Review: Living with Your Past Selves

Living with your Past Selves by Bill Hiatt is my latest entry in The January Project. I picked this up on a free day and it embodies the opportunities and risks in self-publishing like few other books I’ve encountered. Read on as I try to explain what I mean.

This novel, aimed at teen readers dips into the Arthurian legends and Welsh mythology and pulls them into the modern era, but defies easy genre classification. Although magic appears in the form of witches, spell-casting and shape-shifters, I wouldn’t call this paranormal, nor Magical Realism. Fantasy seems the best descriptor to me, but I don’t read a lot of fantasy.

There is so much to like about this book – the concept, a modern day teen discovers he is the reincarnation of Taliesin and that someone or something from his past life is trying to destroy him, is fresh. There are some terrific moments of dialogue between the teen characters and even the football players are allowed to have depth. I noticed one typographical error in the entire 600+ book, which is significantly less than this blog post will have.

And yet….. Something was off in this book and I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe the long paragraphs full of introspection disengaged me. I tried to see them as part of the fantasy world building, but some paragraphs extended over two pages and the ideas got lost within them.

Or maybe I’m not used to being inside the head of a teen-male character. Plenty of books for the middle school audience feature male narrators, but I’m not aware of so many for teens, except Catcher in the Rye. Tal resists his hormones too much for him to be confused with Holden Caulfield, but when he does, we get a page long paragraph about why he’s trying not to be insulting to women. I was more insulted by the cardboard female characters than by Tal’s page long discussion of why he tried not to look at boobs.

What pulled me out of the story world the most was that I couldn’t ground the story temporally. Living with Your Past Selves felt dusty. Tal’s friend Stan is a computer wiz who designed the mayor’s website, but it works plausibility wise, but none of the teens have a cell phone. If you have a group of twenty odd teens, you will smart phones. They will take selfies, they will take video unless they are characters in this book. The author took such time with building the mythology but nothing explained the lack of normal teen behavior.

I checked when the book was released. 2012. These kids should be comparing their iPhone models, instead this technology isn’t mentioned until half-way through the book and then once. The author could have handled this so much better. If the manuscript were an old one dug out from a box beneath the bed, then put a date at the start like “Fall 2000.” Another option would be to keep the present day, but have the town’s magic cause it to be a cell-service black hole.

Authors will make their own choices. That is their right as artists and content producers. Living with Your Past Selves is Mr. Haitt’ book, not mine, but as a reader, I couldn’t buy into this particular story world. Sorry.

Review: The Boys of Summer by Sarah Madison

My first foray into gay romance brought to you by The January Project.

My alter ego won an ebook of  Sarah Madison’s The Boys of Summer during a month-long blog hop. I didn’t have to enter the contest, but the cover and description evoking World War II sucked me in. I’m so glad I’m a lucky girl.

In the modern day, David McIntyre, a Hollywood location scout, hires Rick Sutton of Sutton’s Air Service to fly him around Hawaii’s islands.  A storm forces Sutton to crash land on a deserted island as the two are nearing the end of their working relationship.  The two men take refuge in an abandoned World War II outpost and scavenge resources, battle the elements and injuries and try to attract the attention of potential rescuers before it is too late.

This is only part of the story. Roughly one third of the way into The Boys of Summer, the author introduces a lengthy dream sequence. For some people, this is a deal killer. In the past, I’ve been known to roll my eyes or worse put down a book with dream sequences lasting a page or two because they are irrelevant to the story. David dreams he and Sutton met and became romantically involved in London during World War II. About twenty pages in, the idea crossed my mind that it was a novella that could stand alone and apart from the contemporary frame, then the last third of the book, set once again in modern day Hawaii blew up that foolish conception.  The dream sequence becomes integral to David’s character arc and guides his actions. Major props to Sarah Madison for making a dream sequence that is worth reading AND relevant to the story.

I also commend the author for the judicious and effective use of detail. All too often in historical novels, superfluous detail describing the curtains or ruffles on a gown the sheen on a street take away from a character and deep point of view.  The reader sees both settings through David’s sharp eye.  He is a man who notices detail as a profession, but his commentary on what he sees is honest, never showing off.  Madison did her research and her accuracy shines as the RAF pilots discuss planes, but she never loses sight of her characters.

