“The Others,” Coming to an E-Bookstore Near You

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UPDATE: This has been published. You can read the first three chapters for free by clicking here.

I’m interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to update you regarding the publication of my soon-to-be-released middle grade fantasy, The Others. A Case of Mistaken Identity will resume next week.

As I mentioned back in April, I’ve been working on this book since 2013. Here’s a working (and very rough) synopsis, to give you an idea of what the story’s about:

Jason is your average eleven year-old boy. He likes TV. He has a babysitter he could do without. His little sister Janie is his archnemesis. He also happens to have a passion for magic.

Not real magic, of course. Jason has devoted himself to the study of illusion and sleight-of-hand since the age of five, when his dad showed him his first magic trick. But everything Jason thinks he knows about the world and how it works is suddenly called into question the day he runs off after a fight with his little sister. He visits a small magic shop that’s recently opened near his house and meets the owner, an older man named Hruby. In response to Jason’s skeptical attitude regarding the authenticity of true magic, he offers Jason a very special item, a wand that he says has the power to make things disappear.

Jason is doubtful of its abilities. But when he abruptly makes his sister disappear after a heated argument, he quickly learns that there’s more to the world than its rational, well-understood surface, and in a panic, he races back to the store, hoping to enlist the aid of the only person who will believe him.

But Janie’s lost in a very dangerous place, and she isn’t alone…

It’s been a long and winding road, filled with copious revisions, all of which resulted from the input I received from my writing group and intrepid alpha readers. Now, a year later, I’m finally preparing The Others for publication.

I just received a heavily marked-up copy of the manuscript from my developmental editor, and will be spending the next three months revising per her feedback. When that’s complete, I’ll send it off to beta readers for more feedback, revise again, submit the manuscript for line and copy editing, complete any outstanding revisions and finally release it to the world sometime between April and June, 2015.

Golly, that sounds swell! Where can I get more information?

I’m glad you asked! I send out regular monthly updates to my mailing list. It’s the best way I have to connect one-on-one with my friends and fans. If you’d like to be a part of the fun, you can join by clicking here. As usual, you’ll receive a free copy of my short story, The Sign. And if you sign up between now and December 31, 2014, I’ll also send you a free copy of The Others as soon as it’s released in the format of your choice.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 4

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You can read part 3 here. Reading for the first time? You can find part 1 here.

I can show you how. My twin’s words reverberated inside my head.

He’d said he could show me another world. I wanted desperately to explore. I would often pretend that I was an astronaut or an adventurer. In the past, I’d had access to a host of secret worlds whose only keys lay within the confines of my imagination. Now, the adventure would be real.

“What do I have to do?” I asked, heart jackhammering inside my chest.

The jack-o-lantern smile that adorned his face should have been a red flag. But I was too eager, too excited, and that excitement made me stupid.

“Not much,” he assured me. “I’ll do all the work. Come on.” He walked to the other side of the room and gestured for me to follow.

We stopped in front of my closet.

“In there?” I asked, pointing at the door.

“Yes,” he said, back turned to me. He gazed up at it, focused and intent. “This is where I came from. The world here is still soft. It’s easier to bend.”

I stood dumbfounded as my twin looked at the door. I queried him a couple more times for additional information, but each time he held up his right hand to shush me and said, “Hold on. I’m trying to concentrate.”

I wondered what was happening, if he just needed time to think or if he was actually doing something I couldn’t see. A few weeks ago, I would have told you that magic outside the imagination was impossible. Now, it was as ordinary as breathing air.

After a while, his face slackened, and a few moments later he turned back to face me, weary but triumphant. “There, it’s done.”

“What’s done?”

“Open the door,” said mirror-Eugene, and his mouth spread into a smug smile. He seemed pleased with himself.

I sidled up to the door, examining it with a thoughtful eye. The last time I’d checked the closet, there’d been nothing there, just a bunch of clothes and old junk. And yet my twin had somehow passed through it from his own world into mine, and had continued to do so every night for the past few weeks.

My forehead throbbed with blood, and my hands broke out into a sweat. I reached for the knob. Turned it. Opened the door.

I gasped.

Beyond the variously colored t-shirts and jeans that hung from wire hooks was a much wider space, one that could not have possibly fit within the confines of a simple closet. The visage was incomplete, a kaleidoscope of broken shapes and textures only partially glimpsed behind the clothes, but it was enough for me to realize I was peering into another world. Mirror-Eugene’s world.

