Author Interview: Benson Grayson on "My Troubles With Time"

Ana: Today we have Benson Grayson introducing their novel, "My Troubles With Time". I haven't read this book myself, but Benson was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Benson, how would you describe your novel to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your novel about?

Benson: “My Troubles With Time” is a lighthearted science fiction book about an inept physics professor. With no friends and no career future, still a virgin although in his mid-thirties, he seeks to become a national hero by going back to December 1941 in a time machine he has invented. His plan is to destroy the Japanese fleet which attacked Pearl Harbor. Overcoming great obstacles he seizes command of the battleship Nevada and achieves his goal. Rather than being hailed as a hero, he is arrested and sentenced to death by a U.S. Navy Court Martial for mistakenly sinking the Japanese vessels before they launched their attack. Thanks to the vagaries of time travel he escapes and returns home, no longer a virgin and a greatly improved individual.

Ana: That was careless of him -- if there's one thing fiction has taught me, it's that sex + time travel = becoming your own grandfather. What themes does your novel explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your novel will mean to a reader?

Benson: The book is primarily intended to give the reader a happy experience. However, it is based in part on an actual incident, the gallant effort of the few junior officers on board the Nevada to get the giant battleship to sea in the midst of the Japanese attack. They managed to start the engines and leave the anchorage. Unfortunate their effort came to naught. Under heavy attack from Japanese aircraft, the Nevada was ordered beached to avoid its being sunk at a spot which would have blocked the main channel. This incident always brings tears to my eyes, when I think of the outstanding courage displayed by the Nevada’s junior officers and crew.

Ana: What prompted you to write this novel and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book?

Benson: The book was actually composed in my mind while walking. Normally I listen to audio books when I take my frequent walks, usually books on history. When I can find none of interest, I entertain myself by composing plots in my head. “My Troubles With Time” originated during my long walks. Only when I had the entire plot completed in my head did I write it down. I then carefully researched it to make certain it stuck as close to historical facts as possible.

Ana: I've done some writing-while-walking myself, come to think on it -- very cool that you finished the novel and wrote it all down! If you could compare your novel to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your novel is their cup of tea?

Benson: I have always loved to read science fiction, particularly those few humorous science fiction stories I have found. However, I know of no humorous science fiction book to rival mine.

Ana: I like your confidence. Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other novels? If you have published other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Benson: This is my first novel. I am the author of seven previously published non-fiction works, all on history and foreign affairs. My favorite of these is a history of the administration of President Millard Fillmore. I enjoyed researching that because I realized, as I was teaching my young daughter about the American Presidents as I drove her to day care that I knew virtually nothing about Millard Fillmore, myself.

Ana: That's one way to master a subject! Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next novel comes available?

Benson: “My Troubles With Time” is available on Kindle, IPAD, B&N, and Smashwords for $2.99. I would invite any potential reader to ask me about it via email at billandhelen@verizon.net.

Ana: Thank you, Benson. I understand you have the first chapter of your novel available as an excerpt for interested readers? And is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Benson: Sample sections are available free of charge on the Kindle and Smashwords sites.

Narnia: A Question Of Legitimacy

Narnia Recap: Edmund has denied the existence of Narnia and Susan and Peter have visited the Professor to ask his advice. The one thing everyone can agree upon is to let the matter lie for awhile. Some days later, all four children are forced to hide in the wardrobe to avoid a visiting tour group.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 6: Into The Forest

   "There's something sticking into my back," said Peter.
   "And isn't it cold?" said Susan.
   "Now that you mention it, it is cold," said Peter, "and hang it all, it's wet too. What's the matter with this place? I'm sitting on something wet. It's getting wetter every minute." He struggled to his feet.
   "Let's get out," said Edmund, "they've gone."
   "O-o-oh!" said Susan suddenly, and everyone asked her what was the matter.
   "I'm sitting against a tree," said Susan, "and look! It's getting light -- over there."
   "By jove, you're right," said Peter, "and look there -- and there. It's trees all round. And this wet stuff is snow. Why, I do believe we've got into Lucy's wood after all."

Review: Pilgrimage to Hell

Pilgrimage To Hell (Deathlands Series)Pilgrimage To Hell
by Jack Adrian

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Deathlands 1: Pilgrimage to Hell / 0373625014

I'm a fan of the Deathlands series, although I can't quite put my finger on why. They're pretty much gun-'n'-torture fantasies that take place in an apocalyptic America where might makes right and men are real men and women are real women and death is always lying just around the corner. Not the sort of thing I usually eat up, but the setup is so fascinating that I can't quite look away -- each book is a very careful variation on the same themes and it's delightful to see what the bevy of authors who write these books will come up with next. (I've heard them described as popcorn -- no nutritional value whatsoever, but you can't stop eating! Er, reading!)

I recently decided to re-read my Deathlands novels, so I've been going through in order. "Pilgrimage to Hell" is the first book in the series, and... it could be better. The first 30 novels of the series are credited to Laurence James as the author, except for this one who is co-credited with Jack Adrian, and I think Adrian's writing style differs strongly from the clean sharp prose that characterizes James' novels in the series. "Pilgrimage to Hell" seems to be written with a very limited budget for periods; every sentence seems to stretch on for miles until you arrive gasping at the end, trying to suss out what the author is trying to convey. The prologue is especially guilty of this: I'm sure the intricate details of how the Cold War ruined the entire planet was very fascinating at one time, but whew, it comes across as a bit of overkill now.

