Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review by Shellie: My Name is Memory ~ by Ann Brashares


An unusual and heart-wrenching story about love and the consequences of one’s actions.

My Blurb:   In a world where human souls reincarnate into other bodies after death, our main character Daniel has what may be a curse or a gift; he remembers each and every one of his past lives. By this method Ann Brashares takes us on a romantic and historical journey from ancient times until the present.

What is significant for this story is that in his first life, Daniel, in all his “youthful stupidity”,  was responsible for the death of a little girl. As each of Daniel’s lives cross with those of Sophie’s, he is inextricably linked with her through his intense desire to make amends.

My Thoughts:  I really enjoyed this novel for a variety of reasons. It is written well; it made me feel deeply; I liked the format which includes type setting differentiation between time settings; I personally relate to reincarnation theory as a belief system; and lastly the author answered all my niggling questions when presenting this paranormal world.

Although I have not read any other books by this author, I have noted that she has an usual style of writing. It flows well yet every once in a while she will come up with a phrase or a sentence which is constructed in an unusual manner. It is reminiscent of Cormack McCarthy’s style from his blockbuster - The Road. Both writers are extremely readable with little bits that appear which are slightly curious and yet extremely powerful.

Even though I was not crazy about the last dramatic scene, which I felt was a bit “cheesy” or contrived, and I am not a huge romance fan, this story sucked me in and made my heart ache. I related to the characters, liked them, and was terrified about the protagonist and the concepts within reincarnation that he represented.

The format of the type setting was helpful in staying clear through the time changes as the text moves back and forth, where the past and the present both have different types of lettering. This made it easy to follow the main character’s view point without getting confused. (I hope that the editors have used this format in the finished copy since mine was a pre-publish edition).

Reincarnation is an interesting concept for me as I enjoy understanding different cultural and social belief systems and because it is in current practice today, lending a realistic link to this fantasy. Most significantly, I also relate to a world view that holds a person responsible for each and every action.

When looking at the book in parallel with others that I have read recently on transmigration, my thought is that the guidelines presented in the book are based upon the actual precepts dating back to prehistory. I am not going to spoil them here, but as mentioned above some are extremely frightening.

When reading the book I had many questions about the reincarnation theory the author presented; I was thinking “how is she going to explain that?“ It is highly commendable that Brashares answered them all. An example of several of my questions are - where do the souls of animals go after death? What about changing sexes - how does that work? And what happens between lives?  Very interesting indeed.

I’d recommend this novel if you like romantic paranormal stories and are interested in reincarnation, if you enjoy stories about true love, if you enjoy ancient historical information included within a novel, or if you like experiencing some very intense and deep emotions when reading. Now the best for last - If you like mind-bending endings then you will really enjoy this book. I do have to say that the ending is a real shocker. I liked it, although some readers may not agree.

I give this book 4 stars; I am looking forward to the next two in the series.

Review by Shellie: The Song of the Whales by Uri Orlev


A sweet and mostly realistic tale, with touches of the magical. The story  addresses connections to loved ones after death.

Mini Synopsys:    This is a translated work which is a sweet and fantastic tale about a young boy whose family moves to Israel from New York to care for his aging and dying grandfather. Michael, his American name, is a loner of a child and prefers adult company to that of children. He is comfortable with this move since he does speak fluent Hebrew.

Upon arrival to Israel, he meets his grandfather and they become very close. Over their time together his grandfather shares his knowledge of his special gift, that Michael also possess. Only Michael doesn’t realize how special he really is.

My Thoughts:   I enjoyed this tale with its many interesting themes, such as addressing dreams, death, respect for the old, thinking about rebirth, reincarnation, sharing past lives, vegetarianism, morality and recognizing special gifts.

Several problems I had with the book is that it did not feel completely translated in a few small areas; there were bits which could be confusing for an American reader. I imagine that this was remedied since the copy that I read was an ARC – advanced read copy.  Another is that one of the characters, Michael’s grandfather’s housekeeper/girlfriend, was portrayed as a difficult person. My problem was that although she cared for his grandfather, his grandfather’s home, did all the cooking, and after a move did these things for Michael's family as well, she was treated with disrespect by the entire family. Not a great role model for a child.

All in all, I adore translations and when looking beyond the annoyances mentioned above, I give this book 3.5 stars. I liked it a lot.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dracula ~ by Bram Stoker (audio version)



"I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome . . . "

An enduring classic with an extremely charming, truly evil, yet almost human monster. I suggest leaving the lights on.

Synopsis:   With a Victorian setting in the late 19th century, a newly practicing attorney/solicitor from England is commissioned to visit a new client for his firm. He is to meet with this wealthy gentleman and stay at his castle in the mountains of Transylvania, while giving him advice on property acquisitions within the UK. The journey starts out decently for Jonathan Harker, but “red flags” pop up as he is warned by the locals and experiences eerie events during his journey to the Count’s country estate.

When he reaches his destination things are not as he was lead to believe. He finds that the Count himself is misleading and extremely intelligent, with a business savvy to match. Most disturbing is when Harker realizes the castle has no servants, parts are in complete ruin, he sees the count doing not very human things, and it appears that he is in fact a prisoner with in the castle. When he finally returns home, the young lawyer is beside himself, and worse yet it appears that he may have been followed. This scary story has only just begun.

Thoughts:   This is a wonderful tale which deserves to be read by anyone interested in classics, horror, and evil vampires. That it was written over 100 years ago and the emotions it incurs are still heart quickening, attest to the universal nature of this horror story and make it an enduring classic.

Set partially in Whitby, an amazing town on the East coast of England with iconic structures which still exist today, the story includes a variety of interesting and well developed characters, with our main character the Count, who is the evil embodiment of a sociopathic killer.

It is all told in letter format - epistolary or diary entries with each character well developed and interesting. Listening to the book in audio format, the telling is done via various voices and is close to perfect - old English accents, changing for each of the characters. I enjoyed it immensely. 

As for rating this classic I would say 4.5 stars. I recommend this version if you decide audio is the way to go for you.

Some Information about Whitby via travel pictures.

Below are pictures which John and I took in 2009 on one of our many visits to England where he is from.  When experiencing this book in its audio format these images helped it come alive for me. I could not help visualize this setting as it was described by the author. Also included below are several links to festivals based in the area, and a picture of our brother in law in full Dracula regalia at one such event which occurred last year in the town.


Whitby is on the Eastern side of Northern England. Set on the North Sea. The water is wild and choppy and very cold even in summer. This picture was taken from the pier which is located at the bay/river mouth and is a Southern outcrop of highland. Making this a perfect spot to watch incoming ships or marauders in this ancient  port city. It is also the spot where the gorgeous abbey is located,

This was taken during the summer June 2009. It was truly cold and windy, the norm for the area. Further to right on the mesa  you can actual see the little bits of the abbey’s spires. It is a key feature in several of the settings described in Dracula.

