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review 2018-04-20 21:31
Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family #1) by Melissa de la Cruz
Witches of East End - Melissa de la Cruz

It was hard to put this book down, even to just fold laundry. However, it should be noted that de la Cruz has a particular writing style - very short chapters, heavy on plot, rotating third person POVs (in this case Freya, Ingrid, and Joanne), and for an adult book, very little sex on the page. I was familiar with de la Cruz's writing after reading three books in her YA vampire series (with one of those vampires making a guest appearance in this book), and it suited to the story she was telling in this book.

 

And what a book it was - a mix of lessons from early American history (the Salem witch trials in particular), Norse mythology (yeah, with names like Freya and Ingrid kind of give it away), and straight up paranormal. Joanne, Freya, and Ingrid are witches and mother-daughters that were exiled by The Council and banned from using their gifts. After a few centuries, each woman was tired of keeping herself on the down low and starting using her gifts for the good of others - honest intentions to help people. As they continue to use their powers, equally crazy shit happens and it is up to the women to find the source and stop it. 

 

I just loved this book. The women were intelligent, thoughtful, and worked together while still being themselves and the romantic elements were there, but not the focus of the book. It was a joyride with heart. I am definitely going to continue reading this series. Forewarned: you have to read the series in order because the end of one book sets up the next book. So although the problem the women faced ended at the end of this book, the epilogue dropped a big plot line for book two.

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text 2018-04-02 22:59
Getting my reading mojo back
Death on Tap - Ellie Alexander
Once Upon a Spine - Kate Carlisle
A Perfect Proposal - Katie Fforde
Witches of East End - Melissa de la Cruz
Dark Harbor - Stuart Woods
The Miner's Lady - Tracie Peterson
One Wish (Thunder Point) - Robyn Carr
Island Girls - Nancy Thayer
Family Tree: A Novel - Susan Wiggs
Night Road - Kristin Hannah

This weekend I downloaded three contemporary romances from OverDrive. Two I read in about 24 hours each; the third I DNF at the 9% mark. I think I got my reading mojo back. Today I went to volunteer at the library (something I haven't done all March because of adult taskings); after, I decided to browse the fiction side for a change. 

 

I came home with 12 books (8 adult fiction titles, 1 middle grade that will fill a PS prompt, 1 graphic novel) plus I still have four books coming to me via ILL. In my defense, I was left unsupervised in a library.

 

Here's what I brought home:

1. George by Alex Gino (the MG for PS prompt)

2. Paper Girls (Book One) by Brian K. Vaughn et al (collects the first 10 issues)

3. Death on Tap (Sloan Krause Mystery #1) by Ellie Alexander

4. Once Upon a Spine (A Bibliophile Mystery) by Kate Carlisle

5. A Perfect Proposal by Katie Ffjorde

6. Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz

7. Dark Harbor (Stone Barrington Novel) by Stuart Woods

8. The Miner's Lady (Land of Shining Water #3) by Tracie Peterson

9. One Wish (A Thunder Point Novel) by Robyn Carr

10. Island Girls by Nancy Thayer

11. Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

12. Night Road by Kristin Hannah

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text 2018-03-25 08:27
Book Awards - To compete or not to compete?

To compete or not to compete?

 

Does entering writing competitions achieve anything other than deplete your bank account and inflate others?

 

Maybe - for the few who win, place or show.

 

Last year I researched contests, this year I'm entering them.

 

Why?

 

My writing career is going nowhere and doing the same things and expecting different results is a definition of insanity, right? So to delay that diagnosis last year I sent East Van Saturday Night - five short stories and a novella to maybe a dozen traditional Canadian publishers hoping they could take some of that grant money they get from the federal government and publish my book. Indie authors get no respect, and in most cases don't deserve any, but traditionally published authors get it whether they deserve it or not.

 

Most didn't even bother to reply, a few sent generic rejections and one, Thistledown Press, actually wrote a letter saying "while your writing is fresh, visceral and intuitively captures the rawness of youth and the dark energy of East Van, we do not have an audience presently to support such work."

 

Nice, but no cigar.

