For me, getting to work with Carolyn Arcabascio was a dream come true. On The Moon Coin, we worked from a master list of scene options, with Carolyn picking out scenes she liked and making sketches. For the prologue, Carolyn drafted three options. All three were great, but two in particular were spectacular. I first went with option 3 (one of my scene suggestions). I think we spent more time on this sketch and subsequent color drawing than on any other piece. But it never seemed right. At the eleventh hour, I asked Carolyn how hard she’d hit me if I suggested scrapping the thing and instead going with the pinky promise scene you see below (one of her scene suggestions). Carolyn responded: "There would be no hitting involved!" and told me it wouldn't be a problem. You sure can't ask for better than that.
Fans of world-building fantasy have new worlds to explore in The Moon Coin by Richard Due. This young adult self-published novel boldly goes where no man or novelist has gone before. In the prologue we meet the children Lily and Jasper Winter, two exuberant children enthralled by stories told by their adventurous and eccentric uncle. Uncle Ebb brings curious toys that sail through the air as if by magic, pockets that put Mary Poppin’s carpet bag to shame and stories of dragons, merfolk and giants that are so stunningly real that Lily and Jasper can't help but wonder at their truth. Then Uncle Ebb goes missing and the real adventure begins.
Lily and Jasper, along with their parents, search Uncle Ebb's home for clues to his whereabouts. His house is a veritable castle of wonders. The children visit Mr.-Fix-it, a machine with a set of arms, dozens of drawers and a program to fix whatever you set before it. They are greeted in the hallways by a group of electrimals, both fish and fowl, which flit around the house. Then Lily and Jasper find the moon coin. Lily insists on taking it home, despite Jasper’s protests. That night the moon coin magically whisks Lily away to the land of Ebb’s stories where she finds his tales all too real. She encounters giant cat-like creatures called Rinn and dragons that do prowl the night. She learns these fantastic worlds are in trouble. Can Lily and Jasper find their uncle and help save the moons he's brought to life for them?
Audiences who enjoyed exploring new worlds in stories like The Chronicles of Narnia or Brian Jacque’s Redwall series will connect with Due's vivid imagination and lush new scenery. I did find myself, at times, overwhelmed by too many characters or action that was not deftly described, but I feel Due's imagination makes up for some of those short-comings. His impressive creativity brings new characters and settings to life. The beautiful artistry of Carolyn Arcabascio is a wonderful addition. Even on my black and white Nook I could tell that the illustrations are top notch and masterfully done.
For $2.99 it's worth checking out Due and Arcabascio's debut. Young adults may just find themselves lost in a new and exciting world.
You can find The Moon Coin on Amazon here
You can find Richard Due here
BLACK SEA GODS transforms recently re-discovered Black Sea legends, possibly the root of all Eurasian mythology, with ancient Chinese mythology to create an unprecedented epic fantasy series.
The fish have disappeared from the sea. The animals have vanished from the land. All humanity, and even the gods, tremble under the specter of a pending cataclysm. The demigod Fu Xi races home from the end of the world bringing news of a looming theomachy, a god war. He finds his land under attack by monsters he once called his children and discovers a terrible curse has been cast, one
intended to destroy the gods and all life. To his shock, Fu Xi learns mankind’s hope rest solely on him, a simple fisherman and a banished slave girl.
Beset on all sides, Fu Xi knows he must act quickly and races west to rescue the saviors. Unaware of the real doom that awaits, Aizarg the fisherman and his party begin a perilous journey across a dangerous steppe. They seek the last of the Narim, the legendary Black Sea Gods, who might hold the key to their salvation. Leading them is the rescued slave girl Sarah, the only one among them who knows the path to the land of the god-men.
Over seven days the defining struggle of gods and humans begins under the onslaught
of a dark force whose true objective and origin remain a mystery. Fu Xi knows the secret to victory resides in a fisherman and a slave girl, whose lives he must protect, even if it means the rest of the world must perish.
I am pleased to welcome Ryan David Jahn to the Underground. Ryan agreed to answer a few questions about his debut crime novel, Good Neighbors.
AB: I understand that Good Neighbors is based on a true story. What inspired you to write a fictional account of this particular event? What research did you have to do for the novel?
