Archive | May 2013

Guest review – A Swarming of Bees by Theresa Tomlinson

Well bibliophiles, Richard Abbott over at Kephrath is back with another guest review.  His book In a Milk and Honeyed Land was published by Trafford Publishing and is available on Amazon.  You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.  As always, the Bookworm is happy to have Richard’s input!

I really liked A Swarming of Bees, by Theresa Tomlinson, and have no hesitation in awarding five stars. The subject matter, the presentation, the writing style: all of this came together just right for my taste. And it had a couple of maps, which always please me. These help the reader become oriented in the community of Whitby, called here by the Old English name of Streonshalh. For those who are not familiar with English geography, Whitby is on the east coast, in the modern county of Yorkshire, looking across the North Sea towards Scandinavia. Somewhat later than this story, it would be part of the Viking-dominated region called the Danelaw (as in The Bone Thief), but at this time it was in Northumbria, a large swathe of land ruled from Bamburgh.

Bamburgh Castle from the beach

The (Much Newer) Bamburgh Castle from the beach

The historical setting is in the immediate aftermath of the Synod of Whitby, in 664AD. This was a key moment in British Christianity when the fledgling native church, which had been isolated from Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire, was brought back under the authority of Roman Catholicism.

Now, many today might regret the loss to the church of the Celtic flavour of faith that this caused, but at the time, church unity was considered more important than insisting on an opinion. Individual Christian leaders might (and did) regret the loss, and expressed it by withdrawal to isolated communities, but there was no church schism resulting from this event.

Anyway, A Swarming of Bees has this event, and the resulting shakeup of church leadership, as part of the background. But for many of the individuals who are central, the choice is not between Roman and Celtic Christianity. Rather, it is between any sort of Christianity and their continuing allegiance to the older beliefs. The British Isles were – and in many ways still are today – a meeting place for many different styles of life and faith.

This intersection of culture, and the different ways people approach it, is at the heart of Theresa’s book. Abbess Hild, leader of the religious community, is willing and able to bridge the potential gap of religious experience in order to integrate the community rather than divide it. She is an inspirational figure, successfully threading the difficult line between compassion and compromise.

The plotline is basically a murder mystery, with the detective role played by the abbey herbalist Fridgyth. She personifies many of the tensions and insecurities of the age, and I found her an endearing character who it was easy to identify with. Along with that, the frequent references to, and recipes for, herbal and folk medicines give depth to her experience. Regarding the murder mystery, there are some echoes here of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, though the motives here reflect the turbulent political and social setting of the times, rather than the religious extremism that Eco likes to target. As such, the story, and the motives of the various protagonists, are much more accessible to a modern audience.

Mixed farming and moorland in the north of England

Mixed farming and moorland in the north of England

But the mystery is only part of the subject matter, and only part of the charm of this book. More prominent are the everyday difficulties and triumphs faced by the inhabitants of Whitby – both within and without the abbey walls. It is a time when plague ravages the land, leaving whole communities decimated, orphaned, and struggling in its aftermath.

This lends a sense of perspective to the grim events within the abbey – for many lay people living nearby, there are much more urgent survival challenges. In any age it is easy to interpret drastic events as divine commentary on momentous, perhaps questionable, decisions, and this era was no exception.

Theresa blends poetry in with her prose, faithfully mirroring the Old English alliterative style – I personally found this a great source of delight. It is a style which held sway in this country and elsewhere in Europe for a long time, before (many years later) being supplanted by the accentual and rhyme-dominated patterns which are much more familiar to many people. But in the world of Streonshalh, the traditional patterns of verse are alive and well, and used powerfully and beautifully by Caedmon and others to bridge the pre-Christian and Christian views of creation.

All in all, a very satisfying book to have read – and which I am sure I will re-read in a while. Five stars, definitely.

You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.

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Author Interview – J Leigh

j leigh

J Leigh, author of “Way Walkers: University”, was kind enough to grant me an interview after I reviewed her “Choose Your Own Adventure” type book/game for Examiner.com.