 

This year I'm thinking some recognition from a notable contest might generate some interest among readers and publishers. At the very least I could use the phrase "award winning" or "shortlisted" to stimulate my webpage and social media sites.

 

I began by submitting The Death You Choose, a story about a senior who realizes he has dementia and decides to take his own life rather than be relegated to the living dead, to Writer's Digests' Short Short Story contest in January.

 

The fee was $30 and the submission was an online so no additional costs were incurred.

I can't find out who won, but obviously it wasn't me, however, the fee might have been worth the exercise in editing a story about four times too long down to the required 1500 words.

 

Next I entered The Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction sponsored by Prism, a literary publication put out by The Creative Writing Program of the University of British Columbia.

 

I was ambivalent about this submission because I feel there's an inherent bias in favour of submissions from fellow academics, and that's not me. I mean how would it look if someone without a degree in Creative Writing won a contest sponsored by a Creative Writing Department?

 

However, they kept extending the deadline which I interpreted as they were light on submissions, which means my work might have a better chance. Publication in literary magazines can fast track a career. I know it's hard to believe, but in Canada it's true.

So I sent in East Van Saturday Night and the Paper Shack, two short stories from the anthology that traditional publishers have all but given up on.

 

Why two? The entry fee for one was $35, and only an additional five bucks for a second one. Again, an online submission so no additional costs.

 

Results are pending.

 

I chose my novel Abandoned Dreams to submit to the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards in the category of literary fiction. Here's where it starts to get expensive and that question about sanity begins to arise again.

 

Submission fee is $99.00 CA plus you have to send a paperback so add $20 for the cost of the book and shipping.

 

The submission process was the same for The National Indie Excellence Awards to which I submitted a paperback edition of Mad Maggie.

 

By the middle of April I plan to submit Forest to The Book Pipeline Competition which seeks material for film or television adaptation. They want approximately the first 5,000 words and full synopsis (1-3 pages). I think a good movie about Sasquatches is long overdue, don't you?

 

And once I finish this blog I'm going to submit The Big Picture to the 2018 Readers' Favorite International Book Award Contest to get their early bird discount of $89 USD. I'm entering this competition primarily because I like that "all entrants receive a mini-critique which will provide ratings on five key literary areas: appearance, plot, development, formatting and marketability."

 

If you lose, at least they tell you why?

 

As the year progresses I might even enter more contests - until I run out of money, or go back on my meds.

 

Want to preview the books I've entered? Go to my Amazon Author Page at

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU

 

Readers' Favorite Annual Book Award Contest

https://readersfavorite.com/annual-book-award-contest.htm

 

The 5th Annual Book Pipeline Competition

https://bookpipeline.com/

 

 

Stay Calm, Be Brave, Watch for the Signs

 

30

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review 2018-03-23 18:35
Zealot by Reza Aslan
Zealot. The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth - Reza Aslan

This is an accessible work of history, looking at what the historical evidence tells us about Jesus of Nazareth and his times. Not knowing much about the context of those times, I found it enlightening, though it sometimes seems that the author overstates the certainty with which much of anything about the ancient world can be known. In the end much of the book is educated guessing – worth reading because it is very educated, but not much can be proven.

Part 1 covers the context of first-century Palestine, a far-flung Roman province bursting with discontent about tribute requirements, leading to high taxes, leading to exploitation of the poor. Many men claimed the mantle of messiah, or the chosen one who would liberate their land from the Romans and restore God’s kingdom. Eventually the Jews revolted in 66 C.E. and kicked out the Romans, only for the Romans to return and wipe out Jerusalem four years later. In this milieu, and given the way the Romans executed Jesus (crucifixion was the standard punishment for sedition and treason, as a warning to others), the author builds a case for interpreting him as a political revolutionary. For instance, an act such as overturning the moneylenders’ tables at the Temple would have been a protest against the priests’ collaboration with Rome and enrichment of themselves at the expense of the common people.