Ryan: Because I ignored the facts whenever I felt like it, I'd say Good Neighbors is inspired by a true story rather than based on a true story. I think I kept the heart of the actual events and built a world of fiction around them. I've been fascinated with the murder of Kitty Genovese ever since I first heard about it seventeen or eighteen years ago. It has the feel of a biblical fable about it. It's simple and horrific and tells us something about ourselves, I think. I tried to keep those elements intact while writing the novel.
Apart from researching the case itself, most of the research I did was period related. I didn't want the story to get bogged down in details, but it's of its time, and I wanted that time -- the mid-sixties -- to feel real.
AB: To me, Good Neighbors is more than just a crime novel. It's a dark social and sociological study. What overall message did you intend to make when you were writing the book?
Ryan: I actually tried not to send any kind of message. I think the moral of the story is imbedded in the story itself, is there within the details, so any authorial preaching would be redundant. All I did was present the details as well as I knew how, trusting that readers would read between the lines.
AB: How long did it take you to get the book published once it was written? Did you approach agents and publishers, or did the Dagger Award from the Crime Writer’s Association play a role in getting Good Neighbors published?
Ryan: I finished the novel in September 2008 and, sending the manuscript out myself, found a publisher by January 2009. Will Atkins, who was an acquiring editor Macmillan UK at the time, bought world rights, and the rights department went about selling the novel in thirteen territories, including in the US -- to John Siciliano at Penguin. The CWA John Creasey Dagger came a year later.
AB: Your book was originally sold with the title Acts of Violence. What was the reason for the name change? What else changed?
Ryan: Acts of Violence is the title in the UK. When Penguin bought American rights, they thought a different title would be better for the US market. We brainstormed and came up with a couple dozen, finally settling on Good Neighbors. The text, though, is exactly the same.
AB: What advice would you give to aspiring, unpublished writers looking to publish their first novel?
Ryan: I'm not comfortable offering advice. I still feel as if this whole thing is a fluke, or some kind of misunderstanding. I will share the books I found most useful during my early efforts, though: Telling Lies for Fun & Profit by Lawrence Block, On Writing by Stephen King, and On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardiner.
AB: Finally, could you tell me a little about your next book?
Ryan: My next book is called The Dispatcher, and comes out on December 27. It's about a police dispatcher in a small town in Texas whose daughter went missing seven years earlier and has since been pronounced dead in absentia. One day, as his shift is ending, he takes an emergency call, which turns out to be from his dead daughter. The call ends in a scream. The rest of the novel is about his attempts to get her back.
Visit Ryan David Jahn's website.
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TITLE: Good Neighbors
AUTHOR: Ryan David Jahn
PUBLISHER: Penguin Group
GENRE: Crime Novel
Good Neighbors is a crime novel that exposes what’s lacking in humanity: the raw, gritty details of impersonal city life. Over the course of one night, it tells the story of the neighbors who stand by and do nothing while an innocent woman, Katrina, is raped and murdered outside her Queens apartment. The novel is based on a true story, which makes the vividly violent scenes even more potent.
What I liked about Good Neighbors was the range of voices, from the innocent murder victim to the murderer himself. Every voice was unique, and no matter how despicable the person was, there was a touch of humanity, buried somewhere underneath the monster. Ryan’s writing was clear and to the point, vibrant and well-crafted without being flowery or overdone.
I was dubious about starting a book in which I knew the ending: Katrina dies. Read the back of the cover, and you know what’s going to happen. However, the side-plots introduced keep an element of suspense throughout the book, and I found myself still rooting for Katrina at the end of the book, even though I knew her demise.
When I finished Good Neighbors, I can’t say I felt refreshed or satisfied. But I don’t believe that was the point of the book. I found myself contemplating what makes people do evil things, and how many people would rather look the other way. When I finished Good Neighbors, the story and the images stuck with me like a recent nightmare.
I don’t like nightmares much, but I’m a sucker for dark novels like Good Neighbors.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up or a feel-good story, look elsewhere. If you’re squeamish, you probably won’t enjoy the detailed accounts of violence. But if you want a harshly realistic picture of humanity, and a well-crafted page turner, pick up Good Neighbors and buckle up for the ride.
WANT TO BUY IT?
