Book Review: Through the Portal

Title: Through the Portal
Author: Justin Dennis
Release Date: August 2011
Length: 252 pages
Series?: Through the Portal #1
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Fantasy
Format: e-book
Source: author

Find the book: Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Synopsis

When Jem and Oliver accidentally fall through a portal to another world just before their first year of high school, they quickly discover that all is not well here. The first person they meet, a creepy old man named Atychis, almost gets them killed by a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon. They’re only narrowly saved when Sierra, a shy farm girl from a nearby town, uses illegal magic to help them escape. Allowed to stay with her family while they try to figure out a way back home, Jem and Oliver begin to learn of magic and the Regime that is oppressing it.

It isn’t until the Regime kills a woman that the three kids realize they have to do something to stop the Regime from taking over completely. After being framed for a crime they didn’t commit and banished from the town, Jem, Oliver, and Sierra take off on an adventure across this strange world in an attempt to defeat the Regime. New creatures and new kinds of magic are around every corner, but so are dangers that could have them wishing they were back safe at home. 

Through the Portal is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Review

I have mixed feelings about this book. What do I mean by that?

This was a difficult book for me to get through. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful and great story. This book was a very stick-it-to-the-man, defy-the-system type, which little ol’ scrappy me likes, but it was just too slow at the beginning, and about mid-way through it started slacking off again, and then again toward the end. I would fall asleep many nights with my Kindle in my hands, trying to get through a few more pages. The chapters were extraordinarily long for a piece of fiction. Perhaps that contributed to this feeling of “I’m never going to finish this book!”

Now, with that said: this is a book that could be made into the next big blockbuster. I would actually look forward to seeing this story play out on the big screen.

Oliver is a youth from a world of privilege. His parents have money enough, he has a younger sibling that adores him. His family has got it going on. Oliver is strong-willed and outspoken. Bold.

Jem is a troubled boy from the other side of the tracks. His parents died in a skydiving incident when he was a babe, and he has been raised by his ailing and blind grandmother ever since. He is very poor and knows that it wouldn’t matter if he disappeared: his grandmother wouldn’t even notice.  :(  Jem is that cowering kid in the corner, the exact opposite of Oliver.

Growing up, kids weeded out and picked on Jem because of his background. Oliver stood up for him, and they became fast friends. Oliver’s family would take Jem with them on trips, and he became an extension of their family.

This fact, the two main characters being foils of one another, immediately made me imagine all kinds of conflict to play out in this book. Fortunately, nothing compared with what I imagined, and their friendship remained intact.

I don’t know what type of time frame this book covers – it’s not very specific – and that’s something I was interested to know. Oliver and Jem fall through a portal at the bottom of Lake Sammamich (near Seattle) and wash ashore in a new world: Callisto. They are found by Atychis, a former Elder of the Argo region. Atychis is certifiable, and readers truly find out just how much so at the end of the book. They also have a run-in with the Red Dragon.

Jem and Oliver also meet Sierra and her older sister Rimaya, who’s dad is a stringent Regime follower. The Regime, under the power of Veroci, has little by little taken over almost all of Callisto and outlawed magic. And that’s where Jem, Oliver, Sierra, and Rimaya get into trouble.

The Terello family has graciously offered their home to Jem and Oliver, who help out on the farm. The boys are trying to come to grips with this new world, and what exactly is going on. They go to the local cafe to have some fizzies, and BAM! They are on “trial” for a major crime they didn’t commit. They see just how far the Regime will go to maintain control, and they flee.

Growing up in Argo, Sierra has been told all her life of legends: the legend of the Red Dragon, the Phoenix, the world of Kelados, the legend of 1000 Curses. The Regime has structured the world so that citizens remain in the region they were born into. There is no crossing the borders, for they have magnificently implemented the Legend of 1000 Curses: you cross the regional border into another region, you are cursed with 1000 curses, one of which is to grow a third leg. Obviously, Oliver and Jem see right through this ploy.

The three continue on throughout the world of Callisto, which is divided into six regions, pursued by Regime guards, all while trying to develop their magical skills. They come upon a scene that is very familiar to Oliver and Jem: a kid, Farouche, getting picked on by a gang of kids. Farouche turns out to be quiet a little inventor, and follows them in secret. The entire journey, people are constantly making unremarkable comments about Jem’s eyes being blue. It was starting to drive me crazy, because readers don’t find out why until the last quarter of the book.