This is a character driven novel, in spite of having adventure scenes that would fit into one of the movies David loves. The male/male sex scenes are pretty tame compared to ones I’ve read in mainstream male/female romance and even sex scenes from literary works. I walked away with a sense of tenderness between partners rather than sex simply to titillate and push book sales.

All in all, I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this novel.  The Boys of Summer certainly exceeded my expectations, although in truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than “gay romance.” The beauty in this story and writing go beyond a subcategory.  I will seek out more of Sarah Madison’s writing in the future.

As always, I make no money by offering buy links but I want to offer them as part of The January Project to encourage book reviews.

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Boys-Summer-Sarah-Madison-ebook/dp/B00CCUVR7G/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390076079&sr=1-4&keywords=the+boys+of+summer

Barnes&Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-boys-of-summer-sarah-madison/1115194648?ean=9781484135495

Review: Pastels and Jingle Bells by Christine S Feldman

I’ll stick to a short and sweet review of this fun fast read.  In Pastels and Jingle Bells, baker and artist Trish Ackerly gets the opportunity to seek revenge on her middle school bully, Ian Rafferty when he hires her to paint some windows. Ian isn’t the boy who used to call her “Pattycake.” As she gets to know him and his reasons for hiring her as an artist, will she follow through on her plans?

Christine S. Feldman, another new to me author, writes amazing dialogue.  I’m impressed with how much information and personality she conveyed through dialogue.  There wasn’t an unnecessary word. I also enjoyed this variation on the “Friends to Lovers” trope. I use that term, but this is a sweet romance (meaning no hot and heavy nookie scenes).    Bullying is a buzzy topic and those of us subjected to it (which pretty much means everyone) have all entertained revenge fantasies at some point in time. Start with that anger and sense of helplessness and read this story to find humor and peace.

I’m adding a buy link because if this project is designed to help authors, maybe I should let you know at least one place to find their book.  I make no money on this.  Also in full disclosure as part of The January Project – I downloaded this book from Amazon – but I can’t remember if I paid for it or downloaded on a free day.

http://www.amazon.com/Pastels-Jingle-Heavenly-Novella-Novellas-ebook/dp/B00GCVZEG6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1388964062&sr=1-1&keywords=pastels+and+jingle+bells

Review: Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

Stefan Kiesbye’s haunting novel, Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is well worth adding to your reading list.  At slightly under 200 pages, this slim book has much to say about guilt, memory and the burden of wrongs.  Kiesbye writes with a poet’s use of words.  The technical writing is outstanding and each word matters. In this sense he reminds me of one of my all time favorite writers Jennifer Johnston, author of the outstanding, if hard to find, Fool’s Sanctuary. Both write short with an economy of precisely used words.  The beauty with which Keisbye describes horrible awful things is a rare talent.

read this

read this

Intrigued? The prologue begins with middle-aged adults attending the funeral of a childhood friend. The story then shifts gears and takes the reader back in time to when they were children. The chapters alternate narrators.  Often we get more than one perspective on a nasty event (think incest, rape, and murder both intentional and accidental).  Sometimes the reactions are immediate. Other times, years have passed and a character who was aged 7 during one episode is now a pre-teen or young adult.  We see how friendships unite and divide over shared memories of trauma.  There is plenty of guilt to go around and that is how this book relates to twentieth century German history.

Unlike the heavy-handed and nearly unbearable book B. Schlink’s The Reader (read my review here), Kiesbye interweaves the notions of collective guilt, perpetrators, victims, bystanders and sins of the fathers subtly throughout the book. Guilt and murder are so  interwoven in fabric of Devil’s Moor that the problems of the past are the problems of today, seamlessly, and for the characters in the book, without conscious thought.

Kiesbye treats his readers as intelligent human beings.  He doesn’t offer easy answers to the characters responsibility and duty to the past, just as there has been no clear and easy path for Germany to reconcile its present state and role with the horrors of the Nazi legacy.   In my opinion, Kiesbye’s book is par with any number of Gunter Grass’ work on a similar theme.

And if German History and memory and legacy aren’t your cup of tea, well then, read this book anyway.  It’s short, haunting and beautiful.

Let me know what you think…