Tag Archives: fantasy

Mystery Train Wreck

time-of-departure

Time of Departure: A Novel by Douglas Schofield (Minotaur Books, $16.99, 323 pages)

This debut novel began as an excellent criminal investigation story. It’s about a Florida state prosecutor, Clair Talbot, who is promoted to head the Felony Division Unit. But just as soon as she starts her new job a retired police investigator drops a cold case on her lap. Several women were killed decades earlier and he wants her to solve the crime.

On the front cover blurb, author James Renner (True Crime Addict) calls this, “A hard-boiled detective story with a dash of fantasy… a clever read. Daring, even.” Unfortunately, it’s more than a dash of fantasy. A huge load of fantasy and science fiction is unceremoniously dumped on the reader about 75% of the way through the tale. Not to reveal any spoilers, but it involves time travel. Oh, yes.

The story moves from 2011 back to 1978. Why? I have no idea but it turns an “A”-level read into something that might have been written by a middle school student. In fact, the excellent writing style of Schofield turns into nearly unintelligible mush once he detours onto the time travel lane:

“Maybe the whole point of my life is to change the future! But if that’s true, and if we decide today to change history, logic says I will no longer exist. At least I will no longer exist here and now with you. Maybe another version of me will be born next year and live a life entirely different from the one I remember. Maybe I’ll disappear into some parallel existence. I don’t know. But your memories of me will surely disappear. How could they not! You’d have no reason to have them.”

Yes, it’s that painful to read. Schofield’s strange venture into Back to the Future territory – and, naturally, our protagonist meets her mother back in the past, made me wish I could disappear into a parallel existence. I have no concept of why this author threw his story away, except that there’s a train wreck that sets off the time travel; which results in an otherwise promising work devolving into a train wreck.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The trade paperback version of Time of Departure was released on November 1, 2016.

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The Teddy Bears Picnic

Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)

Hero-book-3D-layer

Hero bear

“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.

Hero bears and rabbits

The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.

Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.

Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Asked and Answered

How Long is the Average Book?   A Concrete Answer to a Longstanding Writing Frequently Asked Question

“How long should my book be?”   This is a question that comes up fairly often when working with early writers.   It is a deceptively simple question that’s historically had very little data to help answer it.

A common and generally unhelpful answer is, “As long as it needs to be.”   It’s an answer that is not only hard to implement, but I believe it is also built on the somewhat flawed assumption that if you have to tell an author how long the book is supposed to be, they’re asking the wrong questions.   Another common reference you’ll hear is that the average novel is roughly 100,000 words long, which is sometimes even true.   In reality, book length is dependent on the genre you’re writing in.   100,000 words is about right for Literary Fiction, but is substantially off for Romance, and totally wrong for Humor.

Given the data that we work with every day, I wanted to contribute some concrete, objective data points to the conversation.

Below is a self-contained graphic (in case it needed to be printed) containing the average length of a book in several common genres contained in the 85,000+ titles in the Book Genome Project, such as Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Biography.   These are objective data points regarding the average length of books on the market today, as represented by the Genome database.

So there you have it.   Of the 16,284 Romance titles in our corpus, the average length is 76,000 words.   Fantasy is the longest genre, on average, with 122,000 words per book.

First Person vs. Third Person Perspective

We also pulled up a breakdown of those same genres by perspective, as you can see in the graphic, as well.   This is another interesting writing style difference.   The data we use is not really binary, but most books tend to be either overwhelmingly 1st person, or overwhelmingly 3rd person.   Rarely do they fall in the middle (although it is possible).

In general, third person (he said/she said) is a more common form of perspective than first person (I said).   Across the entire corpus (regardless of genre) 69% of the titles in our corpus were mostly or entirely third person, with only about 31% being first person.   What is most interesting to me, though, is that there appears to be a strong genre preference/bias.   Autobiographies & Biographies, for example, understandably contain more 1st person titles than any other genre.

The first person Romance title appears to be particularly rare, for example.

On a final thought, I’ll reiterate that this is NOT a statement of what length or perspective a book should be written in.   We’re not making any qualitative statements in this data, only quantitative.   It’s clear that more books in our database are written in third person perspective than in first person perspective, but we consider this more a statement of a genre’s expectation than anything else.   If a Fantasy fan picks up a novel at random, it’s a fair expectation that it will be in 3rd person more often than 1st.

That said, as an author, it doesn’t hurt to be cognitively aware that your 1st person, 150,000 word Romance epic is going to be breaking the mold of what most Romance readers are used to.   Way to think different.