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Above are two pictures of the ancient abbey. They are described in the book exactly as they are pictured here. It was lovely walking through and inside the abbey, looking up at the architecture. Here is the historical setting for the spot:

The first monastery here was founded in AD 657 by King Oswy of Northumbria. An Anglo-Saxon style 'double monastery' for men and women, its first ruler was the formidable royal princess Abbess Hild. Here, Caedmon the cowherd was miraculously transformed into an inspired poet; here, the future of the English church was decided by the Synod of Whitby in 664; and here the relics of Northumbrian kings and saints were enshrined.

from the non profit site – English

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These are pictures of the hillside town walking down from on top of the plateau where the abbey is situated. We walked down on the cobbled streets from a very very old cemetery that is West from the abbey. On the left you can see across the channel and to the left the man made water breaker, which prevent the wild waters from coming into the river/bay. This water way is an  important setting within the book as well.15137_328923465230_904925230_9798285_6353174_n

To the right is my English brother in law, dressed as Dracula at a local festival held in Whitby, which the entire family attended.

If you are interested further, there is a gothic blog called Dracula in Whitby which gives you up to date information on a variety of festivals happening in the area.

  • Audio CD
  • Brilliance Audio on CD Unabridged; Unabridged edition (September 25, 2005)
  • Genre: Classic Horror

    Normally I would not include links to purchase, however since there are so many version and so you can link to the correct version I have done so on this post.

    Amazon purchasing links - US/UK/Canada or The Book Depository - AUD and Euro.  Amazon is an affiliate (where we only make cents per book) but Book Depository is not.

    Happy Halloween!

  • Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Review by Shellie: The Unit ~ by Ninni Holmqvist


    A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making it all the more terrifying.

    Set Up:  A story taking place in Sweden at some undisclosed time in the future, where there has developed a truly warped social system.

    The main character is a single women turning fifty. She has no family connections and is struggling financially. Dorit is required to enter a governmentally mandated enclave called “the unit”.  A place where all persons – men of sixty years and women of fifty - move to if they are deemed “dispensable”. That is if they do not have anything which is considered of economic value to give. In turn they live a life of luxury yet must submit to medical testing and donate vital organs.

    My Thoughts:  I really enjoy dystopian novels and this one appeared to have an unusual twist with a character to whom I could easily relate – a middle aged women with bohemian tendencies. There are a number of things that I liked about the book.

    It felt like a translation and I love translations. You can explore the locale and psyche of another country through the text with its unusual language nuances. This book was no exception with its lovely description of the local plants, landscape, and weather, as well as subtle differences in its cultural perspective.

    There is a secondary plot line which could be described as a romance. I particularly liked that the few unusual sex scenes included are not like your standard fare, which I usually skip over or laugh at.

    There are a few political topics which come up in the novel such as ageism and a subtly twisted version of feminism, which make for great for discussion topics.

    The novels I enjoy the most leave me with questions, and The Unit poses a few good ones. What kind of a democracy would value economic growth so much that it would sacrifice its older members? Is the nature of democracy only about growth?  How could a political system purportedly concerned with freedom develop like the one which is represented in this book? 

    A fairly short novel it starts out slowly yet picks up considerably where it becomes both illuminating and heart wrenching. It summarizes a few subtle elements of human experience in enlightening and relatable ways. And the best part is that it was just plain scary. It is because of these things it will be placed in my favorite’s list - on balance 4.5 stars.

    • The Unit
    • by Ninni Holmqvist  (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
    • Paperback: 272 pages
    • Publisher: Other Press (June 9, 2009)

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Review by Shellie: Hothouse Flower ~ by Margot Berwin



    A “trip” into the realistic yet magical where an urbanite discovers herself in the rain forest of Mexico. It’s city girl goes jungle Jane with consciousness altering plants.

    About:  Lila is from NYC. She is in her thirties and cynical as well as wounded from her recent divorce. She has sworn off men and most attachments - “no pets, no  plants, no people, no problems”.  However she breaks her rule when she decides to buy herself a bird of paradise plant from the hunky greenery vendor around the corner from her studio. This starts her adventures and discovery about the mythical 9 plants of desire.

    This humorous story, with its self- depreciating main character, takes the reader to the rain forests of Mexico. Where Lila is propelled by her quirky yet mystically oriented friend Armand to search for the illusive plants in order to repay a debt. As they enter into foreign territory into a place where fantastical elements are the norm, Lila herself makes a mildly hallucinogenic ride into self discovery and more.

    Thoughts:  Funny, fluffy and a very easy read, it was a needed break from the heavier stuff I have been recently reading. It was a foray into the magical. A chick lit escapist read with some mild romance which includes a gorgeous Huichol Indian from the mountains of Mexico.

    As Lila gets to know these plants with their anthropomorphic attributes, we get an interesting mix of fact and fun fiction about each, where all of the short chapters are headed with a plant (and a few critters) and their description. I think my favorite section was on the chocolate plant, native to Southern America, where the author includes a recipe on how to make chocolate from the actual pods. Fun stuff!

    I think this book will be perfect for any woman recovering from a recent break up or for anyone needing a light yet magical read. My mom is going to love this book being a plant person extraordinaire – me, the black thumb of the family killing cactus in the desert, enjoyed it just as much. I even found a few new books to add to my tbr list within the text of the novel - The Sheltering Sky by Philip Bowles and one by Carlos Castaneda. I love that. I give this fun book 3.5 stars. It was a blast.

    Interview with Crystal ~ Blogger and NaNoWriMo 2009 Participant



    NaNoWriMo is coming very soon!

    What the heck is it? ~ (That is what I thought last year so I have done some research).  Its National Novel Writing Month and from November 1st until the 30th, a ton of would be authors take to their computers or to the writing implement of choice, to try and achieve a goal of completing a novel of 50,000 words within 30 days! 

    A true challenge in my opinion, but for any one who has ever wanted to create a novel, here is your chance. Starting tomorrow you have a month to plan.

    In addition, I decided to go straight to a knowledgeable source and ask a 2009 participant a few questions. Crystal has kindly agreed to let me “pick her brains” to share with our readers.

    Crystal is a blogger at The Crystal Perspective where she has been blogging for a little over a year. Although very busy with real life, she writes excellent reviews and has some interesting personal posts to peruse. Here are her experiences around NaNoWriMo and some advice to share.



    Tell us about yourself and how long have your been writing?

    I'm an accountant and I live in Seattle. I've been blogging for just over a year. I started writing in the 4th grade and remember entering stories into every writing contest I heard about. I also won a school contest to attend a Young Writers Conference.

    Why write, what is your motivation? What types of things have you written - length and genre? Has any of your work been published? If not is this something that you would like to happen?

    The passion for writing is my motivation, and I write mainly fictional short stories.  Sadly, none of my fictional work has been published. I do have a blog where I post book reviews, but I've never posted any of my work.

    I would love to have my writing published and probably pursue publishing in the future.

    Tell us about NaNoWriMo - what is it? How does it work?

    NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - is a personal challenge to authors to write 50,000 words from November 1 to November 30. There are no prizes, just the satisfaction of participating. If you do reach the 50k words mark, you do get to print out a certificate.