So Leigh, for those who may not have yet played “Way Walkers: University” or who have not read my review, can you give us a short synopsis?

In a metaphysics driven society where freewill is law, your choices are your own as you attend the most prestigious of magical schools. Learn to master psychic Ability, fight monsters, argue with an Angel, cut classes, befriend unusual races, chase ghosts, and navigate through an exciting city full of in depth characters in an exquisitely detailed world.

Are you planning a sequel?

I have several novels in the works, as well as the “Way Walkers University: II”. The first traditional novel in the Way Walkers world has been signed by Red Adept Publishing, and should come out sometime early 2014.

What inspires you to write?

Life? I know that’s the cliche answer, but it really is true. I’m a very character-driven writer, and I love just looking at the people around me, and wondering how they would react if their world was different. I love the mysteries of life, and love conjuring-up unconventional answers for my characters to discover.

What are you currently reading?

Artifical Absolutes” by Mary Fan.

How long did it take you from concept to print to publish “Way Walkers: University”?

Fifteen years.

Do you have any advice for new authors?

Find balance between taking constructive criticism and becoming too critical of your own work. Learn to recognize what’s solid and good about your style and what to let go of to make your writing better. It’s hard to learn, but it will help you sleep better at night.

Just for Fun

Dark Secret? I’m dyslexic. This makes spell check the single greatest invention in the universe for me.

Favorite Jell-O Flavor? Butterscotch pudding.

Midnight Craving?  Salted caramel peanut butter truffles.  OMG they are good. (The Bookworm agrees.  *nom* *nom* *nom*)

If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one book, what would it be?  Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

You can also check out J Leigh’s blog for the most up to date Way Walkers information!

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Author Interview – Anne Marie

Happy Monday, Bibliophiles!  Before I get into today’s author interview, let me give you a little recap on what to expect in the immediate future.  I’m currently working on three reads/review:  The Sanctuary (for the New Podler Review), Simon Hay’s The Disciple, and ATH Webber’s Erasure (this will be a double review with Mr. Bookworm).  I’ve also started to write for Examiner.com in an effort to boost the Bookworm audience (I don’t expect to make a whole lot of money in the process).  So I will be cross-posting articles.

But the biggest news is that we will be making the move over to our own site:   http://www.bookwormsfancy.com.  I am in the process of transferring over everything here to the new site.  It is taking longer than anticipated but that is because I tend to be a perfectionists on stupid little things.  When the move is final, we will be having a couple of giveaways of books and gift cards to celebrate!  So stay tuned for that!

Now onto the interview!

The Lady and the Unicorn

Anne Marie, author of the short story La Dame à la Licorne

Anne Marie, author of the short story La Dame à la Licorne

Anne Marie is a writer of short stories who grew up in Denver, Colorado and happens to love the same Jell-O that I do.  She contributes to a blog of short stories called The Cimmerian Tales as well as writing on her own blog.  You can also follow her on twitter @annemariewrites.

Bookworm:  Anne Marie give the readers the elevator pitch for your story.

Anne Marie:  “Danger hides in the darkest of places

Always obey your father. That’s what Katherine’s done her entire life. She studies dead languages and practices knife-throwing. Now Pappa’s listening to a virtual stranger, and she’s convinced the stranger cares more about killing monsters than her own safety. Pappa won’t even tell her what they’re going after. He says it’s because if she knows too much, then she’s tainted by that knowledge and it will spoil the hunt.

Can she trust Pappa’s judgment or leave her future in the hands of the stranger? With only her wits to protect her, she joins them in the most terrifying night of the year.”

Bookworm:  What inspired La Dame à La Licorne?

Anne Marie:  I was fortunate enough to see the set of amazing tapestries — La Dame à la licorne — in the Musée national du Moyan Âge. If you haven’t gone, put it on your bucket list! They are amazing. So, it was those tapestries plus an inherent desire to bend a myth. I’ll have to tackle the other side of those tapestries, that of the lady and the lion, someday.