Aaron Stanton – Founder and CEO, Booklamp.org

You can see more articles like this at http://booklamp.org/ .

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Heart and Soul

One from the Hart: A Memoir by Stefanie Powers (Gallery; $26.00; 272 pages)

Spunky, vivacious and charming are words that easily describe Stephanie Powers, the actress best known for her role in the television series Hart to Hart.   Yes, her character on the series also matches up with these adjectives.   Don’t be fooled by appearances or roles, for when it comes to intellect and curiosity, Ms. Powers leads the Hollywood pack.   Her memoir, One from the Hart, is filled with fully developed recollections of a life lived all over the globe.

Although Powers’ formal education concluded with her graduation from Hollywood High School, readers will be treated to the best in grammar and word selection.   Powers set out to make up for a lack of college education by committing to reading through the literature list for students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).   With that goal accomplished, she has maintained a lifelong course in learning.   Her curiosity and willingness to expand as a person has resulted in a remarkable memoir that is well-developed and engagingly narrated.   This reviewer felt as though she had been included in the circle of friends that Powers has grown over the last several decades.

Yes, Powers is talented musically and as an actress.   Yes, she is remarkably beautiful.   Underneath this Hollywood veneer beats a heart that truly loves people and animals.   Her actions speak for themselves for she is the driving force behind the William Holden Wildlife Foundation in Kenya.   Given her enthusiasm for education, it is no surprise that Powers founded the organization to honor the efforts of her long-time love William Holden.

This engaging book includes photographs from Powers’ private collection that serve to document the remarkable events in her life.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Note:  Hollywood High School, the home of The Pharaohs, also produced two notable actors who would come to be known to the world as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.

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It Won’t Be Long

The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor

“I wish I were as famous as a Beatle.”

Sixties-inspired musician-songwriter Regina Bloomsbury is casting about for ways to keep her garage band from dissolving when, in frustration, she makes the wish that her band was as famous as the Beatles.   Fame, she reasons, would fix the problems in her life:  no boyfriend, a shaky self-image, and loneliness.   Enter the fairy godmother who Regina didn’t know she had, and suddenly she’s not just as famous as the Beatles, she’s inherited their place in history and their entire catalog of music.

Life in the Grammy lane is fab, but being the smart 16-year-old she is, Regina comes to understand the tradeoffs that go along with fame and world popularity.   Then the question becomes, Should she stay or should she go?

The Girl Who Became a Beatle (Feiwal and Friends, an imprint of MacMillan) is a rock ‘n’ roll-themed fairy tale for a young adult audience.   Though there is the drama of a girl-on-girl fight scene, for the most part the story maintains the innocence of the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” days.   The plot is fast-paced; the ending is satisfying, even though it’s predictable; and the characters are interesting “types.”   There’s the supportive, cool-in-a-Cosbysort-of-way dad; the divorced mom who’d rather be a big sister; and the soulful band-mate love interest.   The problem is that the characters never step off the stage and run with the story.   Even Regina remains flat, especially when she wonders things like, “Are all teenagers like that?   Ricocheting from despair to euphoria within one turn of the minute hand?  If so, no wonder we’re always so exhausted?”

If the novel has the “tell, don’t show” feel of a screenplay, it’s probably because author Greg Taylor was a screenwriter before he started writing novels.   This is his second.   His first, Killer Pizza, is being made into a movie for 2013 release by Italian producer Raffaella De Laurentis (The Forbidden Kingdom, The Last Legion, Dragonheart: A New Beginning).   And according to the publisher, De Laurentis has optioned the film rights to The Girl Who Became a Beatle, too.

If you’re a YA reader who favors light, fast-paced, feel-good fantasies, don’t wait for the move version.   You’ll like The Girl Who Became a Beatle.   Especially if you’ve ever dreamed of any kind of stardom.

Recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell Steffen

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Girl Who Became a Beatle was released on February 15, 2011.

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Isn’t It a Pity

13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro (Reagan Arthur Books; $23.99; 288 pages)

Initially this appears to be a beautifully presented novel based on the possessions of a woman who once lived in the early 1900s (experiencing both World Wars), in Paris.   The graphic reproductions of items owned by Louise Brunet, which came into the author’s possession as a young girl, are reproduced in a high-class manner.   Unfortunately, this story also contains some troubling characteristics which ruined the experience for this reader.

