Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review by JD: Corn Flakes with John Lennon ~ by Robert Hilburn



Corn Flakes with John Lennon ~ by Robert Hilburn

Sub-titled “and Other Tales from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life”, this is a series of vignettes spanning 40 years from a renowned music critic for the Los Angeles Times.

The first thing to be said is that Hilburn isn’t just any old critic; he’s made a name for himself over decades as a well-respected writer who clearly loves his subject matter. He’s also managed to build personal relationships with many of the leading lights in the world of rock music, enabling him to get interviews that others can’t, and allowing him to glean deeper insights into some of the more famous and interesting characters that have shaped music trends since the 1950’s.

As a youngster growing up in the South his first musical love was country music, and his tastes then widened to take in rhythm and blues. Like many of his generation, he was blown away when Elvis Presley came along and turned the musical world on its head. His adoration of Elvis stayed with him and one theme running through the book is the way that many of the biggest stars from the 1960s onwards shared that love and were deeply influenced by Elvis.

Having opted for a career in journalism, Hilburn managed to start working for the L.A. Times covering music in the mid-1960s – albeit focusing on country music as the paper already had someone covering rock music. He started to make a name for himself and his first big coup was covering Johnny Cash’s live concert at Folsom State Prison. In fairly short order he was able to take over as the main writer covering the whole spectrum of pop music and from there his coverage and reputation blossomed.

The book follows him over the years as he tracks and reviews the changing music industry, and as some of his favorite rock stars mature and develop as artists. In particular, featured throughout the book are John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and U2. You get some fascinating insights into all of these artists as Hilburn seems to have developed strong bonds with them all. While these four provide the cornerstone for the book, others who feature heavily include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Yoko Ono, Elton John, Phil Spector, Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain.

I love rock music, am an avid collector and listener, and also read about it voraciously, so I suspect that this book was written with me in mind! I was almost bound to like it and I did. It certainly helps that Hilburn has a writing style that is interesting and easy to read. While thoughtful and insightful, he isn’t one of those annoying critics who get so wrapped up in wanting to prove how clever they are that they over-intellectualize everything and produce gobbledygook; if he was I wouldn’t have got past the first ten pages. I have to say that my musical tastes are not the same as his, but that didn’t make the book any less interesting. He is writing mainly about artists that most music lovers will be familiar with or at least know something about, so it’s easy to relate to the stories. And I have to say that although I’m a voracious reader about music, most of what’s contained in the book was new to me. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the artists covered come across as really nice people, though many end up being damaged by the industry and some of them are just plain weird (please take a bow Phil Spector and Michael Jackson). For me, the most interesting of them all was John Lennon and Hilburn’s obvious affection for him positively shines from the book.

I’m probably a wee bit biased with this book but I’d have to rate it 4 stars. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes music or who is interested in finding out more about some of the leading cultural lights from the last couple of generations.

Here is a YouTube video that John has picked out to share and is classic John Lennon.


For basic publisher’s information on the book please see our preview post including the book

Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books (October 13, 2009)

As always John/JD will be addressing comments so please don’t forget to check the follow up response box.

Thanks for reading.

Review by Shellie: The Healer’s War ~ by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough


the healers war

The Healer's War is a 1988 novel by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, which won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1989.

A realistic fantasy novel set in Vietnam during the ill fated war against communism. With a touch of the magical/paranormal it shows a realistic, difficult, and heartbreaking picture of Vietnam from the perspective of a female veteran of the war.

About:   Kitty, the main character, is a twenty-something nurse from the Mid West who decides to go to Vietnam to help in the war efforts, since her life at home in the US is not working out as she had hoped. Within the relative safety of the American base she experiences Vietnam in a privileged bubble.

As she works in the hospital caring for the wounded and civilians, she ultimately ends up relating to the natives on a more intimate basis than the soldiers. This is due to the nature of her job and her heart, where US soldiers are moved in and out of the hospitals at a quick rate yet those who are local stay. This gives Kitty time to get attached to many of the Vietnamese injured.