Bookworm:  So are you the Lady or the Unicorn?

Anne Marie:  Neither. I’m more the doctor than any other character in this particular short story. Kathrine’s much more trusting than I’ll ever be, and her Pappa does what he does out of a sense of duty, not because he enjoys it. Dr. Aiguille genuinely enjoys the science and recording his findings. I adore research!

Bookworm:  What inspires you to write?

Anne Marie:  Anything that makes me feel in my cold, dead heart meats. >:D But, I believe it’s really important to fill the creative well. Travel. Try new foods. Drive down a road to find the end. Kiss someone in the rain, but not like Spider-Man or you’ll get water up your nose.

Bookworm:  What are some of your other works?

Anne Marie:  I have a short story, “A Heart Full of Love,” in the anthology Spirit Legends: of Ghosts and Gods.

Bookworm:  Favorite book by an indie/small press author?

Anne Marie:  Persephone by Kaitlin Bevis

Bookworm:  What are you currently reading?

Anne Marie:  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Bookworm:  What advice do you have for new authors?

Anne Marie:  Read everything you can get your hands on. In your genre. Out of your genre. Then turn yourself about and go out and live!

Just for Fun

Favorite Literary Character:  Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights

Which character/book/scene do you wish you had written:  Chapter Ten in “The Replacement” by Brenna Yovanoff. It’s powerful and, for me, it’s the core of the entire book.

James Bond, Ethan Hunt, or Jason Bourne:  Julie D’Aubigny

Dark Secret:  I really really really really want a pet velociraptor.

Favorite Jell-O flavor:  The ones made with vodka

Midnight craving:  Dark chocolate and ginger

If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one book with you, which one would it be:  The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Favorite literary Terry:  Terri Clark

Thanks so much to Anne Marie for granting us this interview!  All of you should definitely check out her blog.  You can also follow her on twitter @annemariewrites.

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Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (Guest Book Review by Anthony Carver aka Mr. Bookworm)

After months of nagging my husband to write a review or two for some of the books he reads, he finally relented.  He is considering this his warm up review before tackling A.T.H. Webber’s Erasure.  Hope you enjoy!

I know I’ve been promising my wonderful wife here that I would give her a book review. And because I’m good at getting things done in a timely manner, I’m finally getting around to it about three months later.

fallingkingdomsFalling Kingdoms is the first book in a series set in the land of Mytica. At the center of this land are the three kingdoms of Auranos, Paelsia, and Limeros. Auranos, to the north, is a fruitful land where everyone is prosperous, the king is kind, and everyone is blissfully ignorant. Limeros, to the south, is also apparently fruitful, everyone is not really mentioned as far as prosperity goes, the king is somewhat cruel and iron fisted, and the people are drilled into a sort of religious obedience. Paelsia, smack in the middle, is nearly barren, the chief (apparently, they don’t get a king) is a gluttonous shaman, and the souls of the people are almost as barren as their land is becoming.

The characters in the book are almost as one-dimensional and flat as the landscape. The king of Auranos, Cordullin, is kind hearted yet firm if need be, a family man, and naive. The King of Limeros, Gaius, is (surprise, surprise) the polar opposite of Cordullin. He is cold, somewhat tyrannical, and constantly vying for more power. Chief Basilius of Paelsia is content to live off of his people while they toil away in their vineyards, keeping them at bay by promises of magical abilities that he never shows them. But these are just the rulers and they spend a lot of time in the shadows.

The main characters are a little more developed, but not by much. Emilia, the oldest daughter of Cordullin, is meant to become the next ruler. However, she is sick and dying. Cleo, the younger daughter of Cordullin, is at least better than the usual trope of the spoiled princess. She is caring and often conflicted about her emotions. She is sweet. But for as much as she’s shown to be an enlightened young lady, she is prone to making rash, reckless decisions.