In the early 1980s, the author’s mother salvaged a small box of mementos formerly owned by Mrs. Brunet:  “This box is the sepulcher of Louise Brunet’s heart.   The story behind the objects is lost; the objects are now the story…  As I have carried this strange box through life and across the world, I have always intended to make a book out of it.   This book now exists; you hold it in your hands.”

It is a charming and promising premise – fleshing out an unknown life via the author’s imagination.   A great deal of the content involves the lives of French people, men and women, during World War I.   The read is initially quite engaging as we encounter an American historical researcher-professor, living in the present day, who comes across Mrs. Brunet’s possessions and begins – as he charts out the happenings of her life – to fall in love with her.   It will be an unrequited love except for the fact that through a miracle of time travel he comes to meet her face to face.   Having met Mrs. Brunet, the researcher is essentially freed to fall in love with a woman of his own time.

All of this has a Somewhere in Time or The Time Traveler’s Wife aspect to it, which seems wonderful on its face.   And yet, the Louise Brunet that the reader comes to identify with in the first half of the novel turns into a madwoman in its concluding portion.   This is a happily married woman – a woman who has never had a child – who engages in an affair with a married neighbor, knowing full well that it is wrong and that she takes the chance of getting pregnant; something that would destroy her marriage and world.

This female protagonist also engages in crimes and enjoys confessing her sins to a Catholic priest, to the point where she laughs hysterically after confessing her adultery.   It all seems strange and disjointed, as if the two halves of the novel do not fit together properly.   But this is not the biggest issue with the telling.

“She does not understand the power of that man’s body over her…  He is like a poison in her, all the more potent because she doesn’t want an antidote.   She welcomes this disease of desire.”

The major problem with 13 rue Therese is that the sex scenes are described in terms more than a bit reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – rude, crude and shocking.   The polite language of an earlier time gives way to terms that appear to be deliberately intended to shock the once comfortable reader.   Perhaps this was done deliberately as an attempt to demonstrate the lack of control that overtakes Louise, a woman ready to destroy her life for a man she’s attracted to even while she does not understand that attraction.

In summary, 13 rue Therese is like one of those schizophrenic films (the movie version of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl comes to mind) that is quite pleasurable for the first hour, but hard to watch for the second.   This is a novel with great potential that simply self-destructs, and concludes in a rather mundane fashion.   It’s a pity.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This novel was released today.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of 13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro, which will be released by Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown and Company tomorrow.

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A Seasonal Giveaway

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Hachette Book Group, USA we have a copy to give away of Sundays at Tiffany’s by America’s bestselling author, James Patterson.   He wrote this novel with Gabrielle Charbonnet and it’s being featured this month as a Lifetime original television movie, which will be shown on December 11th, 12th and on the 31st – check your TV listings!   Alyssa Milano stars in the Lifetime film version.

Here is the official synopsis of the book, and also a short excerpt –

An Imaginary Friend

Jane Margaux is a lonely little girl.   Her mother, a powerful Broadway producer, makes time for her only once a week, for their Sunday trip to admire jewelry at Tiffany’s.   Jane has only one friend: a handsome, comforting, funny man named Michael.   He’s perfect.   But only she can see him.   Michael can’t stay forever, though.   On Jane’s ninth birthday he leaves, promising her that she’ll soon forget him.

An Unexpected Love

Years later, in her thirties, Jane is just as alone as she was as a child.   And despite her own success as a playwright, she is even more trapped by her overbearing mother.   Then she meets someone – a handsome, comforting, funny man.   He’s perfect.   His name is Michael…

And An Unforgettable Twist

This is a heartrending story that surpasses all expectations of why these people have been brought together.   With the breathtaking momentum and gripping emotional twists that have made James Patterson a bestselling author all over the world, Sundays at Tiffany’s takes an altogether fresh look at the timeless and transforming power of love.

Prologue / Jane’s Michael

Michael was running as fast as he could, racing down thickly congested streets toward New York Hospital – Jane was dying there – when suddenly a scene from the past came back to him, a dizzying rush of overpowering memories that nearly knocked him out of his sneakers.   He remembered sitting with Jane in the Astor Court at the St. Regis Hotel, the two of them there under circumstances too improbable to imagine.

He remembered everything perfectly – Jane’s hot fudge and coffee ice cream sundae, what they had talked about – as if it had happened yesterday.   All of it almost impossible to believe.   No, definitely impossible to believe.

It was just like every other unfathomable mystery in life, Michael couldn’t help thinking as he ran harder, faster.