    Starting at midnight November 1, authors begin a story from scratch. You have until midnight November 30 to write 50,000 words (or more!). For your novel to be counted, you submit your work to the NaNoWriMo website, which officially counts the words. If you meet the goal, congratulations!!

    I know you were part of the program last year, was that your first year?

    Yes, 2009 was the first year I participated. 

    What was your process for the program? Outlines? Characters already defined? Start from scratch?  Or did you just start writing?

    I created an outline of the story first, with notes about main characters. Following my outline, I set aside time to let creativity flow. I typed the first ideas that came to my head. I wasn't too concerned with editing, there's time for that when NaNoWriMo is over.

    Are you worried about someone copying your work or using your idea(s)?

    I'm not too concerned with people stealing my ideas. When you upload your work to the NaNoWriMo website, they use software to count your words, then they delete your work.

    What did you get out of your NaNoWriMo experience? Will you do it again? What will you do differently?

    I learned that writing 50,000 words is a lot harder than I thought! I was also surprised with how easily ideas flowed once I did started writing.

    I would definitely do NaNoWriMo again!  It's a great way for any author to challenge themselves. I did not meet the 50,000 word goal last year, so I want to participate again just so I can complete the challenge.

    As for advice I would set aside more time to work on my story.

    Any tips or suggestions for “newbies” and participants?

    Even if you don't think you have enough time, I highly recommend writers to participate in NaNoWriMo. It's a great way to challenge yourself and get that story that's been bouncing around inside your head written down. Don't stress about meeting the 50,000 word deadline, just start writing and see what happens!

    Thanks Crystal for sharing.


    Here are some links: 

    Please let us know if you plan to participate in this event, so I can follow and support your efforts. If any one has any tips, suggestions, or links, it would be great to include them in this post. 

    Thanks for reading!

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Shellie: Keeper by Kathi Appelt


    Mini Synopsys:   This is a children’s and pre-teen book where the main character is Keeper. She is an almost ten year old girl who lives on the beach by the gulf of Mexico in Texas. There are a menagerie of animals in her life - two dogs, a cat, and a seagull, but what is special is that she can hear them talk.

    She is well loved and cared for by Signe, her mom by default, their friend Dogie (a healing war veteran turned local surf board rental guy), and an old Russian sailor named Mr. Beauchamp. Keeper is like many young girls of that age, still believing in the magical, which includes ghosts and “merfolk”.

    One particularly bad day she gets herself into very hot water, or should I say ocean water, in an attempt to find her “real mother” whom she believes to be a mermaid. We can only imagine what can happen here, as myth and folklore are combined and fantasy seamlessly blends into reality in this sweet and heart wrenching tale.

    My Thoughts:   I loved this little book because it is a wonderful introduction to multicultural mermaid lore for a youngster (and in my case, adult). The author includes “merfolk” from different cultures within the story including characters whom are multicultural as well; their ethnicity is not completely defined. Because of these elements and more I believe Keeper will be an excellent teaching tool. It can be used as a spin-off for lessons on water safety, myth/fairytales/folklore and their definitions and differences, some science based lessons on geology and marine biology, as well as the defining of reality and make believe. All are important concepts in a growing mind, and if I remember correctly are included in many state curriculums.

    Examining things further with the theme of adult “joint or supervised read”, the book has a number of time shifts where the author goes back and forth between the present and the past giving the story a complexity which some younger readers may struggle with, if not explained by or discussed with an adult. The story also includes  issues around abandonment, as well as the importance of creating family ritual, which a younger reader may not completely understand unless they are discussed. These all can be very good things if the book is moderated.

    In addition the book contains illustrations which are simple that will interest a younger reader transitioning into more wordy books. The author also has a way of creating simple yet very deep and meaningful language which cuts to one’s heart and which is lovely for both children and adults. I think that the most special aspect of the story is that it contains several wonderful and key GLBT characters. Lastly, the ending is the type which I prefer, not completely that of a fairytale but with a slight tweak making one think, feel, and remember.

    Highly recommended reading for adults who like myth and folklore mixed with realism, and for those who read to and teach children. As for children I would say all but a few will love it. I am rating this a 4 stars. I imagine that this story will be nominated for a variety or children’s book award.

    The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight – A Novel by Gina Ochsner


    Synopsis:    Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and  “shell shocked” population, a number of diverse individuals relay their lives via an omnipresent narrator in separate yet interrelated chapters. They all live in the same dilapidated building where the plumbing has been non existent for several months. They are coping, but it seems there is nothing they can do about the situation. Most significantly the group experiences a death of one of their fellow residents via suicide. Because the “dead guy” is not buried properly in contravention of the demands of his Muslim tradition, he haunts the others with hilarious, heart wrenching, and smelly results.

    Layered within this story are the difficult and sadly comical experiences of each of the individuals. Each leading lives with a shared, conflicted yet accepting, desperation. All with differing perspectives due to varying ethnicity, age, and gender. Each are both thoughtful and dark.

    As the characters are developed, the story starts to revolve around several American museum facilitators of “Russian Extraction” who will visit and determine if they are to help the Russian group and their local “handmade” museum. It is a promise of a monetary donation, but as the residents try to meet the Americans’ exacting standards and try and plan out a reasonable way of showing the donators that their museum is worthy of support, that they lead normal and sane lives, havoc ensues.

    My Thoughts:   The above description of this book unjustly simplifies it, since there is so much more complexity within the book than can be described within three paragraphs. There were so may wonderful examples of complex and unusual word usage. I found myself laughing and amazed. The most fun aspect of the book is the way that the author seamlessly incorporates folktales, knowledge and tradition from each of the respective religious backgrounds. “Magical realism” melded with the reality of life - heartbreaking yet hopeful. The book is a linguistic mix of metaphor and imagery.

    Key concepts which I found interesting within the book are the nature of truth and how cultures define what they choose to relay to the population through the media, what they hide, and who it is that decides what is shared. It is here that we see that Russians as indirect by cultural default. But we also see how frustrated and powerless they feel about their country’s conflicts. Here is a wonderful example where the main character Olga struggles with her job of translating for a local newspaper, where she is required to create euphemisms for the public to read:

    Through the snow Olga trudged, dimly aware that in faraway places people spoke with purer words of unvarnished meaning. Or maybe not. Maybe at other news agencies in other countries people simply told more palatable lies. And as she rounded the corner and climbed over the remains of the broken stone archway that marked the entrance to the courtyard, she felt despair sliding down her throat, setting up quick residence in her stomach. Language was, after all, just word shaped stains, simply another way to evade and obscure the truth.

    As I read, I felt the cultural angst. It was a fascinating glimpse into the Soviet psyche which I now understand is more complex than many of us realize. We find that the country has residents of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian background – all with their generalized terms and stagnant beliefs about themselves and others, not unlike the US or any other country for that matter. Here the author sums up human character via Olga:

    Olga wagged her head slowly from side to side. It never ceased to amaze her what the human animal was capable of. What great great acts of generosity and cruelty. And how a human could harbor the inclination for both within the same heart! She wished she could say it was beyond her. But it wasn’t, because she felt it, too: compassion and rage, love and hate. Even good people could – and did – commit acts of cruelty. Even people like Olga.  How many times had she wished Afghanistan and everyone in it would simply fall off the map?

