BOOK REVIEW: CATLING’S BANE

Catling’s Bane, Book 1 of the Rose Shield series, offers the reader an amazing journey into a world so believable that the characters seem to come alive on the page. This beautifully written science-fiction pulled me into a world that glitters with luminosity. The author reveals this world with descriptions so vivid, so rich in detail, that we forget completely, that it is a fictional world.

It is a civilization very different than our own, yet still, very much the same, with problems of great poverty, injustice, and cruelty, with one exception. There are strange powers of influence, powers that control someone’s intent, beliefs, and thoughts. The poor live their lives in a caste system, while the wealthy and powerful live like royalty, and all others live by hook or by crook.

Yet, even for the wealthy, life becomes a perilous journey, because every word, ever thought, may not be their own.  There are those, however, within this system, who have courageous hearts, make great sacrifices, and if they can escape the Influencers, they may have the opportunity to change their world where everyone can speak their own thoughts and live their lives as they choose to be.

I was completely captured within this incredible world, created by the author, D. Wallace Peach. 5 stars

A Book Review: Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story

“Entertaining humans for cheese is a bit daft really, but cheese is cheese!” Wise words from Sam: a smart, talented, handsome, and very entertaining Collie, who, in my opinion, is the spitting image of Lassie.

Author, Sally Cronin writes through the eyes of her beloved Collie, Sam. It is a poignant, funny, and oh so entertaining story about life with Sam.

Sam tells us about his life and what it is like growing up dog. I couldn’t help but fall head over heels in love with Sam! And so will you! 

Sam is very literate, he did narrate this book, after all. Sam’s memoir: Sam: A Shaggy Dog Story, is a truly incredible life story of his life as a Collie. He narrates poignantly about his first memories of being a puppy, his incredible curiosity of the world around him, as well as his travels, mishaps, and friendships, and about his great of love of cheese and sausages.

Yet, most important in his life is his great love for Sally and David, his adopted family. Sam also had a fan club of sorts; he was friendly with cats, such as Henry, an Irish feral ginger and white cat, a Spanish marmalade cat, named Mollie, and let me not forget his very favorite toy, when he was a mere tadpole, a stuffed toy lamb, named Larry.

Sam, the intellectual that he was, studied human behavior extensively. He learned to speak Cat, English, and even a little Spanish. Sam was also quite good at humming a tune or two with Sally and David, on many of their family travels. Quite an accomplishment!  However, there was a certain rationale behind his thinking…cheese and sausages. If he could entertain Sally and David’s friends, by speaking English, he would be given more cheese by their guests. One could say that Sam was an accomplished entrepreneur!

As a reader of Sam’s story I laughed, I sometimes cried, and I fell totally in love with Sam, who was loved, beyond measure, by Sally and David, his adoptive parents. This is a wonderful memoir that will make you smile, laugh, and even shed a tear, but mostly you will feel a sense of great joy for a life well lived. 5 Stars.

 

The Ghost in the Standing Stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked through the abandoned centuries old churchyard, in a neglected area of the Yorkshire countryside of England, I shivered in the cold, damp, morning air. I was feeling melancholy, no doubt enhanced by the gray skies that seem to want to stay indefinitely, hovering over this landscape.

As I continued walking, mindlessly, through this abandoned field, I found myself wondering about the lives that once walked through this field, that are now dust. I couldn’t help wondering when it would be my turn—to turn to dust.

In my field of vision, I noticed an odd-looking standing stone that stood at the very edge of the long field. It was all alone, as if abandoned through the ages. From a distance, I could see, no, I  could feel it’s presence. How does one feel a standing stone’s presence?

I don’t know, yet, I felt it pulling me toward it or was it my imagination?  With each step toward the standing stone, the feeling grew stronger, my steps more sure of where they were going.

As I continued walking toward the standing stone, I began to hear a whispering of words. Was the stone whispering to me? I felt compelled to keep walking toward the speaking stone, and do what? Start speaking to it? Engaging it in titillating conversation? Really? Have I totally lost my mind?

As I approached the standing stone, the whisper grew louder and then I knew that this standing stone was inhabited by a ghost! This was no trick or a twist of my imagination; I could not help but feel its pain, its loneliness. I wondered how long it, the ghost, had been alone, abandoned, forced to haunt this abandoned place.

How many centuries did this poor soul live a life in stone? It was too horrible to even a imagine. And then I knew what I had to do. I had to help this lost soul, somehow. I felt it wanted me to.

He, yes, it was a male, I somehow knew that. He had been turned to stone, this poor soul, this young man, had, no doubt, been hexed, cursed as it were, by some warlock or wicked witch. How I knew this, I don’t know. But, why was he hexed and turned to stone? I had to find out!

I felt my hand go up to touch him, this standing human stone, so lost and alone. I felt his warmth, his heart beating, his lungs breathing. How can that be? I wondered.  In shock, I realized he was alive, not dead!

“May I have…your name?” I asked him. He then spoke. His voice was rich and deep, almost soothing.

“Aye, ye may,” he said. “Christian ‘tis mah name, Christian McEwen. May I be so bold Milady, tae ask yer name?”

“My…my name? Huh…yes…my name is Lexi, short for Alexandra McCoy.”

“Aye, ye hae a bonny name, Lexi, and ye art bonny, as weel.”

“Christian, how long have you…been in stone,like this…and who did this to you?”

“Aye…’twas a Witch, ye ken. A shrew! A bonny she-devil—a vixen.”

As I listened to him tell the story of how he happened to be turned into a standing stone, I could see him as he was before he was captured in the stone. His visage, pale as it was through the stone…was a handsome, tall, blond headed young man.  I guessed him to be about twenty-five years of age. He wore the clothes of centuries past. I guessed he once lived sometime in the 15th century. Scottish Gaelic.

“Christian,” I said, “I can’t stay much longer. It looks like a storm is brewing, so please tell me how I can help you?”

“Aye, I ken ye dae. I wish ye could stay with me, Lexi.”

“I wish I could too, Christian, but I must go now. I can comeback, you know.”

“Nay, Lexi, ye only hae one chance, ye cannae return to me. ‘Tis part of the wicked Witch’s curse, ye ken. Dinnae fash, Lexi.”

“How I wish I could stay, Christian. I am so sorry. I will miss you and I am sorry I couldn’t help you somehow.”

Suddenly the sky darkened, the wind blew like the devil himself wished me gone. The earth shook beneath me. Like magic, looming up in front of me was a figure of a woman, dressed in a centuries old costume. Her laughter rang out with glee and spite. She looked at me, with narrowed eyes of the darkest black I had ever seen.

“Run Lexi, ‘tis the Witch! Run as fast as ye can, Milady! Away with ye—now!”

I couldn’t move, the Witch had me in her grip; she said something in a language I didn’t understand. I felt myself vanishing, fading away, but I was not gone, not really. I found myself inside the standing stone with Christian. Fear raced through my being. “Oh my god, what have I done? Christian, what has happened to me?”

“Lexi, ye art with me. ‘Tis her curse…I didae ken. But, ye dae so on ye own. Aye, ye hae helped me, dinnae ye. I am nay alone now Lexi. Ye art with me.”

 

St. Joseph’s Indian School

 

 

For a couple of years now, I feel as though I have adopted many children just by sending them cards, letters, and sometimes gifts. I love them. It is the most wonderful thing in the world to do. I hope that anyone interested would consider these beautiful Lokota Indian children by sending them a card, a letter and/or a small donation or gift. Anything at all would make a difference in their lives. They have already lost so much that is breaks my heart and so giving just a little love, joy, and care helps them so much.

Native American (Lakota) Culture

Culture is defined as the established beliefs, social norms, customs and traditions of a group of people. The same is true for Native American culture. Factors like geography, history and generations of spirituality, stories and traditions also shape the culture of any given tribe or people. Native Americans are no exception.

Here at St. Joseph’s Indian School, we have had the privilege of working with Native American families and communities since 1927. In 1991, the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center was established on our campus to honor and preserve the historical artifacts and contemporary art that tell the story of the Lakota (Sioux) people of the Northern Plains.

Native American culture is sometimes thought of as a thing of the past. However, contemporary powwows, art and language revitalization efforts make a real difference in their lives as their traditional identity.

THE IMITATION GAME: Learning How to Be a Copy Cat!

THE IMITATION GAME: Learning How to Be a Copycat!

In Writer’s Digest magazine this month, I was stopped in my tracks, when I saw this article by Karen Krumpak. I thought…What?

But then reading on, I realized that this is what artists do all the time. The apprentice artists are required to copy their “Master’s work” in paintings, watercolor, and pastels. Okay, I thought, but how is copying, word for word, another author’s work going to help me? And is this a good idea? In my effort to understand this “Game”, I read on.

And, I then discovered that this is a practice game to improve writing skills. Great, I thought, I am hooked! It was a relief though, to know I wouldn’t be the only copycat. I was in good company: Jack London, Benjamin Franklin, and Hunter S. Thompson (I honestly don’t know who this man is or was.)

Next step: Learning to Copycat or rather finding a writer I love and want to copy, but, as I found out, this is not as easy as pie…it takes work! Work?? More work??

Okay…I am Game! (pun intended)

Ms. Karen Krumpak, the author of this article, states that “You will learn to have your own Voice and your own Distinctive Style!”  This sounded like magic to me, as I imagined my own Strong voice, and my own Distinctive style!

Or, would I be, “The New Copycat Killer of Words?” (secretly, I wondered if I would finally learn to properly use punctuation, and even learn how to use italics with confidence.) I have a secret love for italics—don’t ask me why, I don’t know. Italics are very pretty to look at, aren’t they?

The first thing is to sort through your personal library for a writer that you would love to imitate.  So, several hours later….I finally made a decision!

I chose a book with 870 pages: THE MISTS OF AVALON.  I figured that after 870 pages…I would really have my own Strong voice and my own Distinctive style! This would be the “Cat’s Meow” (Pun intended)!

This choice was perfect for me with my love of legends, fantasy, fairytales, and most of all, the Magic of Morgan Le Fay, in other words; the magic of a legends, and the magical saga of all the women behind King Arthur’s Throne. Ah Ha!  This is true…there are always women standing behind a man’s throne! (Just to be sure he didn’t forget anything. We women are so helpful.)

Next step: Learn how to be a Sherlock Holmes, but where is my Watson? Well, as Karen Krumpak states, “forcing yourself to impersonate another writer takes off the pressure of writing? Really? What pressure?

Soon, I am told, I will start reading like a writer. But, I do that already…maybe. Normally, I just read, for the pleasure of it. But, if I must, I will.

Soon, states Ms. Krumpak, I will learn to stretch my skills and improve my technique. This better work…if it doesn’t, well, I will have enjoyed immensely, re-reading The Mists of Avalon, just like a real writer reads a book. Good to know!

 

A Halloween Poem: The Witch of His Dreams!

THE WITCH OF HIS DREAMS

She comes to him at Midnight,

The Witch of his Dreams,

Her eyes a forest green,

Her hair, dark and long,

Her voice, a sweet magic,

Calling out his name,

He could not help but watch her,

Dance among the flowers,

Beneath a waxing moon,

She whirls and cast her spells,

Upon him,

A haunting chant she sings,

And soars into his soul,

On gossamer wings,

She whispers things he longs to hear,

Of secret longings in his ear,

She enchants him with delights,

Though she must fly into the night,

She tells him of her love,

And casts her spells upon him,

To love him evermore,

Though never shall she return,

For she was only ever,

The Witch of His Dreams.

Composed by K. D. Dowdall October 2017

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.