Like Jane dying on him now, after everything they had been through to be together.

This fantasy-romance tale in trade paperback form has a value of $13.99 in the U.S. and $15.99 in Canada.   In order to enter this book giveaway, just post a comment below with your name and an e-mail address.   Or you can send an e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com with this information.   This will count as a first entry.

To enter a second time, tell us what you would like Santa to get someone you know this Christmas.   It doesn’t matter who it is, just as long as the gift is not for yourself.   It can even be for your dog or cat!   Just answer the question and this will count as a second entry.

In order to enter this book giveaway, you must live in the continental United States or in Canada.   If Munchy the cat picks out your name as the winner, you must supply a residential mailing address when contacted.   This book will not be shipped to a business-related address or to a P. O. box.   You have until Midnight PST on Thursday, December 30, 2010 to enter, so don’t delay! 

This is it for our typically complex contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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Fast Company

Breaking the Rules: A Novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford (St. Martin’s Paperbacks; $7.99)

“She is a top supermodel, one of the world’s most beautiful women.   Men love her.   Women adore her.   So why is someone trying to kill her?”

Who are these people?

Fortitude, commitment and romance are the main ingredients of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Emma Harte series.   Breaking the Rules is the seventh and most recent book in the series.   Considering the squeaky clean virtuous heroine, M, readers will soon realize that she isn’t the one breaking the rules.   Yes, our spunky and independent English lass has some felonious thoughts; however, since M does not follow through with putting them into play, she is able to retain her image.

Author Bradford seems to abhor loose ends and she takes 488 pages to provide her reader with a neatly bundled story.   What this reviewer wants to know is who are these people populating the story?   Surely there is a family with extreme wealth and power headed by gorgeous women whose great loves are lurking just around the corner.   Maybe they exist in never, never land, but not in the real world.

Maybe that’s the draw of romance novels.   They are geared to transport the reader away from the mundane and, in recent times, painful reality of every-day-life.   What is the target audience?   Is there an age group that Bradford aims to please?   If so, perhaps happily married, grandmas-to-be aren’t  part of the group.   Too much fantasy, just like too many cooks, can spoil the story for a reader who takes pleasure in the small joys of life.

By the way, the costly pink champagne used throughout the story is a not-so-subtle indicator that Bradford’s characters are more than a cut above the average celebrant.   Too bad she had to hammer the reader over the head with the reference!   The Hermes Kelly handbags were proof enough that these people are not at all like you and me!

Recommended if you like that sort of book.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the book was purchased for her.   Barbara Taylor Bradford’s new novel is Playing the Game (St. Martin’s Press; $27.99; 400 pages).

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I Hope You Don’t Mind

The Real Alice in Wonderland – A Role Model for the Ages by C. M. Rubin with Gabriella Rubin (AuthorHouse)

What better way to celebrate the real Alice of Lewis Carroll’s super-famous story than with a gloriously lush picture book?   C. M. Rubin and her daughter, Gabriella, possess the gracious and well-mannered charm of their ancestor, Alice Liddell Hargreaves.   Together, they have created a book worthy of serious consideration, especially by adults who cherish their memories of Alice in Wonderland.

Regardless of whether the reader was introduced to Alice, Dinah, the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter in the Walt Disney movie or a traditional printed book, the magic of Alice’s adventures easily captured the imagination of legions of children.   The quotes and illustrations from the story trigger memories of a time when this reviewer would turn the pages of an abbreviated, illustrated Disney version of the story while listening to the accompanying 78 RPM records on a portable phonograph.   It was a time for fantasy and make-believe!

The format is very well thought out.   The large pages provide an ample surface on which to arrange the many graphic examples of Victorian ephemera, family photographs and letters that flowed throughout Alice’s life.   The careful attention to detail and the artful layout are consistent with the talent Alice displayed in her watercolor paintings.

The account of Alice’s adult life is poignant and at the same time life-affirming.   After having been the focus of so much attention and curiosity as a child, Alice Liddell might have easily become a self-absorbed woman.   Instead, she honored the place that she holds in the hearts of both the young and the not-so-young.   As the authors note, she was a role model and an exemplary woman of her time.

It would have been easy for the Rubins to use the story of the real Alice to further their own link to fame.   Fortunately, they resisted the urge and have created a lovely homage to a woman who needed to have the written versions of the stories told to her by her friend Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll.   The book would make an elegant gift regardless of the occasion.

This book is highly recommended for the quality of the writing, layout and execution.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the authors.

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