Unfortunately, if you're going to get the world-building setup and character backstories, you'll have to read "Pilgrimage to Hell" before moving on to the better-paced novels in the series, so I do recommend it for new fans, but with the understanding that the series definitely picks up after this first book. So let's talk about the content.

"Pilgrimage to Hell" is a rather good series starter, plot-wise. We're introduced to the concept of Deathlands (an apocalyptic America) and the main characters who will define the series as a whole: the Trader, an older man who has made a name for himself as a traveling merchant; Ryan Cawdor, a one-eyed security officer who leads the Trader's convoys; J.B. Dix, an unassuming man with an intense love for guns and laconic wit; Krysty Wroth, a red-haired mutant with supernatural strength; and Doc Tanner, an old-fashioned gentleman who belongs to a time before the apocalypse. A series of well-timed coincidences and betrayals throw the group together and they leave the safety of the convoy in order to explore the entirety of Deathlands, searching for a place of peace where they can live happily and safe all their days.

If Deathlands books had movie ratings, they would all be rated R or higher, and "Pilgrimage to Hell" is no exception. This book contains discussions of rape, sexual sadism, bestiality, violence, slavery, torture, and lots and lots of guns and death. Pretty much every possible Trigger Warning is contained in this book alone, and while normally I would find all this darkness overwhelming in a book, there's still somehow a lightness of tone over everything that makes it easier to read -- maybe because we know that nothing will ever truly phase the main characters.

If you're interested in reading the Deathlands series, I almost recommend starting with Book 2 in the series, "Red Holocaust", and working back to this one if you like that one enough to keep going. If you don't like "Red Holocaust", you won't like "Pilgrimage to Hell", but if you *do* like "Red Holocaust", you'll want to come back and pick up the pieces you missed.

~ Ana Mardoll

View all my reviews

Deals: Food Inc Participant Guide

Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About ItFood Inc.: A Participant Guide

Today's Kindle deal is the participant guide for the Food, Inc. documentary. I've checked the book out from the library before and while I felt it had some issues in the Health At Every Size department and fat-shaming, it seemed to be an interesting collection. I didn't get far enough through the book before it was due back to the library to review it, but I've snagged the Kindle deal and will probably get around to reading and reviewing it in the next decade or two.

Twilight: Sound Effects Added To Lessen Tragedy

Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have finished their Biology lab and Bella has confessed her motivation for coming to Forks while Edward has marveled at how much suffering she has undergone in the past few weeks.

Twilight, Chapter 3: Phenomenon

Today we're going to take the text in order: Clumsy, Boys, Clumsy, Boys. I may be a little unpleasant; I apologize in advance.

   WHEN I OPENED MY EYES IN THE MORNING, SOMETHING was different.
   I jumped up to look outside, and then groaned in horror.
   A fine layer of snow covered the yard, dusted the top of my truck, and whitened the road. But that wasn’t the worst part. All the rain from yesterday had frozen solid — coating the needles on the trees in fantastic, gorgeous patterns, and making the driveway a deadly ice slick. I had enough trouble not falling down when the ground was dry; it might be safer for me to go back to bed now.

And now we come to the issue of Bella's clumsiness.

Tropes: Prostitution. You're Doin' It Rong.

I'm going to right up front announce that 90% of this post is going to be a repeat of Limyaael's much better Rant on Whores, so you should probably just go read that and maybe imagine me nodding my head a few times and then trolling Google looking for "sex fail" pictures that could accompany this post.

Anyway. Prostitution. You're doing it wrong.

Well, I mean, you aren't doing it wrong, but it keeps popping up unexpectedly in the books I'm reading even though I'd somewhat prefer it didn't because it seems like the authors never really want to commit to the topic enough to do it justice. So if you're an author and you want to write about prostitutes, take this rant for what you will.

(The rest of the post is hidden below the break, for those of you who are at work.)

Author Interview: Sue Santore on "A Singular Gift"

Ana: Today we have Sue Santore introducing their novel, "A Singular Gift". I haven't read this book myself, but Sue was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Sue, how would you describe your novel to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your novel about?

Sue: "A Singular Gift" is a stand-alone fantasy novel about a young girl, Jean Ryan, and her struggles to learn to use her recently inherited magic gift. As she learns how to use her magic, she skirts a dangerous edge. Does all power corrupt?

Learning to use her magic, forming a teenage magic circle, combating evil adult magic users. Jean must use all her wits and the magic her grandmother has left her because as she solves one problem, another pops up. At the end, she faces an evil she never dreamed of.

Ana: What themes does your novel explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your novel will mean to a reader?

Sue: My main theme is that we are all responsible for our own actions. This is shown in several places through the book. Jean's growth as a person is an important part of the story. One sub-theme is that family and friends matter. Another sub-theme is that to stand for good is to take action against evil. Good cannot be passive, but must be active. This is a classic good versus evil story.

Ana: What prompted you to write this novel and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book?

Sue: I wrote "A Singular Gift" because I wanted to finish a story I had started over 20 years ago. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I wanted to write about a girl at odds with her sister who is given the perfect way to get revenge on her--using magic. I wanted her to come-to-realize what harm she was doing to herself. As I wrote it, the book morphed into more--Jean saving the world. First and foremost, I wanted to write a good story that the reader has a hard time putting down.

Ana: If you could compare your novel to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your novel is their cup of tea?

Sue: It is very difficult for me to compare "A Singular Gift" to another book. One of my seventh grade beta readers (who reads a lot) stated that one reason she really liked the book was that it was different from other books. I may sound presumptuous, but in some ways, Jean in "A Singular Gift" is comparable to Harry Potter. At first she doesn't know she has magical ability. She has to work hard to learn to control it. In the end, she has to stand alone against evil.

