Friday, June 29, 2012

Look Out D.C. Here We Come!

On Monday, my daughters and I will be leaving for Washington D.C. Their marching band, the Gilbert Tiger Pride, has been picked to represent our state in the National Independence Day Parade. We will have an exciting five fun-filled, activity-packed days in our nation's capital. I am chaperoning ninety-four teenagers, along with several other parents. As always, it should be fun and interesting. We are very excited, especially since we have never been to D.C. before.

I realize my blog has been seriously lacking in posts over the last month and for that I apologize. There has been a lot going on around here and I have been trying to make some decisions. Hopefully, once I get back from the trip, I can buckle down and get my act together. In the mean time, thanks for sticking with me. I genuinely appreciate all of my readers, as well as my fellow bloggers. Thank you so much!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Guest Post by author Andy Gavin and an AWESOME GIVEAWAY!!

The Magic of The Darkening Dream

In constructing The Darkening Dream I wanted the meta-story to play off conventional tropes. Broadly, a cabal of ancient supernatural beings has sent one of their number to recover an artifact needed to destroy the world. And surprise, it turns out a group of teens are all that stands between them and Armageddon.
How much more Buffy can you get?
But that's just the high level. I also wanted to ground this preposterous scenario in real history and legend. So as a methodology, in designing my array of supernatural beings and occult practitioners I turned to historic sources. Before our modern science and technology rendered magic quaint, it was the domain of religion and superstition. Of belief.
And each spiritual and magical system has its own framework. Proponents wrote out of certainty, out of faith. I merely dig up their writings and take them at their word.


Osiris as king in the west
What binds a group of ancient evil beings together? Not some grand principle of villainy. Evil is just extreme selfishness. But hatred can go a long way. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. So who from the ancient world has suffered the most?
Might it be the old gods? Or those who worship them? Who offers sacrifice anymore to Osiris? Who fears the shadow of Anubis as they step from this world into the next? Who believes the beetle god Khepri drags the sun across the sky behind him?
No one. And those that remember the glory days are pissed off.
So who's been lurking around since the time of the pharaohs?

The comte at Versailles
The Comte de St. Germain has, or so he told everyone in the court of Louis XV. Apparently, at the very least, he is party to the secret magics of Osiris, Son of the Earth, King of the Dead. The elixir of Osiris is said to prevent death. And so the comte, which is but one of his many names, has been lurking about for some time. But the old magics are not what they once were. Their power has diminished with their gods. So he whispers in the ears of kings, pulling on what strings he can, seeking allies where he can find them.
And old gods may fade, but as long as a single soul still believes, they never die.
Even the ancient blood gods and their vampire acolytes. Born in ancient forests of the north where men offered midnight blood sacrifice. Of their king, their Ancient Master, raised from the dead a hundred centuries past, nothing remains but pure fury. Hatred for the burning sun, hatred for his mortal prey, hatred for the new world of foul brick and lifeless steel.
But in hatred, perhaps, there is common cause.

The Artifact

Observe the all important Ram in the Thicket (lower right)
Clearly, the physical goal of our baddies had to be something really big. Something useful to them in their plots. The fall of antiquity was not about barbarians at the gates of Rome. No. The rising tide of monotheism was what really swept away the old order.
So it is against God that our villains lash out.
And I found the perfect legend in the most unlikely of places. I was passing the time during Yom Kippur services by reading the story of Abraham offering Isaac for sacrifice (Genesis 22). This has always been a passage of particular interest to me, dealing as it does with the nature of the relationship between man and God and the meaning of ritual sacrifice. But it was in the commentary that I noticed something peculiar, a cryptic remark that "the Ram in the Thicket is but one of ten special things created by God on the eve of creation."
How's that for a magic seeker's wet dream.
Back at home I dug into this and discovered that on the eve of the first Sabbath, before the creation of world, God created ten special things (which besides the Ram include the rainbow of Noah, the staff of Moses, and other goodies). These items are eternal, having existed before the universe, they have no temporal beginning or end. God, it seemed, placed the Ram into the trust of the Archangel Gabriel, who kept it in the Garden of Eden until Abraham needed it at Mount Moriah. Afterward, nothing of the Ram was wasted. Gabriel took the horns and brought one to Moses so that he could sound the arrival of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. The other was kept by the archangel, hidden in the Garden, so that at the appointed time it might be brought to Elijah to sound the End of Days.