“Awesome,” I whispered.

“Go on.”

I took a moment to catch my breath before going forward. I glanced back. He urged me on. I took one hesitant step forward and turned again.

“Are you coming with me?”

“I have to stay here to keep it open.”

“Oh.” I was scared to go alone, but it wasn’t long before excitement overcame the cautious side of my nature. I brushed past shirts and pants, casting them aside like they were broad hanging leaves in a tropical jungle. A moment later, I passed through a second doorway and found myself in mirror-Eugene’s room.

Mostly, it was the same. But despite the dark I could see that there were differences. For one, the room was mostly empty, save for a tiny single bed propped up against the wall with nothing but a bare mattress and a flat pillow. There were no pictures on the walls. The floor was wood instead of carpet.

I heard my twin speak suddenly from beyond the closet. “Sorry.”

“What?” I turned around just in time to see the door on the other side swing shut.

“Eugene?” I called. I lunged for the closet, hoping to make it through before the door had closed completely, but by the time I got there there it had slammed and there was nothing left but a thick plaster wall.

“No,” I breathed. “Eugene! Come back!”

Nothing.

I banged and clawed at the wall, desperation driving me further down the road of hopeless futility.

An unexpected voice spoke up from somewhere else in the house. “What’s that racket?” It sounded like my mom.

A moment later, I heard footsteps.

Read Part 5 here.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 3

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You can read part 2 here. Reading for the first time? You can find part 1 here.

For the next few weeks, my double visited me in my room at night. He was the identical twin brother I never had. We hung around in the dark until the small hours of the morning, talking about random things.

We often swapped stories of our families. I was fascinated to learn that he had an older brother. I too once had an older brother, three years my senior. Unfortunately, he’d died in a car crash along with my dad when I was five. I wondered if my brother had looked the same as his, if perhaps his own mirror double would have visited in the middle of the night like mine.

In so many ways we were the same. His name was also Eugene.  We laughed at the same jokes. We had similar personalities.

But the reflection was distorted, imperfect.

My otherworldly counterpart had a dark side. For example, during our geneological tales, I learned that whereas I loved my mom and trusted her completely, my twin loathed his own. He would dream up scenarios in which she burned to death in a fire or fell out of his family’s second story window. His eyes would burn with opalescent fire whenever he told such stories, and I would always be struck by the sudden urge to draw the duvet tighter around my shoulders.

But despite this disturbing trait, we became fast friends. He was the brother I’d always wanted, the brother I thought I’d lost all those years ago. I should have known better than to trust him.

“Why do you hate your mom so much?” I asked on the last night I would spend in my own bed.

Mirror-Eugene looked down, averting his eyes. I couldn’t tell if he was sad, angry or both. “Because my mom hates me. She locks me in my room and never lets me out, not even for dinner.”

“Why?” I asked, shocked.

But my twin wouldn’t answer. Instead, he turned to stare out the window, as if contemplating the darkness on the outside.

I decided to change the subject. “What’s it like, going from your world to mine. Is it hard?”

My twin’s head whipped back to me, eyes narrow. “No,” he said. “It’s easy. You just have to know what you’re doing. Why?”

“No reason. I just wish I could see your world.” I dreamed of a universe that was a warped reflection of my own. “That would be so cool.”

My double grew quiet and still. He looked around the room, as if unsure of something. (Later, I would think that maybe he’d been conflicted, that perhaps he’d felt a pang of guilt over what he’d been about to do.)

“You can,” he said finally, “If you want to.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” he whispered, grinning. “I can show you how.”

Read Part 4 here.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 2

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Reading for the first time? You can find part 1 here.

My mirror double stared down at me, and once again I wondered if this was all a dream. I thought that if only I kept calm, if I could give myself time to wake up, the strange apparition would disappear. But that alter ego of mine never wavered.

“Don’t scream.”

I gazed into his eyes, dumbfounded, too stunned to make a sound. All thoughts of monsters abandoned my head and I found myself grappling with an entirely different proposition. My twin. He had to be my twin. But I had none, at least not as far as I knew.

He looked down at me a moment longer, eyes searching, as if he were struggling to make a decision. Finally, he removed his hand from my mouth and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”

After that, he was silent. He regarded me with a curious expression, and took a seat next to me at the side of the bed.

“You can’t tell anyone about me. Promise you’ll keep me a secret.”