    There are many other examples in the book which exemplify its wonderful language as well as its important concepts. It is a lovely and complex book which was originally published in Great Britain in 2009. The version I read had language appropriate for the area, and will be changed for the American audience. The quotes reflect the UK version. It did feel like a translation, however I could find no evidence of it being one.

    I loved this book, and recommend it for people who enjoy unusual and creative language, metaphor and imagery, slipstream/magical realism, as well as art, art history, and cultural perspectives. I rate it at 4.5 stars. I will be looking for a hard copy of this book for my personal collection and I have also included Gina Ochsner on my list of authors to watch.

    Here is a link for an article I recently found regarding the lack of complete information disclosure within Russia - here.

    Genre Links - Fairy Tales and Quiz which Character Are You?


    Faerie and Myth Related links:

    • This is a link for Faerie Radio, some great tunes - (click first and listen while you surf.)
    • A link where fairy tale is elusively defined at SurLaLune
    • Another to the wonderful Endicott Studio, which cataloged mythic literature.
    • This is a book that will be of interest to writers whom plan to write within this genre: The Uses of Enchantment - the meaning and importance of fairy tales by Bruno Bettelheim which I found at Rhiannon Hart’s Blog.
    • An interesting article from the UK Telegraph on the ancient origins of fairy tales.
    • This is an intellectual and academic site called the Mythopoeic Society, for the true fairy tale and myth geek. It has just announced the nominees for the Mythopoeic Award Finalists which are listed for 2010. The winners will be announced in Dallas, Texas at Mythcon 41, July 9-10.
    • A lovely ezine called Cabinet des Fees.  
    • Neil Gaiman has an audio recording on libraries and fairy tales, which includes a retelling of a Goldilocks -"ish" tale.
    • A big festival happening at the end of July and beginning of August, in Oregon, USA called Faerieworlds. Link there to see more about this  event and to see its gorgeous pictures.
    • Suvudo had Faerie Week the last week of May with some interesting posts and interviews where I found a few of the links which I have included here.
    • To take the quiz go to which fairytale character are you? Then go to this site and type in  the character you are. Choose a picture and add it to your post or link it here.

    A New Genre? Slipstream vs New Wave Fabulism

    This is a re-post from Emily Cross’s post on The Writer’s Chronicle – June 30, 2009.


    Recently I've been thinking a lot about 'categories' and 'genre' in regards to my writing and that of my favourite books. "The Gargoyle"; "The Book Thief"; "Darkmans"; "Beyond Black"; "Life of Pi"; "The Book of lost things"; "Kafka on the shore"; "Neverwhere"; "American Gods" Often when some one asks about these books, its hard to call them, fantasy/ science fiction/literary because they are both but neither. As Carter Scholz & Bruce Sterling states, there is this new emergent genre:

    it is a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality. It is a fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously so. It does not aim to provoke a "sense of wonder" or to systematically extrapolate in the manner of classic science fiction.

    Instead, this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream."

    He further continues that:

    It seems to me that the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against "reality." These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are "futuristic" or "beyond the fields we know." These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of "everyday life."Some such books, the most "mainstream" ones, are non-realistic literary fictions which avoid or ignore SF genre conventions. But hard-core slipstream has unique darker elements. Quite commonly these works don't make a lot of common sense, and what's more they often somehow imply that *nothing we know makes* "a lot of sense" and perhaps even that *nothing ever could*.
    It's very common for slipstream books to screw around with the representational conventions of fiction, pulling annoying little stunts that suggest that the picture is leaking from the frame and may get all over the reader's feet. A few such techniques are infinite regress, trompe-l'oeil effects, metalepsis, sharp violations of viewpoint limits, bizarrely blase' reactions to horrifically unnatural events . . . all the way out to concrete poetry and the deliberate use of gibberish. Think M. C. Escher, and you have a graphic equivalent."

    Is this the new wave for the genre of SF/Fantasy?
    According to Rosenfield's article slipstream writers in reference to Carter Scholz and Sterlings article (above quoted and below listed) include just about everyone writing fantastic fiction working outside the "Science Fiction and Fantasy" section of the bookstore e.g. Paul Auster, Margaret Atwood, Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Steve Erickson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Phillip Roth
    But what of New Wave Fabulism?

    "Fabulism," you see, is a term used to describe Magical Realist writings by people who are not Latin.New Wave Fabulism is the term invented by Conjunctions to cast a broader net, to include fantastic writing that simply isn't Magical Realism. In practical terms one wonders what the difference between "New Wave Fabulism" and "Slipstream" really is? Why didn't Conjunctions just call the issue "Slipstream" and be done with it?

    The real difference between the terms is an illustration of why we can't declare the tension between those inside and outside the genre finally over and break out the champaign. The term "Slipstream" was created by Bruce Sterling to describe people predominantly outside the genre, but because he himself was inside of it, talking to people inside of it, the term has come to be used primarily by the SF community. "New Wave Fabulism," however, was proposed by a literary magazine to describe people inside the genre, and it is already coming to be used by people in the Literary world as a way to describe SF writers who are, you know, "good," because apparently we can't just call it Speculative Fiction without turning people off. In 2006 an anthology was released with the unwieldy title of Paraspheres: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary and Genre Fiction: Fabulist and New Wave Fabulist Stories. In the statement-of-purpose essay from this anthology, editor Ken Keegan reveals:

    On several occasions I initially described the work we would be publishing as "speculative fiction," only to receive a response like, "Oh, you mean science (or fantasy, or genre) fiction. I don't read science (or fantasy or genre) fiction. I only read literary fiction."

    So essentially Slipstream and New Wave Fabulism are one and the same - a mix of literary and SF and according to Rosenberg's article both sides of this 'new genre' (literary and SF) are breaking out in hives at the thought of mentioning the other genre's existence.

    The difference between Literary Fiction and Speculative Fiction is not the content, but the communities, communities which are often wildly ignorant about one another, and more significantly, openly hostile to one another. Which is not to say there aren't exceptions; obviously Bruce Sterling reads Literary Fiction and the editors of Conjunctions read Speculative Fiction. But the very existence of two terms, "Slipstream" and "New Wave Fabulism," to describe something that, if they aren't the same thing, might as well be, highlights the communal divisions even between the people who are most open to crossing their borders.

    *sigh* i started this post, excited that i could label my favourite books with a genre name and be able to say i read 'such and such' genre and maybe be able to find more books that are similar. . . Now it sounds like i just walked onto the bookworld version of westside story!?!?!?!

