Monday, December 24, 2012

The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott

I was first drawn to Patricia Elliott's  "The Pale Assassin" by it's beautiful cover, and I do appreciate attractive book designs. Set in the years and days leading up to the French Revolution and featuring a character called le Fantome and since the Recommender is all ablout that other Phantom I was intrigued by this one. Instead of living in the cellars below the Paris Opera, this Fantome lurks about spying on aristocrats. The book begins with him (real name Raoul Goullet) having been bested at gambling and humiliated by the marquis Sebastion de Boncouer. He later arrives at the marquis's estate to kill him but is, again, thwarted and vows vengence. Sebastion has a small child, a girl, Eugenie. This gives le Fantome an idea.  He will destroy the marquis AND his family.
10 years later, as Eugenie de Boncouer and her governess are making their way through Paris during a demonstration they are offered safety and a ride in a carriage by a gentleman. Raoul Goullet. Neither he nor Eugenie recognizes the other. Eugenie scrutinizes the man who has helped them. He is cold and pale and his hands are covered by black gloves. He studies the girl. Though he himself might not be attractive he has a great love for beautiful things and Eugenie reminds him of his collection of precious china figurines, the largest and most valuable in all of Paris.
He asks their destination and when Hortense, the governess, tells him... she notices a change in his eyes, for now he knows who Eugenie is. "He had been watching her older brother for some time, and now, fate had brought him the sister. She was young, now, but one day she would grow up. He had only to wait..."
Wait for what Eugenie will learn, later, as we get to know our heroine, a spoiled young aristocrat living at the estate of her elderly guardian, and mingling in upscale circles though those in the upper classes are growing increasingly nervous because change is in the air and the poor and downtrodden wish for equality and bread and jobs. Her brother and his friends have sympathy for the King and Queen but these are dangerous times and the guillotine has recently been invented and looms as a way to deal with enemies of the people. Eugenie is willfull and defies the common sense advice she recives to lay low and attends a party where she meets a very attractive aristocrat, Guy Deschamps, with whom she is much taken. What happens to Eugenie as she struggles to survive in a changing world and will she, her brother and his friends change with it or stay true to the crown, is something you will have to find out for yourself. The French Revolution was a thrilling time in history and the author captures the turmoil of the streets very well. This book is, of course, recommended and there is a sequel,and, yes, the Recommender does have some sympathy for Le Fantome, and will be looking forward to reading it...very soon!

Speaking of France and revolutions, Les Miz (or Les Mis, if you prefer!)opens tomorrow! The Daily Beast ran this today, the French Revolution for Dummies. Quite informative!

And, below, a quick French history lesson by way of youtube and the brilliant Peter Brooks film with a very long title which is often encapsulated as "Marat/Sade". It stars the Royal Shakespeare Company featuring Patrick Magee as the marquis de Sade,who, while imprisoned in an insane asylum, spends his time writing plays for the amusement of the asylum director, his family and guests who come to watch the inmates perform them. Ian Richardson is an inmate playing the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat and a lovely young Glenda Jackson as another inmate playing Charlotte Corday, Marat's assassin. If you haven't seen it, it is one of the best plays of all  time with some pretty catchy brecht/weilian style music.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shadowlands by Kate Brian

What is it with creepy teachers? This seems to be a theme in a couple of great books I've read recently (See "Break My Heart 1,000 Times" by Dan Waters). In this absorbing, fast paced story Rory Miller, an attractive teen girl, is taking a short-cut home from school through the woods when she is attacked. Attacked by Mr. Nell, the math teacher that all the kids thought was cool in a retro dorky kind of way. She struggles and manages to escape by running into the road and flagging down the car of Chris, a boy she always liked but who was once the boyfriend of her sister, Darcy. He rescues her and calls 911. Next thing, the FBI has shown up and informed Rory, her self-obsessed sister and her distant Dad that Mr. Nell is actually a serial-killer named Roger Krauss who killed 14 girls and she is the only one of his intended victims to have survived, and he never leaves a job unfinished so they will have to assume new identities and go into the witness protection program.
Leaving behind all they know, the Miller family find themselves in a beautiful, too good to be true beachy resort town. Will they be safe? Or will Mr. Nell/Roger Krauss track them down?  What happens to them on this new adventure makes for a gripping read and one you'll not be able to put down. The Recommender says read this one NOW!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

(Love this cover!)
Hannah is just trying to get through the summer, one of the hottest on record.  She wants to be a happy, normal girl doing normal things... but that's kind of hard when she is consistently haunted by the ghost of her best friend, Lillian, and there's a serial killer loose in her home town requiring her to chaperone her sister, Ariel, and her friend, to and from summer school.
Lillian self-destructed, letting herself die bit by bit by not eating. Trying to be the perfect, popular girl. She and Hannah were inseparable, friends from childhood, the leaders and trend setters of their group of girls. Now Hannah doesn't know who she is anymore, and why is she suddenly noticing Finny Boone, a tall, muscular boy with bleached blonde hair and a penchant for petty theft and a reputation as a delinquent and a loser... but is there something more to him than those easy labels?
This is a book that grips you right from the start. It's a stay up all night reading till the end kind of story. The Recommender hasn't read one of  Brenna Yovanoff's books before but I am going to be sure to check out her other titles because she is a wonderful writer and Hannah is someone  you care about and want to spend time with as she tries to understand the secret of the Paper Valentine killer as well as what made Lillian want to die... and was she partly to blame? I won't give away any more of the story because this is a book you'll want to lose yourself in and uncover the mysteries of the hot, hot summer of murder, friendship, love and loss.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dan Waters: Live and In Person!

A couple weeks back I attended a great Teen Author event at Emory College with my best girlfriend Joyce, and Friend of Friends Steve. It was the first year of the event and had some fantastic authors and there was great access to them allowing the readers and fans of these authors to actually get to tell them how much they love their books plus some excellent panel discussions. The main reason I went was to meet one of my very favorite authors, Dan Waters, whose latest book Break My Heart 1000 Times I reviewed here and who graciously consented to be interviewed here, as well. Dan was as gracious in person as he was in the interview. Here we are:


I'll be looking forward to attending this event next year!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Home Front Girl: Diary of a Girl Historian