I didn’t reply.

Questions were buzzing around in my head like angry bees. Why didn’t my parents tell me I had a twin, and how could they have kept him a secret for so long? Had he been locked away in the basement, like those horror movies I sometimes watched on TV when my parents thought I was asleep? And if so, why had it taken him so long to find me?

Then a sinister thought wormed its way into my brain like a parasite. What if he was my evil twin? People had evil twins all the time on TV. I instinctively drew the covers tighter around my waist.

“Hey,” he said. “I’m talking to you.”

“What” I started. “Who”  A pause. Then, “Don’t hurt me.”

“Relax. I already said I wouldn’t.” He sighed. “I’m sorry if I scared you. I had to sneak away at night, because it’s the only time my mom isn’t paying attention.”

Hesitantly, I asked, “Are we twins?”

My double’s eyes sparkled, glittering in the moonlight like stars. “I guess so, yeah. In a way.”

“How come I didn’t know about you until today?”

He just shrugged.

“Where did you come from? The basement?”

“No,” said my twin, smirking. A moment later he laughed. “Definitely not the basement.”

“Then where?”

He smiled, then pointed at my closet. “There.”

“You live in my closet? How come I’ve never seen you before?”

“No,” said my twin, folding his arms. “I came through your closet. I live in another world.”

Another world. I thought again of TV. There were shows where scientists had discovered methods of visiting other realities very much like our own. “You mean like an alternate universe?”

He nodded his head, looking pleased with himself. “Yes. There are many other worlds,” he explained, extending his arms for emphasis. “Mostly they’re the same, but there are differences.”

Suddenly, my room, the house, the world, even the stars in the sky, paled when held up to the blinding light of a cosmos much richer than I could ever have imagined. Another world.

“But how? You’re just a kid like me.”

My twin rolled his eyes. “Magic. Duh.”

I stayed silent for a while, lost in a timeless moment of intense contemplation. Finally, I asked,”What do you want?”

He smiled, his face suddenly made sinister in the moonlight. “I want to play.”

Read Part 3 here.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 1

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By the time you read this, I’ll be dead.

After 27 long and painful years, I can hardly believe I’ve reached the end. You always think you’ll live forever, that no matter what happens, something will save you from your own personal end of days. But death catches us all by surprise, especially those of us who expect it the most.

Sometimes, I can hardly believe my life at all. It’s been so strange, so surreal, that I’ll often wake up on the cold stone floor after a restless slumber, whimpering in the dark, and in that eternally present moment suspended between sleep and consciousness, I’ll wonder which of those two universes I’m about to enter.

I don’t belong here. I’m not referring to the prison (though I don’t belong there either) but this place, this world.

My mom used to tell me when I was little that there was nothing in my room that could hurt me, that I would always be safe tucked into my bed at night. She would bend down to kiss my forehead and whisper that she loved me, that she would always protect me.

I believed her lie. I’m sure she believed it herself. But in the end, promises weren’t enough to save me.


He came when I was eight, or maybe it was nine. It’s so hard to remember. All the years preceding my abduction are a hazy blur, an unintelligible smear of colors, textures and sounds. My former life is so far removed from who I am today that it’s barely a shadow of a memory, like an old movie you might have watched years ago, only you weren’t paying attention, and you find when you try to recall the details that you might as well have never watched it at all.

But the abduction itself, that I recall in vivid detail, though I’ve tried very hard to forget. For years, I attempted to convince myself it was a delusion, that in the heat of boyhood fancies and dreams I’d imagined it. But in the end I can’t deny it happened, whatever I would prefer to believe, and when the eyes inside my head aren’t catching reruns, the eyes inside my dreams are preparing to watch it again in the private theater of my subconscious.

I have to tell my story, if only to come to terms with it myself. Perhaps if I possess a written account of what I experienced, indelibly marked in jet black ink, if I can at last snatch it up from the ether inside my head, if I can make it tangible and concrete, then at last I’ll be able to embrace it as the truth. Or not. Either way, tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Where should I begin? I’m not very good at this sort of thing. Writing was never a strength of mine, and I never did have much of an imagination. My abduction. I’ll start with that, since it’s as far back as I can remember anyway.

My name if Eugene Peter Carver. This is my story.


I was laying in bed, burrowed beneath a billowing white duvet. My eyes were closed. I was hovering just above the periphery of sleep, ready to penetrate its somnolent shell, when there was a crash and a clatter inside my closet.