This is where the speculative comes into play; on his death a local holy man and healer gifts Kitty with an object which will allow her to accelerate the healing process of the sick and injured. Of course it will be needed in some very harrowing and gut-wrenching situations as the story progresses.

Thoughts:   Kitty tells her story in the first person, speaking as a nurse in the Army would, with a voice that is down to earth and casual. Through her voice we see that humanness is not granted to just an individual country or race, and we look beyond the horrific loss of human life to the cultural and ecological losses as well. Below is one quote where the author describes Vietnam and its incredible beauty. Here Kitty is taking a helicopter ride over the countryside:

….. We flew over fishnet-strung seas, lush green mountains fading to purple in the distance, golden rice paddies, and aquamarine waters. Gauzy mists puffed up beneath us, veiling the valleys. It was still extraordinarily beautiful. But even from the air the beauty was marred by the bomb craters pitting its surface, like Never-Never Land with smallpox scars. I was used to thinking of Vietnam as ugly, hot, smelly, dirty. It had never dawned on me that the Rice Bowl of the East, as they called it in social studies, would have to be lush, that a country that was once a resort area for the French would of course be lovely. What a crying shame to hold a war here.

From the quote above we see another casualty of war.

The Healer’s War is an incredible novel which shows the horrors and senselessness of war within the exotic beauty of Vietnam; its natives are very much like ourselves, and we realize that within the context of war atrocities inevitably occur on both sides. In my opinion Elizabeth Ann Scarborough definitely deserved to win the Nebula for this book in 1989. It is a realistic picture of the war with a bit of light fantasy, and is recommended for those who do not generally read fantasy and very highly recommended for those who do. It is rated as at 4.5 stars.

Link to find out more about the authorher books, and an article from New Scientist which talks about auras and if they actually exist - which are a key element of this novel.

Amazon purchasing links for US|UK|Canada.

This book will be include in a number of challenges ~  War Across the Generations, Mind Voyages, The Basics, New Author, Speculative Fiction, and Feel My Sorrow.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Previews from Tor: Riverworld Series ~ by Philip José Farmer



Love Sci Fi with elements of Fantasy? ~ We do, and here we have it in both a book and movie format.… we are in heaven!

A note on our previews: They are a publisher’s summary, author bio  and purchasing links. This post is for the reissue of the Riverworld series, and also a reminder about the exciting new TV series from the Syfy Channel which starts this Saturday, December 4th.

Here are the books from the  series in chronological order with the last to be released in February of 2011:

Riverworld:  To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat  (#1 and #2) ~ by Philip José Farmer

About:   Re-released in March 2010 this edition contains the two books combined for the first time in one volume. The first won the 1972 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Imagine that every human who ever lived, from the earliest Neanderthals to the present, is resurrected after death on the banks of an astonishing and seemingly endless river on an unknown world. They are miraculously provided with food, but with not a clue to the possible meaning of this strange afterlife. Some set sail on the great river questing for the meaning of their resurrection, and to find their mysterious benefactors. On this long journey, we meet Sir Richard Francis Burton, Mark Twain, Odysseus, Cyrano de Bergerac, and many others.

Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (March 30, 2010)


    The Dark Design (# 3) ~ Philip José Farmer

    About:  Re-released in June 2010. Milton Firebrass, once Mark Twain's enemy and now his greatest ally, plans to build a giant airship that can fly to the North Pole of Riverworld.  Once there, he hopes to learn the secret of a mysterious tower that dominates the landscape and find the answer to his most urgent question: could the tower contain the Ethicals, the enigmatic beings that created Riverworld? As if there were not enough challenges facing the crew, they soon suspect there is an agent of the Ethicals, plotting their destruction….

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (June 8, 2010)


    The Magic Labyrinth (#4) ~ by Philip José Farmer

    About: Re-realeased in November 2010, this fourth book continues the adventures of Samuel Clemens and Sir Richard Francis Burton as they travel through Riverworld. They have traveled for more than thirty years on two great ships, and are about to reach the end of the River. But there is a religion, possibly inspired by aliens, that is determined to destroy the riverboats. Even if they survive, how can they penetrate the alien tower of the Ethicals, who are believed to have created this astonishing world?