Along the way, they have to make some serious choices about where they belong. They come face-to-face with Veroci himself after being betrayed by a second Elder, and end up in a land uninhabited by Regime outposts. They come to live a comfortable and safe life in the region of Luria, with an Elder who is honest, and hell-bent on defeating the Regime, but secretive. But the Red Dragon also lurks in the skies of Luria.

Jem and Sierra are a unique pair; she will stick by his side no matter what, even through her fears. Through an unfortunate set of events, Jem becomes convinced that Veroci is hoarding an army of Regime guards in the North Island, a place that is almost inhospitable, even though everyone else remains unconvinced.

The two also learn of a portal that goes to Kelados, and of course go looking for it, and are attacked by the Red Dragon…but Jem notices that the dragon has a rider. They are rescued and nursed back to health, but discover that Jem has a very unique quality about him. Scientists and doctors try again and again unsuccessfully to get him to exhibit the talents of his new quality. The determine he cannot bring these talents to fruitation, but Sierra knows they will. She jumps off the roof to test her theory, which proves correct. After this discovery, they set off for North Island…and encounter the Red Dragon and its rider.

I wish I could talk about the ending, but I can’t. My blabbermouth would give it away, but I will say that it is a fantastic ending! I will say this: Jem shares with Sierra that his parents’ bodies were never found, and I have a feeling they will show up in one of the sequential books.

I was impressed with the transformation of Jem, in particular, in this book. He starts off as only what I can imagine as the Coward of the County, and grows and develops beyond his previous limits. He sheds this outer skin, because before it seemed as if he was riding on Oliver’s coat tails. It would have been an interesting story if Oliver had stayed in Callisto, to see how things would have turned out.

2About the Author

Justin Dennis is from the rainy state of Washington but is going to college in sunny California. Soccer, which he used to play in high school, is his favorite sport, and he has in interest in creative writing, anthropology, and physics. He is a huge tech nerd who is obsessed with the newest and shiniest phones, tablets, and computers.

Writing occupies almost all of his time. The Through the Portal trilogy is his effort to inspire good morals in an entertaining and exciting way. Through fantasy, he believes that important real world lessons can be conveyed effectively.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Book Review: Who You Callin’ Silly? How a Silly Woman Becomes Virtuous

Title: Who You Callin’ Silly? How a Silly Woman Becomes Virtuous
Author: Kimberly R. Lock
Publisher: TriMark Press
Release Date: June 2012
Length: 148 pages
Series?: no
Genre: self-help
Format: e-book
Source: Smith Publicity

Find the book: Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis

First time author Kimberly Lock challenges women to look into the spiritual mirror. A Christian book unlike any other, Lock has written an engaging and thought-provoking bible study about the nature of unconditional love, forgiveness, feminine strength, and power.

As Kimberly Lock states, “There’s no need to be ashamed of past mistakes…The beauty of it all is that Christ accepts us as we are and forgives us. The key is YOU have to be willing to forgive yourself.” By using her personal life and experiences as a prime example, Kimberly Lock encourages women to harness their feminine strength and have power over past silly experiences.

Kimberly Lock guides other women to the path of virtuousness through the three sections of her book titled: All my Single Ladies, “I’s Married Na!”, and Every Woman. Not only does Lock provide an in-depth and thoughtful analysis that can lead any silly woman back on the path to virtuousness, but also she provides interactive and introspective “Virtuous Assessments” for her readers to complete.

Review

I could not get through more than the second chapter of this book, and here’s why: this book is marketed for women of faith – women who shouldn’t necessarily need to read this self-help book. It’s divided into three parts: a section for single ladies, a section for married ladies, and a section for every woman. The book is accompanied with a forward by Eldress Rhonda Cotton.

I invite you to take this self-examination journey with me and experience a narrative so powerful through the Spirit of God that you will forever change the way you view yourself as a woman.

I gave up churches long ago. I do not believe in organized religion in any form any more, and I’ve been to many churches of various denominations. I am, however, spiritual. I do not call myself a Christian, because Christianity is a trumped up word that folks like to use as it pleases them. I have some relatives who claim to be Christians, but their actions are anything but Christ-like. I talk with my 6th graders all the time about what type of people they want to be associated with, and frankly, I do not want to be associated with Christians. I do not have to attend church to worship the Lord. I do not have to attend church to read the Bible. My mother taught me how to do both, and as long as I’ve been alive, she has never but once attended an actual class at the church I grew up in (and only as a last-ditch effort to get me to go back). I can live my life by example without the duality of Christians.