Ryan David Jahn’s website
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So you want to be a writer? Have you done any market research yet? We at Underground Book Reviews have. Listen to these statistics: 44 million U.S. adults, 15 percent of the population, can't read well enough to read a simple story to a child. More than 20 percent of U.S. adults read at or below a fifth-grade level. Nearly half of America's adults are functionally illiterate and can't carry out simple tasks like balancing check books, reading drug labels or writing essays for a job. 21 million American adults can't read at all and one-fifth of all high school graduates can't read their diplomas. What good is being a writer if no one can read your work?
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Born and raised in the cornfields of Illinois, Bryan enlisted in the Army upon graduation from high school and served his term overseas. Afterwards, he moved to Las Vegas and enrolled in UNLV’s college of business. It took a degree in Accounting, years of daydreaming in cubicles, and a collection of stories piling up on his hard drive to learn he is a writer and not an accountant. His writing style is influenced by authors Raymond Chandler and Carver, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Charles Bukowski, and Haruki Murakami. He currently resides with his family in Las Vegas, Nevada.
BRIAN: I’m pleased to welcome Bryan R. Dennis, author of THE UNCANNY VALLEY, to the Underground. Bryan, I hear a lot of agents and traditional publishers won’t touch short story compilations. Did you try traditional publishing before self-publishing?
BRD: I never tried traditional publishing. I looked into it, but it seemed like a lot of effort to enter what amounts to a lottery, so I went directly to self-publishing. Short story compilations don’t sell as much as novels and novellas, which is why I assume publishers turn them away. Since I’m independent, I can write what I like and self-publish without much concern about sales, profit margins, ROI, etc.
BRIAN: What grabbed my attention when I saw THE UNCANNY VALLEY on Smashwords was its cover. Asimov immediately jumped to my mind. Did you design this?
BRD: I designed it in Photoshop. Asimov was one of my favorite authors and I’ve read just about every fiction work he ever did. The design was a nod to that “Golden Age” of science fiction that he hailed from: the leather biker jacket; the almost black and white color scheme, and the Twilight Zone-ish motif in the background and lettering.
BRIAN: Your first novel was Epitaph for a Coyote. Please tell us about it.
BRD: As a challenge, I wanted to write a literary, satirical novel, that takes place in Las Vegas. I started by dissecting the shallow, materialistic version of the American Dream. This was a challenge for me because I prefer writing speculative fiction. In Epitaph I took the speculative elements that I’d normally have on the surface and put them in the subtext. Without giving too much away, it is strongly hinted in the novel that one of the characters is not quite human, yet I never come out and say it. In speculative writing I use fantastical metaphors to say something about reality – but in Epitaph I used reality to comment on the mysterious and fantastical.
BRIAN: Your profile on your website is intriguing. It says “A man, blind his whole life, one day received the gift of sight only to witness the nearby explosion that forever silenced his ears. This symbolizes my journey through life thus far.” Is this literally about you or is it truly symbolic? Can you expand on this?
BRD: I like to include humor in my writing, and this line is a just a tongue-in-cheek metaphor. It means I’ve learned to appreciate the talents I’ve been given, while accepting my limitations.
BRIAN: Your list of professions is quite broad, everything from fry cook to corn detassler to combat infantryman. When did you decide to add “writer” to that list?
BRD: I’ve worn many uniforms and hats, but I’ve always been a writer. I should add “writer” at the beginning of that list as well as at the end.
Bryan R. Dennis, the author of The Uncanny Valley, describes his sci-fi, horror, and fantasy compendium as “old-fashioned.” I call it wonderful. This compilation of sixteen short stories harkens back to the days when giants like Bradbury, Asimov, and Anderson published exciting short stories kids like me devoured. Their tales lifted the reader beyond the fantastic and made us realize the humanity of sci-fi was as every bit as important as the technical wonder. I’m not saying Dennis is in the same league as these great writers (yet), only that he captures the same magic. Like those authors of yesteryear, he explores the impact of the improbable, and the impossible, upon the human spirit.
The element of the common-meets-the-unfamiliar injects these stories with a distinct, unsettling feel. Cover-to-cover, each story thrusts the characters out of their familiar surroundings into bizarre, often terrifying, environments. Dennis even goes so far as to throw extraordinary characters into ordinary situations for which they are ill prepared. In worlds turned upside down, Dennis forces his protagonists to confront the essence of their humanity; to decide what is right and wrong and good and evil. Along the way, the reader must ask not only what it means to be human, but what it means to truly feel human.