Jonas, the brother of a plot device murdered in the first chapter, is driven by revenge (shock) and a desire to kill all nobles and take their riches. Magnus and Lucia are the children of Gaius, and seem to have the most depth to their characters. Magnus, through most of the book, is trying to reject the role that his father is setting for him. The author goes out of her way to point out the “mask” that Magnus wears, except when around his sister. His sister, like Cleo, is shown to be very caring, even to her father, who is shown through much of the book to be very distant and harsh.

Of course, there are other characters, but many of them feel like nothing more than plot devices to further the progression of the story. Characters seem to just go along, until they are needed for something. Theon, Cleo’s bodyguard, is the best example of this. He is sworn to his duty, despite Cleo’s constant need to disobey and she is constantly running from him even after she knows her life is in danger. Theon chases her down, they admit their love for each other, and then he dies. Specifically in that order. Idea of bodyguard and princess, an idea that could have been used to such great ends, becomes an awkwardly narrated love triangle that ends in almost the same fashion as Cleo’s older sister, Emilia.

At the beginning of the book, Jonas’ brother, Tomas, quickly escalates a haggling between Cleo’s betrothed- (who exists almost solely as an excuse to force Cleo to want the bodyguard) and the wine seller father. Tomas enters the story, gets angry well beyond the excusable limit for a character that has just been introduced with no real story, and is murdered.

Forced plot advancement plagues this book. There is another part where Emilia tells Cleo, who prior to this has been repeatedly described as a non-believer in magic, about a legend of a witch in Paelsia with grape seeds infused with earth magic that can heal anyone. Cleo suddenly believes in magic and rushes off to the very land that houses the family of the plot device that she witnessed other plot device murder. This whole escapade comes to feel like nothing more than a reason for Cleo to get captured and add fuel to the political fire.

Another example is that King Gaius has another, illegitimate son. This son is portrayed as Gaius’ favorite and Magnus’ rival. No sooner than this looks as if it will flesh out character interplay between the king’s siblings, he is murdered as a blood sacrifice to Basilius, who at this point has not really been heard from and has had very little to do with the overall story.

I’m sure by now, you have noticed the occasional mention of magic. Magic–or elementia– is the crux of Lucia’s character, both in the prologue, and actual development, as well as being the reason Cleo does something stupid (once again, after she had been portrayed as a non-believer). The existence of magic is linked to the briefly, and extremely convolutedly, explained mythos of Mytica.

Magic, like some of the characters, only exists to justify the presence or actions of others. There are watchers (god-like beings) who take the form of hawks in the mortal world (they live in Sanctuary–seriously?), and are looking for the lost Kindred (these are some rocks, apparently).

There are a lot of ideas going on in this story. A lot of them can be good with a little fleshing out (magic and the watchers), and some of them had potential to be great: Magnus and Lucia’s relationship was on the road to being a mirror of Ceasare and Lucretia Borgia’s, and the anguish that Magnus felt over feelings that he knew were wrong added a depth to probably the best character in the book. However, this idea is derailed with certain revelations of parentage that bring Magnus around to be more of a budding imitation of his father.

About halfway through, I realized that the only reason I kept reading was that I wanted to see how much of a trainwreck this story would become. And then I thought that maybe I was being overly critical. After all, Falling Kingdoms is a Young Adult novel. That excuse, however, doesn’t hold up when presented with books like The Hunger Games or The Inheritance series. There are many authors of Young Adult fiction that manage to craft deep, interesting characters and that can weave a tale that leaves you wanting more. At the end of the day, I felt much like a Paelsian citizen: disgruntled and ready for a change.

Mr. Bookworm gives it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

NB:  Those of you familiar with the site, will know that we have a policy of not doing a review for a book if we find we are going to give it less than 3 stars.  I would like to further clarify that this is strictly for indie/small press authors.  Morgan Rhodes is far from indie/small press.  She’s has put out enough books to know better.  I trust the judgement of Mr. Bookworm and if this is the kind of quality that Penguin is looking for, then I am not surprised that they bought Author Solutions.