If you like clean fantasy books about magic with no foul language or graphic violence, try "A Singular Gift".

Ana: Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other novels? If you have published other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Sue: "A Singular Gift" is the only novel I have currently available. Many years ago I wrote a category romance which was published by Silhouette Books, an imprint no longer available. I have requested the rights for that book to be returned to me and intend to self-publish it when I officially receive my rights back. That will be in early 2012.

I am currently writing a related book about Jean and Wayne, my main characters in "A Singular Gift". I have a young adult science fiction in progress. I'm also working on a Christian fiction novel.

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next novel comes available?

Sue: A Singular Gift is available for purchase for 2.99 at Amazon and Smashwords.

Ana: Thank you, Sue. I understand you have the first chapter of your novel available as an excerpt for interested readers? And is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Sue: An excerpt is available online at Smashwords. Please visit my blog to sign up for updates. You can find me on Twitter or email me at first name, dot, last name at Yahoo dot com.

Claymore: Rape and Rules

Content Note: Rape

Claymore Recap: Teresa has decided to take young Clare under her protection, at least until they reach a human town where Clare can live and grow up as a human. But on their journey, they are being stalked by the bandit whose hand Teresa cut off. 

Claymore, Episode 6: Teresa and Clare 

Rape in Fiction

It's a rare piece of fiction that portrays rape sensitively and accurately. For the last two years, I've worked as an ABNA judge at Amazon, and I've also been in contact with quite a few indie authors, and I've seen too many works of fiction portray rape so wrongly that I've wanted to throw the book across the room. Lately I feel like the trend has gotten worse, possibly because Rape Is The New Dead Parents (Instant backstory! Just add rape!) and possibly because authors are anxious to recreate the million-dollar explosion that was Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, and the thinking goes that if Larsson's books had rape in them, then rape must mean instant bestseller material. (Writing Pro-Tip: It doesn't.)

Twilight: Sitting at Desks with Boys

Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have finished their Biology lab and Bella has confessed her motivation for coming to Forks while Edward has marveled at how much suffering she has undergone in the past few weeks.

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   His gaze became appraising. “You put on a good show,” he said slowly. “But I’d be willing to bet that you’re suffering more than you let anyone see.”
   I grimaced at him, resisting the impulse to stick out my tongue like a five-year-old, and looked away.

I don't understand this impulse, or rather I should say that I have this impulse all the time, but I don't understand why Bella has it right now.

Feminism: Why Wikipedia Isn't The Alpha and Omega of Religious Studies

Author's Note: This is an article about what I, personally, believe -- and my beliefs about my beliefs. (Can't get more meta than that!) This is not an article about what all Wiccans believe, although I do believe that it is an article about what some of them believe. This is not an article about historical fact, but rather an article about religious legends, self-identification, and why religions are defined by internal forces and not external ones.

Also note that I wrote this post about two weeks before its publish date, and it is not intended to tie into this week's Narnia dust-up, although the juxtaposition is ironic in retrospect. Since I consider my beliefs no more sacrosanct than anyone else's, feel free to speak up in the comments and I'll answer anything I can.

Author Interview: Will Hahn on "Fencing Reputation"

Ana: Today we have Will Hahn introducing their novel, "Fencing Reputation". Will tells me that he taught Ancient-Medieval History for years and he also says that he married his lovely wife Dorie after she gave him a halberd for his birthday. (There's a birthday idea for you readers out there!)

Will: It’s true! You can see it in the background of my photo online. But I didn’t ask her right after; I waited a decent interval so she wouldn’t think I was cheap.

Ana: Probably prudent of you. I haven't read this book myself, but Will was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Will, how would you describe your novel to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your novel about?

Will: My latest tale is heroic fantasy with a flavor of the detective noir! In “Fencing Reputation”, Feldspar is a stealthic - not a thief, mind you - pursuing his craft in Cryssigens, one of the most exotic and wealthy cities of the Lands of Hope. While all the other elves in town are trying their best to display themselves - declare their power, their associations, become famous - Feldspar is a master of disguise, adopting many characters to keep even his wealthy patrons in the dark as to his true identity. As he becomes embroiled in high intrigue around the succession to the throne of the North Mark, Feldspar finds that trying to live a normal life is more difficult than it appears, and becomes a bit torn about who he really is. He also makes some enemies who would like to leave him torn in a more literal sense.

Ana: Nice pun, ha. What themes does your novel explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your novel will mean to a reader?

Will: The way I see it, the people of the Lands are not very different from us - they have magic and miracles, bizarre beasts and all the trappings of the world we call “fantasy”. But in the end, they are living in exciting times; questioning the here and now, worrying about the future. Feldspar has to face some difficult decisions between the so-called greater good and what I refer to as “the good you can see”. To me, that’s the heart of the heroic character, these two great paths. I don’t think there’s a wrong choice, but these paths are very different. All good people walk them, I believe, choosing one or the other, and I’m hoping the reader will be interested in what Feldspar chooses, and how it turns out.

Ana: It's nice to see a fantasy novel break away from the Lawful/Chaotic rigmarole. What prompted you to write this novel and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book?

Will: You forgot to mention groupies. I don’t have those either! I wish I had something more complicated to say. I love doing this. It makes me happy to get the story out, to know it’s underway or that it’s finally done. Anyone who’s taken critique, or rejections from agents and publishers, knows deep down that whenever you don’t give up, you get better. For me, there was plenty of room! I used to tell the tales only with my mouth - onstage, around the gaming table, or just with any group of people unlucky enough to be caught in my crosshairs. But putting it on paper is a wonderful challenge, one which I feel very sure I will pursue all my remaining years. Also a lucky break for my audience because you can’t put a bookmark in my mouth and close me. Well you could, but it’s considered rude.