Gabriel and his trumpet
This notion of a horn blast sounding the end of the world is a highly persistent meme. It's found not just in the Jewish traditions regarding the Messiah, but in the Revelations of John where seven angels (including presumably, Gabriel) sound the end of time and the Last Judgment. And also in diverse mythologies such as the Norse, where the Gjallarhorn shall announce the onset of Ragnarök.
In the world of The Darkening Dream, all beliefs are simultaneously true, as brought forth and conceived by their believers. This means that anything as consistent as the horn legend is doubly true. Archetypal truth made manifest.
And what of Gabriel's Horn? Eternity is a long time and the archangel flits hither and yon. Might not a busy seraph misplace such a thing... if only for a short time?

The Myriad Layers of the Esoteric World

How to properly envision a world in which vampires, the Archangel Gabriel, witchcraft, and Egyptian gods all exist? Many might just toss them together arbitrarily, but I wanted to find a framework consistent with traditional mysticism. Having read hundreds of religious and magical texts I have identified numerous consistencies in the thought patterns of the esoteric mind.

The Tree of Life
By way of example, let's place ourselves in the mind of my protagonist Sarah's father Joseph. As a Rabbi, scholar, and mystic Joseph draws his world view from the Zohar and other great texts of the Kabbalah. In this conceptualization, which can be summed up as "hidden and not revealed," the world is a many layered thing, like an onion, with the portion we perceive merely the lowest of ten modalities, all simultaneously overlaid. The pure conceptualization of God pervades everything, and is the highest. Yet the human mind can not fully comprehend this level of divine and celestial purity. In between are various layers that express important truths like "Beauty" and "Wisdom." In Joseph's orthodox world, God is all powerful, so powerful that even the Archangel Gabriel is but a manifestation of His Strength. The angel is not an independent entity, but a protrusion of God's will into these middle layers of reality. Joseph might actually see the angel, but in his mind, this is just his perception of an aspect of God leaking into the mortal layers. The human mind cannot comprehend the divine, so God softens the blow with the angelic form.

Sitting down to the witches Sabbath
As hard as this might be to get your head around, it seemed reasonable to extend this kind of framework to many forms of magic in the book. The villainous Puritan warlock, Pastor John Parris, works a school of traditional witchcraft, yet it too is based on layered perception of reality. For him, the magical realm is twisted into a less spacial form, with objects and people adjacent not just by physical proximity, but by the likeness of their form and nature. So, a person's hair, separated as it might be from their body, provides magical access to the owner. Likewise, his religious conceptualization allows for the layering of hell dimensions, separated by flame. With the help of his succubus lover he is able to step through these fiery gateways and bend the rules of time and space.
While occasionally, as is the case with the Horn, the mythological drives the story, most often the structural needs of my plot demanded esoteric action. I therefore required interoperability between diverse magic systems in order to make the action work. For example, when Joseph wishes to protect his home from the intrusions of the evil Parris and the ancient vampire al-Nasir, he prays to invoke the archangels and align the physical rectangle of his house with the metaphysical form of King Solomon's Temple. For him this is an act of faith drawing on protective aspects of God's divinity.
But Parris too is able to perceive this change in the nature of reality, albeit in his own terms. His plans to gain entry requires the construction of an elaborate ritual analog. Like a voodoo doll for a building. Just as the limbs of the doll can be broken, the metaphysical walls of the temple may be breached.