At worst, some stories in Uncanny are merely good. Eight Legs to Doomsday and One Good Joke are satisfying sci-fi fare. The book only has one true horror tale, Noah, about an emerging sociopath. Even the weakest story, Super Temps, will still put a smile on your face.
At best, however, many of Bryan R. Dennis’s stories are simply brilliant. After reading Nox Noctis I promise you will never take light for granted again. I Am You, which vaguely echoes Spielberg’s A.I., strikes to the heart of the book’s central theme. Asian Food and Scents of Life are showcases for Dennis’s talent and will haunt you long after you put the book down.
What makes this work truly modern is how Dennis masterfully blurs the line between sci-fi and fantasy. Stories like Isle of Stumps don’t neatly fit in one genre or another.
It isn’t just the subjects or theme that makes this book so satisfying. Dennis is one of those rare authors who is both an adept story teller and an excellent wordsmith. From page one it’s obvious he knows what he’s doing. With warm, natural prose he quickly summons realistic characters and exciting plots. You don’t read his work as much as soak it in.
The Uncanny Valley suffers from only a mild case of the bane of the self-published - mechanical and formatting errors. However, it wasn’t enough to detract from the book. This book is suitable for ages twelve and up, with only minor violence and some suggestive themes.
Coming off the heels of my last review, I am reluctant to select back-to-back Top Picks, but the quality of this work leaves me no choice. Good short stories are hard to come by and these are exactly the kind I loved as a teenager. I thereby give The Uncanny Valley a rating of 90 out of 99 cents and add it to annals of the Underground’s Top Picks.
99 Cents worth of Bryan R. Dennis links:
Bryan R. Dennis's Amazon Author Page
Follow Bryan R. Dennis on Twitter
Bryan R. Dennis on Smashswords
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It is with pleasure that I introduce Rebecca Coleman to Underground Book Reviews. Ms. Coleman’s first published novel, The Kingdom of Childhood, has received rave reviews from both bestselling authors and those who have read her book. A native New Yorker, Ms. Coleman lives and works in Washington DC and is available to speak to Writer’s Groups on creative writing and publishing.
Kimberly: Is The Kingdom of Childhood the first novel you have written?
Ms. Coleman: No, I wrote several before it, learning along the way. I was an English major in college, but only took one creative writing class, and it wasn't very helpful. I often hear from people who say they would love to write a novel but don't have the time to attend workshops or courses, but I've never done any of that, either. What worked for me was to take part in online critique groups, where all the submissions and all the critiques are up there for everyone to see. I'd read someone's submission and develop my own opinion about it, and then read what the better writers said about it, and I'd develop a better eye, or ear, for the craft. I had little kids at home-- that was all I could do. But it's worked out so far.
Kimberly: What gave you the idea to write about a Waldorf teacher having an affair with a l6 year old boy? Did you attend a Waldorf school?
Ms. Coleman: I saw a story about a teacher-student affair on the news, and it struck me that this was a very interesting concept for a story, and one that seemed oddly under-used. Part of my thinking was that the only boy we've ever heard speak out about such a relationship is Vili Fualaau, Mary Kay LeTourneau's lover, and that affair was a complete anomaly-- most of those boys don't grow up to marry the teacher and have children with her. So to give such a boy a voice-- to show a criminal and non-idealized affair from his perspective-- seemed like that rare opportunity to tell a story that truly felt new. Concerning the Waldorf aspect, I attended ordinary public schools myself, but my oldest son attended a Waldorf preschool for a while. That experience-- the combination of my fondness for it and my loss of idealism about it-- had a lot to do with why I wrote the novel.
Kimberly: How difficult was it to find an agent? Did you go through what most of us do and receive rejection after rejection? Or was the novel swept up by the first agent you sent it to?
Ms. Coleman: I received 93 rejections for this novel alone. And that was on top of the 200-plus rejections-- I am not exaggerating that number-- for my first couple of manuscripts. That figure-- 93-- represents 91 agents, because two of them rejected it twice. I was so totally jaded by the time my soon-to-be-agent requested a phone call with me that I sent out ten more queries in between that request and the actual phone call. But I love my agent, so the whole endurance challenge proved to be absolutely worth it. Along the way, though, when I had no idea whatsoever about whether the effort was ever going to pay off, it was hell. I have all the sympathy in the world for querying writers.
Kimberly: At what age did you start writing? When did you absolutely know you WERE a writer?