Ana: That's true, I didn't mention groupies, but what's a dozen groupies compared to a spouse who buys you halberds? If you could compare your novel to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your novel is their cup of tea?

Will: Hmm, well how about this - if I give you a list of everything I’ve read and watched, you could write the story yourself! It’s truly tough, because I’ve been influenced (read: stolen from) so many in my life. For this story, I was powerfully reminded of the intimate voice and (I hope) humor of Robert Parker’s Spenser novels. The fantasy setting with its wizardry and monsters is new - but the thugs, police, femme fatales and local tavern would translate to the present day without blinking. Feldspar is both confident and skillful, and he changes out new personae like you and I pick an outfit. But he gets in over his head- probably because he’s so confident and having a bit of an internal war over who he is.

Ana: Nothing wrong with learning from the best out there! Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other novels? If you have published other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Will: OK, embarrassing confession time. You keep saying “writing” and I keep letting you. The truth is... I’ve been, um, watching and listening to the Lands of Hope for over thirty years. A fantasy writer makes stuff up and that’s incredible- me, I just watch, and listen and there it is. I am a chronicler, and I blogged about it when I first started publishing last month.

Ana: So you're not making up the stories out of whole cloth, but rather distilling the stories you observe into a cohesive whole? Would that make you a "bard" in the classic sense? Do you have any more chronicling planned, either as a follow-up to this tale, or in a completely different genre?

Will: My friends have constantly encouraged me to tell about the Lands, but I only started recording events there about three years ago. Since then I have one large unpublished novel (who doesn’t!), parts of two more, and three shorter tales from the Lands of Hope that have been published online.

Fencing Reputation” is the second story in my series Shards of Light. The series also includes a novella “The Ring and the Flag”, the tale of Captain Justin, a soldier being sent to the city Feldspar lives in, to try and defuse a civil war. But you don’t need to start with Justin. Both tales happen simultaneously, and I designed the series so you could begin with either one. Each tale stands alone- no cliffhangers in either story, I promise!

The third tale “Perilous Embraces” focuses on a new character (who appears in each of the first two stories) and will take the plot in another direction. I hope to have that done soon. Finally, I have a sword-and-sorcery novelette online entitled “Three Minutes to Midnight” which features another stealthic named Trekelny. It’s set roughly ten years earlier in a very different part of the Lands, and I won’t give away the ending, but Trekelny has become famous by Feldspar’s day.

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next novel comes available?

Will: My books are available at Apple, Barnes and Noble, and many other major retailers: just search under my name and they should come right up. But the easiest way to buy the books, I think, is at Smashwords. You can see all my titles there, sample them and leave a review if you like (or don’t like) what you see. I maintain a Facebook page for updates and would welcome any friends there for news or comments of any kind on what they’ve read and seen. And maybe best of all, I’m a member of an indie book site where I’ve stashed lots of detailed information on the Lands of Hope, including history and maps. It’s all free and you can also keep up with the other great authors on The Independent Bookworm - something for everyone.

Ana: Thank you, Will. I understand you have the first chapter of your novel available as an excerpt for interested readers? And is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Will: Thanks for your time, Ana. The first chapter of “Fencing Reputation” is right here and I hope you enjoy it! As we say in the Lands, “Ar Aralte!” {Hope Forever}.

Narnia: Syllogisms that Demand a Verdict

Narnia Recap: Edmund has eaten and drunk the White Witch's magical food and is now compelled by an unnatural hunger for more magical food -- he will obey her orders unquestioningly in order to procure more Turkish Delight. The Witch has also ordered Edmund not to tell anyone of their meeting together. Now he has met up with Lucy and they return to the wardrobe door and step out of Narnia.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Chapter 5: Back on This Side of the Door

   BECAUSE THE GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK was still going on, it took Edmund and Lucy some time to find the others. But when at last they were all together (which happened in the long room, where the suit of armor was), Lucy burst out:
   "Peter! Susan! It's all true. Edmund has seen it too. There is a country you can get to through the wardrobe. Edmund and I both got in. We met one another in there, in the wood. Go on, Edmund; tell them all about it." [...]
   And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story. Up to that moment Edmund had been feeling sick, and sulky, and annoyed with Lucy for being right, but he hadn't made up his mind what to do. When Peter suddenly asked him the question he decided all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he could think of. He decided to let Lucy down. [...]
   And Edmund gave a very superior look as if he were far older than Lucy (there was really only a year's difference) and then a little snigger and said, "Oh, yes, Lucy and I have been playing -- pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true. Just for fun, of course. There's nothing there really."

Review: Lies My Teacher Told Me

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Revised and Updated EditionLies My Teacher Told Me
by James W. Loewen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lies My Teacher Told Me / 9781595583260

This is an incredible book, half-history tome and half-social study on our culture and educational system, and all-fascinating and informative. Author James Loewen believes that the way in which we teach history is fundamentally wrong -- that we sanitize and water-down history into something patriotic-yet-dull and in doing so, we turn our children off completely to the past.