Home Front Girl is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison written before and during the build-up to WWll and was discovered by her daughter, Susan Signe Morrison, after she died and then edited and published. The book is such a surprising and unexpected pleasure as the Recommender hadn't heard of it before coming across it in a list of recently released titles.
Joan is a wonderfully observant, funny and smart girl. It begins when she is 14 and takes us up to when she turns 20. The diary records her thoughts on her life and daily activities living in Chicago. And she is one busy girl. From a young age she wrote columns in school newspapers including an advice column. It is no surprise that she grew up to be a journalist and a professor who co-authored Mosaic: The Immigrant Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived It and From Camelot to Kent State: the Sixties Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived It.  Right from the start Joan records events like the Hindenburg zeppelin fire and the coronation of King George and applies them to how they affect her life, for instance "Coronation or no coronation...there was school today."
It often seems a slower, sweeter time. Joan walking home from a trip to the Art Institute and the library where she borrows a work by Kipling and writes: "Walked home along the lovely lake with elongated purple shadows along the sands. Still bright haired children playing. Still flowers no less vivid or sky less blue, sun like blood in the West. Oh, I felt the glory and the spring of Kipling's poem, "But as the faithful years return and hearts undaunted sing again". Isn't that a lovely thought- "hearts undaunted sing again"-though ever the years are long and hard-the Spring will always come and our hearts can sing again- oh how beautiful"
Is that not more beautiful than a text? She wrote this in 1937, when she was 14.
In school she takes Latin and German. She recites poetry and writes her own. She writes a multitude of observances on the boys who come and go through her school years, many funny, some angry and others poignant. She spends summers working at children's camps to earn extra money. She is tested for TB and found to be susceptible to it and has to be tested periodically. She receives a scholarship to the University of Chicago Jr. College. And then, there's the war. She chronicles events that lead up  to the start of WW ll. On Feb. 13, 1938 she writes about the US, England and France requesting Japan cut down on her navies. She talks to a boy in her class about war and death. "He seemed sure that there'd be another war (another, oh!) and he said he'd probably be killed in it. All the boys I know will be old enough to die in a war in 1940."
Joan is afraid of what the impending war will do to her life and that of her friends. She is a pacifist, which seems unusual for those times, and has many thoughts on what war does to the people of the USA and the other countries affected. I could go on and on, because this book is just so quotable... but really, you want to get a copy of Home Front Girl for yourself so you can curl up with it and let Joan take you back in time, as you see the world through the eyes of this appealing narrator.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Libba Bray's "The Diviners": Hauntings in Manhattan!

It's Halloween and the New York subways are underwater. Must be time to review Libba Bray's great new beginning to her new series "The Diviners". It is 1926  and a group of sophisticated young Manhattanites is celebrating the 18th birthday of  one of their crowd. Things are getting dull, so she brings out the Ouija board. The one she got at an antique store where the proprietor told her not to forget to spell out "goodbye" on the board to put any spirits to rest. The party goers gather round and drink and laugh and place their hands on the planchette and  ...make contact with a spirit that says it is Naughty John. After a few questions the spirit gets nasty...  the birthday girl finally yells at it to stop, and the board goes quiet. She mentions the ritual of spelling out goodbye... her friends scoff and suggest one of the gang was playing a trick, so she stashes it back in the closet and goes off to dance the night away. What was unleashed that night no longer a concern for the party goers.
The story jumps ahead to introduce our leading lady, Evie O'Neil, an attractive, wise-cracking, young flapper living in Ohio. Evie loves a good drink and dancing and doing the occasional party-trick of reading someone's belongings to find out their secrets.
This trick has gotten Evie into hot water when she outs the secret of a boy who had a dalliance with a chamber-maid. Refusing to apologise her parents give her the option of leaving town for a while and living with her bachelor uncle in New York City. She can't believe her luck, not only will she be getting away from her home town, she'll be living it up in NYC, where all the action is, and her girlhood chum and pen pal, Mabel, to enjoy it all with!
And what of Naughty John, that nasty spirit? Will we be hearing more from him? Read "The Diviners" and immerse yourself in New York in the 20's filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls ... and murder!
This is one terrific story and pos-i-tute-ly addictive, as Evie might say. Evie is one heck of an engaging girl and one you will love to spend 500+ pages with and still want more. Which we can look forward to.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Boston Teen Author Festival!

This sounds amazing, especially because One of my favorite authors, Daniel Waters (see interview here!) will be there. Here's a link and a posting about it:

Boston Teen Author Festival

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the about page of the Boston Teen Author Festival. You may be thinking to yourself, hey, I didn't know there was a teen author festival in Boston, and that would be because we just created it! For the very first time, in conjunction with Emerson College's Undergraduate Students for Publishing, I am so happy to bring you fifteen amazingly talented middle grade and young adult authors for a celebration of children's books unlike anything Boston has seen recently, if at all.

I have always loved book signings. How cool is it to actually meet the people behind the pages, those who endlessly entertain you with these epic stories of adventure, romance, and humor? It wasn't until high school that I realized these people who seemed so untouchable were actually willing to talk to their readers, meet them in bookstores, and answer emails online. I consider myself very lucky to now consider a few of them my friends. But I've always wanted to bring that experience to my community. I'd been to the Rochester Teen Book Festival at Nazareth College and the epic Books of Wonder Signing in New York City. As a senior in high school, I wanted to bring a group of authors to my small New York town, to give other kids my age the chance to meet their favorite authors, but I never had the resources.

Now, four years later as a senior at Emerson College, I finally have the opportunity. Through a collection of sponsors who are making it possible to make this festival the best it can be, Boston will finally have the chance to come together to hear a large group of fantastic authors talk about their craft, their journey, and any other information you wish to ask them (really, get creative). These four panel sessions will be followed by a large group signing, where you can go up and tell your favorite authors how much you love them, and new authors how much you're looking forward to digging into their books. There will be refreshments and a table where you can buy the authors' most recent books from our school's Barnes and Noble. I sincerely hope to see each and every one of you there! Thank you for loving books, and happy reading.

Forever your nerdy friend,
Renee Combs
Authors Attending:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Auraria" by Tim Westover: Pure Gold!

All the Recommender can say after reading Tim Westover's new novel, Auraria, is Wow! What a journey! It's hard to believe Auraria doesn't really exist and kind of sad to think you won't be able to pack an overnight bag and take a train through Georgia to this mountain retreat filled with an unusual assortment of  characters both living and, well, not so alive.