    THE SLIPSTREAM LIST - Carter Scholz & Bruce Sterling

    ACKER, KATHY - Empire of the Senseless
    ACKROYD, PETER - Hawksmoor; Chatterton
    ALDISS, BRIAN - Life in the West
    ALLENDE, ISABEL - Of Love and Shadows; House of
    AMIS, KINGSLEY - The Alienation; The Green Man
    AMIS, MARTIN - Other People; Einstein's Monsters
    APPLE, MAX - Zap; The Oranging of America
    ATWOOD, MARGARET - The Handmaids Tale
    AUSTER, PAUL - City of Glass; In the Country of Last
    BALLARD, J. G. - Day of Creation; Empire of the Sun
    BANKS, IAIN - The Wasp Factory; The Bridge
    BANVILLE, JOHN - Kepler; Dr. Copernicus
    BARNES, JULIAN - Staring at the Sun
    BARTH, JOHN - Giles Goat-Boy; Chimera
    BARTHELME, DONALD - The Dead Father
    BATCHELOR, JOHN CALVIN - Birth of the People s
    Republic of Antarctica
    BELL, MADISON SMARTT - Waiting for the End of the
    BERGER, THOMAS - Arthur Rex
    BONTLY, THOMAS - Celestial Chess
    BOYLE, T. CORAGHESSAN - Worlds End; Water Music
    BRANDAO, IGNACIO - And Still the Earth
    BURROUGHS, WILLIAM - Place of Dead Roads; Naked Lunch;
    Soft Machine; etc.
    CARROLL, JONATHAN - Bones of the Moon; Land of Laughs
    CARTER, ANGELA - Nights at the Circus; Heroes and
    CARY, PETER - Illywhacker; Oscar and Lucinda
    CHESBRO, GEORGE M. - An Affair of Sorcerers
    COETZEE, J. M. - Life and rimes of Michael K.
    COOVER, ROBERT - The Public Burning; Pricksongs &
    CRACE, JIM - Continent
    CROWLEY, JOHN - Little Big; Aegypt
    DAVENPORT, GUY - Da Vincis Bicycle; The Jules Verne
    Steam Balloon
    DISCH, THOMAS M. - On Wings of Song
    DODGE, JIM - Not Fade Away
    DURRELL, LAWRENCE - Tunc; Nunquam
    ELY, DAVID - Seconds
    ERICKSON, STEVE - Days Between Stations; Rubicon Beach
    FEDERMAN, RAYMOND - The Twofold Variations
    FOWLES, JOHN - A Maggot
    FRANZEN, JONATHAN - The Twenty-Seventh City
    FRISCH, MAX - Homo Faber; Man in the Holocene
    FUENTES, CARLOS - Terra Nostra
    GADDIS, WILLIAM - JR; Carpenters Gothic
    GARDNER, JOHN - Grendel; Freddy's Book
    GEARY, PATRICIA - Strange Toys; Living in Ether
    GOLDMAN, WILLIAM - The Princess Bride; The Color of
    GRASS, GUNTER - The Tin Drum
    GRAY, ALASDAIR - Lanark
    GRIMWOOD, KEN - Replay
    HARBINSON, W. A. - Genesis; Revelation; Otherworld
    HILL, CAROLYN - The Eleven Million Mile High Dancer
    HJVRTSBERG, WILLIAM - Gray Matters; Falling Angel
    HOBAN, RUSSELL - Riddley Walker
    HOYT, RICHARD - The Manna Enzyme
    IRWIN, ROBERT - The Arabian Nightmares
    ISKANDER, FAZIL - Sandro of Chegam; The Gospel
    According to Sandro
    JOHNSON, DENIS - Fiskadoro
    JONES, ROBERT F. - Blood Sport; The Diamond Bogo
    KINSELLA, W. P. - Shoeless Joe
    KOSTER, R. M. - The Dissertation; Mandragon
    KOTZWINKLE, WILLIAM - Elephant Bangs Train; Doctor
    Rat, Fata Morgana
    KRAMER, KATHRYN - A Handbook for Visitors From Outer
    LANGE, OLIVER - Vandenberg
    LESSING, DORIS - The Four-Gated City; The Fifth Child
    of Satan
    LEVEN, JEREMY - Satan
    MAILER, NORMAN - Ancient Evenings
    MARINIS, RICK - A Lovely Monster
    MARQUEZ, GABRIEL GARCIA - Autumn of the Patriarch; One
    Hundred Years of Solitude
    MATHEWS, HARRY - The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium
    McEWAN, IAN - The Comfort of Strangers; The Child in
    McMAHON, THOMAS - Loving Little Egypt
    MILLAR, MARTIN - Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation
    MOONEY, TED - Easy Travel to Other Planets
    MOORCOCK, MICHAEL - Laughter of Carthage; Byzantium
    Endures; Mother London
    MOORE, BRIAN - Cold Heaven
    MORRELL, DAVID - The Totem
    MORRISON, TONI - Beloved; The Song of Solomon
    NUNN, KEN - Tapping the Source; Unassigned Territory
    PERCY, WALKER - Love in the Ruins; The Thanatos
    PIERCY, MARGE - Woman on the Edge of Time
    PORTIS, CHARLES - Masters of Atlantis
    PRIEST, CHRISTOPHER - The Glamour; The Affirmation
    PROSE, FRANCINE - Bigfoot Dreams, Marie Laveau
    PYNCHON, THOMAS - Gravity's Rainbow; V; The Crying of
    Lot 49
    REED, ISHMAEL - Mumbo Jumbo; The Terrible Twos
    RICE, ANNE - The Vampire Lestat; Queen of the Damned
    ROBBINS, TOM - Jitterbug Perfume; Another Roadside
    ROTH, PHILIP - The Counterlife
    RUSHDIE, SALMON - Midnight's Children; Grimus; The
    Satanic Verses
    SAINT, H. F. - Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    SHEPARD, LUCIUS - Life During Wartime
    SIDDONS, ANNE RIVERS - The House Next Door
    SPARK, MURIEL - The Hothouse by the East River
    SPENCER, SCOTT - Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball
    SUKENICK, RONALD - Up; Down; Out
    SUSKIND, PATRICK - Perfume
    THEROUX, PAUL - O-Zone
    THOMAS, D. M. - The White Hotel
    THOMPSON, JOYCE - The Blue Chair; Conscience Place
    THOMSON, RUPERT - Dreams of Leaving
    THORNBERG, NEWTON - Valhalla
    THORNTON, LAWRENCE - Imagining Argentina
    UPDIKE, JOHN - Witches of Eastwick; Rogers Version
    VLIET, R. G. - Scorpio Rising
    VOLLMAN, WILLIAM T. - You Bright and Risen Angels
    VONNEGUT, KURT - Galapagos; Slaughterhouse-Five
    WALLACE, DAVID FOSTER - The Broom of the System
    WEBB, DON - Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book
    WHITTEMORE, EDWARD - Nile Shadows; Jerusalem Poker;
    Sinai Tapestry
    WILLARD, NANCY - Things Invisible to See
    WOMACK, JACK - Ambient; Terraplane
    WOOD, BARI - The Killing Gift
    WRIGHT, STEPHEN - M31: A Family Romance

    Slipstream/cyberpunk book reviews

    Genre: Magical Realism

    This is a repost by Emily Cross from The Writer’s Chronicles dated July 30, 2002.