Jesus made me credible, so there you have it!

Now, with that said, Kim Lock’s book dripped religion. Yes, she has a strong base in religion, being a pastor’s wife and filling in as the church’s technical person (Unity Gospel House of Prayer, Milwaukee Wisconsin). She left her job of Project Manager/Systems Analyst for National Life Insurance Company to raise her children, which, given all the things happening in the world, I would do so as well. But this book seriously pushes the religious envelope. If you are like me, and you do not like having religion or politics pushed on you, this book is not for you.

When I TOTALLY submitted my life to the Lord, HE changed me. 

LockAfter contemplating some things, I went out to Goodreads and Amazon to see what others were saying. I was dumbfounded to find that Lock had submitted a “review” to Goodreads in which she gave her book five stars, and was pushing more book-related material. The Publicist, which I reviewed recently, touched on this very item of authors faking reviews for better looks and sales. It is a BAD thing in the publishing world, like a huge black mark against a writer…and here’s Lock, submitting her own review. This severely annoyed me.

I was also quite annoyed with what I had read, but after thinking about what I’d read, I realized this book isn’t for me. I’m not a woman who needs this book – I’m already there. I know my self worth and don’t need validation. Ever get annoyed with someone trying to tell you how to do something, and you already know? After brooding on this a while, I realized that’s kind of where I was at with what I had read.

Perhaps at a later date I will give this book a second shot at reading. Maybe I’m just not at the age where what Lock is speaking about can “sink in.”

About the Author

Kim-1Kimberly Rochelle Lock was born August 23, 1975, in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Being the only child of her mother and dad, she was preserved. She was so fascinated with learning, that at the age of 5 during a blizzard she walked to school only to find it closed. It was not uncommon for her to participate in State wide spelling Bee contests. Since she was so advanced academically for her age, she began taking pre-college courses at the University of Wisconsin at the age of 11. In her spare time she cheered, played basketball and musical instruments, such as the flute, baritone, harp, clarinet, and her favorite, the cello.

After graduating from Pulaski High School at the age of 16, the University of Wisconsin welcomed Kim as a student to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Management Information Systems. After taking a year off, she completed her Master’s Degree in Telecommunications at Keller Graduate School of Management.

In 2002, she married the love of her life Pastor Marlon Lock. They have four beautiful daughters and a baby boy. Kim has built a spiritual atmosphere in her home, where she balances the delicate tasks of nurturing and guiding her children. This dedicated mother resigned her position as Project Manager/Systems Analyst for National Life Insurance Company to raise her children.

Kim Lock assists her husband in the business aspects of their church, Unity Gospel House of Prayer, Milwaukee Wisconsin. She also manages and implements many of the technical designs within the church including the website, Facebook and Twitter. Many women are drawn and assigned to her for spiritual guidance as she sends out daily devotions to encourage many.

Her character is calm and meek. Her style is simply “classy.” She is a woman of very few and selected words with a smile that brightens the room. Clearly, Kim Lock has an unquestionable commitment to developing women spiritually.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Book Review: The Colors of Blue

20744355Title: The Colors of Blue
Author: Lance McCulloch
Release Date: November 2013
Length: 264 pages
Series?: no?
Genre: romance, chick lit
Format: e-book
Source: Smith Publicity

Find the book: Website | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis

In the new inspirational novel The Colors of Blue, Colorado native and chemical engineer turned fiction author Lance McCulloch introduces his readers to a compelling narrative of two emotionally shattered and vulnerable people, who gain a second chance at love and life through finding each other.

Sara Field has a unique gift – she can see the auras of others.  However, her gift for picking up colors fades after her fiancé betrays her in the most heartbreaking way possible.  Meanwhile, Rick Wheeler has suffered the tragic loss of his wife, and finds himself collapsing under the pressure to build his financial empire. Together, Sara and Rick connect, feel comfort in one another, and fall in love during one extraordinary weekend in rural Colorado.

As the story unfolds, readers see two very broken people fall in love as McCulloch ties together the beauty of nature and the human spirit.  The themes of adventure, love, intrigue, passion, and happiness are woven together tightly in this epic romance. Through strongly developed characters and rhythmic prose, readers are taken on a riveting journey that joins two hearts together and provides a renewed promise of true love and lasting happiness.