Mr. Bookworm has been dealing with Mrs. Bookworm for almost a decade now.  If you like heavy metal or beer, you might be interested in checking out his blog MoshnHops.

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Author Interview – A.T.H. Webber

Greetings, Bibliophiles!

Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you my interview with Andrew Webber, author of Erasure.  After doing the review of Automaton and interview of Cheryl Davies, she recommended A.T.H. Webber to get in contact with me.  It just so happened that when he did, I was testing out Google Forms as a basis for the start of interviews.  He kindly offered to test it out with me.  Here is the interview that spawned from it.

ATHWEBBERRGBLargeWebBookworm:  Thank you so much for helping me out with the Google form!  So you were first brought to my attention thanks so Cheryl’s recommendation of your book, Erasure.  Can you give us a brief synopsis?

Andrew Webber:  What if we are fundamentally supposed to be forgotten? In this time of hyper-connectedness and society’s love of all things online,  what if we are leaving a data picture for future archaeologists far more detailed and intimate than any mosaic adorning a Roman wall?

What if that data and the details of a life keep the individual from moving on to an after life, trapped in a middle ground until the last shred of existence erodes from history?

What if there was a group of people who believed the above to be true, and spent their lives driven only by the desire to expedite the middle ground – erasing everything that might save their memory?

The book follows the Narrator as he/she is faced with the dealings of a data-driven underworld bent on removing people from history, by any means. The Narrator’s partner is dead, and helped by the mysterious and slightly broken “Bammer”, the Narrator embarks on a quest to find the reasons why She was killed.

Erasure is by no means a geek-fest, nor is it even close to sci-fi.

It is a work of fiction, to be sure, but ALL of the concepts introduced to the story are real, and involve anyone with an internet connection and a credit card.

Bookworm:  What inspired you to write Erasure?

Webber:  It was an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for a while – but the catalyst for actually getting it down was:

 A friend of mine died a couple of years ago. Melanie died of a heart attack – she was thirty years old.

 She is STILL on facebook though, and people regularly tag her in photo’s, as a result Melanie continues to pop up in my time line.

 Around the time I started writing the book, her death was still a recent thing – and relationships being what they are on FaceBook (particularly for me as an expat, peeping in at the lives of friends and family all over the world in one convenient blue and white place) I found myself consistently thinking as Mel popped up on my feed: “Oh, haven’t heard from her in a while, I wonder what she has been up to… wait..”.

 Then the crushing realisation that she hadn’t actually been up to anything would invariably come steaming into my thoughts.

 It got me thinking about whether being so intimately remembered after death might affect ones transition – keep us tethered here, as it were.

 I am a fiction writer, and part of my job is to ask such questions in order to see where answers take me. While I don’t BELIEVE that the whole afterlife thing might be an issue, I do believe that the resulting questions created an interesting concept for a book.

 Bookworm:  From idea to print, how long did it take you to publish?

Webber:  12 Months

Bookworm:  Does you have any other works? If so, what are they?

Webber:  I have a library of yet to be released work, mostly shorts and poetry. I have written short prose for almost as long as I can remember.

My current focus is on the next book in the Erasure series – working title is “Broken”. I can’t discuss the guts of it – not due to any sensitivity to revealing the work, but to describe it would involve spoilers that would ruin the Erasure experience for those that are yet to read it.

What I can say is that currently it is a prequel to Erasure. I say “currently” because I suspect it is going to overlap the first book to some degree. I’ll have to wait and see how much.

Bookworm:  What inspires you to write?

Webber:  I spent a lot of time with my Grandfather when I was growing up, and learned much from him. He was the finest storyteller I have ever known, and I spent hours sitting in his workshop while he worked just listening to him.