    Now i thought i had a handle on Slipstream/New Wave Fabulism. Recently though i wandered into a Waterstones in Dublin and came across the category 'Magic Realism'. Now i've heard of this genre type before, but when i looked at the books in the section, such as the dream eaters and the princess bride, i got more confused. Both would be considered slipstream?!?! Wouldn't they?
    So now i'm going to 'try' and tackle 'magic realism'

    While looking up this genre, i came across the Encyclopedia of SF and this is what they stated:

    Magic realism (or magical realism) is an artistic genre in which magical elements appear in an otherwise realistic setting. As used today the term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous. The term was initially used by German art critic Franz Roh to describe painting which demonstrated an altered reality, but was later used by Venezuelan Arturo Uslar-Pietri to describe the work of certain Latin American writers. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier (a friend of Uslar-Pietri) used the term "lo real maravilloso" (roughly "marvelous reality") in the prologue to his novel The Kingdom of this World (1949). Carpentier's conception was of a kind of heightened reality in which elements of the miraculous could appear without seeming forced and unnatural. Carpentier's work was a key influence on the writers of the Latin American "boom" that emerged in the 1960s.

    With the elements of Magic Realism being:

    • Contains fantastical elements
    • The fantastic elements may be intrinsically plausible but are never explained
    • Characters accept rather than question the logic of the magical element
    • Exhibits a richness of sensory details
    • Uses symbols and imagery extensively.
    • Emotions and the sexuality of the human as a social construct are often developed in great detail
    • Distorts time so that it is cyclical or so that it appears absent. Another technique is to collapse time in order to create a setting in which the present repeats or resembles the past
    • Inverts cause and effect, for instance a character may suffer before a tragedy occurs
    • Incorporates legend or folklore
    • Presents events from multiple standpoints - ie. alternates detached with involved narrative voice; likewise, often shifts between characters' viewpoints and internal narration on shared relationships or memories.
    • Mirrors past against present; astral against physical planes; or characters one against another.
    • Open-ended conclusion leaves to the reader to determine whether the magical and/or the mundane rendering of the plot is more truthful or in accord with the world as it is.

    Also reading this article, a number of the books mentioned in my previous post about slipstream are included under the genre of Magic Realism e.g. One Hundred years of solitude. The article does highlight however that the genre has recently been too broadly used to describe Harry Potter and the Stepford Wives.
    Now i'm completely confused.
    I'm hoping this might clear things up slightly though.

    Magical realism often overlaps or is confused with other genres and movements.

    • Postmodernism – Magical realism is often considered a subcategory of postmodern fiction due to its challenge to hegemony and its use of techniques similar to those of other postmodernist texts, such as the distortion of time.
    • Surrealism – Many early magical realists such as Alejo Carpentier and Miguel Ángel Asturias studied with the surrealists, and surrealism, as an international movement, influenced many aspects of Latin American art. Surrealists, however, try to discover and portray that which is above or superior to the “real” through the use of techniques such as automatic writing, hypnosis, and dreaming. Magical realists, on the other hand, portray the real world itself as having marvelous aspects inherent in it.
    • Fantasy and Science fiction – Fantasy and science fiction novels, using strict definitions, portray an alternate universe with its own set of rules and characteristics, however similar this universe is to our world, or experiment with our world by suggesting how a new technology or political system might affect our society. Magical realism, however, portrays the real world minus any definite set of rules. Some critics who define the genres more broadly include magic realism as one of the fantasy genres.
    • Slipstream – Slipstream describes fiction that falls between "mainstream" literature and the fantasy and science fiction genres (the name itself is wordplay on the term "mainstream"). Where science fiction and fantasy novels treat their fantastical elements as being very literal, real elements of their world, slipstream usually explores these elements in a more surreal fashion, and delves more into their satirical or metaphorical importance. Compared to magical realism the fantastical elements of slipstream also tend to be more extravagant, and their existence is usually more jarring to their comparative realities than that which is found in magic realism.
    • McOndo – McOndo is a literary movement favored by several younger Latin American writers. It seeks to distance itself from magic realism and the stereotypes about Latin literature that some McOndo writers argue were perpetuated by magic realists and magic realism.

    So - basically the difference is extremely minor between MR and Slipstream - it really is down to a matter of degrees of the 'extravagent fantasy'. Honestly between all the labels/genre names which exist for essential the same body of literature - it makes me wonder why all our little books don't have mutliple personality disorder!?!??!

    Authors who have written in the style of magic realism (Encyclopedia source)
    Authors A - H Authors H - W
  • Chris Adrian
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Chris Adrian
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Isabel Allende
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Jorge Amado
  • Mário de Andrade
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias
  • Louis de Bernières
  • Doris Betts
  • Jonathan Carroll
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Italo Calvino
  • Alejo Carpentier
  • Angela Carter
  • Julio Cortázar
  • Steve Erickson
  • Laura Esquivel
  • Carlos Fuentes
  • Dias Gomes
  • Michael Gow
  • Günter Grass
  • Gilbert Hernandez
  • Jaime Hernandez
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Ernst Jünger
  • Franz Kafka
  • Daniel Kehlmann
  • Milan Kundera
  • Onat Kutlar
  • Saulius T. Kondrotas
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Mario Vargas Llosa
  • George MacDonald
  • Subcomandante Marcos
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Yann Martel
  • Toni Morrison
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Tim O'Brien
  • Ben Okri
  • Arturo Uslar-Pietri
  • Franz Roh
  • Arundhati Roy
  • Juan Rulfo
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o
  • Jeanette Winterson
  • *All above links connect to Encyclopedia of Speculative Fiction.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    The Basics Challenge – Exploring Speculative Fiction

    My Goal:

    To attempt to read 100 books within a 5 year span, less 25% forgiveness rate, which is a total of 75 books. Divided down it’s 15 books per year. Which ultimately translates to a little over 1 book per month.

    This challenge will be an overlap with The Fill in the Gaps Challenge listed here.

    I have chosen to use a “reading pool” method. All the books are within the Speculative Fiction Genre – Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.