Ms. Coleman: Well, I remember, at the end of second grade, giving my teacher the gift of a piece of cardboard on which I'd drawn all my favorite characters from the short stories I liked to write. It was really meaningful to me-- I felt like I was introducing all my closest friends to her. And then, next to my senior picture in the high school yearbook, I listed my career goal as "writer." So I suppose it was always a part of my identity, but it wasn't until after my third child was born-- I was in my mid-twenties then-- that I started taking it seriously. I wish I could say I always knew the day would come when I was published, but I'd be lying. All I knew was that I wasn't going to stop trying until I had exhausted every avenue, and then, if all else had failed, I'd write another book and try with that one.
Written by: Rebecca Coleman
Paper Back: 338 Pages
Publisher: Mira Books
Summary: The story begins in Sylvania, Maryland where Judy McFarland, wife and mother of two teenage children, teaches kindergarten. Unlike Ms. Coleman’s characters, the private Waldorf Schools where Judy is employed is not fictitious. Founded in l819 each child enrolled in a Waldorf school has their own unique lesson book created to inspire the individual gifts and talents of each student. One of the tenets of the school is to protect the child from any outside influence that would stifle personal creative growth from within. This, in itself, already sets the bar high for Judy McFarland.
Set in l998, just after Mary Kay Letourneau was found guilty of having a sexual affair with a 13 year old student, and during the time Bill Clinton confessed to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, 40 something year old Judy McFarland and l6 year old Zach Patterson begin a sexual liaison. Both have issues. Zach has just moved to Sylvania leaving familiar friends and surroundings behind. He is also aware that his mother, pregnant with her second child, had an affair with a much younger man. Judy is married to an overbearing husband addicted to prescription drugs rarely acknowledges her presence. Their daughter, in her first year of college, begins to rebel against every Waldorf principle she has ever been taught. And then there's Judy’s l6 year old son, who just happens to be friends with her new lover.
The story weaves back and forth between both Judy’s present life and as a child growing up in Germany. As a young girl, soon after Judy's mentally ill mother was institutionalized, she discovers her father is having an affair with the young woman hired to be their housekeeper. We also learn that adolescent Judy feels a warm and sometimes lustful attraction towards a young German man named Rudi. As we read Zach's perspective, he seems well rooted in his knowledge of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ which creates recognizable, uneasy tension throughout the book.
The conflict escalates when Judy tries to dominate Zach, wanting to be more of a girlfriend than a ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type of sexual escapade. Zach shows signs of sexual physical abuse as he wrestles inwardly with his lust for Judy physically, losing respect for her as a teacher and role model, as his desire grows be with a girl his own age.
Long before Zach tells his mother’s mid-wife he is having an affair with Mrs. McFarland, the novel takes an even darker turn. By this time, however, it is much too late for Judy McFarland to redeem herself.
Quote:“I picked up a thread tangled in the wool near the center of the hat and thought about what I had been in my mother’s life – a lumpy little defect in the middle of a regimentally ordered pattern -- and that my children would never be made to feel that way. They were the center. They were the pattern.”
This is the quote in the book where I began to feel sorry for Judy McFarland – then later realize she wasn’t being honest with herself -- or anyone else.
Reaction: Rebecca Coleman’s debut book is seamlessly written taking the reader on an unforgettable journey into a taboo subject. As much as I wanted to be open to the topic of a middle-aged woman lusting after an l6 year old boy, I found myself judging Judy. The writing pulled me back in as I took breaks from reading and thought of the addicts who are told that if they continue to use, they will die, yet the urge to use overpowers any reality of death; about those addicted to gambling who lose every dime over and over again, in spite of the fact the mortgage is due and they have lost their children’s lunch money. At every turn of the page, I tried to find something to respect
about Judy McFarland, but couldn’t. She irritated me. She made me angry. I wanted to confront her face-to-face. And that’s what good writing is all about, bringing out emotions. On the other hand, Zach was likeable and had a sense of decency that made him question himself more than the morals of a lover who is older than his own mother.
Although the entire novel was well written, my opinion is that Coleman’s best writing is
right smack dab in the middle of the book, where she creates the tension that makes readers more than just a little uncomfortable.
Rating: The Kingdom of Childhood is a Top Pick with 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I recommend The Kingdom of Childhood for those over l8 years old who enjoy reading a ‘gutsy’ debut novel by a writer I believe will soon be a best-selling novelist.
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