"Lies My Teacher Told Me" goes through a number of chapters on important subjects in our nation's history, and I can almost guarantee that anyone reading this book will learn something interesting they didn't already know. There is a wealth of information here on a variety of subjects, and it's all very well organized and easy to read. Loewen offers teaching suggestions as he goes, and one chapter that I found particularly thought provoking was the one on corporations: Loewen points out that history books are almost uniformly structured around the actions and milestones of the federal government, when a convincing case could be made for structuring an alternative history book around the actions and interests of the corporations that have influenced our government.

Loewen tells history like it happens and doesn't pull his punches to protect our traditional heroes, but at the same time, the history here isn't "feel bad" history. On the contrary, this history is fascinating and utterly liberating because such a burden is lifted when we admit that America hasn't been steadily improving without pause since Day 1, and that any evidence to the contrary is the product of an individual just not trying hard enough. If anything, I think this message is the most important one in the book: that children actually do want to learn history as it happened, not as some warmed-over agreed-upon-by-committee "morale building" exercise that leaves them cold and disconnected from their own past.

If you have even a mild interest in United States history at all, and especially in how it is taught in our schools, "Lies My Teacher Told Me" is a must-read that you won't be able to put down.

A note about the audio version of this book: the voice actor is incredibly talented and brings a great deal of warmth and meaning to the text -- the audio version is really a joy to listen to. The audio version is based on an older edition of the book than this particular updated edition, but the differences are not major and do not prevent a reader from following along between the audio version and the text, if desired.

~ Ana Mardoll

View all my reviews

Review: Doom

DoomDoom
by John Shirley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Doom / 9781416524106

If there's anything I enjoy as a guilty pleasure more than B-list video-game-inspired movies, it's *novelizations* of B-list video-game-inspired movies. "Doom" by John Shirley does the best it can with the screenplay for the fairly lukewarm movie, but the flaws haven't been shined away entirely.

So what is done well here? The character of John "Reaper" Grimm carries the plot here as bravely as he did in the movie: his personal demons stemming from his childhood and the death of his parents is delved into more deeply and to good effect. The interplay between John and his sister Samantha is also extremely well done, and Shirley does a very good job of showcasing realistic sibling rivalry alongside the ties of family loyalty. The wet, sticky, icky horror of the movie carries over nicely, although the horror climaxes in the first chapter and then steadily decreases (in my opinion) as the guys with guns show up. Still, as a horror/scifi novel, it's a good showing and I can't complain too much.

Whether or not you enjoy the novel will depend a lot on your tolerance for camp. The novel dumps a barrel full of marines onto the scene and then decides to characterize them later on when it can work it in, and whenever the horror action grinds to a literal halt to fill in a marine's backstory with pages of childhood flashbacks, it's a pretty good bet that his number is about to be up. Classic TV Tropes RetIrony material here, and I partly enjoyed it, but there's a flashback VERY late in the novel that goes on for pages and it strained the limits of my patience -- you can't decide to characterize someone 85% into the novel just because you've decided their card is up and expect the reader to go along with the ride.

"Doom" definitely isn't going to stand the test of time with statements that were already out-of-date when the screenplay came out and which are repeated here, such as Samantha Grimm's ignorance of the Human Genome project and I'm pretty sure that "identical" isn't an option for mixed-sex twins -- something she fails to mention as what would have been a good come-back. Even so, I found myself occasionally charmed by the characters and dialogue, especially the John/Sam and Duke/Sam scenes.

It's worth noting that I purchased this book as an eBook and at time of writing (08/13/2011), the book contains more than a couple OCR errors and formatting issues -- there are cases where quotes were rendered in the text as '???', which is very annoying. There were also several sentences where a word was missing or an extra word was added -- I have no idea if these errors are in the paper version as well as the eBook copy.

If you like pulp horror and/or B-list video-game-inspired movie novelizations, you could do worse things with your money than buy "Doom", but I do recommend finding it for a bargain price.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Twilight: The Tao of Phil

Twilight Recap: Bella and Edward have finished their in-class lab assignment and are now making the most awkward small talk ever.

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

Ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to discuss the most important character in the pages of Twilight, a person without whom the story could not have taken place: Baseball Phil.

   “Why did you come here, then?”
   No one had asked me that — not straight out like he did, demanding.
   “It’s . . . complicated.”
   “I think I can keep up,” he pressed.
   I paused for a long moment, and then made the mistake of meeting his gaze. His dark gold eyes confused me, and I answered without thinking.
   “My mother got remarried,” I said.
   “That doesn’t sound so complex,” he disagreed, but he was suddenly sympathetic. “When did that happen?”

Tropes: Stories That Crush My Soul

Last week, I checked out the first season of Big Love from the library. I've seen so many people online rave about the wonderful acting, complex characterization, and overall awesomeness of the show, and I have to admit that all that is there and more. Bill Paxton does an unbelievable acting job as the patriarch of the modern polygamist family, and each of the wives are acted superbly. Having said that, I think I'm going to have to stop after a mere two episodes because I seriously think this show was designed to crush my soul.

Disability: The Problem of Pain

[Content Note: Chronic Pain, Medical Professionals]

I have chronic back pain. When I was fourteen years old, I was diagnosed with scoliosis and I underwent spinal fusion surgery. Everything seemed to go reasonably well, and I healed up about as well as was expected. I grew up, became too old to continue my yearly check-ups at the children's hospital where I had been treated, and on paper I became a perfectly healthy adult.

Except for one little problem: I hurt all the time.

eReader: Book Binding with J.D.

@ jdmontague.com
As a follow-up to my "book destruction" post earlier in the year, I'd like to point out that my friend J.D. has posted some lovely techniques for home book binding.

