s mind’.

To my surprise, readers have discussed certain scenes in my book in ways I never thought possible.
Here are the links to Smith.

The new writing style resulted in a crisp read while at the same time reducing the word count to the point the story became a Novella rather than a Novel. I would appreciate your opinion. Which writing style do you prefer? I am in the process of writing my next novel and am anxious to know which writing style is preferred.

Sam B Miller II, Author

Sam B. Miller II holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance, and a Master of Business Administration degree in Finance, from the University of Tennessee. He has five children and lives with his wife, Susan, and their many dogs, in Northeast Tennessee. After writing a successful Science Fiction 3-book series, Miller has turned his attention upon the mystery of the supernatural. Smith is his fourth novel.

Follow him on Twitter or check out his Goodreads page. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Book Review: Smith

Book Review: Smith by Sam B Miller II 

Goodreads Description: Jake’s Father is an archeologist who is in Israel to complete a dig on King Solomon’s Temple. As an eighteen-year-old American, Jake is unwelcome by the people in the territory. Defending himself against the townspeople is a constant torment. Through a map Jake finds on his Father’s desk, he and his friend Avner decide to explore a newly discovered chamber. At the end of a dark and deserted tunnel, Jake uncovers the treasure of King Solomon’s Power ring. He puts it on his finger and feels his life changing. 

Jake passes off the ring as a replica, but he starts to hear a voice that belongs to Smith. Smith provides him guidance on how to deal with his newfound powers. Jake wants to learn all he can about his new secret ring. Smith encourages him to sharpen his fighting skills by joining the Army. Is Smith leading Jake to a newfound life where he can become a hero? Or will the decision to join the military endanger his life? Will Jake find out the ring he wears is good or will it be of evil intent? And who keeps trying to steal the ring? 

My Review: I was given a review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

For an American living in Israel, life isn’t easy for Jake Goddard. Between the street gangs that eye him as easy prey or his archeologist father who can barely look at him, Jake just tries to get through the days by kicking it back by the fire with his friend, Avner, or playing video games. When Avner wants to explore some nearby archeological sites in search for treasure, Jake tags along for something to do. But when Jake discovers a ring in a leather pouch, his whole life flips upside down. As soon as he puts it on, a commanding voice named Smith appears in his head with a single mission: to make Jake as great as King Soloman, the original owner of the ring. Jake’s path to world domination seems straightforward: join the army, get the girl, rule the world. Unfortunately, commanding a magical ring that gives Jake control over demons, the weather, and animals is not easy to hide, and before long people are lining up to take it from him. When Smith starts to see everything as a threat, Jake has to decide for himself: is being ruler really what he wants? And who’s really the one in control? 

Let’s start with the characters. There’s a relatively small cast of characters in the book, primarily because when a character is introduced, they’re almost immediately killed off. Jake and Nava are the main characters, and though they have more page time, they were arguably no more developed than background characters. They were very underdeveloped in the sense that they had no motivations, wants, or desires (I still don’t know what Jake actually wanted out of this whole experience), there’s no real personality that I can definitely attribute to the characters, and there was not a lot of consistency (Avner wanted to search for treasure and Jake tags along, but later in the scene it’s Jake who’s really motivated by treasure.) More so, as a main character, Jake was really underwhelming. Throughout the entire book, he makes only a handful of his own decisions. All his other actions throughout the book are him following orders, whether from Smith or other authority figures. Even the decision to go to the dig at the beginning of the book is Avner’s. Jake does not shape the story; he is shaped by it, which makes him a very boring main character. Even at the climax, after he’s been taught how to control the powers of the ring, Jake chooses not to, and lets Smith take over, simply because he’s “better at it.” The lack of agency makes it really difficult to cheer for Jake. He never makes any hard decisions, so he never has to take responsibility for his actions. 

As for the female characters, every single one was a misogynistic caricature. The first female characters to actually make it onto the page, which didn’t occur until 30% in, were a bunch of nameless pregnant women who are saved from a burning building by Jake. They do little more than faun over Jake in the process. The next female to appear is Sauerbrum, a female colonel who is rude to an exaggerated extent that doesn’t make sense for her character or her position. Then we see her continually shut down by the other males in the scene and eventually dismissed for insulting the main character. Not that there aren’t awful women out there, but Sauerbrum’s character was stretched to an extreme, where it didn’t feel natural in the scene. Finally, we are introduced to Nava, who is supposed to be a “strong female character,” because she’s a solider, knows how to handle a weapon, and is apparently higher up and well-respected. Despite all of this being told to the reader, we are never shown any of this. In every fight, Nava plays the role of a damsel in distress and never shows us that she’s a capable fighter. As further proof that Nava is little more than a sex object in a soldier’s uniform, the scene where Nava and Jake first meet ends with: “Smith remained silent as Jake watched [Nava] walk away. “I wonder what she would look like in high heels instead of the regulation flats.” Smothering a grin, he returned to inspecting handbags.” Nava as a sex object is further reinforced when her only major plot influence can be summed up as her saving Jake with her love. At another point, she tries to run away from Jake after seeing him literally murder people in front of her, and Smith uses his powers to physically stop her, which had such heavy rape tones that it made me uncomfortable. As well, Smith is constantly sexualizing women all around him, reducing them to possible “concubines” or “queens,” and then belittles Jake for not going along with it by assuming he must be gay (and let’s not even go into unpacking that homophobic comment). I understand that was intended to be part of his character, as others tended to admonish him at times, but it was so overdone that by the end of the book the comments just became annoyingly repetitive. 