Part 2 is more focused on the information in the gospels: what is credible from a historical perspective, and how Jesus’s words would have been understood at the time. Finally, Part 3 is about the early church in the aftermath of his death, particularly the schism between James (Jesus’s brother, who led the Jerusalem assembly) and Paul, who comes across as a bit of an egomaniac who reinvented Jesus’s message entirely, transforming it from a Jewish sect into an entirely new religion. Jesus claimed that he had come to fulfill Jewish law, while Paul decreed that he had replaced it; when Jesus was originally referred to as “Son of God,” the author argues that this designation meant simply the “chosen one” (David was also a “Son of God”) while Paul interpreted it literally. During his lifetime Paul did not have great success, but his version of Christianity was better suited to take off in a post-Jerusalem world, where the Jews had become pariah and the Temple no longer existed.

I found this to be an interesting and thought-provoking book. While not a fast read, it provides an engaging narrative and is readable and accessible to the non-academic reader. The author’s arguments in general seem extensive researched, well-documented and persuasive. When discounting sources or filling in gaps in the record, he generally explains his analysis rather than simply stating his conclusions as if they were fact.

However, it isn’t a perfect book. The organization can be a bit scattershot, jumping around in time and between general historical background and Jesus, especially in the early sections. There are no footnotes, and some assertions are supported by extensive endnotes while others are not. While not representative of the book as a whole, there are some eyebrow-raising arguments to authority, stating that “the overwhelming consensus” (204) among scholars tells us something, or that another author has “definitively proven” (240) something else. It is helpful to know which ideas are subjects of controversy and which aren’t, and I don’t expect the author to perform independent research on every single topic surrounding life in the ancient world, but it is an odd phrasing for a book premised on the method of drawing conclusions from primary sources even if they differ from established dogma.

More broadly speaking, the book’s analysis left me with big questions unanswered. If the Gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death by people who didn’t know him, and who did not live in a society where fact-checking and documentation were a thing (though the Romans kept extensive records on issues of interest such as tax collection), and were written as testaments of faith with the intention of converting non-Jews to their religion rather than as historical documents, then why remove some politically-charged bits but not others? The author argues that the Gospel writers must have changed the agency in Jesus’s execution from the Roman governor to the Jews for palatability to their intended audience, given that Pilate cared little to nothing what his subject population thought about anything, but why then leave in the overturning of the moneylenders’ tables, the sermon on the mount (which the author argues would have been about the new social order in God’s kingdom on earth rather than a spiritual promise), and other statements targeting the Temple and the Roman government? 

And if the writers needed to transport Jesus’s birth to Bethlehem to argue that he fulfilled the prophecies, why would they have explained this through a census story that their readers would have known to be false, because the census not only didn’t happen at that time but did not work that way (the Roman census was about tallying up property in order to tax it, and putting the economy on hold for months for everyone to travel to their home village without said property would have been absurd)? It’s fair to say that I am hopelessly modern and nonreligious and can’t claim to understand the mindset of a first- or second-century convert, but immersion in a story to me depends on finding it at least plausible. It also seems likely that a new religion isn’t trying to recruit skeptics who will question its facts but rather true believers who will accept the religious leaders’ word. But there still seems to me to be a difference between facts that can be disproven, and unverifiable assertions that must be taken on faith, and why hand your opponents the former if you can avoid it?

So I wish the author would have delved more into the historicity of the Gospels as a whole rather than focusing on specific passages one at a time; for me at least it would have been helpful in evaluating the overall argument. Nevertheless, this is an interesting and educational book of reasonably short length, and I’m glad I read it.

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text 2018-03-09 22:16
The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi
The Bamboo Stalk - Saud Alsanousi,سعود السنعوسي

I read the first 78 pages of this book, which has proven popular in the Arab world. It's about the position of foreign workers and outsiders in Kuwait, though the early sections are set in the Philippines, and it's constructed of short chapters. Unfortunately, I found it unengaging. The narrator describes his family's lives and his childhood and there's not yet a plot to be seen on the horizon. The characters are flat; I read an interview with the author about how we're supposed to love the narrator, and this was meant to make the criticism of Kuwaiti society easier for Kuwaiti readers to bear. It looks like that has worked for its intended audience, which is excellent, but I never felt anything for the narrator, nor did I find him interesting. Clearly, this is not for me.

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