Book review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva.

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Samantha Silva – Mr. Dickens and His Carol (2017 Flatiron Books, New York)

Just in time for Christmas comes this heartwarming, exquisitely-told story from Samantha Silva.  A fictionalized account of Charles Dickens’ struggle to write A Christmas Carol under extreme pressure, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is just the sort of sweet holiday tale perfect for cuddling up with during an hour of two of quiet over the festive season.  (Don’t forget the hot chocolate and Bailey’s, the warm cat nestled at your feet, and the crackling fire in the hearth).  I think I smiled from the first sentence until I reluctantly closed the covers at its conclusion.  Holiday cheer in book form – who could ask for more?

*Project Gutenberg has archived a digital copy of a first edition of A Christmas Carol from December 1843. It includes some fabulous illustrations and a marvelous scan of the front cover – click over to enjoy it here.

 

Merry Christmas!  

Book review: The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey.

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Peter Lovesey – The Last Detective (1991, Soho Press, Inc., United Kingdom)

Not to be confused with the “other” Last Detective, “Dangerous” Davies of the novels by Leslie Thomas (perhaps more familiar to many as a TV series), this is Peter Lovesey’s Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond, who shuns late-Eighties/early-Nineties’ computer technology and developments in forensic science in favour of kicking it old-school by knocking on doors and relentless questioning.  When a woman is found dead in a lake near the city of Bath, Diamond leads the investigation with characteristic (and occasionally humorous) aplomb, bulldozing his way through clues, suspects, and his subordinates alike.  Initially, I wasn’t certain about the character of Diamond – quite frankly, he came across as a total boor and I prefer that even the most unlikeable characters should have some redeeming quality – but over the course of the novel, the development of this tough, flawed gumshoe gave me more than enough reason to keep reading.  The POV switches in the novel’s six parts also gave me pause, at first, but they are actually quite effective when all is said and done.  I’m curious to see what Lovesey has done with the other novels in this lengthy series (16 books so far).

Book review: Maya and the Book of Everything by Laurie Graves.

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Laurie Graves – Maya and the Book of Everything (2016, Hinterlands Press) 

A mysterious library, magical books, and unexpected journeys to new lands and times?  A resourceful, intelligent, and thoughtful teenaged protagonist that we can relate to and love and root for?  A clever, fresh (and extremely relevant) take on the classic battle between good and evil?  Creative plotting, beautifully realized characterization, precisely detailed world building, and perfect pacing?  I’m all in.  Laurie’s book really is everything!

As it is the season of gift giving, if you’re having a difficult time buying for the young teenagers in your life, well, have I got a suggestion for you.  And while you’re at it, click an extra copy into your cart for yourself.  Because we could all use a Book of Everything in our lives.  🙂

(I’m sure glad she’s already working on the sequel because I’m not certain how long I can wait, given that juicy wallop set up at the end…).

 

Book review: Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes.

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Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes, illustrated by Jo Robinson (Weaverback Press, 2017)

How do you go about talking to small children about difficult concepts such as bullying, exclusion/inclusion, and diversity?  How do you comfort and instill confidence in a child who has been made to feel different?  How do you encourage bullies to respect others?  How do you help parents and educators give the children in their care the tools they need to celebrate individuality?

With the help of a purple turtle named Myrtle, perhaps! Myrtle may be absolutely adorable (just look at her!), but she’s on a serious mission in Cynthia Reyes’ new children’s book, a smart and sweet story about loving and accepting your special place in the world.  Beautifully and sensitively written, and illustrated by Jo Robinson with the most lush colours imaginable (can you even believe those purples?), Myrtle the Purple Turtle transcends “cute” with an important message, one that will resonate with readers…of all shells.

Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction. Wanted: your stories!

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A little side project I’ve been working on for nearly a year now is Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction, which features fantastic really, really short stories by writers from all over the world.  So that I avoid the holiday crunch and my head doesn’t actually explode as I feared it might when I opened up the reading period for a single month (December!???!) last year, I’m going to take submissions of flash fiction from October 1 to November 30.  I’m looking for short fiction (1,000 words or less), and pretty much any genre (or mashup thereof) is welcome: mystery, thriller, horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, humour, western, literary…you name it, I’d love to see it.  Take a gander at the Submission Guidelines and read some of the stories from this year while you’re at it!