Succubus from the source

Learning from the mouth of devils
For each of my supernatural beings I strove to draw upon classical source materials rather than rely on 20th century pop culture. My warlock, Pastor Parris, is a man of repressed passion based on serial killer profiles. His only emotional connection to the outside world has been through a series of dominating female figures. First his puritanical grandmother, then following her grisly demise, his succubus lover Betty. Like all magic in the world of The Darkening Dream, Betty is a conceptual product of her beholder. So I turned to The Malleus Maleficarum, the rantings of two 15th century clergymen, Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. This book, which translates as the The Witch Hammer, was used by the Inquisition as a handbook for identifying and persecuting witches and demons.
Along with a five page essay on the mechanism by which Succubi and Incubi transfer semen, the Maleficarum has this to say about Succubi:
Devils have no lungs or tongue, though they can show the latter, as well as teeth and lips, artificially made according to the condition of their body; therefore they cannot truly and properly speak. But since they have understanding, and when they wish to express their meaning, then, by some disturbance of the air included in their assumed body, not of air breathed in and out as in the case of men, they produce, not voices, but sounds which have some likeness to voices, and send them articulately through the outside air to the ears of the hearer.
From this passage, we know that one of the means of identifying Succubi is that they do not move their lips when speaking, but manipulate the elements of fluid air near their mouths directly. Hence, in my novel, Betty does not open her mouth to speak, but the air in front of her shimmers as she does. In keeping with my fast paced action oriented novel, I never make an issue of this, but like thousands of other details in the book it is informed by the source. Clearly brothers Kramer and Sprenger knew what they were talking about, as they inspired thousands to burn at the stake.

Khepri and Osiris in the good old days

The Power of the Word

With each different school of magic I tried to extract the historic flavor and mindset of past occultists. The mysterious Khepri, another of my villains, practices an ancient Egyptian magic entirely different from Parris' devilish thaumaturgy. The spirit of Egyptian magic often derives from the use of secret names and the spoken word — nay command. The sorcerer/priest orders, by way of his secret magic, the very gods and demons to do his bidding. So it is that when Khepri invokes the miniature sun which is his weapon, he cries these words from The Egyptian Book of the Dead:
Re sits in his Abode of Millions of Years. The doors of the sky are opened for me, the doors of the earth are opened for me, the door-bolts of Geb are opened for me, the shutters of the sky-windows are thrown open for me. I know you, I know your names; Release him, loose him!
By sheer force of his sorcerous will he demands the sun yield to him. And so it does.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

By writing a modern fantasy adventure, but by grounding the magic and supernatural in tradition, I wanted to prove that the old adage really is true: Truth is stranger than fiction. The twisted imaginations of our ancestors, devoid of the distractions of the current age, were often far more creative than the half-assed creations of Hollywood and the like.

A Big Giveaway for The Darkening Dream

This week, through June 29th, Author Andy Gavin is running a big giveaway to celebrate his 99 cent promo sale.
The Darkening Dream Rafflecopter Giveaway
Tweet, like, follow, share, blog and grab a copy of his book to enter.

About The Darkening Dream

As the modern world establishes itself and pushes the supernatural into the shadows, the supernatural fights back.
An ominous vision and the discovery of a gruesome corpse lead Sarah and her friends into a terrifying encounter with a fledgling vampire in 1913 Salem, Massachusetts. Eager to prove themselves, the young heroes set out to track the evil to its source, never guessing that they will take on a conspiracy involving not only a 900-year vampire but also a demon-loving Puritan warlock, disgruntled Egyptian gods, and an immortal sorcerer, all on a quest to recover the holy trumpet of the Archangel Gabriel. Relying on the wisdom of a Greek vampire hunter, Sarah's rabbi father, and her own disturbing visions, Sarah must fight a millennia-old battle between unspeakable forces, where the ultimate prize might be Sarah herself.

The critics love it

"A vampire novel with actual bite." ~The Kirkus Reviews
"A gorgeously creepy, strangely humorous, and sincerely terrifying tale." ~Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Read the first two sample chapters here.

Get your 99 cent copy of The Darkening Dream today on Amazon only.

About the Author

Andy Gavin is an unstoppable storyteller who studied for his Ph.D. at M.I.T. and founded video game developer Naughty Dog, Inc. at the age of fifteen, serving as co-president for two decades. There he created, produced, and directed over a dozen video games, including the award winning and best selling Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter franchises, selling over 40 million units worldwide. He sleeps little, reads novels and histories, watches media obsessively, travels, and of course, writes. Find out more here.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriel

*book jacket photo courtesy of Goodreads*

Title:  Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe  
Author:  Shelley Coriel
Genre:  Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Publisher:  ABRAMS
Imprint:  Amulet Books
Format:  NetGalley Digital Galley
Release Date:  May 1, 2012

Big-hearted Chloe Camden is the queen of her universe until her best friend shreds her reputation and her school counselor axes her junior independent study project. Chloe is forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass, so she joins her school’s struggling radio station, where the other students don’t find her too queenly. Ostracized by her BFs and struggling with her beloved Gram’s mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. On and off the air, Chloe faces her loneliness and helps others find the fun and joy in everyday life (Summary via NetGalley).