Monster. There’s a monster in my closet.

My eyes popped open. My heart skipped. My chest compressed. I clutched the covers with white-knuckled hands, like a wild animal who’d been cornered in the dark by an unseen predator. I waited, a moment that could have either been a thousand years or a second.

When the sound didn’t repeat, when either minutes or hours had passed and I was forced to conclude that I was alone, I decided it must’ve been a dream. I relaxed. Closed my eyes. Drifted. Sleep returned.

Thud.

I jerked to life once more. It was true. There was a monster in my closet. Convinced by the logic of childhood that the covers represented an impenetrable boundary, I dove beneath the duvet, certain that if I only lay there long enough, whatever was in my room would eventually go away.

Thud.

Then the sound of something pounding on the floor.

Fear paralyzed me. I waited in the dark, rooted to the mattress like the trunk of an ancient tree. Through a crack in the covers, I bore witness to sinister shapes on the walls cast by moonbeams and shadows. That was when the knob on my closet door began to turn.

A swarm of wild locusts vibrated inside my chest. I wanted to scream, but my vocal cords refused to obey.

I lay in the dark, helpless as the knob rotated. As the crack between the door and the threshold began to widen. As a searing white light burst out from the inside. As a man poked his head through the door, trailing sinister shadows like a cloak woven in black. Turned his head. Locked eyes with me from across the room. Padded silently across the floor, a beast in search of prey.

The paralysis that bound me evaporated. I opened my mouth to wail, to produce a tone so shrill and piercing that my mom would be there in seconds. But just as the sound began to bubble up from beneath my lips, a hand flashed in the moonlight and clamped down over my mouth so that I couldn’t breathe.

“Shh…” whispered the man with a finger to his lips. He was smiling.

A cloud outside scudded across the sky. Shadow yielded to the light, and at last, hovering above me, I could see his face fully. I gasped. He wasn’t a man at all, but a boy.

A boy who looked like me.

Read Part 2 here.

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Times, They Are A Changin’

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Nothing stays the same forever.

This is true of life, and it’s also true for my blog. As of next week, the format will change. You’ll be seeing a lot less of my thoughts about life and a lot more original fiction.

It was always my intention to post more stories, but the perfectionist in me always got in the way. I thought that if I wanted to share my writing, I would have to make it perfect. I’d have to go through the same kind of lengthy editorial process that’s required for books and magazines, because otherwise it wouldn’t be good enough. I became so trapped in this way of thinking that I only managed to post a single flash fiction story in all of the ten months that I’ve had this blog.

Then I realized that…this is a blog. It’s expected that my writing here will be a little rough around the edges, because blogs are like that. I decided that I had to let go, that I had to embrace imperfection. So I’m going to close my eyes, take a deep breath and jump.

What kinds of stories will I share in the coming weeks?

I’m going to start with a single modern fantasy serial that I’ll update once a week through the natural life of the story. When that tale comes to an end, I’ll start something new and continue the cycle. As I find more time in-between work and life obligations, I’ll try to launch more stories in parallel, with each serial continuing on a different day of the week.

I’ll also try to periodically post stand-alone flash fictions.

If you enjoy the current format, don’t worry.

While my focus will be on posting more fiction, I still plan to occasionally write the same kinds of essays about life, purpose and everyday magic that you’ve come to know for the past ten months.

My first modern fantasy serial begins next Monday. Stay tuned!

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Rationalist Software Developer Encounters Paradox and the Supernatural

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I was freewriting a couple of days ago, trying to flesh out an idea for a new story. I wanted to explore the overlap between the rational and the transcendental. Given my own experience as a software developer, I thought it would be interesting to take a rationalist programmer, whose daily experience is with logic and code, and place him in a situation where his philosophy would be challenged by something that human reason alone would fail to explain.

I haven’t figured out what this story is going to be about. It’s been quite a challenge, because I want this to be fantasy rather than sci-fi, yet I also want the narrative to be driven by a technologically sound scenario.

His Profile

As I said, my main character is a developer. He develops for the web, though he has a more general background in computer science and develops many different kinds of software in his spare time. He loves that he can create something from nothing, that he can make a tool simply by describing to the computer how that tool should work.

He muses over the nature of data and instructions, over the difference between the two which is nothing more than semantics. He believes that thoughts and ideas, that everything abstract and seemingly transcendent about human nature, can ultimately be reduced to and explained in terms of software and computation. He ponders the nature of the soul, and reflects on the mystery of software as “the ghost in the machine.”