James Holtzclaw is a dedicated company man. He is content working for Mr. H.E. Shadburn who got him out of a tight spot in the silkworm business and offered him employment as his accountant. Shadburn is a very wealthy man and his latest scheme is sending Holtzclaw off to the town of Auraria to buy as much land as possible from the locals so he can "improve"  this run-down former gold mining town by flooding it and turning it into a lake and resort. He has given Holtzclaw a traveling bag filled with cash and gold coins with unusual markings. Gold that had been minted in Auraria.
Holtzclaw's coach arrives in town and he sets off through the hills to bargain with the farmers and land-owners.
As he makes the acquaintance of these and the other townsfolk and a variety of other puzzling characters like Mr. Bad Thing, the invisible pianist at the Old Rock Falls and Princess Trahlyta, a girl who seems to shadow his every step and speak to him in cryptic riddles... he finds himself getting more and more involved in their unusual way of life and the local passion of panning for gold.
This book is such a uniquely original delight that the Recommender has been recommending it all over the place. If you want to join Holtzclaw in his discovery of singing trees and tortoises and moon maidens and gold, gold, gold... then be sure to grab a copy and visit the dreamy, otherworldly pleasures of Auraria!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Love Unmasked: Ironskin

Ironskin  is a magical steampunk fantasy Jane Eyre-like story and from the first page I was drawn into this original world that the author, Tina Connolly, brings to vivid life.
Jane Eliot was a survivor. There was a war. A war between the populace and the fey. The fey are a bodiless being highly skilled in a technology that supplied the locals with power called bluepacks that was so advanced that civilian power advancements are abandoned to such an extent that when the fey tire of  providing their energy source after creating a dependence... it's back to the dark ages for many. Not only that, after they begin a war on the same people they'd once helped, the fey having no bodies of their own, remember, would kill humans and take over their bodies so that the dead would turn and attack their friends and families until killed again with iron. Iron is all that can keep the fey at bay or kill them. Scary stuff. Many were lost in the war and many who survived bore fey scars. Scars which made their bearer feel amplified moods and affected those around them with an increased amplification of their own moods. Jane's scar being "rage", she keeps it contained behind the "ironskin" mask that covers one side of her face. Scarred as she is, she possess a quick and sardonic wit and a plucky sense of adventure so when she sees an ad for a governess position for a child "born during the war", she decides to give it a go and accepts the position.
"An ye be human...enter" an odd butler says to her when she knocks at the door of her new home.  She steps across the iron threshold and into a new life.
This life will introduce her to the master of the house, Mr. Rochart. He is a brilliant sculptor although the masks Jane takes in on the walls of his studio are hideous. He is also the father of five year old Dorie, a child both enchanting and frightening. Her "scars" are not visible. Dorie has the ability to command objects to come to her or float in the air without touching them. She can make blue lights sparkle around her. Fey light, perhaps.
 How and why Dorie came to possess these abilities is one of the secrets you will have to uncover yourself as you read this entrancing book. You will also find out what Jane discovers about Edward Rochart's other skills. Skills so remarkable they attract a bevy of beautiful women to pay calls on him (not THAT kind of skills! Get your mind out of the gutter! It's not that kind of book!), and begin to make Jane jealous. Jealous because she realizes she is coming to care for this mysterious man and his unusual child.  And what of Jane's sister who has married well and seems superficially happy in her letters but desperate to have Jane return to her. Intrigued? Then go buy a copy or request your local library to order "Ironskin" so you, too, can cross that iron threshold ...An ye be human... and enter this new and extraordinary world!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Interview With Author Daniel Waters!

The Recommender is thrilled to bring you this short interview with one of my favorite authors, Daniel Waters. Dan is the author of the groundbreaking zombie series “Generation Dead” and his new book “Break My Heart 1000 Times” has become one of my all time favorites, and has my favorite title of the year, as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us here on the Militant Recommender! 
 These were wonderful, insightful questions, so thank you. 
What I love about Break My Heart 1000 Times is the absolutely believable reality you’ve created. The ghosts seem so natural in their day to day haunting. How did you ever come up with this concept??
I think the original concept is one of those "Hadron Collider of the mind"-type things, where I can't pinpoint any single flash of inspiration that triggered the idea, but I can see a number of the particle trails that combined to form it. I love horror stories to begin with, and ghosts stories are my favorite among them--I reread The Haunting of Hill House every couple years, so that has to be in the mix. The Sixth Sense is a favorite movie, and the novel takes the "I see dead people" concept and changes it to "everyone sees dead people". Thoughts about recent tragedies, both historical and personal, figure in to the book heavily as well.
I loved the character of Veronica. She’s a very complex and sympathetic character. You are very good at creating believable girls which is one of the things I admire about the Generation Dead series. Were there any real girls or women who helped inspire your great characters?

 Thank you. No one consciously--but my daughter is close to Veronica's age, and she is a very complex and sympathetic character. Her friends are all great kids too so I'm sure that knowing them helps the writing of my female teen protagonists. Of course, she was in grade school when I wrote Generation Dead, so that might be a fairly recent development.
 The image of Ronnie’s father appearing in the kitchen each morning is almost unbearably moving. The details of his apparition doing something mundane, reading the paper, drinking coffee and his wife and daughter positioning themselves each morning so that it appears he’s still there and about to speak to them is just beautifully conceived. What gave you the idea for this particular haunting?
The story is essentially about the idea of loss, the loss of loved ones, and how it affects people. Each character in the book is shaped by loss; loss has toughened Ronnie, it has caused her mother to put her life on hold, it has reduced Janine to a bundle of nerves, it has, and it has broken Bittner. Even Kirk, who hasn't felt any direct loss himself but has been witness to it in others feels its effects.
The scenes with many of the ghosts, especially Ronnie's father, come directly from personal experiences with loss. If someone dies or drops out of our lives it leaves us feeling haunted; even remembering the happy times brings a painful sting.
 Ronnie and her friend, Janine, walk to school and pass a house where every morning the ghost of a girl appears at the front door and knocks. They note it is the home of their history teacher. Early on we find out he’s a pretty creepy character. You have a real ability to bring the reader’s empathy to even the most despicable character, not giving anything away, as we hate giving away too many details, that is a real art. When you created this character how did you decide to bring that aspect to him, which makes him more 3 dimensional, as opposed to just a black and white bad guy?
Thank you for the drawing you did of the scene you just described; by the way. I love it. Villains to me are almost always more interesting when the are reasons behind that villainy; I also love when I'm reading about a villain and you can sense the moment he or she chose evil over good--or maybe that decision was made for them. There are plenty of fictional villains around that are pure evil from birth or early childhood, especially in horror and supernatural fiction, and I think that is a bit unrealistic. Most of the truly evil people throughout history didn't think they were evil; in their warped way they thought they were the good guys. I think it is fascinating to try and figure out how they could possibly have though something so opposite of what the majority of us believe.
Then again, I'd like to explore true and pure unsympathetic evil someday.
Some people live with the idea of the ghosts as a fact of life in your book while others lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety like Ronnie’s friend Janine. This also seems very realistic and equates, in a way, with how people in our society got on with their lives after Sept. 11, and others seemed to see terrorists everywhere. Was that what gave you the idea for the ghost world and life after the event?
September 11 was definitely on my mind when I wrote the book. I was away from home and in D.C. At the time of the attacks, and I spent the greater part of the following week or so apart from my family assisting with the cleanup of the Pentagon. I'd never honestly contemplated the idea of never seeing my wife and kids again prior to those days; but that's where my thoughts were running. Two high school classmates of mine died in the fall of the towers, and like everyone else in America, if not the world, I think about what those first days and months afterwards felt like.