I'm not certain if these techniques could be used to rebind a book that was unbound for electronic scanning, but it's theoretically possible. If anyone has any luck with this, report back here -- preferably with pictures! :)

Author Interview: Rodney Walther on "Broken Laces"

Ana: Today we have Rodney Walther introducing his novel, BROKEN LACES. I haven't read this book myself, but Rodney was kind enough to agree to guest blog about his book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Rodney, how would you describe your novel to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your novel about?

Rodney: Thanks for the opportunity, Ana. BROKEN LACES is an emotion-packed story that features a suburban workaholic who doesn’t understand the importance of family until he faces life as a single parent. Set in a fictional Little League in the Houston suburbs, BROKEN LACES explores the importance of father-and-son relationships, the struggles of shared grief, and the redemptive power of baseball.

Ana: What themes does your novel explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your novel will mean to a reader?

Rodney: A main theme of BROKEN LACES is learning to appreciate and nurture the important relationships in one’s life. The main character starts the book generally disengaged with his family, satisfied to be on the periphery of their lives. When his wife dies, he faces the consequences… and has to learn the importance of being fully involved with people he cares about. Readers may find themselves both rooting for the hero and wanting to slap him upside the head. But that’s okay—readers should become emotionally invested in the characters of a story.

Ana: What prompted you to write this novel and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book?

Rodney: With more than a decade coaching Little League and girls’ softball, I keenly understood the magnitude of the responsibility of being “Coach Rodney.” At the same time, I saw the crazy nutballs who roamed the dugouts and rushed the umpires. And I thought, “What could drive someone to become such a person?” and “Could baseball, with its intrinsic nature of providing second chances, give such a damaged man an opportunity to heal?”

Ana: If you could compare your novel to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If  you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your novel is their cup of tea?

Rodney: The readers who enjoy my book include both women and men—and they’re usually parents. Because BROKEN LACES deals with a damaged protagonist, complicated (er..., dysfunctional) family dynamics, and redemption, it is often compared to works by Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks. Thematically, it’s more like Jodi Picoult. And frankly, the writing itself is generally stronger than stuff by Nicholas Sparks—just calling it like I see it. :-) Finally, people who enjoy sports, especially baseball, find familiar ground as I confidently take the reader from the bleachers through the dugout and onto the field. But as many reviewers have said, BROKEN LACES is so much more than a sports story.

Ana: Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other novels? If you have published other novels, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more novels planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different novel or genre?

Rodney: BROKEN LACES is my debut novel. I’ve been fortunate to garner a number of awards for my novel-length fiction, including contest wins from Houston Writers Guild, Maryland Writers' Association, North Texas Professional Writers Association, Panhandle Professional Writers, Crested Butte Writers, and West Virginia Writers. BROKEN LACES was also named a quarterfinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, featured by Amazon in summer 2011, and rose to the Top-250 of all Amazon Kindle books. It’s consistently #1 or #2 in multiple Amazon categories, including Sports Fiction, Baseball, and Death & Grief.

I am working on a new novel, tentatively called PARTING SHOT. It mines similar themes of regret and forgiveness, and features a former astronaut who is raising a teenage daughter confined to a wheelchair. A love interest develops between the astronaut and a TV news reporter, but complications threaten to keep them apart. It’s been compared to FINDING NEMO and THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (try to work that out!).

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your novel for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next novel comes available?

Rodney: BROKEN LACES is available in paperback or e-book format (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc.). My website (www.RodneyWalther.com or www.BrokenLaces.com) always has the latest news. And I’m on Facebook as well.

I always love to hear from readers. Please contact me at rodney@rodneywalther.com, especially if you’re interested in including BROKEN LACES for your book club.

Ana: Thank you, Rodney. I understand you have the first chapter of your novel available as an excerpt for interested readers? And is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Rodney: The award-winning first chapter of BROKEN LACES is available at in PDF form. Meet the hero, his wife, and his son, and witness the tragedy that strikes their family.

Another award-winning first chapter, this for a different work in progress (WHITE CHALK ROAD) is also available in PDF form. Hang on to your hats—WHITE CHALK ROAD will have you wondering if *anything* can go right for this poor lady!

Claymore: Projection and Protection

Claymore Recap: Clare has won the battle for the city of Rabona and has narrowly avoided becoming a yoma herself. Now we skip in place and time to another Claymore and another child...

Claymore, Episode 5: Teresa of the Faint Smile 

Episode 5 is the start of an important flashback arc, and it's also the part where the Claymore story really takes off from a well-done "monster of the week" show to an fast-paced drama full of death, rebirth, and redemption. At the start of the episode, we're introduced to Teresa: the highest ranking Claymore in the Organization. Teresa is so powerful that she never needs to use her yoma power in battle, and thus her face is never transfigured into the yoma scowl that her comrades wear in combat -- thus, her nickname is "Teresa of the Faint Smile".

Review: Survivors

Survivors (Aftertime, #1.5)Survivors
by Sophie Littlefield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Survivors / 9781459207769

This is an interesting short story -- only about 30 pages long on my reader -- but it's one of those stories where I felt the whole time that there was another book before the story that I needed to read in order to sink into this one. I notice that the author has a trilogy set in this world (Aftertime, Rebirth, and Horizon), so I almost wonder if it wouldn't be better to read one or more of those first.

"Survivors" is a zombie apocalypse novella, which I usually enjoy, but the zombies aren't really a major presence in this book. Instead, the focus is on the survivors and how they've pieced together a world inside a walled community called "The Box" in the aftermath of the apocalypse. This contributed in some ways to the disorientation I felt as a reader, because there seemed to be a lot of information dispensed as obvious-to-the-author that was nevertheless confusing to me.