He wonders sometimes if reality is just data and instructions, a simulation in some cosmic-scale computer. He wonders if it would make a difference one way or the other.

He has the rare gift of being able to tunnel down into the code he’s writing, looking for potential bugs and vulnerabilities, while simultaneously maintaining a high level awareness of the software’s architecture. He has the type of mind that latches onto problems and won’t rest until patterns emerge. He has a strong love for logic, and will sometimes spend hours of his free time exploring alternate solutions to the same problems.

He’s a little detached from things that are outside of his own head; he sees the world through an abstract theoretical lens, through algorithms, heuristics and data. He often formulates logical probabilistic models to help him explain what he observes in other people and their behavior. He develops “risk models” in his mind that he thinks will help him to live his life while minimizing risk to himself. This abstraction leads him to dehumanize the world, so that he’s concerned primarily with his own self interest.

What I Want to Do With Him

As I hinted at in this blog’s title, I’d like to throw my main character into a situation that forces him to confront something paradoxical and supernatural. But I’m not exactly sure yet what that will be.

On the one hand, I want to stick as closely as possible to the technical realities of computers and software. On the other, I don’t want this to be too scientific because I’m going for fantasy, not sci-fi. I almost feel as if the story’s theme itself is paradoxical, because it seems to me that these two constraints are mutually exclusive.

One crazy idea I had was to introduce spiritual beings whose chosen incarnations were computers. But I think that’s far-fetched. I then thought about introducing the idea of a chaotic solution that, though rationally defined on the surface, always yields unpredictable results that eventually drive my main character, and perhaps much of the technical world later, mad. But that feels a little too sci-fi.

For the moment, I’ve hit a dead end and can’t go any further. No amount of freewriting will get me out of this dilemma, at least not for a while.

So…Why Did I Share This?

Because I thought it would be fun to share what I know about my main character so far. I think he’s interesting enough on his own that he’s worth sharing. Also, I guess there’s a part of me that’s hoping one of my readers will have ideas, since right now I’m pretty stuck. So please, don’t be shy! If you have any insights or ideas that might help me figure this out, let me know in the comments below. If I use anything that comes from you, I’ll be sure to give you credit.

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Book Review: The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler

The Forbidden Library Cover
The Forbidden Library, by Django Wexler

Synopsis from Goodreads:

When Alice’s father goes down in a shipwreck, she is sent to live with her uncle Geryon–an uncle she’s never heard of and knows nothing about. He lives in an enormous manor with a massive library that is off-limits to Alice. But then she meets a talking cat. And even for a rule-follower, when a talking cat sneaks you into a forbidden library and introduces you to an arrogant boy who dares you to open a book, it’s hard to resist. Especially if you’re a reader to begin with. Soon Alice finds herself INSIDE the book, and the only way out is to defeat the creature imprisoned within.

It seems her uncle is more than he says he is. But then so is Alice.

 

Much later, Alice would wonder what might have happened if she’d gone to bed when she was supposed to. (Page 1, Chapter 1)

This is the opening line in Django Wexler’s new middle grade fantasy, The Forbidden Library. The first in what will be a series of books, this sentence sets the tone for the rest of the story, which often keeps the reader wondering what’s going to happen next.

The Setting

Something that sets The Forbidden Library apart from many other modern middle grade fantasies I’ve read is the fact that it takes place in the past, during Hoover’s Presidential term in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. It was a daring move for a story aimed at a young contemporary audience that won’t readily identify with the period, especially when it comes to the lack of technology (they still use gas lamps.)

Wexler’s choice to set the story in the past appealed to me, however. I believe the magic books in Geryon’s library, as well as the vibrant characters and intriguing plot twists, are sufficient to hold a middle grader’s interest, and the time in which the story takes place might inspire children to buff up on their history.

The Characters

Our protagonist Alice, a precocious girl who likes to read, does well in school and strives always to be on her best behavior, serves as a role model for Wexler’s middle grade audience, especially when compared with other less savory characters, each of whom leave the reader to wonder by the end if there’s anyone poor Alice can trust.