    Overlapping Challenge Books

    Science Fiction:

    1. Dune - Frank Herbert
    2. Children of Dune - Frank Herbert
    3. Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert
    4. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
    5. Foundation - Isaac Asimov
    6. Foundation Empire - Isaac Asimov
    7. Second Foundation - Isaac Asimov
    8. Do Androids Dream of Sleep - Phillip K. Dick
    9. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
    10. 1984 - George Orwell
    11. Animal Farm - George Orwell
    12. Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clark
    13. Ringworld - Harry Niven
    14. Time Machine - H. G. Wells
    15. The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells
    16. The Island of Doctor Moreau - H. G Wells
    17. The World Treasury of Science Fiction - David G. Hartwell
    18. The Day After Tomorrow - Robert Heinlein
    19. Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
    20. Midwich Cuckoos - John Wyndham
    21. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham
    22. Chrysalids - John Wyndham
    23. The Godmakers - Don Pendleton
    24. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - Harllan Ellison

    Feminist Science Fiction:

    1. Herland - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    2. New Eves - ed Janrae Frank
    3. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
    4. The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood (not sure if this is speculative)


    1. Interview with a Vampire - Anne Rice
    2. The Vampire Lestat - Anne Rice
    3. The Queen of the Damned - Anne Rice
    4. Cry to Heaven - Anne Rice
    5. The Locus Awards - ed Charles N. Brown
    6. Great Tales of Horror - Edgar Allen Poe
    7. The Hunter of the Dark - H. P. Lovecraft
    8. Dracula - Bram Stoker (completed but needs to be posted)
    9. The Inferno - Dante
    10. The Metamorphosis - Frank Kafka (completed and linked below)
    11. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostava


    1. The Middle Window - Elizabeth Goudge
    2. The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
    3. Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring - J. R. R. Tolkien
    4. Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers - J. R. R. Tolkien
    5. Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King - J. R. R. Tolkien
    6. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
    7. Dragon Flight - Anne McCaffrey
    8. The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart
    9. The Last Enchantment - Mary Stewart
    10. The Hollow Hills - Mary Stewart
    11. Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury
    12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone - J. K. Rowling
    13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
    14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Ascaban - J. K. Rowling
    15. Green Mansions - William Henry Hudson

    Books will be reviewed and linked below:

    1. The Things That Keep Us Here - Carla Buckley (adult apocalyptic)
    2. The Magic Warble – Victoria Simcox (children’s fantasy)
    3. RELEASE by Nicole Hadaway – (horror, vampire)
    4. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan – (dark fantasy, fairytale retelling )
    5. Soulless by Gail Carrigan – (urban fantasy, steam punk, vampire, werewolf)
    6. The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka (horror, classic, literature)
    7. - needs to be posted.
    8. Life As We Knew It
    9. The Dead and The Gone
    10. This World We Live In (all linked here in one post) – (apocalyptic, young adult)
    11. Inside Out by Maria Snyder (young adult – girls science fiction)
    12. Cursed by Jeremy Shipp (horror- bizarro)
    13. Keeper by Kathi Appelt (children’s mythic/fairytale, magical realism)
    14. The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner.

    14 completed, 61 more to go.

    Review by Shellie: Cursed by Jeremy Shipp


    Mini Non-Spoiler Synopsis:

    Nick is a conflicted and slightly damaged person; although a good guy he has a past linked to alcohol abuse. With a number of colorful friends and family members, Nick sees his life and his relationships as a series of lists; indeed he thinks in lists. As he moves awkwardly through his difficulties, self doubt, and hilarious quirkiness, we see the “horror” of his insecurities through these lists. While he is connecting with family and friends he comes to realize through a series of related events that he has been cursed. A few of his friends share this curse too, so naturally drama, psychological distress, and some paranormal horror and dark humor ensues.

    (This short novel was nominated for the Bram Stoker 2009 Award.)

    My Thoughts:

    This is not your typical horror book, since there is only a slight amount of gore. The true horror in Cursed is actually the internal struggle within the main character’s mind and in his day to day life. Reading about it is bearably funny because of the subtle and quirky humor around Nick’s hilarious and relatable lists.  Be aware that it is an uncomfortable humor which many of us may relate to, though some will not. It has a dry, offbeat, almost Monty Python-esque feel, only it’s very American rather than British. I was giggling while reading this novel, so John (my husband) kept asking me what was so funny. I read him a few bits, and he agreed that the book sounded extremely quirky. Perhaps that is the connection to the Bizarro fiction, which, after reading this I am beginning to define. I would say that Cursed is unusual, as well as complex and layered.

    Looking for a literary reference, I see a parallel between Nick and Gregor, the main character from The Metamorphosis (title links to recent review). Both characters are caught within some difficult life circumstances mostly beyond their control, yet remain reflective and sensitive almost to a fault. Another example of a connection is where The Metamorphosis has a sort of periodic angst; it has an emotional discord which can only truly be defined within the early 1900’s. Cursed too is periodic but has a contemporary feel. Reading Cursed was like reading a book by a friend whose experiences are based during the present day, and whose guilt, self doubt, abandonment issues, and alcohol abuse all bunched up into a story that could only be set recently.

    I do think that the book could be paralleled and contrasted with The Metamorphosis more, but will leave that to the scholars. In summary I immensely enjoyed this creative, quirky book. It is thoughtful, original, disturbing, sensitive, and funny and rate it at 4 Stars. It was a needed humor break.

    Review by Shellie: Soulless by Gail Carriger


    Genre: Urban Fantasy; Steam Punk; Alternative Reality… and more

    Set Up:

    In an alternative Victorian London within a steam punk setting, this story depicts a society which is very much like it would have been 130 years ago – excluding the steam punk of course. The only difference is that it includes Vampires, Werewolves, and Ghosts as an accepted part of society.

    The main character, Alexia, is special. She is a preternatural, which actually means she is soulless. This has special circumstances for all the supernatural beings in the story. Besides that, she is a spinster, curvy, feisty, and intellectual. All being characteristics which have not been looked upon as positive for a woman living during this time period.

    The story includes a set of supernatural characters including a hunky Alpha werewolf, a swishy male vampire with an 18th century fashion sense, and a delicate friend with a love for bad hats. They are all mixed up within a mystery where some intense romance ensues, combined with an amazing mishmash of sub genres –  mixing urban fantasy, steam punk, and alternative reality.

     My Thoughts:

    Amazingly this was my first steam punk novel, and second urban fantasy. What a great fun read. It made me laugh out loud, giggle, and blush. It has some very interesting yet tasteful romantic interludes, as well as a few evil and funny entanglements. I love feisty women with parasols.

    The language is intelligent and felt just enough like the period in which it was set, but understandable for a modern reader. It is also wryly funny, and Alexia is determined to go against the societal norm for women. Which makes her a wonderful and strong female character. My favorite.

    Highly recommended for an intellectual, humorous, and fun read. I give Soulless - 4 stars. I am looking forward to the next book in her series which is called Changeless, and then Blameless.

    Review by Shellie: Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan

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    Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan, is the co-winner of the World Fantasy Award for 2009.

    It is a dark and disturbing retelling of a fairytale for young adults which is wonderfully creative yet one which not everyone will enjoy.

    Set Up:   This story is a version of the tale Rose Red and Snow White. A story with two young sister whose names are in the title live in a forest with their mother and become friends with a bear. According to the link there is no connection to the American version or any other version of Snow White.

    Unlike the actual tale, and with some artistic license,Margo Lanagan gives it depth and interest with the inclusion of an actual bear event set in Europe. The author apparently viewed a festival on television prior to writing the story and therefore included it in the retelling. Also unlike the original the setting is within two parallel worlds connected by magic. Where the “real world” is a version of our past being lit only by fire. The second world is “the false world” or that “of the heart’s desire”,  and is an idealized version or our world. All created in desperation by the main character Liga (the girls’ mother), through personal trauma, her inability to deal with reality, and to keep her daughters safe.

