Read First Three Chapters of “The Others” for Free!

The Others is an enchanting middle grade fantasy that will instill a sense of otherworldly wonder in children and adults alike.

Download the first three chapters for free by clicking here.

The OthersJason is your average eleven-year-old boy. He likes TV. He has a babysitter he could do without. His little sister Janie is his nemesis. 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 called into question the day he runs off after a fight with his sister. He stops at a small magic shop that has recently opened near his house. The owner offers him 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 impulsively makes his sister disappear after a heated argument, he quickly learns that there’s more to the world than its rational, well-understood surface. In a panic, Jason races back to the store to enlist the aid of the only person who will believe him. But Janie is lost in a dangerous place, and she isn’t alone.

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

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

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.

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.


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.

Book Review: Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Doll Bones CoverSynopsis from Goodreads:

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing…and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity…

I picked this one up after reading this review. I promised the blogger who wrote it that I would eventually get around to writing my own. This is the result.

As I always do when I review a book, I like to point out both the positives and the negatives, because I believe that even a good book isn’t perfect, and because I like to present a balanced and thorough analysis.

Let’s start with what this book does right.

For one thing, it’s gorgeously written. Black has a gift for turning a phrase. The words she uses and the way she uses them frequently take my breath away. Occasionally, Black peppers her language with words that are a little complex for a middle grader, words like kleptomaniacal. I think this is a good thing. It’s not heavy handed, but comes up in the text organically, and it forces kids to do some research and to build their vocabulary.

Black does a remarkable job of describing the roleplaying of Zach, Alice and Poppy from their perspective, and of elevating mere child’s play to an elaborate ongoing act of talented and inspired storytelling. Just as in reality, the two in Doll Bones are one in the same.

True to Black’s other work, Doll Bones deals with dark themes like death and supernatural angst. But it does so in a way that remains accessible and palatable for children. This is important, because while we must allow children to face and learn how to cope with the consequences of life in a broken world, we must also tread lightly and be very careful not to unduly frighten and depress them.

Dysfunctional family life is a central theme, and serves as a backbone in the development of the book’s main characters. Poppy’s parents have thrown their arms up and decided to let their kids do whatever they want. Zach’s dad selfishly left him and his mother to make a living for himself, only to barge back in on them when it didn’t work out, just as they were adjusting to life without him. Alice is being raised by an overly strict grandmother, who won’t allow her to do most of the things an ordinary child in junior high should be allowed to do. The various dysfunctional dynamics of these three families are all too common in today’s world, and are undoubtedly relatable to many of this book’s readers.

Black captures beautifully the inevitable and often painful realities of growing up. Zach’s ever-growing discomfort over his playing with action figures at an age where such things are frowned upon by his peers is something that both children and adults can identify with, as well as his father’s misguided attempt to help him “grow up” by throwing his action figures away. There’s also a very tangible (and sometimes painfully awkward) tension that arises between Zach and the girls now that they’ve grown to an age where they begin to notice each other in new and different ways. This tension comes to a head about two thirds or three quarters of the way through the book, and adds a nice sub-plot to the story.

The “epic quest” that the children undertake is as much a product of their ongoing fantasies as it is about laying the doll to rest. In fact, more than once, Poppy’s veracity concerning the spirit of the doll is called into question, yet they choose to press on even in the face of extreme difficulty. The lure of an adventure, however risky and terrifying, simply proves to be irresistible.

Now, what about Doll Bones don’t I like?

For one, the plot suffers from too many implausible scenarios. At the beginning of their quest, Zach, Alice and Poppy board a late night bus. I would, at the very least, expect the driver to ask them how old they are. But he says nothing, and the children are allowed to go on their merry way. Later, desperate to cross a river so they can complete their quest and give the doll a proper burial, they steal a dinghy. Miraculously, Zach is able to sail it, despite the fact that he’s had no prior training, and that his only knowledge of sail boats comes from books. When it eventually capsizes in the presence of a barge, nobody on the other boat stops to ask if they need help, despite the fact that they can clearly see there are children on board.

I’m also put off by how abruptly the story ends. As a reader, I feel a little cheated. Some lingering mystery can be a powerful thing, but there are too many loose threads that should have been tied up. To be fair, it’s a difficult tale to conclude properly. Without giving away the ending, it’s clear as we reach the final pages that the kids have gotten themselves in pretty deep; some extremely skillful cleanup would be required to pull it off successfully. I think ultimately, the task proved too difficult, and that Black chose to end the story a little early instead.

Overall, this book is well worth the investment. It’s beautifully written, mysterious and true to life. It successfully handles a dark theme with the delicate care required for children’s literature. Though it isn’t perfect, I would definitely say that the good outweighs the bad, and would, without question, recommend it for both children and adults.