Her companion as she explores the library in search of the fairy Vespidian, believed to be responsible for her father’s death at sea, is a talking cat named Ashes, a creature reminiscent of both the cat from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Being a fluent speaker of sarcasm, I could very much appreciate his wry and usually condescending tone toward Alice, and was often unable to suppress a smile. Yet, sometimes I also thought it was over the top. In one memorable exchange regarding Ashes’ views on the nature of death, I felt like I was watching the famous Dead Parrot skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (pay particular attention to 2:35 – 2:50.)

All the characters were vividly described, and I found their behavior to be realistic. There were no heroes (save for Alice and her father), but aside from the fairy Vespidian or Mr. Black, there were no absolute villains either. Though some were obviously more dubious than others, every character exhibited both decent and not-so-decent qualities. They were believable for the same reason that Rowling’s characters in Harry Potter were believable: their humanity, with all of their flaws and imperfections.

There was so much subterfuge that during the course of my reading, I would think I’d figured out a character’s motivations, only to discover a few pages or a few chapters later that I was mistaken. By the end, I could only feel sorry for Alice, who’s been thrust into a dangerous game saturated with competing agendas and zealous self-interest.

One thing that impressed me about Alice’s character was her conscience. In her forced encounters inside prison books, worlds accessible only to Readers, in which dangerous creatures were imprisoned long ago, creatures that must be bested and consequently bound to the victorious Reader if the Reader is to survive the journey inside, Alice would first attempt to win through cool-headed reason and argument, and would only ever kill as a last resort, though killing was the normal course of action for every other Reader. And then, after she’d bound a creature to her will, she’d only ask it to do something dangerous when absolutely necessary, and would always do her best to avoid allowing it to experience pain, an attitude that was also at odds with the means by which the same creatures were employed by Geryon and the other Readers. It further cements Alice’s role as a hero and a model for children to look up to, teaching them that those in positions of great power should be the most humble and charitable of us all.

Reading as Magic.

What drives this particular fantasy is the conceit that books are special, that they literally contain magic, accessible only to a special class of people called Readers. Some are portal books, which transport Readers from one place to another. Others are prison books, which contain dangerous creatures that were locked away forever during their book’s creation.

The magic inherent to Reading is an allegory for the power of words, stories and the imagination. It allows both children and adults to approach something that’s ordinary and mundane on the surface from a different angle, from the vantage point of the extraordinary, so that reading is made exciting once more.

Writing and Style.

Wexler has sarcasm and dry humor down to an art. From the way he features the lawyers and accountants who descend on Alice’s father’s estate like vultures the moment he’s lost at sea, to the way he playfully describes otherwise ordinary objects and sounds, I was blown away by how witty and clever the writing was. Just a heads up: if you don’t appreciate sarcastic humor, you probably won’t enjoy this book.

The story’s pace pairs well with the plot. When the reader should stop to take a look around, things slow down, and we’re presented with many fine details that paint a beautiful picture that make the world come alive. When the reader should feel tension and suspense, things speed up, so that the reader is caught up in the fervor of conflict and can’t put the book down until things are finally resolved. In either case, there was never a point where I felt that the story dragged, or where I felt that the story should have slowed down. Like the last bowl of porridge in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it was just right.

I often found myself comparing various passages to poetry, and discovered that Wexler’s very creative when it comes to the use of simile. Below are some specific sentences that stood out to me:

…and after the accountants, like a Biblical plague building up to a big finish, came the lawyers. (Page 16, Chapter 2)

Again the silence, as though the conversation had fallen into a pot hole. (Page 35, Chapter 3)

The flame flickered weakly…, like a caged spirit. (Page 51, Chapter 5)

Each gust of wind brought a rush of whispering leaves, rising and falling like the sound of surf on a beach. (Page 71, Chapter 6)

Wexler also peppers in some great vocabulary words, just enough that it always comes off as natural and unobtrusive. As a lover of words, I could appreciate his approach, and I’m hopeful that kids will make the effort to look them up. Here are just a few of the words that I enjoyed: avuncular, plinth, hermitage, vanguard, tureen and scrupulous. I tried to write them all down, but I was so caught up in what I was reading that after the first few chapters I lost track.

Other Thoughts.

The books in The Forbidden Library reminded me a lot of the 1994 computer game Myst, which contained both “linking books,” which transported explorers from one world to another, and books in which people could be imprisoned. I also detected significant influences from Harry Potter — when Alice passes through the wall of the library just like Harry at King’s Cross Station — Coraline and Alice in Wonderland.