This emotional, inspirational, and uplifting novel also reveals:

  • How the purity and beauty of nature can restore our spirit
  • The power of finding a love that transcends time
  •  The importance of mourning the loss of a loved one
  • Why we need to understand and overcome grief to move forward
  • How to revive our identity and true colors after a devastating loss
  • How taking up a simple hobby such as fly-fishing can help us look inward and gain an introspective view of life

“Although The Colors of Blue is fiction, it is loosely based on the true story of my father’s recovery from my mother’s death,” said McCulloch. “I also wrote it as a means of escaping the depression of my failing company.”

Review

When Lance’s rep at Smith Publicity asked if I’d join on his blog tour and sent the book, I was very intrigued by the title. I had no idea what it meant, and now I know that it means everything. Everything that is important, at least.

Lance has written a beautiful novel that is not a typical romance novel. If you’re looking for a typical romance, this is not it. This is SO much more.

Sarah Field can see and feel the world in colors. No, she’s not crazy. After she begins growing up, she loses her colors. They come back when she becomes a kindergarten teacher. She lives with her fiance, who has business ties to her sister’s fiance. Right there should have given me a tip off: business and family don’t mix.

Greg asks her a funny question one morning during the regular routine of getting out the door to work…and Sarah finds a bobby pin in the closet.

She teaches a large number of kindergarten students. Her principal tells her they will be absorbed into the remaining two kindergarten classes because she is losing her job due to budget cuts. She points out there would be over 50 kids in each class, which is not possible because there is a cap in the low 20s for the lower grades. That was one major flaw I saw in McCulloch’s writing, but I knew that losing her job would allow Sarah to make some changes in her life, and it would also be something for her moneybags fiance to hold over her, to use to entice her back. Although, I don’t think the man knows the definition of entice, or seduce. He is not suave in the least.

Sarah’s sister is getting married, and her moneybags fiance’s family is footing the bill for the entire bridal party to indulge for a week at a Tres Padres outdoor resort. The men are all about fly fishing, and the women all about gossip. Sarah doesn’t quite fit in with her sister’s friends, and the one she knows will give her moneybags fiance the ammunition for a shattering blow.

While Sarah is relaxing and resting, she gets to know the Tres Padres manager, Huff. They share a love for the history of the land, and they develop a close relationship. She meets his wife Maria, who also has the colors.

Also there to relax for a while is Rick Wheeler, billionaire in disguise. All, especially moneybags fiance, take him for a fishing guide. He has a gentle nature and disposition, has quick wit and sees a spark with Sarah. He has been caught in the grief and emotions ever since his wife’s death, and he’s just not ready to move on. Or so he thinks.  ;)

Sarah and Rick build a gentle romance within the vast expanse of the beautiful Colorado mountains. McCulloch knows what he’s writing about, and he paints vivid pictures of the landscapes and the adventures. Rick and Sarah are both well-rounded characters in their own right, but bringing them together brings out even more from them. He leaves  readers to come to their own determinations about their true character, and Sarah’s sister is the one who set me up with two very wrong thoughts about Sarah and Rick. I underestimated them both, and I find that they are indeed very strong and resilient.

Meanwhile, moneybags Greg has also been invited on the trip so that he may rekindle his ego with Sarah. She puts him off and puts him off and he thinks he’s making headway, then realizes he might be losing out to Rick, and delivers Sarah with a shattering blow that has some serious ramifications. I thought there would be more detail about those ramifications, but there weren’t. Greg thinks he’s won her back, put field guide Rick in his place, but now everyone just thinks he’s an asshole.

Since this novel is third person point of view, McCulloch has taken liberties and given readers a semi-omniscient viewpoint. Readers will be exposed to Rick’s dreams. Most of them are about his past, especially about his wife, and one of them is so sadly sweet and beautiful that I cried. Rick was an amazing and wonderful husband, and it broke my heart to read the way their lives played out to the end. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. It was also the last dream Rick had about his wife in the novel, so I feel that it was closure for him and a sign from his wife, urging him to follow through with her last words to him.

Rick never tells Sarah who he really is, very much like the two leading characters inSaltwater Kisses (review coming soon!), although this novel had strong characters so they did not behave the same was as the main two in Saltwater Kisses, for which I was immensely grateful.