My Grandfather was my hero, and my constant safe-harbour in a childhood that by any measure would be considered hard. (A story on it’s own) Unfortunately he died when I was 10, and there was no-one to fend of the demons that descended afterward, so I turned to writing and reading as much as I could so I could escape.

All of the above sounds a little melodramatic, and I hope that you aren’t now picturing me as some unwashed hermit writer secreted away in a dingy hovel bemoaning a truly awful childhood. I’m NOT!  Things just are what they are, I’ve dealt with it all – and for the most part it seems like a childhood that someone else had.

I’m just truly grateful that I had my grandfather, even if only for a short while.  The “H” in “A.T.H.” I added a couple of years ago to honour him, his name was Halsey.  Without him, among so many other possible outcomes, I am not sure that writing would be part of me now.

Bookworm:  What is your favorite book by a small press/indie author?

Webber:  There are many, and I don’t know if it qualifies but “The Dog Stars”by Peter Heller is a standout.

Bookworm:  What are you currently reading?

Webber:  Hemingway’s collected short stories.  And yes I know how that sounds.

Bookworm:  What advice do you have for new authors?

Webber:  Write. Grow a thick skin – not everyone wants to see you succeed, many of whom have never met you.

Write. Believe. Write.

Get it all out of you first, then go back to see how awful your technique is. If there is worth to the work, you’ll be able to dig it out in ensuing drafts.

Write.

Bookworm:  Which book/character/scene do you wish you had written?

Webber:  There are so many things that I wish I had written. To narrow them down to just one is a hard thing, so I’ll narrow it down to my favourite two moments.

Cormac McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy” is a triumph on so many levels. Each book (All the pretty horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain) is amazing on its own, but the three culminate in one conversation in the Epilogue.  No more than a paragraph or two, it is one of the most moving moments I have experienced in literature. It is almost as if all of the previous pages were designed only to frame the scene, a moment between an old man and a stranger. I remember having to stop for a moment, overcome with the enormity of such a simple thing. I have a lump in my throat just writing about it now.

The other: I am a huge fan of Charles Bukowski’s writing. I’m not sure I like him as a person, but amidst all of the detritus of a life spent below the fringe, and writing that is raw and confronting, there is (for me) one striking moment: His great love elected to drink herself to death, and the piece he wrote about standing in her bedroom holding a dress that she loved so much, and would now be her burial attire, is heartbreaking. It is a moment of clarity, emotion, and perfect poetry.

Just for fun

Favorite Literary Terry?

Terry Pratchett

If you were stranded on a desert island and had one book with you, which one would it be?

Robinson Crusoe OR “How to build a raft out of coconuts” .  If it isn’t a book yet, it ought to be.

Midnight Craving?

I am not one for midnight cravings, BUT if I know there is an open block of chocolate somewhere nearby, I become fixated by it.

Favorite Jell-O Flavor?

Anything with a chocolate frog in it.

Chocolate Frog?

I think it is an Australian (ahem) delicacy.

Usually it’s lime jello with a chocolate frog stuck in it, a mainstay of pub desserts – “Frog in the pond” .

Think it’s been around since the seventies.

(Stop judging my people :-p )

Dark Secret?

I seem to be pretty articulate, and have no problem expressing myself in a manner that would suggest that I had spent at least a little time in the hallowed halls of a university. Friends (many of whom have been educated in the best schools in the world) often take it for granted that, when speaking to me, they are sharing a moment with one of their well educated peers.

It surprises them no end when they find out that I walked out of the front gate of my high school at 15 years and 3 weeks old and never went back.

Favorite Literary Character?

John Grady Cole

James Bond, Ethan Hunt, or Jason Bourne?

Aragon

Once again, thanks so much for all your help!  I can’t wait to read Erasure.  Now if you excuse me, I’m going look up frog in a pond!

You should all check out Andrew’s website as well as pick up a copy of Erasure if it strikes your fancy!

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