Wexler used the Swarm, Alice’s first bound entity, to come up with some creative solutions to otherwise difficult problems. In particular, I would watch out for how Alice approaches her final prison book’s adversary.

There’s a lot of foreshadowing, from the very first sentence to things that hint at events to come in future books. During Alice’s final confrontation, it’s strongly implied that she has a unique ability that I suspect will come into play again in either the next book or in one further down the road.

There were times when I was confused, or when I felt that something was not adequately explained. I thought, for example, that Alice’s encounter with her essence should have been expounded on. I found myself asking why the experience of gazing upon one’s own essence should be so painful, but only during the first time, and I never received a satisfactory answer. I was also unclear as to whether or not her father, who appeared to Alice in a dream, was really just a product of her subconscious mind or if her father had found some way to communicate with her.

I loved the transitions between the opening of a book, when Alice would start reading, and the beginning of Alice’s experience inside the book, both of which employed the same first sentences, linking the two together beautifully.

Finally, in exploring the nature of the creatures bound up inside prison books, some fascinating existential themes arise that will appeal to the story’s older audience.

Conclusion.

The Forbidden Library is an enjoyable, unique and well-written tale with a satisfying climactic ending that answers just enough questions to provide relief, but leaves enough mysteries unsolved that the reader will be left eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.

I enthusiastically recommend The Forbidden Library to children and adults, and give this one four out of five stars.

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Choose Fiction For The Perfect Vacation

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Hello, and welcome to the Jeff Coleman Travel Agency.

Please, pull up a chair and have a seat. There’s nothing like getting away from it all, is there? I’m excited for you! What’s that? There’s a problem? Well, tell me more about it and we’ll see if we can accommodate you.

You don’t have much money? Yes, I can see how that might limit your options. But there are plenty of places to go that won’t cost you an arm or a leg.

There’s something else? You don’t have any time off from work. That’s a shame. But there are plenty of places you can go for just a weekend.

That’s not all? Of course not. No, no. That’s fine. Please, go on. I like a challenge.

You want a thrilling adventure outdoors, but your spouse wants a cozy romantic getaway? And you have kids and there’s no one to sit for you, so you’ll have to bring them along?

Yes, I see your point. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not really sure what we can do, unless… You know what? I think I might have something. Hold on.

I see you’ve helped yourself to some coffee in my absence. No, that’s fine. It’s complimentary. As I was saying, I think I might’ve found something. Take a look at these.

Why are you confused? Yes, those are books. Calm down. I know you said you wanted a vacation. Let me explain.

You don’t have much money, right? Then this is the perfect solution! A book can be yours for just a few dollars. You can tour as many worlds as you’d like. You can quest for buried treasure. You can battle fearsome beasts. You can discover exotic landscapes and architecture, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else. And you can have all of this for less than the price of a meal at a decent restaurant.

Try booking a hotel, flight and rental car for that little cash!

Yes, I’m aware that you’re quite busy. Wait, what did you say? Sixty plus hours a week? Well, no. I admit my job is a tad cushier than that. But that’s not a problem either. You see, books require very small investments of time. Do you ever have to use the bathroom? Do you eat lunch? What about the drive home? Yes, alright. For the drive, we might have to get you some audiobooks. Still, my point stands.

Traveling by car, train, plane or boat can take hours or even days. But travel by book is always instantaneous, and you can return whenever you’d like. You can slip away for a few minutes when things get too hectic at work and your boss will never know that you’ve gone!

Yeah, that is pretty cool, isn’t it. What was that? Oh, right. Your significant other. Yes, and the kids. That’s not a problem either.

I know you said you wanted an adventure. Yes, I also remember that your spouse prefers a romantic getaway.  I’m aware that you require something child-friendly. I do listen, you know. It’s my job. Why can’t you have all three? No, I’m not crazy. Just hear me out.

See, the great thing about traveling by book is that you need not leave your spouse’s or your childrens’ side. You can go places without ever having to leave. We’ll find you a thriller, a horror, or maybe even a good old fashioned epic fantasy. We’ll book a romance for your spouse, and there are plenty of options for the kids. You can spend time with your family while also enjoying the convenience of your very own private fantasy.

You’ll take it? Great! I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

How can you thank me? Please, your smile is reward enough. Oh, and there’s the matter of my usual fee…

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What Are You Reading?

If you’re like me, you probably have a shelf (or a Kindle, or a Nook) piled to the brim with books waiting to be read. The whole point is, of course, to actually read them. In the spirit of furthering that goal, here are three titles I’m currently reading in a frantic (though ultimately futile) effort to complete my own ever-expanding to-read list.