    My Thoughts: There are many things I like about the book. The writing is evocative and disturbing; the language used is set in period with an English/Australian bent, making it feel old and rural; the book cover renditions support some of the major themes within the story (I am highly visual); and the evil characters are given a perspective which helps the reader to sympathize with them – because that's what happens in real life.

    It is a wonderfully complex rendition of the original story. It is multilayered where the author brings in some important themes, two of which are Women’s issues around social oppression and strength.

    Here is a quote which shows the oppressiveness of the social structure of the real world compared to the “heart’s desire” world:

    Annie peered and grinned. “Heh-heh. There is nothing like upbringing up in a heaven to give a girl a false confidence.”

    “False, you think?” said Liga anxiously, dropping the lace back across the windo.

    “The size o’ that mob, Liga? I say false. Get yourself dressed, girl, in your very best; we will need to summon all the menfolk and all the respectability we can, if she’s not to be whipped in the street.”

    To be raised in an environment with no constraints one may have a false confidence about one’s ability to counter social mores of a present society, no matter how warranted they are.

    Another quote regarding one woman’s strength:

    …She, Urdda, must see that place someday, where women dressed so beautifully yet so plain, rode about alone. No one would dare spit upon this woman, or call out at her. She had a different kind of boldness, a strength that did not defy that of men so much as ignore it, or take its place without question beside it – Urdda wanted some of that boldness.

    A wonderful role model for young women.

    Be forewarned this is not a light story, and addresses some very very dark and difficult issues. It is not a story which everyone is going to enjoy or even like.

    Tender Morsels won the World Fantasy Award for 2009  covering the year 2008. Personally, I can see why. I love dark fantasy which touches on important social issues and  is also well written. This is exceptional. I have given this story a rare 5 stars.

    Review by Shellie: Inside Out by Maria Snyder


    Basic Set Up Info: 

    Set somewhere in the future, within an enclosed world which has advanced technology, Trella lives in a crowded space where she is one of two factions - Uppers and Lowers. Trella is a Lower and because of this “lower” status she is required to clean the complex pipe systems of this metallic world and is designated a “scrub.” Trella is strong teen, slightly damaged, and prefers to keep to herself. As the story progresses and we become introduced to its dystopian society and its apparent class structure imbalance, drama and light romance ensue.

    My Thoughts:

    This is a wonderful introduction to science fiction and dystopian society for young adults and especially girls. I would have loved this as a “tween” in the 1970s. We had the Nancy Drew series, and authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder and Zilpha Keatley Snyder giving us mystery, historical fiction, and paranormal. Sadly, I remember no role models for girls within science fiction; goodness knows, I tried devouring the boy’s preteen section on science fiction from our local library. 

    Another  positive element in this book is that Maria Snyder includes some basic concepts around political dystopian concepts for a younger reader. This I feel is important, since it can be then be a basis for understanding more complex worlds, as well as world history and current events. Highly recommended for adults interested in a light read, but especially for intrigued and intelligent girls (and boys too, since it is light on the romance). I give it a 4 star rating and am also excited that it is a first in a series. I believe the next is called Outside In and will be released at the beginning of 2011.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Hi there – Some small changes at The Basics Challenge as well as an introduction


    Emily has decided that she would like to focus her energy on other projects in progress, and since I love this challenge I raised my hand so the blog would not be deleted.  I am so glad I caught it in time – a few more days and.. oh dear.. I would have been totally bummed.

    However, do not fear/panic since Emily is not leaving us, and will still be around – lurking,  participating, and posting. She has just relinquished responsibility for the challenge which I will now be taking over. She will be there to correspond with you, and for questions from me. (Its nice to know you have that support). I am also hoping to use her expertise for posts on specifics within her genre of interest. Thanks Emily!

    Please feel comfortable since the concept is still the same. Any changes to the blog will be minor and you will hardly notice – so keep posting, commenting, and reading as if there are no changes at all. I know most of you have not posted in awhile never the less your lists are still here.

    Hopefully The Basics Challenge will grow and there will be more participants joining so we can all build a community to learn from and to explore within.

    A bit more about me – Shellie. I have a blog called Layers of Thought which I started almost a year ago. Its been crazy fun, and I have learned a lot, but have miles yet to go. So fumbles, stumbles, and crashes are par for the course. I joined The Basics Challenge to explore speculative fiction, which I have a big big interest in, and know very little about – Emily is the perfect resource. I want to keep exploring so here I am.

    Please, please, contact me if you have any questions at all, concerns and/or ideas, or would like to join the challenge. (Contrary to some opinion I do not snarl, bite, stalk, or spam.) Here is my profile page which has an email link within it.

    I am looking forward to getting to know everyone here (Karen, Steven, Beth, Iasa, as well as any readers), reading more of your reviews, comments and more. Cheers!

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Triple Book Review by Shellie: Life As We Knew It, The Dead and The Gone, and (ARC)This World We Live In by Susanne Beth Pfeffer

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    Mini Synopsis:

    (Basic set up and setting information included but no spoilers.)

    This is a young adult series with the latest book This World We Live In being the last of the trilogy (I think.) It is set within the present day where an apocalyptic event has occurred. The moon has been knocked off its orbit causing a plethora of environmental disasters all over the planet. Tsunamis destroy coastal cities and that is just the beginning. As all normal life deteriorates the 17 year old main character, Miranda, in the first book tells us through her diary the events and her feelings as her life completely changes. It occurs within a Pennsylvania suburb setting. The second book is a parallel book where the main character, Alex, lives in New York City. In the third book the two main characters’ lives come together.

    The last in the series – This World We Live In, has just been released on April 1, 2010.

    My Thoughts:

    The books all have a realistic feeling for what could happen if the world’s food, communication services, and other vital systems were to break down and gradually collapse and disappear. The author does a nice job of giving the reader a feel for this type of event and doesn’t skirt painful happenings such as death, which she does tastefully for a younger audience.

    It’s a page turning series for young men and women which I would “safely” recommend for my nieces, grandchildren, and/or students. The behaviors of the main characters in the books show strong character; I would almost say an unrealistic sense of self and behavior (I think I would have gone bonkers under the circumstances). Nevertheless, it’s what I believe to be exemplary behavior for young adults, which I support. I also liked the fact that the two character’s belief systems, atheism and Catholicism, are non-judgmentally contrasted.

    Susanne Beth Pfeffer has a strong and easy to follow writing style, which sucks you in and keeps you reading while caring about the characters. I completely devoured this series. I would rate the first two books in the series as 3.5 stars. I would say I liked the latest book the best due to its incredible and heartbreaking ending. This, I think, takes the book over the 4 star edge with its deeper internal conflict. Highly recommended for adults and teens alike. I  also recommend that they are read in order, don’t be tempted to skip the second book – I almost did.


    Other books that I have read and reviewed which are similar but written for adults are:

    *I do want to note, that after thinking about The Road, over the past several months I have come to feel that I did not rate this book as highly as I should have. I now think that the esoteric babbling by the main character (which I complained about) is in fact his semi loss of sanity - a natural occurrence in a situation such as depicted by the author, and an important aspect of the book.