Don’t be shy – send me your work!  And please pass this call along to any other writers you know….

The Door is Ajar: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton.

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Dragon Teeth – Michael Crichton (2017, HarperLuxe, New York)

Published nearly a decade after his death, Michael Crichton’s “undiscovered” novel Dragon Teeth is a decent mash-up of history, science, and good old-fashioned storytelling, inspired by the outlandish, well-documented, and sometimes extremely violent rivalry between late 19th century American paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edwin Drinker Cope. Their quests (competition?) to find and document fossilized dinosaurs and other creatures of the distant past in a cultural climate that was struggling to wrap its collective noggin around evolutionary theory is fascinating – especially when you consider that they did most of their bone-hunting and collecting in the wild west, where, if you weren’t bit by a rattlesnake or died of exposure or illness, you could suffer death, injury, or at the very least, be swindled out of all your worldly possessions by any number of unsavory characters.  A quick, (at times overly) simple, entertaining read.

The Door is Ajar: Martians Abroad and Last Day on Mars.

This week, I’m featuring a couple of books about the Red Planet….

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Martians Abroad – Carrie Vaughn (2016, Tor, New York)

Martian teenager Polly Newton desperately wants to become a starship pilot and she is excited and ready to begin her training…until her mother, the high-powered, not-to-be-challenged director of the Martian Colony, derails Polly’s plans and sends her and her twin brother Charles to an exclusive boarding school on Earth.  Headstrong, stubborn, and understandably angry at her mother, Polly struggles to fit into her new surroundings and deal with bullying classmates and stern teachers, until she and Charles uncover a secret about the Galileo Academy that has dangerous ramifications for the students at the school and Polly launches herself into action to save them all.  (Pun intended, of course).

Sounds pretty tantalizing, right?  That’s why I picked this book up.  And I loved, loved, LOVED the whole “fish out of water” scenario – Vaughn’s descriptions of how the foreign students try to adjust to Earth (the gravity, the food, the air, the open spaces, the use of water) are absolutely captivating and realistic.  The details of travelling in space are thrilling, as well – it’s all extremely brilliant stuff and beautifully executed.  But…and here’s the thing. To be fair to Vaughn and her fans, I haven’t read the Robert Heinlein story that this book is apparently inspired/influenced by (Podkayne of Mars), so I should probably do that before making a snap judgment.  It is possible that Martians Abroad is a decent representation of that earlier work – but even so, it doesn’t mean I have to be impressed. It was disappointing to me that despite the juicy depth of its scenery, the book suffers from a pretty much non-existent plotline and the motivations of the characters are vague and unrealized and quite frankly, nonsensical in certain cases.  The surprise resolution is wimpy, undeveloped, and…utterly confusing.  To me.  I did read a review from NPR that suggested that this book hearkens back to the classic, more innocent SF novels, where the stories are heavy on tech and world-building and not so much on gritty plots and action, which seems accurate, and much nicer and way more positive than what I’m saying here.  So…pick up Martians Abroad and let me know what you think after you’ve finished it.  How off-base am I on this one? (Hee hee, another pun).

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Last Day On Mars – Book One of Chronicle of the Dark Star – Kevin Emerson (2017, Walden Pond Press, New York)

After the Earth is destroyed by the sun, which is beginning to go supernova, mankind establishes a colony on Mars to garner the resources and technology so that they can flee once again as the red planet is threatened.  In 2213, the time has finally arrived for the big departure, and young Martian student Liam Saunders-Chang and his friend Phoebe spend their final bittersweet day on the only planet they have ever called home trying to solve a terrifying mystery and desperately struggling to stay alive as everything they know comes crashing down around them.  Emerson’s first novel in the Chronicle of the Dark Star series is aimed at a pre-teen audience, but it transcends its target, with whipsmart humour, solid world-building, and an inventive, yet believable scientific foundation that will appeal to older readers (including adults) as well.  Liam and Phoebe are wonderfully-drawn and relatable, and I particularly loved the focus on the emotional rollercoaster they suffer on the Last Day.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is a positively gripping cliffhanger that has me utterly piqued for the next book.  Nicely done!