And then later--surprisingly not a very long time later--it would strike me that people go on with life. Holocausts happen, genocides, plagues, terrorist attacks--and we go on, somehow manager to avoid dwelling on the horror 24/7. We cope. We find ways to love and laugh again. Civilization wobbles but doesn't crumble. People manage to go on with life even after the most horrific circumstances. I thought about an event, a cataclysm, where there was a loss of life hundred of thousands times more than that of 9/11, and in some ways the prospect of returning to "life as normal" after something like that was more terrifying to me than a descent into a post-apocalyptic mire. I think that is what would happen, no matter the scale of the tragedy.
But of course we never really move on completely from tragedy, do we? The ghosts are always with us. And we don't want them to go away.

And finally, I was very excited to read that Break My Heart has been optioned for a movie and the screenplay has already been written. It is such a strikingly visual book you can picture each scene. As a reader I feel a loyalty to the integrity of the characters and story and worry that a screenwriter might mess around with it. Did you have script approval? Were you happy with the results?
I was ecstatic with the result. I didn't really have approval, but the producer, Paul Brooks, was kind enough to send me the script when it was finished and I made a couple suggestions. Really minor suggestions, because Jason Fuchs did an amazing job on the script that I was thoroughly pleased. The script is very faithful to the characters and the tone of the book, which is very difficult as what makes a book thrilling and exciting is not always the same thing that makes a film thrilling and exciting--especially with a ghost story. There's a few new scenes in the script and they are among my favorites!
Although I love the Hemingway quote about dealing with Hollywood, which goes something like, "stand on the Nevada border, throw the book over the fence to California, have them throw the money back, and run like hell", I don't feel that way at all. I think I would be just as pleased with someone doing a takeoff or riff on one of my works as I would an adaptation that was note perfect.
Links to Dan's online media:
WatersDan on Twitter

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

"The Raven Boys" are what Blue calls the students at local Aglionby prep school, those larger than life entitled boys who have everything and wear a school sweater that bears an image of a raven as their crest.
Blue is not your average high school girl with an after school job at the local pizza place. Her Mom, Maura,  is a psychic. She never knew her Dad. She lives in a house filled with women, all her mother's friends who are all psychically inclined and do readings for civilians and occasionally more questionable members of normal society who make their way to the house.
Blue, herself, does not have psychic abilities. That's not to say she isn't special. Her secret power is the ability to amplify or make the vibes clearer and louder for whatever readings the women are doing.
There is a downside to all the psychic fun and games. Blue has been told that if she falls in love and kisses her true love...he will die. So, what's a girl to do? Especially when her mother's beautiful half-sister, Neeve, a psychic celebrity with a TV show, shows up and takes Blue out on St. Mark's Eve  to the ruins of an old isolated church to greet the spirits of those that would die in the next 12 months. The future dead have to follow a corpse road through  the church gate. Neeve asks their names as they pass... and Blue writes them down. The information has always been a useful part of Maura and her circle's job, letting people know that they, or a loved one, would die that year.
But tonight, though Blue has made things louder for Neeve... she "sees" someone, herself. A boy, a murky image, but there all the same, wearing slacks and a sweater, making his way slowly toward the gate. "Get his name" Neeve tells her. Blue goes closer... it's an Aglionby sweater. A raven boy. "What's your name?" she asks his wavery, indistinct image. "Gansey" he tells her. "Is that all?" asks Blue. "That's all there is..." says Gansey. She watches as he falls to his knees. "Neeve!" Blue cries out..."He's dying!"
"Not yet" says Neeve.  "Why can I see him," Blue asks. “There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”
Where do we go from here? It's a breathtaking beginning to a non-stop ride that will continue through 3 more volumes. There IS a Gansey, and we will meet him and his Aglionby posse and learn that there's more to these prep school boys than money, image and status. There's a quest, and there's the mystery surrounding it. A mystery that may have already caused one death. How Blue and the boys come together and join forces makes for a very addicting entry into this series. Can Blue keep what she knows about Gansey from happening? We shall see.
 *A note on author Maggie Stiefvater. "Scorpio Races" was the Recommender's favorite book of last year. She's  an amazing writer with the ability to create worlds much like ours... until suddenly a carnivorous sea horse rears up and tries to take a chunk out of someone, or the cute boy turns into a wolf. She has a magical way with words and can hook you into her reality like few writers can. "The Raven Boys" provides further proof of her virtuosity!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Jepp Who Defied the Stars

Jepp is a boy who was raised by his single Mom and brought up in a tavern/rooming house that she runs in the small (fictional) town of Astraveld in Holland. He is relatively content, is pretty smart having learned to read and write and is much loved by the few locals who depend on the inn for their livelihood. He is also a dwarf. Something he doesn't really dwell on... unless travelers to the inn happen to point it out.

He has never known his father, something that does bother him, but has not made an issue of finding out his identity. One day a stranger arrives at the inn. He is worldly with a long title but called "Don" for short. He has a proposition for Jepp. How would he like to live a grand life as a member of Coudenberg, the court of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and her husband Archduke Albert of Austria. As a court Dwarf.
Surely his mother wouldn't want to part with him? But she wants him to succeed and advance himself and this seems like a perfect entrance into a better way of life. Is it? We shall see. So begins this intriguing story set in the late 1500s with a truly unique protagonist that we care about and  root for from the opening page.
 "It is lucky you found me" Jepp says to Don on their coach trip to Coudenberg. "There is no luck", Don confides, "Only the stars. That is where our fortune or lack of it resides". Puzzling words. The stars play a role throughout Jepp's life. It is a time of great belief in astrology.

Jepp arrives in Coudenberg and all that Don describes is true! A luxury apartment, fine clothes, exotic and tasty food, and, oh yes, there are 3 other dwarves who reside there. It takes a bit of the spotlight away, but one of them is an attractive young woman. Things are looking good! Or are they? And, Don never mentioned anything about a pie. A rather large one.

This is just the beginning of Jepp's journey, a journey which will open his eyes to the intrigues and whims of those in charge of his destiny. He will learn to keep some things secret and who can be trusted... and who can't. And we will learn with him (plus what the title means). This book will be released in October so put in your pre-order request and find out just where Jepp's journey, and those stars, will take him. This is the first book the Recommender has read by Katherine Marsh and I will definitely look forward to reading anything else she's written!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Letters to Erik: Love Never Dies!