For instance, a major point of the novella is that children aren't allowed in The Box because it's 'no place for children', so when a young survivor is brought in from a raid, everyone has to decide what to do with him. The problem for me was that I didn't see why, say, drug addictions and prostitution would make "The Box" inhospitable for children, as compared to, say, the slavering zombie apocalypse outside. Then, too, the mentality seems a little limiting: I guess the denizens of The Box are intending to live hard and die young all at the same time? If the situation was set up more like, say, a cult it might make more sense, but since everyone is presented as a relatively normal person dealing with the harsh realities of the world, this "no children, no procreation" rule just seems a little inhuman. (Not to mention impossible to achieve, unless all the prostitutes of The Box have high-priority raids on pharmacies for birth control pills.)

The writing for this novella isn't the best I've ever read -- there are a lot of long and sometimes convoluted sentences that can be a little confusing. Some of the punctuation could also be edited a bit, as there is an over-reliance on commas that I sympathize with but which is nevertheless distracting to read. Still, all told, this is an interesting novella and you can't beat the current free price on Amazon. For myself, I think I'll watch the Kindle sales and if Aftertime comes on sale, I'll pick it up and start the series over with that book.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Review: The Secret of the Water Knight

The Secret of the Water KnightThe Secret of the Water Knight
by Rusalka Reh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secret of the Water Knight / 1611090067

Kat can't swim and she's afraid of the water, so her parents take her to the ocean on a summer holiday so she can learn to swim far away from the teasing jibes of her friends. Yet when Kat gets to the lovely island paradise where they will spend their vacation, she learns that a terrible curse has been plaguing the island residents, and that *she* is expected to swim on the night of the full moon and do battle for all their lives. No pressure!

I had heard that this short story suffered from translation issues, but I had no problem whipping through it in a single night -- for myself, the text flowed well and the story was gripping. There are perhaps a few sentences where the sentence structure is different from what an English reader might be used to, but the meaning was still clear to me and the unique phrasing added to the poetic feel of the novella.

The plot itself is very gripping: this story puts me in mind of a collaboration effort between Gabriel Marquez (for the magical realism) and H.P. Lovecraft (for the intense body horror) to create a kids' novel about learning to swim and embracing and overcoming your fears. Since I'm a huge fan of magical realism and body horror, I suppose it was inevitable that I would enjoy this book, but I'm not sure how many young children will love this story, just because there are several quite intensely scary moments, including: (spoilers) humans having their body parts replaced with fish parts; a sad, wounded, bleeding dolphin; and a grown man tying up and gagging a young girl and leaving her alone in the dark.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book -- animals speak to our young protagonist without a lot of buildup or explanation, and Kat runs into people curses with changed bodies on a regular basis without batting much of an eye. The body horror is gripping and the frightening plot juxtaposes very nicely with the child-like narration and the vivid depictions of an island paradise. I'm not sure this book is for everyone, but I can definitely attest that I enjoyed it and recommend it as well worth a look.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine, though I did end up buying the ebook version as well.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Review: Bring Me the Head of Willy the Mailboy

Bring Me the Head of Willy the Mailboy! (Dilbert, #5)Bring Me the Head of Willy the Mailboy!
by Scott Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bring Me The Head Of Willy The Mailboy / 0836217799

By my count this is the 4th collection of unique Dilbert strips and though it's an older collection, it's still very very funny. This is one of the first books where Adams started experimenting with the really zany and supernatural elements in his work -- we're introduced in this volume to the accounting trolls, Mother Nature (who kills Dilbert in an idea she got from a Gary Larson cartoon!), and Dilbert is "cloned back to life" from his own garbage and a cloning invention that also (it's a feature, not a bug!) dispenses a chile con carne recipe. What could be more fun?

One of the things I like about these older collections in retrospect is the pointy-haired boss who is not really yet pointy-haired, who has noticeable jowls, and who is abusive and angry rather than clueless -- he provides an extra dimension in Dilbert's workplace struggles that I somewhat miss in retrospect to the more modern comics.

If you're a Dilbert fan and you don't have this book in your collection, I highly recommend it.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Review: Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies

Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies (Dilbert, #2)Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies
by Scott Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies / 0836217578

Recently I started re-reading my Dilbert collections; this is the second collection of unique strips by my count, but they're not precisely Dilbert strips in the traditional sense: each page is a single 4-panel strip where the first panel is Dogbert explaining a rule of business.

The strips are very funny and actually sadly seem quite a "spot on" reflection, even dated as this volume is. I do wish that there was less of a reliance on female stereotypes in some of the pieces -- there's at least two strips that indicate that nicely dressed women are either likely having affairs with upper management or hoping to skate by on sex appeal. Adams can be funnier than that and doesn't need to resort to these stereotypes; fortunately these strips are two out of ~100 and the rest of the book is very funny and fun. (And his later collections have moved away from these "jokes" entirely, I believe.)

~ Ana Mardoll

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Review: Dead until Dark

Dead until Dark  Dead until Dark
by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dead Until Dark / 9781101146316

I've seen the True Blood TV series based on this novel and really enjoyed it; I figured it was about time to read the book and see how well I like the source material. Final verdict: I really enjoyed this book, although there were a few additions to the TV series that I was sad to see weren't included here.