I adore Chloe Camden! She is loud, brash, tells jokes, loves shoes, wears her heart on her sleeve, and never stops talking. Chloe is precariously balancing everything in her life and you just know that eventually it will crumble. She really cares about the people around her—her parents, her friends, her fellow students at the radio station (even though they don’t really like her), her former best friends, and especially her Grams. Chloe desperately tries to keep all the people in her world happy, and that doesn’t always work out.

In a nutshell, I am in love with this book. It is probably one of the best YA realistic fiction books of the year, right alongside Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt and it’s entertaining. Coriel manages to create characters the reader can really care about, not to mention one character I found incredibly vile and I couldn’t stand. But a good writer creates characters we love or we hate, and Coriel does manage to do that. Chloe is an obviously dynamic character that changes as the book progresses. In fact, most of the characters grow and change as the book progresses. Character-driven books are among my favorites, and Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe is definitely that. This book gives the reader an opportunity to laugh, to cry and to just enjoy reading. What a joy it is to read a book that makes you appreciate reading.

I will be recommending Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe to everyone. I will be putting it on my favorite books of 2012 as well. It is so good; it just needs to be read, by as many people as possible. Add this book to your to-be-read pile, no matter how big it is.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #38

Feature and Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Rachel at Parajunkee's View and Alison at Alison Can Read.  It is a great way for bloggers to make new friends and find new blogs to follow. Go to either blog, follow ALL the instructions and then add your link to the list. It's just that easy.

This week's question:

If you could "unread" a book, which one would it be? Is it because you want to start over and experience it again for the first time? Or because it was just THAT bad?

I'm sure there are a lot of books I would like to "unread" but I have blocked them from my memory because they were that bad. The one that comes to mind that I have recently read that I wish I could unread is New Girl by Paige Harbison. It was by far the worst book I've read in ages and it still ranks as the worst book I've read in 2012. I finished it and wished I hadn't, it was that awful. Yuck!

Since I picked a book to unread because I hated it, I'll pick one that I loved. I would love to unread the Mortal Instruments series. I love this series so much.  I remember when I first read City of Bones; it was like stepping into a new and fascinating world, one I never wanted to leave. I loved that book so much, I can't even begin to describe it.  I would love to have that feeling again.

Leave a link in the comment section to your Feature and Follow Friday and I will stop by and check it out. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #37

Feature and Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Rachel at Parajunkee’s View and Alison at Alison Can Read. It is a great way for bloggers to make new friends and find new blogs to follow. Go to either blog, follow ALL the instructions and then add your link to the list. It’s just that easy!

This week’s question:

Happy Father's Day! Who is your favorite dad character in a book and why?

I have several fathers that I like. Here they are in no particular order:

Even though he is not actually her real father, I love Luke from the Mortal Instruments series! He cares deeply for Clary, even though she is not his daughter. He does his best to protect her, her mother and her friends, he doesn't take any crap from anyone and he makes an awesome werewolf! Luke is a great father to Clary, something she really needs.

I also like Charlie and Carlisle from the Twilight series. Again, they are protective of their children and will go to any length in order to protect them.

And finally, Stephanie Plum's dad, Frank, from the Janet Evanovich series. He is so funny, without trying. I love his relationship with Grandma Mazur and how frustrated he gets with his crazy family. He makes a great straight man. 

Who are your favorite dads from books? Leave a comment and I will stop by and take a look!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teaser Tuesday June 12

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
·         Grab your current read
·         Open to a random page
·         Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
·         BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
·         Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!

My teaser this week is from:

"You know that curiosity killed the cat isn't just a saying, right? Alex whispered to Charlie. "It's a warning that we should leave when something's wrong." Kindle location 16%--quote subject to change before publication.