Erik is dead. Or so said a line in the paper. Christine made her choice or we may even say her bed and now she's got to lie in it...alone. Raoul has whisked Christine, his bride, away to Sweden and a new life with only servants for company in their new palatial home. She pines for Paris and her life at the Opera House...and for the person who seemed, in retrospect, to know her and her desires better than anyone.
Yes, bad choice, Christine. While Raoul spends his nights in his own room, Christine writes letters to Erik, telling him everything about her marriage, her loneliness, and her realization that HE was the one she truly loved. She writes stacks of letters and keeps them hidden in a jewelry box Erik had made for her. Along with his mask.
If he was alive, could he ever forgive her? This is the premise of the heartfelt and charming novel by An Wallace. It's an interesting concept and we learn all about Christine's life with Raoul who has gone from being that boy who rescued her scarf to a nasty, controlling type who doesn't want her to share her voice, let alone her heart, with anyone! We can picture him twirling his mustache, here. Boo! Hiss!
This is all just the first part of the story. Surprises of all kinds await as we learn the secret of Erik's final resting place, and hooray! The Persian is back! and ready to assist Christine in her plan to leave the letters at the Opera Ghost's tomb. Those most intimate, tell everything to a dead man missives...
that are immediately snatched up by someone who shall remain nameless! Speaking of names... well, the Recommender's policy is to never give too much away... so you'll really have to discover all the surprises this story has to offer for yourself! If you love the Phantom you won't want to miss out on this memorable take on the classic.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Anything But Ordinary:

The Recommender is recommending Lara Avery's Anything But Ordinary this week because it is an Olympic summer and Bryce Graham, our heroine in this extraordinary story, is an Olympic contender. She is a 17 year old diver who, when reporters asked her her secret, replied concentration, or focus... but never mentioned fear. Or space. The lack of it... the length of a cicada (relevent when you read the story), one inch...was all it took to end Bryce's career at the Nashville Olympic Diving Trials when she overshoots her dive by that amount and hits her head on the cement.
She wakes to find herself in a hospital. Machines are beeping. Her parents are there but they look different, somehow. Her Mom's hair is shorter. Her Dad's thinner. She'd been in a coma, apparently... but for how long? She asks and her parents and the doctor all glance at each other. Where's her little sister? "She's... gotten older. We all have, even you" her mother tells her. What IS going on?
Then a strange girl enters her room. She's dressed in fishnets and boots. Wait a minute. Is THAT her 12 year old sister, Sydney? She asks Sydney her age and she tells her...17. How can SHE be 17 when Bryce is 17? Or WAS 17. She'd been asleep for 5 years! She was 22! A grown-up!
This is all just the beginning of a book that makes you appreciate every minute. Bryce is given her life back, but what she does with that life and how it affects her former best friend and her highschool boyfriend, her parents, her sister and... Carter, the caring young med student who befriends her (and what's his secret? Why does she feel like she knows him?) is what makes this such a compelling read.
Bryce is a young woman who comes alive on the page. We care about her.  It's such an unputdownable bittersweet story that you may want a box of tissues within easy reach. Or maybe two.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Break My Heart 1,000 Times

Daniel Waters is an author that the Recommender really enjoys. He was one of the first YA writers to use zombies in a completely original and believable way in the fictional reality of the world he created around teens living and "living impaired" in the Generation Dead series. He is also great at writing girl characters who come across as real whether they are zombies or goth girls or a girl like Veronica, or Ronnie as she's called, the protagonist in his new book, coming this October, with the best title I've heard in a while Break My Heart 1,000 Times.
Break My Heart takes place in a world and time after a horrifying disaster referred to as the Event, a sort of  9/11 type catastrophe. The world in which Veronica and her mother reside is a world filled with ghosts. Many are the ghosts of those who perished in that event, but many just appear at random. Some appear on a daily basis, like Ronnie's Dad who went into the city on the day of the Event and never returned, though his image appears every morning at the breakfast table, reading the paper and sipping coffee for several minutes before vanishing to reappear the next morning.
It's unnerving, to say the least, but Mr. Waters embodies the disembodied with an empathy that makes you feel it's completely natural to see ghosts continuing to collect the mail in their bathrobes, or show up in your bathroom while you're having a shower or... day after day knock on the door of your history teacher, the guy who lives down the street.
Ronnie escapes the ghost of her family life by serial dating guys from school. She doesn't want anything too complicated, but then finds herself attracted to the nice, smart and cute Kirk. Not her usual type, but there's something about him. He's kind and attentive, in a good way, so when their English teacher, a man with a ghost fixation encourages Kirk to film some of the ghosts around town for extra credit, Ronnie joins him on an investigation that uncovers mysteries long unsolved.
This is, honestly, a book you won't be able to put down. I found myself thoroughly immersed in this world of ghosts and the human horror living among them and adding to their population. It has one of the creepiest villains imaginable and even he gets some sympathy from the author! There are moments where you'll find yourself yelling at your book, or Kindle, or what have you, warning the characters of what lies in wait! That doesn't happen too often. And neither does a haunting story like this one!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"The Master is DARK" : 50 Shades Darker

SPOILERS! The Recommender is telling you that right off, so if you haven't read the first book, don't read this post until after you've finished the 2nd, E.L. James' 50 Shades Darker, because we are going to talk about some issues. Yes, Christian has issues. When we last left Anastasia Steele she was getting her head together after breaking up with her mega wealthy, god-like gorgeous, control-freak boyfriend. Yes, we thought! Ana is sensible. She knows there is more to life than lots of money, great clothes (and underwear!) and an Audi A3 (the submissive special).
But she is sad and missing being bossed around (and all that hot sex!) and when he starts e-mailing her, again, she relents and they go to Jose's art opening where there are giant photos of Ana on display. Why does Christian never see her as carefree and happy as in those photos? Maybe because no one was subjecting her to various sorts of punishments he realizes. "I can do vanilla" he pleads and Ana and her inner goddess and even her inner subconscious celebrate this news! But... is there a dark cloud on the horizon of this happiness? Maybe several. That nasty blonde corrupter Mrs. Robinson shows up to nag Ana about how broken up Christian was when Ana left him. And, maybe they can do lunch or something? Ana doesn't think so. Will she forever be lurking around despite Christian's claims that she's "all in the past"? Then... there's Ghost Girl appearing outside Ana's new job to ask her "What do you have...that I don't" before disappearing. Ana has so many distractions, including a sleazy new boss at the publishing house she works at that she forgets to mention GG to Christian, so when she does, he gets very angsty as GG is Leila one of his past submissives and one who wanted "more" but never got it. We learn she has a gun permit and a gun to go along with it. "Master is dark" she later confides to Ana. But he is also wounded and broken and afraid to be touched and seems to really care about Ana and so darn good looking and has good taste in buying women's clothes, or the buyer he hires does, anyway, so we end up hoping Christian and Ana get together and she's even seen his *SPOLIER* creepy submissive side which freaks Ana out MORE than the dark side. Not giving away all the details but the Recommender will be reading book 3  and maybe that title gives us a hint 50 Shades Freed. HMMMM. What can that mean?  I can't wait to find out!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beautiful Lies

At the beginning of Beautiful Lies twin sisters Rachel and Alice stand on a jogging trail debating the best way to spend the lovely fall evening. A family walks by with a small girl who is startled by the exact duplicates and cries. "We're freaks" says Alice.  "We aren't freaks, "Rachel replies as she adds eye make-up to her sister's eyes. What they are, are twins so rare and identical and close that one can experience what the other is feeling so when they were children and one choked the other gasped for breath.