As far as differences between the book and the series, I was really distraught to see that Tara doesn't appear in this book, since she is one of my favorite characters in the series. For that matter, a lot of the flavorful supporting characters have less of a presence here -- Lafayette, Terry, and Arlene are all much more vivid and front-and-center in the show than they are in the book. I understand why that is, it's really a difference in the medium, but it was also a disappointment. Also, since the book is firmly from Sookie's POV only, we don't get as many side-escapades in terms of Jason's adventures or Bill's first-hand experience of events.

That aside, the book is very vivid and very well-written; it's impossible not to get snagged from the first page and carry on towards the end. I love the characters and how well-rounded they are, though if I had a complaint at all, it would be that Bill and Sookie's relationship seems very one-sided so far. She's shown giving up quite a bit and restructuring her life almost entirely, and outside of a quick on-again-off-again break where she is seen enjoying some sun and garlic, for the most part she seems okay with the fact that she's making a lot of sacrifices and he's not at all. It even gets to the point where Bill is feeding on her almost daily and she can't even take an iron supplement because he complains about the taste! Then, too, there's a disturbing scene where Sookie has to initiate and submit to extremely rough intercourse because the alternative is that Bill will lose his temper (for something that is not her fault) and harm or kill her.

On the one hand, these relationship dynamics disturbed me as a reader, but on the other hand, Harris seems to be walking a fine line -- the implication seems to be that Sookie is submitting to all this because of her inexperience and that later books will show her standing up for herself; if that's the case, I'll stick with the series because I do love the TV series and the vivid world-building. Although I would prefer NOT to see Vampire Elvis again because I rather think cameos like that in supernatural literary worlds are fairly silly.

Looking back over my review, I feel like I've said a lot of negative things, but I really do think that overall this is a solid, 4-star book. The world is fascinating and well-realized; Harris has put a lot of thought into how daily little things like the economy would be affected by vampires living among us -- even the little bar in Bon Temps is ordering blood-substitute to drink, and coffin-themed hotels are opening all over the country. The mystery story that underlies the book (and first season of the series) is well done and heart pounding, even if (like I did) you already know whodunit. The culture of the setting is fun and very visceral, and it feels like you're really in a very specific place instead of just Anywhere, USA like so many books.

If you've liked the True Blood TV series thus far, I definitely recommend checking out "Dead Until Dark". Much of what you love from the series is here, and there's obviously a lot of room for growth -- I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

~ Ana Mardoll

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Tropes: Weak Heroes Wanted

This week, a friend of mine sent me a link to a blog that actually quoted me.

My first thought was a direct quote of a Will Wildman comment posted earlier that day: "Good lord, I've been quoted." Then I took a moment to marinate in the irony of me quoting a shocked-to-be-quoted quote. I confess: I take my ironies wherever I can get them.

Once I clambered down from all this meta-ness, I read the blog post in question. My next thoughts were, roughly: "Wow, this is really good," and "Holy Cheetos, she has a really great point. Whoops."

Twilight: Meet Cute

Twilight Recap: Bella has arrived at her Biology class to find Edward Cullen is attractive and polite, and knowledgeable enough to whip through the lab assignment as quickly as she herself can.

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   “Did you get contacts?” I blurted out unthinkingly.
   He seemed puzzled by my unexpected question. “No.”
   “Oh,” I mumbled. “I thought there was something different about your eyes.”
   He shrugged, and looked away.
   In fact, I was sure there was something different. I vividly remembered the flat black color of his eyes the last time he’d glared at me — the color was striking against the background of his pale skin and his auburn hair. Today, his eyes were a completely different color: a strange ocher, darker than butterscotch, but with the same golden tone. I didn’t understand how that could be, unless he was lying for some reason about the contacts. Or maybe Forks was making me crazy in the literal sense of the word.

I skipped this passage last week because I figured we'd already flogged the kaleidoscope eyes quite a bit, but it's probably worth repeating that Bella seems to be the only person in Forks who is quick-witted enough to notice the many strange things that are "off" about the Cullen clan. As we've worked through this deconstruction, I've been utterly delighted to read the fan theories which are -- for my money -- much better than the "Bella is just super interested in Edward" explanation that Meyer seems to give in-text. So far, I think we have the following theories:

Open Thread: Best Yahoo Comment, Evah


What can I say? I'm partial to deities who passive-aggressively troll comment boards.

Open thread discussion starter: What delightfully droll behavior would you like your preferred (or hypothetical) deity to engage in during their spare time? I'd be partial to Demeter painting lovely artwork on recycle bins left out over night. As an encouragement, of course.

Deals: Free Audiobooks Every Week

What could be better than talking about "Wuthering Heights" in relation to Twilight? Listening to "Wuthering Heights" for free!

For those who aren't aware -- and until recently, I certainly wasn't -- the Audiobook Community site has two free audiobooks that they update on a regular weekly basis. All you need is the Overdrive Media Console (which you already have if you're downloading audiobooks from your local Overdrive Library or buying MP3 books from B&N), and a email address that I can verify won't get spammed by Audiobook Community.

Direct link to the weekly free audiobook is here.

The deals thread that brought this to my attention is here.

The audiobooks are MP3 files, which means that they don't have DRM and can play on pretty much any music device made in the last decade. Nor do the files "expire" over time -- you download them to your computer with Overdrive and once the files are in your Overdrive library, you can move them wherever you want and drop them into Media Monkey or whatever you use to organize your music files. (I'm old school, so it's drag-and-drop all the way for me. Yeah, baby!)

Also, I think the Audiobook Community guy above is endearingly creepy. The "SYNC" stamped where his mouth would be makes me think of poor Wybie in the "Coraline" movie after the Other Mother sews his mouth into a permanent smile. *shudder*