I don’t want to spoil it, but one woman laughs herself all the way to the magazine stand and back when Rick appears in a segment about the richest and hottest men. The magazine is mailed to Greg’s business office. Oh, you will enjoy that part!  :D

I’m left asking myself a few questions about Lance McCulloch and his debut novel. Will there be more Colors books? Will we hear Nancy’s story? Will we hear Maria’s story?

I’m looking forward to more Colors books. I want to hear Maria’s story very badly. She is a vivacious and energetic woman, and I want to hear her and Huff’s love story.  I also want to hear Nancy’s story (the MIL of Sarah’s sister).

Oh, and the colors of blue? That’s love.

7731618About the Author

The Colors of Blue is Lance McCulloch’s first novel.  He wrote this novel as a way to cope with the loss of his parents.  He lost his mother to cancer and then his father in the crash of Egypt Air 990 in 1999.

McCulloch has one brother who currently manages his family’s cattle ranch.  He worked for Fujitsu Microelectronics for several years in Portland, Oregon, followed by Cirrus Logic in the San Francisco Bay area. Then, he launched his own business in 2003.

Born and raised in Durango, Colorado, McCulloch holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from University of Colorado.  Currently, he resides in Colorado with his wife Jennifer and their three wonderful daughters.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Book Review: The Scourge: Nostrum by Roberto Calas

In these times of madness, only madness will save us.

Zombies, knights, hilarity, Sir Tristan.  I’m in love….

nostrum

This is the second book in The Scourge Series by Roberto Calas, here is my review for book one.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Sir Edward Dallingridge survived his journey through the anarchy that is now England, leaving in his wake the bodies of mad lords, foul invaders, friends, and the risen dead. There was nothing on earth that could keep him from the woman he loves.

Nothing but the horror that has already consumed her.

His journey is over, but his mission is far from complete. As a knight of the realm, he has defended England from every enemy it has. But how does one drive away a plague sent from hell? His only hope lies in the rumors of a cure–a treatment concocted by a strange man on an island fortress. Edward will do everything in his power to find this alchemist and to bring Elizabeth back from the walking terror she has become.

This book is again a serial, and is a bit darker, considering  the end of the first book.  The adventure continues for Sir Edward and Sir Tristan, but with the addition of others such as Belisencia, a “nun” they come across in their journey.  Her presence adds some much needed female comic relief and her interactions with Sir Tristan are hilarious.  And again, Christianity and the church are often the butt of the jokes:

“Barbaric?” Tristan asks. “And why are they any more barbaric than Christians?”

Belisencia scoffs and looks away.  “There’s no sense talking to you about it.”

Tristan laughs.  “Go on, tell me.  I would like to know what’s more barbaric than drinking the blood of our savior every week.  Or eating his flesh.” He laughs again and sweeps his hand to encompass the countryside.  “Maybe all of these plaguers are just good Christians that got carried away.  They’re drinking everyone’s blood.  Maybe they are more devout than any of us.”

I love how the zombie apocalypse in medieval England pretty much mirrors the zombie apocalypse in every other time period and part of the world that I’ve read.  Makes me think that no matter where or when, humans are humans and will probably devolve to their baser elements when the fabric of society is torn apart:

The afflicted are not the worst thing about this new England. Plaguers are hungry and desperate.  I understand those motives.  What, then, are the motives of the survivors?  Power?  Avarice? Cruelty? Of the two groups, the unafflicted survivors are the greater threat.  I am uncomfortable with what this implies about my kind.

Like I said in my earlier review, I know NOTHING about this time period, outside of what I’ve seen in Monty Python.  And this reminds me much of Monty Python.  But Mr. Calas is very gifted at understanding that not all of us readers know what a bevor (?) is, and works very diligently to make sure we aren’t completely lost.  He makes all of the knight stuff palatable.  And funny:

Every priest dreams of sainthood.  Every merchant dreams of riches.  And every knight, no matter how much he may deny it, dreams of slaying a dragon.  It is in our blood. Tristan and I nearly knock each other to the ground in our haste to reach the creature.

Another feature I love of these books, maybe it is just a serial thing, is the historical notes at the end.  Mr. Calas has done extensive research into his writing.  Sir Edward was a real person with a real castle.  A good number of the events were based in some sort of reality.  Even the dancing mania AND the dragon (you have to read about it).  I truly appreciate these types of works that are based in some sort of reality.  And then the author just runs with it.