Alice offers to go home, but Rachel resists. Their friends are waiting to go to the carnival. "Your friends" says Alice. "They don't like me, anymore." Alice is the troubled twin, the reckless girl, the girl who will never accept that their parents have died and they had to live with their Aunt and Uncle and mentally challenged cousin. Their Aunt who was also a twin. A twin of the mother they lost.
Back to the fair. Alice wants to ride the Ferris wheel. Rachel feels uneasy, but agrees. Once she is strapped in...Alice slips out of the seat and takes off "I'll catch up with you after," she calls,"I want a candy apple". And she's away and...gone!
Gone! And that is the opening of this intense and unusual new book by Jessica Warman.
What has happened to Alice and why does Rachel start to feel pain and then unexplainable bruises show up on her body? Why do her Aunt and Uncle stall in calling the police to look for Alice? Is it just another of her stunts? Doesn't she have a mysterious boyfriend, Robin, that none of them have ever met? And what about the drawings in Alice's sketchpad, the face of a girl she doesn't know but feels compelled to draw over and over. Who is she?
This is a story draped in mystery as you plunge into the lives of the twins and learn more of  the secrets and lies that might turn a game they played into one of life and death. Don't miss this addictive read (available this August) and don't forget to read  Ms. Warman's "Between" reviewed here previously.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Perfect Summer Book: The Cottage at Glass Beach

On the Scottish TV series "The Book Group" (episode 3) the members have been reading a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and one character passionately describes what she likes about the story is the way things happened that wouldn't really happen. "Magical realism" the club members intone knowingly... which devastatingly skewers a certain type of book and bookclubber perfectly!
Of course, some of my favorite books slip dangerously into that category like Garden Spells and Practical Magic and probably all of Harry Potter and ...heck, maybe almost everything I read. So, with that in mind I just read a book that I fell absolutely in love with right from the start, The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri. Our heroine, Nora Cunningham, is a still young mother and wife of  the youngest Attorney General in Massachusetts history, and who has done everything right to help him in his career until she finds out he's been involved with another woman. Distraught and unsure of what to do next she receives an unexpected way out, a letter from an aunt, someone she hadn't seen since her childhood...her childhood on a dimly remembered craggy island called Burke's Island. The place where her mother disappeared and her father took her away, off to Boston, never again mentioning the island or what took place all those years before.
It's the perfect refuge for Nora and she accepts the invitation and sets off with her two daughters, seven year old Annie and twelve year old Ella, Ella who is hurt and angry, angry at everyone and everything having to do with her leaving her home and her father and her whole life behind.
Annie, on the other hand is sunny and optimistic and ready for an adventure. And ... adventure is what awaits them on the island. Ms. Barbieri knows the sea. She seems to know it so well and bring this isolated island to such vivid, windswept, salty, seaweedy life that you just want to pack your bags and follow Nora and the girls on their journey or at least join them vicariously via this delicious summer fiction getaway.
Nora's Aunt Maire welcomes them to the island and the cottage on Glass Beach where Nora, Annie and Ella will spend the summer and where several generations of Nora's family, including her parents, have lived. There is also a bigger family residence, Maire's home, Cliff House.
As Nora and the girls begin to unwind they explore and wonder about what secrets the island holds. Secrets that the seals that swim and live among the rocks of the island seem to share. And why do some of the locals seem hostile to Nora, and say she looks just like her mother. Her mother, who was so beautiful she captured the hearts of many men including her father, an off islander whose ship needed repair. They seem to share more than looks, too. Her mother was an award winning swimmer and Nora is as at home in the water as she is on land. Then, there's the mysterious man who washes up on Glass Beach during a terrible storm, who Nora runs out to save, and who seems to have no recollection of who he is. Annie thinks he's a character right out of Nora's old Irish legends and fairy tale book that she reads to the girls each night. Could he be? There's much more to this appealing story including love, mystery, and some unusual characters (plus it has a gorgeous cover!). This is good old magical realism at its best. That Book Group in Glasgow would surely approve!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Every Day

 A. wakes up in a different body Every Day which is also the title of David Levithan's conceptual new novel. He, let's call him he for this review... is always a teen. Sometimes he wakes up as a boy, sometimes a girl. He has to live that person's life for 24 hours without doing too much harm or interfering with the order of things. Sometimes he has siblings, sometimes he's alone. He has suffered from illnesses, experienced depression, drug taking and crushes that that person might have. He has to go to school, interact with parents and try to just get through the day. That is until the day he wakes up in the body of a not particularly nice boy named Justin. Justin has a girlfriend. There is something about her, Rhiannon, that gets to A. She is sweet and open and vulnerable and A. goes out of his way to be kind to her or to make it seem that Justin is being nice to her. Nicer than usual. MUCH nicer than usual. They cut school and spend the day at the beach and by the time A. has to leave... he knows that he has fallen for Rhiannon, beyond anything he's experienced before. But he won't be Justin anymore. How will he spend more time with her when he will be someone else tomorrow and someone else the day after and, well...every day?
And what about this one boy whose body he inhabited who seems to have memories of being "possessed"? What does he really know? This is a beautifully told story about love and trust and faith and belief in the power of love transcending all obstacles. This title will be released in August, so if you are looking for something that takes you outside the ordinary and makes you think about and care for the characters involved then be sure to buy, download or check Every Day out at your library!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Comes After: Between

I am a great fiction lover. "Fiction is My Reality" is one of my mottos (I have a few!) and the t-shirt can be bought here! There are genres I am inexplicably drawn to and one of them is interesting versions of the afterlife. One of the best ones I've read recently is Between. It also has a lovely cover which never hurts! I'll discuss "when bad covers hurt good books" at a later time.
Elizabeth Valchar wakes up. It is 2 a.m. It's the night after her birthday. She had a party on her father's yacht. Liz is a birthdays on a yacht type of girl. Everyone's still asleep... but there is this annoying noise and it's getting to her. Failing to rouse her sleeping friends and step-sister she goes to investigate. What's making that thumping sound? It's coming from the water.. she gets closer. Could it be a fish? she peers into the dark water below. Cripes! It's a body! Some poor girl... but, wait! The body is wearing cowboy boots just like Liz's. Special white rhinestone covered boots. No one else could possibly have a pair like it... the girl in the water is (insert SCREAMING here!) Liz!!!
What happened and how she got there is the mystery behind Jessica Warman's great premise and she doesn't let you down. Liz sits on the dock waiting for her body to be discovered. She is overwrought and who wouldn't be? She tells herself, aloud, that everything is going to be OK... then a voice replies that, "No, actually it's not going to be OK." There's a boy, a boy who can see and hear her! This seems like good news...until she realizes he, too, is dead. And she recognizes him. It's Alex, a boy she went to school with since kindergarten. A boy who was killed by a hit and run driver. Like the ghosts who visit Scrooge in A Christmas Carol... Alex helps Liz on a journey through past events that will ultimately reveal what happened to her that night on the yacht. It's an absorbing, touching look at a life and all the twists and turns one can take and the road fate sometimes puts you on.
This is the first one of Ms. Warman's books I read and I was lucky enough to read a preview of her latest book Beautiful Lies which was also excellent and which I will be reviewing here soon.  I'll also be reading her previous titles Breathless and Where the Truth Lies when I get a chance because I can tell she's going to be an author I want to keep reading!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Return of the Phantom: Variations on a Theme of Leroux