As for the plot events, much of the story felt forced and really unrealistic. There was no organic flow to the story, and much of the events actually didn’t make sense. For example, the Prime Minister has Jake come with him to New York as part of his security detail, where they are attacked by assassins. After the assassination attempt, the PM decides that Jake should have time off to “see the sights.” I can’t fathom any situation in which after an assassination attempt, a prime minister would reduce their security. The book is full of questionable content like this. Characters made unrealistic or unexplainable decisions that served to push the plot forward, but made no sense in the context of the scene. It’s like all the characters were on train tracks that moved them to where they needed to be. On top of that, many events just couldn’t happen without some sort of explanation-- a man is electrocuted but the dog biting him is fine, PM is shot and dying then a minute later is up and running like nothing is wrong, one minute they’re in New York and then they’re in Israel with no explanation, during a ceremony a man runs away and dies screaming for no reason with no explanation of what happened. I could go on. My favorite inaccuracy was a scene where Nava is shot in the arm with an AR15, and though it’s described as a little gunshot wound that’s quickly bandaged up and never mentioned again, an actual hit from an AR15 would have probably taken her whole arm off, and at the very least it would have required reconstructive surgery. These unrealistic incidents are unfortunately not easy to overlook, as they are everywhere and embedded deep into the plot, and I found myself continually pulled out of the story by things that didn’t make sense or weren’t properly explained. 

 The nail in the proverbial coffin had to be the over-the-top violence that didn’t actually have consequences. Smith, as the ‘interface’ of the ring, has incredible powers which included reality-bending magic. Smith can turn gunpowder into sand, break through walls-- there’s no defined limit on Smith’s powers, which makes his murdering sprees all the more frustrating. Smith decides that all ‘threats’ need to be handled through violence, so faceless henchmen are killed like it’s going out of style. In most cases, Smith ‘explodes’ the threat by popping them like a bloody, fleshy water balloon. Admittedly, I thought that imagery was cool at first, but it quickly loses its power. Moreso, the killing in this book is indiscriminate. Anyone who appears to be a slight threat risks just exploding. More so, Smith kills innocent people too-- like the cops who happen to notice Smith murdering someone in an alleyway-- and Jake doesn’t express any disgust or horror-- or any kind of revulsion. Instead he’s completely complacent with the killings until near the end of the book, where Smith is just massacring people left, right, and centre. Only then does Jake start to protest, though those protests don’t go much further than telling him to stop, nor does he express any sort of emotions or thoughts about it. Jake just changes his mind, probably because by this point in the book the violence is so outlandish that the reader can’t even support it anymore, but by then it’s too late. At about 60% in, I began rooting for the villains because I felt so bad for them. Ultimately, Smith can bend reality, which means he could stop these people in a million different ways, and still chooses to kill them. Even when Jake takes control of the powers, he still chooses methods to stop the bad guys that will kill them, i.e., their guns appear inside their own bodies, or he makes their bones disappear, etc. These methods are even more horrifying than Smith’s, because Jake is literally torturing these henchmen to death in the worst possible way, and yet it’s portrayed as somehow him doing the “right” thing. More so, all these deaths come without consequence. Jake can kill people and nothing really happens to him or the plot. 

When it comes to the writing itself, the book was at times hard to understand, and I found myself re-reading several passages because they didn’t make sense. There’s an obvious lack of editing to the book, which shows through passages such as, “A fellow soldier, Dave Fischel, fell out of an upper bunk screaming epitaphs,” and: “The woman with a name tag ‘A. Sauerbrum’, a winced expression and wearing the insignia of Colonel was first to speak.” There are a lot of punctuation errors that caused confusion at times, as well as little to no description which made it hard to get a sense of setting. There were no stakes, aside from some hastily thrown in stakes at the climax, and no real tension or mystery to keep the reader engaged, other than the confusion of random assassination attempts coming every other page. There is switching of point of view character mid-scene, and the villains and their motives are not explained well, which leads to a lot of confusion. There was even an instance where a character’s name was spelled wrong, which showed a complete lack of care for the book as a whole. 

All in all, I would have recommended this book to guys who enjoy self-insert violence fantasies, but because of the difficulty I had reading it, I don’t see that many could stick with the book long enough to get invested. 

TL;DR: 1/5 stars. Three words: misogynistic gore porn.