Again, I highly recommend this series.  Fulfills my zombie requirement, humor requirement, history requirement all in one book.  A must read.  I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

Interview with Indra Sena author of Closet Full of Coke

CFC_cover_n

I’m not sure if I have ever written a formal review of Closet Full of Coke for this site.  I have mentioned it here and here.  And here is my full Amazon review:

I read this book in one night. I was captivated by the story and strength and resilience of this young woman who, in middle school, began selling drugs to better her life. As I was a toddler when the narrative began, I personally cannot remember this time in American history. This book shed light on the Reagan years, and the advent of cocaine in America.

Portions of the book made me cry. The narrative is so heart-wrenching, you want to reach through the pages and hold this young girl, you want to step in for her absent parents. You keep turning the pages because you want to see how it all turns out.

What I really found lacking was more information on how the author is doing today. There was brief information at the end, but I would have found more information about her life in the intervening 25 years from her teenage years to publication equally as fascinating.

Another book perhaps?

After that review, the author tracked me down to thank me.  And we’ve  been exchanging email on occasion ever since.

I’ve been fascinated with her writing process.  What it takes to write about something so personal, so deep and emotional.  And to put it all out there.  You can tell by some of the idiotic reviews on Amazon (and especially Goodreads) that some of the people reviewing did not read the same book that I did.  Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but instead of critiquing the book for its literary merit, they ended up critiquing the author for her personal choices she made as a teenager 30 years ago.  I recently asked Ms. Sena if she would do an interview about this subject, and she graciously acquiesced.

1)  Where did you get the idea for your memoir?  Was it something you always wanted to do after the events took place?  Or did you have a dream or a stroke of divine inspiration?
I planned to write my memoir for nearly twenty years. I was twenty years old and reflecting back on all the events of my teen years and I realized that the story had all the components of fiction. It was kind of startling to see life so perfectly imitating art. I started telling people then that one day I would write this book. 
When I finally sat down to write it twenty years later it became clear that I needed the perspective of lots of time and distance from the events to write something like this.
2) How did you decide which years to focus on?
I knew exactly where the book would end but I wasn’t quite sure how early I should start it. My first draft had an additional five chapters in the beginning that described my life when I was 13 and 14 years old. But my editor and I ended up agreeing that the clearest beginning was the day I met Armando. So my original chapter 6 became chapter 1.
 3)  How did you remember events and timelines?  Did you have journals from those time periods of your life? Court records?  Did you interview family members?
I have an overactive memory. It can be frustrating sometimes but in general it’s very helpful. I memorize everything in chronological order in my life. I can tell you what house I lived in by what age I was. I also memorize conversations, especially significant ones. Sometimes I watch a movie I haven’t seen in many years and I find I have memorized the majority of the dialogue. I memorize things that are significant to me, and I can often remember where I was, how old I was, and what I was wearing.
I do have court records. I never looked at them but I gave them to the lawyers who vetted my book and they were able to view the actual charges from the court. There really are no family members to interview except for Joan who doesn’t really remember anything.
Although I don’t keep journals I am an avid poetry writer. I’ve written thousands of poems and I did take the notebooks from those years and reread all the poems I had written. They are confessional but they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already remember but they helped with my voice since I don’t always memorize my side of the conversation precisely.
4) Did you write chronologically, or as memories came to you?  Did you have a timeline?  Lists of events you wanted to cover?  Is there some fantastic, unabridged version of “Closet” out there? If so, can I get a copy?
I’m sorry there is no real unabridged version. I started by creating an outline and a timeline and a character sheet. Then I went through in the outline and I made a list of scenes that would take place in each chapter. I wrote chronologically but sometimes I would remember something that was going to happen a few chapters ahead and I would jump forward and place that writing into the appropriate spot.
 5) Have any of the people featured in the book read it?  If so, what were their reaction to their portrayal?
None of the surviving members of my family have read it to my knowledge. 
** I do want to note that Ms. Sena did add an “aftermath” portion to her website adding what she knew about the characters featured in her book as of today.  If you have read it and are curious, you can find it here.**
 6) Have your current friends read it who didn’t know about your past?  Was it difficult for them?  
Many of my friends had a hard time with the book. Many people were surprised that they’ve known me decades and they didn’t know the contents of the book although they knew the generalities. There were few people who felt like they couldn’t finish it because it was too disturbing. But part of that is the fact that my current friends are not the type of people that enjoy horror or scary stories like mine.
7) Was it difficult for you writing certain scenes?
I knew every scene I was going to write in advance and I really had no problem with any except the entire chapter about my sister. I saved that until last. I dreaded writing it because I really didn’t want to remember the details.
 8)  Your memoir is excellent at inserting the reader directly into a scene.  I was born in 1982, but I swear I could hear the music, feel the lace gloves.  Personally, I can barely remember what song was popular, what I wore, the atmosphere of a given day in 1998 (when I was 16), did you have to do research, or did it come from your memory?
 All the music and the outfits came from memory. I was able to grab a small photo album I have with a couple dozen pictures that reminded me of some of my more favorite outfits and I was able to write them into the book. I do seem to be wearing lace gloves in practically every photo! The music I remembered perfectly but I also have memorized thousands of songs. I could hear the music playing in my head. Still, I went to YouTube and watched the videos I spoke about from MTV, I reread the lyrics and listened to all the songs that I mentioned mostly just to bring back memories. 
9) This is a very emotional, personal, heart-wrenching story.  How difficult was it for you to put that much of your soul out there for the perusal of humanity?
 I followed the advice of my idol Erica Jong. She says she writes every book telling herself she will not publish it. I did a similar thing where I told myself I would cut out anything I couldn’t handle, or that made me uncomfortable.  She also said that whatever you don’t want anyone to know, that’s what you write about, so I did.
I cannot explain what gave me the courage to then publish it.  I have read the book myself hundreds of times since then and I cringe during some of the passages not believing I had the nerve to leave it in. But eventually I just accepted that what makes the book good is revealing all those secrets.
10) In some of the more traumatic passages, especially with the issue of sexual assault, your voice becomes more distant, more matter of fact.  That is very in line with how trauma survivors view the events they endured, as if it weren’t happening to them, but to someone else.  This lends incredible authenticity to your memoir.  Was this on purpose or was this how it just came out?
That was not on purpose and I am not aware of  as being different from the rest of the book. The book lacks exposition leaves a lot of room for readers to think and feel on their own. It gives the intimate details of the events but it doesn’t go much beyond that.
11)  Now that it has been out there for awhile, are you glad that you published?  Would you change anything about the process?
 Yes I’m very glad I published it and I don’t think I would change anything that I’ve done so far. I’m very happy I self-published and retained editorial control over my work.
One day I would like to publish a memoir of my experiences.  If you are interested in reading about some of that drama, email me and I may provide you with a link to my page that has content pertaining to my book idea.
Memoir fascinates me.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to put your soul on paper for the world to see.  Closet Full of Coke is a tremendous study is strength, in resiliency.  An excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read.