As the Recommender reads her way through the Phantom oeuvre it is always fascinating how different authors tackle the canon of  Gaston Leroux's characters... in particular the triangle of Erik, Christine and Raoul. I just finished H.D. Kingsbury's Variations on a Theme of Leroux which was great fun and an intriguing take on the story.
It begins with Erik wakening to find himself imprisoned in a dungeon and beaten and starved. How did this happen to our anti-hero? His thoughts are of Christine. Would he ever see her again? Would she ever know what became of him?
The story shifts to a time a year earlier. Christine has been receiving voice lessons from Erik. She has visited him in his secret home in the cellars beneath the Paris Opera House and knows the way there, unescorted. They are very companionable... until a childhood friend of hers shows up to get in the way. Yes, it is Raoul! He is charmed by her and invites her to lunch and they spend a pleasant afternoon together. When she returns, Erik is annoyed. But why should he be? Christine is his student. Does he feel more for her than he is willing to admit? Does she? And then there is Anatole Garron, an Opera tenor who is Christine's friend. And Meg Giry... jealous of Raoul's interest in Christine. The plot thickens. Christine invites Erik to a picnic atop the roof of the Opera House. Someone follows. Seething with unrequited passion... it is Raoul! What he sees makes him seethe further. Christine pledging her love for some masked man and embracing him! How could she choose some nobody with half a face when she could have him? A Vicomte! What to do? Can he win her back?
This is a great story of love and passion (and even sex!).  There are dastardly deeds, unexpected friendships and alliances and... well, you'll just have to read it yourself to find out if Erik escapes his prison and finds true love with Christine or if Raoul will win out. That is, as always, the question!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fifty Shades of...Oh My!

Anastasia  Steele is an English lit major with a passion for Thomas Hardy and a nervous habit of biting her lip. She's a knock-out according to her best friend and room-mate, Kathryn, who is worldly and generally pretty sensible, but Ana doesn't see herself that way. Then, she's called upon to interview 28 year old big time business magnate Christian Grey for the college paper as a favor to  Kathryn, who's down with the flu. Entering his huge stylish office with flair, Ana trips and falls headfirst at the feet of Mr. Grey, possibly the most beautiful man alive.
So begins this story that everyone is talking about. Fifty Shades by E. L. James is the love story of a young, inexperienced woman "falling" for a wealthy, sexy, charismatic and really, Ana, he is SO wrong for you guy.
But what girl could help herself from being swayed by first editions of "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" and designer undies purchased for you by the chauffeur? Then there's that non-disclosure agreement. And some cryptic remarks of the "If you were wouldn't sit down for a week" nature. "If I were HIS?" Ana thinks, romantically. The second part of that statement doesn't deter her for the moment.
Possible spoilers here for the uninitiated: Christian wants Ana... to be subservient, and available and sign a contract and...wait, you say, what about LOVE? There is sex. LOTS of steamy, bondage-y, spanky sex. Which is all well and good, but Ana wants MORE. Can Christian do more? And what about his past? The past where he was the sub of a much older woman for 7 YEARS from when he was 15! A friend of his adopted mother's! That can't be good. Especially since he still has dinner with her and calls her a "good friend". Hmmmm. Can Ana and Christian make a go of it and do more? You'll have to read this... and the two sequels "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" (I'll be reading the two follow ups and will report on them as I read them) to find out!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Erik, Erik, Erik: 3 Reviews of Phantom Fiction

I know, I know, the Recommender has certain obsessions. We will deal with those other obsessive genres as we get to them. For now, let us return to the world of that mad genius Erik, or the Phantom, in three books I recently read and which I found intriguing and well written.The first title is Phantom : Edge of the Flame by Kristine Goodfellow.
 In this original take, Erik is en route to a destination in the French countryside when he chances upon a carriage stuck by the side of the road. This carriage contains an attractive American woman, Olivia Weston, who has arrived in France for an extended visit to her cousins the de Chagnys. Struck by the sight of her stranded by the roadside, Erik commands his driver to stop and offer her a ride. She accepts... and as they share the ride (until this carriage, too, becomes incapacitated) Erik becomes more and more taken with the charming young widow. As they get to know each other and eventually continue their journey, Erik begins to understand certain complexities regarding Olivia's reason for visiting. Yet, they are drawn to each other, so much so, that Erik risks everything to sneak inside her bedroom at her cousins estate, time after time. Could she be the woman he has always dreamed of, someone to accept him and perhaps even come to love him? You'll have to buy, borrow  or download it to see.

The second title gives us the classic triangle of Christine, Raoul and Erik: My Phantom: the Memoir of Christine Daae by Anstance Tamplin. The story begins with Christine reading Leroux's new sensation "The Phantom of the Opera". Leroux had the story wrong, Christine tells us. Even her late husband, Raoul, never knew "how close the Phantom came to winning my hand. He will always have my heart". Great opening!
We then go back to the beginning of their story. After her father's  death, the lonely young Christine comes to the Opera House as a student of its singing school. Weeping by herself in a corner one day she is startled by a voice asking her why she is crying. Mistaking it for the Angel of Music sent by her father she brightens at the voice... the voice being the Phantom's who, silent for a moment responds "And here I am".
Years later, the mirror to her dressing room opens... and a man enters. "Don't be frightened, Christine. You're not in danger" he tells her... and, at the sound of his voice, she recognizes it as her one true friend and soon to be her teacher, her Angel... her Phantom. They fall into a routine of Christine visiting the Phantom in his home beneath the Opera where he trains her voice and occasionally takes her out at night to see and hear the popular singers of the day from whom she can learn. They have become close though she longs for more intimacy... the intimacy that, back in the outside world, the dashing young naval officer Raoul waits to offer her. The tension between the Phantom and Christine will keep you longing for more with this beguiling love story you won't want to miss! 
  And, now for something completely different, Jamie Martell's Thoughts of Summertime. Christine, after losing her mother, runs to the woods in despair after the funeral.  Lost, and desperate, a voice reaches out to her from the woods, asking why she cries, comforting her, then instructing her how to find her way back. Grateful , she begins to head off, then turns and asks if she might "see" him again. He replies she should return the next evening.  She does.
What interests does she have to take her mind off her troubles the voice inquires. "I love to sing" she replies. He asks if she would sing for him and she does, a Swedish lullaby. He is impressed with her talent and offers to instruct her. She mentions the Angel of Music and that she had wished for his visit. As they part company Christine asks what should she call him? "Call me Angel" he says. It is, of course, Erik.

Scene 2: The estate of the evil Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (yes, it is he, though evil, as mentioned!) and Erik is his business manager! In fact, Raoul says to Erik "You know I can't do a thing without your counsel!" This is a very radical approach to our beloved characters and ... it works. Erik  continues to meet with Christine (or at least his voice does),and before you know it six months have passed. All seems well and both are happy. Too happy, you might ask, for a young woman who is falling for a disembodied voice, and Erik who is falling for Christine in return. Alas, yes. Christine pleads with her Angel to show himself, to tell her he returns her feelings. He agrees at 9:00 that night, to meet in their wooded refuge.  Meanwhile, Christine's father is deep in debt to Raoul. So in debt he is about to lose everything. But, there is one thing Raoul will take in exchange for forgiving that nasty debt. His daughter's hand in marriage. He agrees and that night she will be taken away and held captive at the de Chagny estate as Raoul's unwilling fiancee. That night, Erik will feel rejected and betrayed by the woman he has come to love. Is there hope for our star-crossed lovers? Will wrong things be righted? This is a particularly entertaining story. I loved the depiction of Erik as a man with secrets, intense, charismatic and seductive and Christine as a strong woman doing what she has to do to get by. You will, too!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Interview With "Ashfall" Author Mike Mullin!!!!

The Militant Recommender is thrilled to have as its first Author Interview the amazing Mr. Mike Mullin!

I’m thrilled to be here, thanks for inviting me!

Hi there, Mike! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for the Recommender!

It’s my pleasure.

I don't like to give away too much in the reviews I do, as I'm sure most readers love the thrill of a good story evolving without remembering some critic that revealed too much, so these are pretty basic questions.

That’s good; I’ll try to provide basic answers, ha! I’ve had my second cup of coffee already this morning—wait, that’s wrong—it was my third, so we should be okay.

I've read a lot of end of the world themed books, but "Ashfall's" scenario and the suddenness and the realism of the disaster grabbed me right from the start. What gave you the idea of using a supervolcano erupting and its aftermath as the theme of your novel?

The idea for Ashfall started with another book—Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Dozens of novel ideas lurk within its pages, but the one that stuck with me was the idea of a supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone. A few weeks after I read it, I woke at 3:30 am with a scene occupying my head so completely I was afraid it would start spilling out my nostrils. I typed 5,500 words, finishing just before dawn. Then I put the project away and let it gestate for eight months. When I returned to it after researching volcanoes and volcanic ash, I realized the inspired scene I wrote in the middle of the night wouldn’t work, and ultimately that whole section had to be scrapped. The only word that remains from that draft: Ashfall.

Alex is a regular kid, someone readers can easily identify with. He also has a kind of hidden superpower. He holds a black belt in taekwondo and right at the beginning, when he's trapped by his desk, that first comes into play. What was your inspiration for giving Alex those impressive martial arts abilities?

I knew the disaster in Ashfall would be so terrible that my protagonist would have to be a special teenager to survive. And although I love the current crop of dystopian novels, some of them feel more like fantasy than science fiction to me, so I decided to try to differentiate Ashfall by making it intensely realistic. That ruled out magic, superpowers, and vampirism (thank goodness, right?). So I decided Alex should be a martial artist. The only problem: I didn’t know anything about martial arts. At that time, I was reading every book I could find about volcanoes to try to learn enough geology to write Ashfall—I didn’t want to add a huge stack of martial arts books to my to-be-read pile. So I enrolled in taekwondo classes. I enjoyed the classes and stuck with them, finally earning my black belt just before Ashfall was released last year.

 I love that Alex's survival skills kick in and he's smart about adapting to the new reality he's faced with, like using the skis to get around. How did you conceptualize these adaptations?

Many of my ideas came from my reading. Somewhere I read about a volcanologist who relies on snowshoes to traverse fresh ash more easily. It seemed more plausible that Alex could find a pair of skis than snowshoes, so I made Alex’s dad an ex-cross-country skier.

The parts of the book that relate to outdoor survival and primitive living come from my personal experience. I was intensely interested in survival as a teenager—I even spent three days in the woods with nothing but a knife and the clothes on my back once. Now I prefer to stay in hotels instead of improvised shelters, but I remember what it’s like to skin a rabbit and tan its hide.

 Darla is one of the most impressive female characters to appear in YA literature. She's tough, smart, has amazing mechanical know how and also has a softer, sweet side. She's not just Alex's girlfriend, but a complete and complex character in her own right. Was she based on anyone you knew in real life?

Yes. Darla is largely based on my wife, Margaret.  She’s just as tough, smart, and loyal as Darla. Sadly, she can’t fix our cars. That would save a lot of money on repair bills! When I need Darla to do something mechanical, I call my brother Paul, who is an electrical engineer. He’s the mechanical part of Darla’s brain that my wife and I both lack.

I couldn't put "Ashfall" down and I kept wondering how everything was going to wrap up... and now that I've had the pleasure of  reading a preview of "Ashen Winter" ... I know a lot more of the story. Will this be a trilogy... or are you taking the story further? Fans want to know!

I planned Ashfall as a trilogy from the beginning—roughing out a story arc for three books before I even began writing the first. I’ve sold the final book to Tanglewood Press, and I’m currently working on writing it. I’m also working on a short story about everything that happens to Darla between the supervolcano eruption and when she meets Alex. When both those projects are finished, I plan to move on to one the many other novel ideas clamoring for my attention.

And, finally, this is such a visual world that you've created. Any calls from Hollywood asking you to write a screenplay?

Tanglewood Press is trying to sell movie rights to Ashfall. So far, they haven’t had any takers, but if the books continue to sell as well as they have, I imagine that may change.

Thanks for interviewing me for The Militant Recommender—I deeply appreciate your enthusiasm and support!
More info for fans of  "Ashfall" :
Mike's Bio

Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mike juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really hoping this writing thing works out.

Mike holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife and her three cats. ASHFALL is his first novel.


Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the Earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when the supervolcano erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter.  When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.


The first two chapters are available on my website: You may reprint the first two chapters in whole or in part on your website so long as you do not charge anyone anything to access them.

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