What are you reading this week? Leave a link to your Tuesday Teaser in the comment section and I will stop by and take a look.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #36

This week, Feature and Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Readis celebrating it's 100th week! Congratulations! In honor of their 100th week, they are hosting a Giveaway Hop to celebrate! Here is the list of participating blogs, good luck!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Teaser Tuesday June 4

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
·         Grab your current read
·         Open to a random page
·         Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
·         BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
·         Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!

My teaser this week is from:

"There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the corners--and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased." page 34-35

The other day, I saw the trailer for the movie version of this and I realized, I have never read it. So, I borrowed it from my daughter and am taking the plunge. So, what are you reading? Leave a link in the comment box and I will stop by and check it out!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher

*book cover photo courtesy of Goodreads*

Title:  The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls  
Author:  Julie Schumacher
Genre:  Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Publisher:  Random House Children’s Books
Imprint:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Format:  NetGalley Digitial Galley
Release Date:  May 8, 2012

I’m Adrienne Haus, survivor of a mother-daughter book club. Most of us didn’t want to join. My mother signed me up because I was stuck at home all summer with my knee in a brace. CeeCee’s parents forced her to join after canceling her Paris trip because she bashed up their car. The members of “The Unbearable Book Club,” CeeCee, Jill, Wallis and I, were all going into eleventh grade A.P. English. But we weren’t friends. We were literary prisoners, sweating, reading classics, and hanging out at the pool. If you want to find out how membership in a book club can end up with a person being dead, you can probably look us up under mother-daughter literary catastrophe. Or open this book and read my essay, which I’ll turn in when I go back to school (Summary courtesy NetGalley).

The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls is written in the form of a creative essay for an A.P. English class. Adrienne Haus is summarizing the reading list and therefore her summer, for her teacher.  Each chapter begins with the definition of a literary term, but not the type of definition you would expect. Instead the definitions are snarky and witty, for example: “subplot—This is sort of like the plot’s younger brother, the one who tags along behind the big kids who are hogging all the toys and having most of the fun. But mostly it means a less important plot” (location 720, subject to change). These were actually my favorite part of the book.

I thought that a book about forcing four girls with nothing in common into a book club for the summer would be really fun to read. It started off great; at first I felt a connection to Adrienne because she had no father, loved to read and really had only one friend (who was gone for the summer). Unfortunately, a few chapters in, that connection was gone. I thought the premise of the book was interesting and I felt it had a lot of potential. But the book really ended up fizzling for me and I found myself struggling to get through it.

I didn’t think that the characters connected in the way the author wanted us to believe. CeeCee, your quintessential popular girl, latched onto Adrienne immediately. But CeeCee opting to spend time with Adrienne outside of the book club seemed very unrealistic. They have absolutely nothing in common aside from their forced participation in the book club. And Adrienne accepting CeeCee friendship also seemed farfetched. I’m not sure anyone would put up with a “friend” who rifles through her stuff and frequently insults her. As a matter of fact, none of the girls really seemed to get along. Jill doesn’t trust CeeCee and Wallis doesn’t trust anyone. The mothers even seemed to dislike each other. I just couldn’t connect with the characters as the book progressed because the characters couldn’t connect.

The synopsis of the book suggests that a great deal of it takes place at the pool. Ummm, yeah, not so much. In reality, I think that the girls were at the pool maybe three or four times. And one of those times was the climax of the story. I felt like the pool was supposed to have some kind of great significance to the story, but because so little time was actually spent there, it was lost on me. Adrienne spent more time at home than she did at the pool. 

While I appreciate the use of imagery in a story, sometimes an author can go overboard. Schumacher really loves her metaphors and similes, so much so that she uses anywhere from three to four per paragraph. It really got old after awhile. Sometimes it’s ok to describe something without comparing it to something else. Or leave it out entirely. I really didn’t need to know that the scouring pad was “like a slimy, silver wig for fish” used to scrub the “islands of burned rice” (location 1887, subject to change). I don’t think the reader should notice the imagery; it should be so seamlessly interwoven into the story that its use doesn’t affect the reader at all. I might have been more appreciative of the imagery if it had not been extremely overused. I started to feel as if the author was trying to write the “next great literary masterpiece” in young adult form. She was just trying too hard. 

I can’t say I enjoyed The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls. It was readable, but certainly not something I would read again or recommend, especially to my pickier readers. It’s just not interesting enough.

My grade for The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher: