Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Since I acquired my Kindle, I've read some of the best books in years! In fact, I've read more good books in the last six months than in the last six years put together. Even better is that there are a lot of excellent, well-written books out there you can buy for less than $3 and some at just 99 cents. While I don't believe in climbing aboard the indie train solely for the sake of doing so, I do believe in recommending self-published and small press authors who've written some amazing books that truly deserve a wider audience.
Being the sensitive idealist I am, I love a book that makes you think, cry, laugh or sometimes do all those things. Today I'm featuring three poignant and thought-provoking Kindle books by debut novelists who I can confidently count among my all-time favorite reads. To browse some of the top Indie books on Amazon, click here. Meanwhile, here are my three picks for 2011:
Daisychains of Silence, by Catherine MacLeod
"Daisy’s story unfolds over three days of memories and misunderstandings during a visit to her mother, Ellen, who’s in the early stages of dementia.
An idyllic childhood in the highlands of Scotland ends abruptly when Daisy is sent to boarding school, but that’s just the beginning of her unravelling. Fall-out from her parents’ disintegrating marriage spirals her into chaos and the 1970s Punk scene, but childhood memories intrude.
Daisy keeps it all inside, but she has had enough. Forbidden contact with her family, she marries Jake, a musician, determined to build her life from scratch, based on honesty not lies.
All goes well for twenty five years, till Jake faces a crisis of his own. Daisy reverts to old ways of coping as betrayal and family secrets are exposed, loosening the threads woven so tightly into the fabric of her life.
Ellen is losing her already shaky grip on reality. If Daisy is ever to find out the truth, she must do it now. A gun and a bundle of letters at her mother’s house trigger a series of painful but ultimately cathartic memories, forcing Daisy to re-examine her past.
The story explores the bonds of friendship and the ties between mother and daughter, father and lover. Mostly though, Daisy’s story is about trust."
The Silver Mist, by Martin Treanor
"Her dying father calls her unique, doctors have diagnosed her ‘brain is wired wrong’, most say she's ‘plain simple’ yet, in herself, young Down’s syndrome woman, Eve Hayes, feels only that she’s different. Then, on 21st July, 1972 - Belfast's ‘Bloody Friday’ - Eve encounters the captivating Esther, who ferries Eve on a sequence of illuminating, metaphysical journeys. In order to make sense of the slaughter that surrounds her, Eve must first learn the truth of her perceived difference, and therein unravel the timeless purpose of the silver mist. "
Einstein's Shutter, by Vincent Yanez
"Einstein’s Shutter is a whirlwind journey into a decade of one man’s life, in New York City, during what turns out to be one of the most horrific times in U.S. History. It’s also a story about redemption, reincarnation and ultimately it is a story of the power of the human spirit in a man, and a city, finding the strength they need to rise again after the attack on 9/11.
Einstein’s Shutter is also a comedy, a romance novel and ultimately a memoir of one life, amongst millions, in the greatest city in the world. "
Friday, November 25, 2011
(Kindle sleeve from Downstairs Designs)
When Black Friday rolls around, I hunker down at home. No way am I venturing out to sit in traffic, elbow fellow bargain hunters at the clearance rack or shuffle forward one foot at a time at the checkout line. Not to mention stores opening on Thanksgiving evening is something I find to be, errrr, over-the-top commercialism. Please, give the poor cashiers a break. Let them gather round at the dining room table with nieces and nephews and in-laws, eating leftover pumpkin pie, while the fiftieth football game of the day plays out on the big screen.
While I'm not sure how this movement got started, I think Small Business Saturday is a fabulous concept! Something to counter the chain stores, give a boost to local economies and help keep small business afloat.
One bonus effect of the e-reader boom, besides the growing ranks of indie authors and micropresses, are all the cottage industries that have sprung up in an effort to provide diehard readers with bags and sleeves and covers to keep their Kindles/Nooks safe and protected. You can find tons of them on Etsy.com. I have spent HOURS browsing Etsy, so you don't have to, but do feel free to wander. This is quality, durable, handmade stuff at reasonable prices. The sorts of gifts that last for years and are truly unique. Here are a few of my favorite Etsy shops:
Solar Threads (Quilted Kindle sleeves) - I have an orangey-gold Kangaroo print sleeve that I adore.
Joe V. Leather (Everything from leather Kindle covers, to wallets, bracelets and belts. A great place to browse especially if you're shopping for some of the guys in your life.) - I'm frothing over the tree cover and the sun-face one. While leather covers do add a bit of bulk to your e-reader, they are excellent protection, while adding a touch of class. Plus, if you want your e-reader to feel more like a book in your hands, covers are the way to go.
Gardenour Leather (Leather selections from Kindle and iPad sleeves, to purses, wallets and checkbook covers.) - Someone on Kindleboards recommended this company and they have many admirers there. Slightly more affordable than some of the other leather covers you'll find.
Borsa Bella Design Co. (e-reader and electronics bags and purses) - Between my daughter and me, we own four Borsa Bella bags. Need I say more? If I were a millionaire, I'd buy myself ten more and then buy all my friends some. Fast, personalized service. Variety of sizes and patterns available. Stylish and practical.
Here are a few more:
Stephanie Kiker Designs - Whimsical, cushiony e-reader sleeves in bright colors with original artwork (marine life, dragonflies, butterflies, etc.).
BritGal Designs - E-reader sleeves and cases in an endless variety of patterns and colors.
OhKey - More sleeves and cases in bold designs.
That should keep you busy shopping for awhile!
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Today, author and guest blogger Rebecca Lochlann talks about about her Imperfect Heroine, Aridela, from her debut novel, The Year-God's Daughter.
To view the YouTube book trailer, click here.
For time beyond memory, Crete has sacrificed its king to ensure good harvests, ward off earthquakes, and please the Goddess. Men compete in brutal trials to win the title of Zagreus, the sacred bull-king, even though winning means they'll die in a year.
Two brothers from predatory Mycenae set out to thwart the competition and their deaths as they search for exploitable weaknesses in this rich, coveted society.
Hindering their goal is the seductive and fearless Cretan princess, Aridela, an uncommon woman neither brother can resist, and ancient prophecies, which predict that any threat to her people will spark Goddess Athene's terrible wrath in a calamity of unimaginable consequences.
(Want to win a paperback copy of The Year-god's Daughter? Enter the giveaway at Goodreads, going on now!)
"I would like to explore my heroine, Aridela, rather than one of my heroes, for one reason: current stories seem wont to portray women as flawless, lacking even the perfectly normal “flaw” of not having as much physical strength as males. In Aridela, I wanted to create a protagonist who is strong, yes, but real and believable. I wanted to show how she acquires her strength, rather than simply shoving her out there already formed, as if by magic.
Child of privilege, daughter to the Queen of Crete, she has never known want or suffering. She has never experienced betrayal, humiliation, subterfuge or fear. Renowned tutors educate her. She learns how to discern truth from lies in the Chamber of Suppliants. Ten years old at the book’s outset, Aridela is an indulged, sheltered princess. Adventurous, bold, and charismatic, Aridela is inherently ready, yet profoundly unprepared, to take the throne of Crete. The people adore her, her mother dotes on her; she impresses even the hard-nosed royal counselors. Like many of Crete’s citizens, Aridela reveres beauty and beautiful things. She doesn’t realize how shallow she is, because most around her are the same. The reader might be excused for thinking this child will grow up to be a spoiled, independent woman, emphasis on “spoiled.” But naturally, I wanted more for her.
When Aridela meets and crushes on Menoetius, it’s easy to understand why. He’s a gorgeous, charming, seventeen year old foreigner with a delightful accent. What ten-year-old girl wouldn’t fall for a guy like that? But he goes home. Aridela grows up and hankers after another youth—no surprise that the object of her affection is a dazzling, celebrated bull leaper. It’s when the warriors of the mainland converge upon Crete, determined to win the Games and become the next bull-king, that real challenges begin chewing away her comfort zone. Chrysaleon, the arrogant prince of Mycenae, introduces Aridela to passion. Again, it’s easy to see what draws her: he’s good looking and a prince. It takes her awhile to realize the guard he’s brought with him is none other than her first love, Menoetius, but a profoundly different Menoetius than the boy she knew. No longer beautiful, he is the first challenge Divine Athene sets in her path. How will she deal with this angry, wounded man? She has no experience with the kind of pain he’s suffered. Harpalycus, another mainland prince, introduces her to cruelty and shame. Harpalycus is Aridela’s first exposure to humiliation, to fear, to a sense of her weakness. He and the other mainland competitors lay bare the encroaching danger of the world outside her safe island paradise.
Aridela, a coddled princess, faces challenges that will either destroy her or incorporate the necessary components needed by all rulers from antiquity to the present: humility, caution, empathy, and compassion. Immortal Athene takes her child into the blackest pit where life no longer holds value. From that place, Aridela will survive and recover, honed by adversity, or become what her oppressors want. Either way, she will be very different from the child who brazenly entered the ring and joyously danced with a wild bull."
The Year-god's Daughter can be found here:
Barnes and Noble
Rebecca Lochlann's blog/website
Rebecca fell in love with the stories and myths of the ancient Greeks at a very early age. It took about fifteen years to research the Bronze Age segments of the series, and encompassed rare historical documents, mythology, archaeology, ancient writing, ancient religions, and volcanology.
"The Year-god's Daughter" is her first novel: Book One of "The Child of the Erinyes" Series. Its sequel, "The Thinara King," will follow in a few months.
Though she cannot remember actually living in the Bronze Age, the Middle Ages, the Victorian era, and so on, she believes in the ability to find a way through the labyrinth of time, and that deities will sometimes speak to us in dreams and visions, gently prompting us to tell their forgotten stories.
Thanks for sharing, Rebecca!
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Check out the Goodreads giveaway (signed paperback copy) above or hop on over to Unusual Historicals (paperback or Kindle copy)!
If you want to put a paperback of The Honor Due a King on your Christmas list, Amazon.com still has it at a discount for $12.25 right now. No guarantees on how long that will last, though.
Huge thanks to all those readers who have put The Honor Due a King on Kindle's Top 100 Bestsellers' List for Historical Fiction this past month.
Tomorrow, tune in for guest blogger, author Rebecca Lochlann, as she talks about one of her characters from her new novel, The Year-god's Daughter.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Today, novelist V.R. Christensen is jumping in and telling us about her Imperfect Hero: Archer Hamilton from her book, Of Moths and Butterflies.
Archer Hamilton is a collector of rare and beautiful insects. Gina Shaw is a servant in his uncle’s house. Clearly out of place in the position in which she has been discovered, she becomes a source of fascination . . . and curiosity.
A girl with a blighted past and a fortune she deems a curse, Gina has lowered herself in order to find escape from her family and their scheming designs. But when she is found, the stakes suddenly become dire.
All Gina wants is the freedom to live her life as she would wish. All her aunts want is the money that comes with her. But there is more than one way to trap an insect. An arranged marriage might turn out profitable for more parties than one.Mr. Hamilton is about to make the acquisition of a lifetime. But will the price be worth it? Can a woman captured and acquired learn to love the man who has bought her?
"Perfect people are boring. I cannot understand them (because I don’t know any, myself) and I cannot sympathise with them. I do, however, have a deep appreciation for those who strive to be good, despite their weaknesses, despite their downfalls. A hero who is too good is unbelievable, and yet...one that is too flawed...well, they are difficult to root for. It’s hard to find that balance.
I acquired, several years ago, a very battered collection of George Meredith’s works, and I’ve been trying to read my way through them. He writes such amazing women, strong and good, if sometimes rebellious, which I like. That was quite a flaw in the Victorian era, female independence, you know. And his heroes? They are equally flawed. Perhaps more so. Richard Feverel (The Ordeal of Richard Feverel) for example is too obedient and it becomes a tragic flaw. And yet you follow him with rapt fascination toward and into that tragedy. Evan Harrinton, on the other hand, is what they call a ‘managed man’. His elder sister tells him what to do and where to go and whom to love and what to make of his life. And for the most part he does it. And when he doesn’t want to do it, he wallows around feeling sorry for himself and wondering why he cannot get up the gumption to stand up to her. I found him difficult to sympathise with. Perhaps because I’m a woman with a fiercely independent spirit. But it is, nevertheless, a truism that those who must fight for what they want appreciate it most, while those by nature blessed rarely take full advantage of their opportunities. At any rate, Evan was a difficult book to engage in.
And so I knew, when it came time for me to write of my own ‘managed man’ that I had to walk a fine line.
Archer Hamilton is young and he has much of youthful ambition and willfulness about him. And yet he doesn’t always use these to the best effect. He is controlled, manipulated by his uncle who has raised him, and who has raised him to believe he will inherit...if he observes his duty. And chiefest of his duties is to marry a fortune. This is all well enough until he meets the unfortunate Miss Shaw, who he later learns is a servant in his uncle’s house. He cannot marry her, and yet he is irresistibly drawn to her. He considers, and very seriously, breaking with his uncle over the matter, but then...he has no money of his own. He is powerless.
Miss Shaw, as it turns out, is not the penniless misfortunate she would like people to believe her, and when it is discovered she’s actually the unwilling beneficiary of a sizable fortune, Archer’s uncle arranges their marriage. Archer does not object, in fact quite the reverse, but the blessing of having the woman he wants comes with an enormous price. He is now his uncle’s puppet. Sir Edmund has seized the money and taken control of everything, and Archer is helpless now to do anything for himself. Neither has he the respect of his wife. And without this, perhaps the most important thing of all, he has nothing.
Archer is not entirely without strengths, however. From his mother he learned the value of earning the love and respect of others, which has been his primary motivation in remaining loyal to his uncle. Sir Edmund might, should Archer manage to please him, be the father he never had. More than anything, though, he must grow up, something he has so far not bee required to do, with everything he’s ever needed handed to him on a plate. He learns, and quickly, the value of worthwhile loyalty, and that family pride, money, tradition, the opinion of the masses, these mean nothing when you have not the love and respect of those most important to you. For these he learns to fight, whatever the cost.
As a work entirely fictional, it seems, and perhaps is, an impossible story. And yet there are parallels to modern life. The book is about the various forms of abuse, mostly (though not entirely) psychological, and about the barriers we allow to be placed in the paths to our own success and happiness. Those barriers are most often the direct results of our own flaws and weaknesses. We may blame them on circumstance or on others, but we always have a choice what we will do with the obstacles placed before us, and, too, with the opportunities. Sometimes they are not, after all, entirely different.
I am a champion of the underdog, of the honestly flawed. To have weaknesses and to be honest about them speaks of a person who is trying to do and be better, rather than pretending to be something he is not. I cannot help but respect that. It’s true we have too few heroes in this world, but I’ll take a flawed hero over a perfect one any day."
(Thanks so much V.R.!)
V.R. Christensen's web site
Of Moths and Butterflies is available at:
Barnes and Noble
Thursday, November 10, 2011
We could discuss the (exemplary) archetypal hero vs. the (contrary) antihero, but what about those protagonists who fall somewhere in between? As in reality, literary persona run the gradient of good and bad traits. For those of you who have read Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales, Uhtred Uhtredson of Bebbenburg, on first impression, is about as antihero as you can get. He's cynical, ruthless, and far from being the romantic type. But over the course of the stories, you see a clear pattern evolve - he keeps his word, he's courageous and he's more than willing to take action to get what he wants. And that makes him admirable.
Perfect heroes are boring. Let's face it - Prince Charming is very one dimensional. He's handsome, he's rich and his kiss alone can wake Sleeping Beauty from a seemingly interminable coma. All very convenient for our wilting maiden, but in fairy tales like that, it's external circumstances, not the characters themselves, that need to be overcome for a happy ending.
As we get older, we come to realize perfect people don't exist. And in real life, happy endings aren't always guaranteed. We can identify with flawed characters. We feel their angst, understand their fears. We root for them. Cheer when they succeed. Mourn when they fail.
When I started to write The Bruce Trilogy, the first chapter I put down was about ten-year old James Douglas, standing on the parapets of Berwick at his father's side, witnessing the assault on the castle and subsequent massacre led by the ruthless Edward I (Longshanks) of England. That event - the atrocities and his father's humbling submission - determined his life's path. It filled him with the want for retribution, hatred for his enemies, and the determination to put things right in the only way he knew how - by force of arms. Unfortunately, being so young then, he could only bide his time. How serendipitous that when he finally came of age, Robert the Bruce was making a bid for the crown of Scotland. He became King Robert's most loyal soldier and, renowned for his cunning and stealth, was given command at a young age.
Perfect? Hardly. He was right for the role he played in Scotland's history, but as a man he was an imperfect being. What few descriptions we have of him are that he spoke with a lisp and then not often. One gets the impression that he was shy with words, maybe even a little uncomfortable in social situations with the opposite sex, even though his male friendships were like Super-Glue bonds. I focused a lot on this awkwardness in The Honor Due a King, where his reticence keeps the woman he loves at bay, and his loyalty conflicts, more than once, with winning his life's love. Even as I was writing him, I kept wanting to grab him by the collar and say, "Speak up, man! How is anyone supposed to know how you feel if you keep pushing it back down inside you and denying it? You deserve her. Go for it, will you?"
In time, his loyalty and thirst for revenge became traits that even he began to question. Numerous times he recaptured, ruined and even razed his own boyhood home, Douglas Castle, because he did not want the English to have it.
As for the girl - well, I won't tell you if he gets her in the end. You'll have to read the book to find out.
P.S. The guy on the cover of The Bruce Trilogy books - that's James Douglas. But if you've been thinking all along that it's Robert the Bruce, please continue to do so.