Snowblind, by Christopher Golden

SnowblindSynopsis from Goodreads:

The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards…but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children’s windows with soul-chilling eyes. People wandered into the whiteout and were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as—tonight—another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy . . . and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call . . . from a man who died twelve years ago.

As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.

My thoughts so far:

I’ve been making a concerted effort to experience new authors. I stumbled on this one in another blog (sorry, I forgot to keep track of where) and decided to give it a spin. I’m about a third of the way through, and so far it’s gorgeously written. Christopher Golden has a fine-tuned mastery of the English language. The characters are well developed; in fact, I would say that the plot is, in large part, driven by them. The story is pretty intense, and so far has kept me engaged and wanting to know more.

Certain scenes are infused with more sexually explicit detail than I would think necessary to further the character development or the plot. But on the positive side, I have to say that Golden seems to understand human sexuality well. It’s more than just the mindless gratuitous sex that sells books; it’s underscored with depth and meaning. In the case of two individuals in particular, the connection between physical and emotional intimacy is well established, as well as the powerful bond that cements the relationship between man and wife in an otherwise tumultuous relationship.

I’ve seen other reviews criticize the pace of this book right around where I’ve left off, asserting that it’s too slow. We’ll see what I think when I’m finished. But as it stands now, I love this one and can’t wait to get to the end!

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc. — so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.

My thoughts so far:

I wrote about this in a blog detailing five new books I planned to read in the new year.

It’s a little rough around the edges, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a literary masterpiece. But my overall impression is that it’s a solidly constructed book, and there are moments where Joe Hill (actually Stephen King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King) really shines as an author.

In particular, Hill’s description of Craddock’s ghost is both terrifying and original. The scribbled out eyes, the stop-motion movement and the way in which he bends Jude toward his will make for an engaging read. Jude is a complex man. He’s done some pretty terrible things, but he’s conflicted about them. He’s used women in the past, and to a certain extent is using his current girlfriend Georgia (nicknamed after the state from which she came), but he also cares for her and strives to protect her.

At the half-way point, I’m going to say the investment has been worth it. Each new chapter refreshes and deepens the faith I have that this story will end well (“well”, of course, does not imply “happy”…) When I’m finished, I’ll write a review to let you know if that faith was warranted.

The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem that tempts a child from home to the waters and the wild, The Stolen Child is a modern fairy tale narrated by the child Henry Day and his double.

On a summer night, Henry Day runs away from home and hides in a hollow tree. There he is taken by the changelings—an unaging tribe of wild children who live in darkness and in secret. They spirit him away, name him Aniday, and make him one of their own. Stuck forever as a child, Aniday grows in spirit, struggling to remember the life and family he left behind. He also seeks to understand and fit in this shadow land, as modern life encroaches upon both myth and nature.

In his place, the changelings leave a double, a boy who steals Henry’s life in the world. This new Henry Day must adjust to a modern culture while hiding his true identity from the Day family. But he can’t hide his extraordinary talent for the piano (a skill the true Henry never displayed), and his dazzling performances prompt his father to suspect that the son he has raised is an imposter. As he ages the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place, of a German piano teacher and his prodigy. Of a time when he, too, had been a stolen child. Both Henry and Aniday obsessively search for who they once were before they changed places in the world.

The Stolen Child is a classic tale of leaving childhood and the search for identity. With just the right mix of fantasy and realism, Keith Donohue has created a bedtime story for adults and a literary fable of remarkable depth and strange delights.

My thoughts so far:

Like Snowblind, I discovered this one in a blog. Again, I forget where (I’ll try to be better about recording these things for future reference.) I don’t have many thoughts yet, as I’ve only completed part of the first chapter.

As of now, I’m intrigued by the premise. The notion of a fey plot to replace a human child is something I’ve encountered before in  Tithe, by Holly Black. The chapter I’m reading at the moment is written in the first person, from the point of view of the changeling who took Henry Day’s place. The language is in the flowing flowery style of a fairy tale, a deviation from many of the other books I’ve read. Though I enjoy the gritty realism of authors like Stephen King, a well-written storybook fantasy is an enjoyable and welcome change of pace.

What about you?

What’s on your to-read list? And what are you reading right now? I’d love to hear more about your current literary exploits in the comments below.

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