Book Review: Weeks in Naviras by Chris Wimpress

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Ohhh…one of my favorite kinds of books.  I would call it a mashup.  A little bit of romance, a little bit of sci-fi, throw in some politics and political commentary, add elements of a thriller.  Excellent.  Here is the synopsis:

It’s late afternoon in the tiny Portuguese fishing village of Naviras, where Eleanor Weeks is sipping wine and watching the ocean. Even though she’s been there dozens of times, how she arrived that particular afternoon is a mystery to her. Until she remembers she’s the wife of the British prime minister, and that she’s just been killed in a terrorist attack.

As Ellie explores her afterlife she finds other people she knew, all of whom died before she did. She recalls her troubled marriage during her husband’s rise to the very top of British politics. She remembers the tragedy and secrets which dominated the last ten years of her life, before recounting her role in a conspiracy which threatens to destabilise not just Britain but the wider world. 

Both a political thriller and love story, Weeks in Naviras delves into the heart of a woman who sees first-hand the rise and fall of governments troubled by turmoil and crisis.

Beautifully written.  I really want to go to Naviras.  Like right now.  The way it is written, you can see the little village.  You can feel Ellie’s attachment to it.  You understand why it is where she would go.

The “flashbacks” aren’t puzzling at all.  When not written effectively, it can detract from the overall reading experience.  Not so with this book.  It only makes you want to keep reading on to find out what happens.  The author only feeds you enough information to spur you on.  It is maddening but at the same time satisfying when you finally DO get the answers.

Ellie is an intriguing character.  The ten year span that you get to know her is appropriate.  You get to see her grow as a mother, as a person.  The amount of courage it takes to do what she does on the last few pages is phenomenal.  She grows from someone afraid to confront her husband and his power to one who essentially takes on some unknown quantity to save the world.

I appreciate the honest depiction of depression.  The noonday demon.  The malaise.  And the portrayal of it in someone in Ellie’s position is appreciated as well.

I also liked the political commentary as well.  I can very well see the author’s political stance on recent events, but it isn’t overwhelming.  It isn’t a political book, it is more futuristic (I think?).  Not enough is specified to pinpoint exact events or political figures.  But the criticism rings loud and clear.

I also love the creativity employed with the mode of  terror device used.  I don’t want to give anything away, but put it this way, it will knock your socks off.  The twists are so unexpected, so genius.

Excellent, excellent book.  Highly recommended.  Definitely different, definitely eclectic.

Book Review: Heal This Way Written by Little Monsters Photographed by Tracey B. Wilson

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My daughter loves Lady Gaga.  Well, any pop music in general.  She has no clue about politics, of what Lady Gaga’s lyrics mean, of what Lady Gaga wears.  She just likes the music.  The beats, the sounds.

I, on the other hand, am fascinated with Lady Gaga.  I am vaguely aware of this “social movement” surrounding her, but other than hearing “Poker Face” nonstop on the pop station in 2009, I really don’t know much about her.  I am not a “Little Monster”.

When I was approached to review this book, I saw it as a chance to review something I haven’t before.  A photography book.  About something I know nothing about.

This book was put together when thousands of Little Monsters were together for a series of Lady Gaga concerts that were abruptly cancelled due to an injury the Mother Monster suffered.  Her fans were photographed and wrote heart-wrenching get well letters to Lady Gaga that were turned into this book.

Here is the synopsis from amazon.com:

Lady Gaga’s biggest fans share their raw emotions about coming out, bullying, thoughts of suicide, and the need for acceptance, in this inspirational new book. Quotes and letters are accompanied by stunning Little Monster portraits that invite you into the soul. This beautiful, thought provoking and often humorous book is geared to LGBTQ youth, teens yearning to fit in, and fans of pop culture. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters will inspire you to change the world. 

 
This book is rated PG-13 for raw emotional content and liberal use of f-bombs. 
 
Experience love and acceptance. Experience Heal This Way.  
 
A portion of all profits have been pledged to charities that promote equality and positive social change.  #SpreadLove
This is a beautiful book.  Absolutely stunning.  The layout is spectacular and eclectic.  I love the variety of photos used and the variety of subjects.  Little Monsters are so creative in expressing themselves and it shows.  I was highly impressed at their outfits, their hair and makeup.

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Beautiful

I loved how the photographer was able to coax this part of the models out into the open.  And photograph them.  And obtain their consent for publication. You can really tell that they were comfortable posing in a way they felt was truly representative of who they are a person.  They were having fun.  they were free to be who they are.  That is a tremendous talent.

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But apparently not everyone felt comfortable after the shoot.  This page made my heart hurt:

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I know nothing of art books, nothing of graphic artistry,  but as a complete novice, I really liked the lay out of the book.  I liked how the pictures were set up next to each other, the ratio of full page shots to quarter page shots etc.  I like which fonts were used, when the letters were typeset versus handwritten, etc.  Here is an example:

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I thought that was really cool.  The colors used were vibrant and appropriate.  Not garish or tacky.  The book didn’t scream at you.  It was apt.

What was most moving of all was the letters.  The personal missives to Lady Gaga from the Little Monsters themselves detailing what she meant to them.  Now, I’m one of those that tends to roll their eyes when someone talks about a celebrity in such personal terms.  But after actually Googling Lady Gaga and reading about the work she has done on behalf of the LGBTQ community, I truly understand how she has made such an impact.

This page in particular was touching:

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“You taught me how to be brave and that I should not really give a shit to what others think.”

That is so hard to do.  We are so conditioned to contain things, to hide things, to conform to what society perceives as “normal”.  To not rock the boat.

Even in my limited time on this planet, it is refreshing to see some of these sentiments changing.  To see that people are becoming more accepting.  To see a book like this being published.  To see that people aren’t scared to dress the way they want, to be photographed in this manner, telling their stories.  I can tell you that when I was in high school, so long ago (I graduated in 2000), people were still terrified of coming out.

This book is important.  Thank you to the brave Little Monsters who shared their stories and themselves and to Tracey B. Wilson for photographing them and putting the book together.  And for generously sharing the book with me.

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