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)

    Gods of Riverworld (#5) is to be re-released in February of 2011. (I am thinking its cover will be green - what say you?)

    Bio:  Philip José Farmer was one of the great SF writers of the 20th Century. He lived in Peoria, Illinois.

    What great new covers for this 40 year old classic series and a TV connection too!

    Have a great Monday and happy reading!

  • Saturday, November 27, 2010

    A Fantastical Header ~ for the Yuletide Season!



    Welcome to Our official start of the Holiday Season! ~  We are officially in the Yuletide Spirit on Layers of Thought - just check out our current header which is live and shown above.

    So when surfing past to comment, lurk, or read you won’t have to think - “What the heck? Whose blog is this? Where are John and Shellie?”  Since you will know it’s still us at  Layers of Thought, only a bit cooler - as in temperature since look at all that snow…. Brrr…. we liked the medieval-ish monastic traveling guy since we can relate as ageing travelers ourselves.

    So please stay tuned for who knows what that we can share with you all. I am wondering what the yuletide blog goblins will send our way?

    Here are a few known things which are coming up:

    • A giveaway for the high fantasy series by Glenn Cook ~ The Instrumentalities of the Night  (books 1-3).
    • A giveaway for a new YA vampire urban fantasy Dayling ~ by Gabriel Madison.
    • The above two will be added to the Midwinter’s Eve Blog Hop from December 21~22. There are 80 blogs already even though it’s a quicky, so mark your calendars, or link to add your giveaway.
    • Two book previews with movie tie-ins ~ Riverworld and Gulliver’s Travels.
    • A plethora of reviews ~ we are coming into the need to finish challenges home stretch so we will be madly posting.
    • More 2011 challenges to join for the new year.
    • And I know I am not remembering something ~ I just forgot what it is.

    Let the shopping, partying, eating, and family fun begin!

    Friday, November 26, 2010

    Speculative Previews from Tor ~ Trio of Sorcery; Dream Park; The Barsoom Project; and the Virga Series



    We have previews for a number of books with a re-visit and some new re-releases from Tor.

    A note on previews: They are publisher’s blurbs and links on books sent to us for review. No opinions are given, just information about books. I do the work so you don’t have to!

    Listed in this post we have:

    • Trio of Sorcery ~ Mercedes Lackey
    • Dream Park ~   by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes 
    • The Barsoom Project ~ by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
    • Virga: Cities of the Air  (books #1 and #2) ~ by Karl Schroeder 
    • Pirate Sun (Virga #3) ~ by Karl Schroeder 
    • The Sunless Countries (Virga #4) ~ by Karl Schroeder

    Trio of Sorcery ~ Mercedes Lackey

    These are character revisits, meaning short stories/novellas including characters created by Mercedes Lackey in the 1980’s. This edition contains three urban fantasies with three resourceful heroines, each with different takes on the modern world and on magic, both modern and ancient.

    Arcanum 101:  Diana Tregarde is a practicing witch, romance novelist, Guardian of the Earth and studying at Harvard. She is approached by Joe O’Brian, a young cop who has already seen more than one unusual thing during his budding career. There is a distraught mother of a kidnap victim is taking advice from a “psychic” which is interfering in his police investigation.

    Drums:  Jennifer Talldeer, is a shaman, private investigator, and member of the Osage tribe. Most of Jennie’s work is regular PI stuff, but Nathan Begay brings her a problem she’s never seen before. His girlfriend, Caroline, has attracted the attention of an angry Osage ghost. Thwarted in love while alive, the ghost has chosen Caroline to be his bride in death.

    Ghost in the Machine:  Ellen McBridge is a computer programmer extraordinaire and techno-shaman. When programmers and players of a new MMORPG find that the game’s “boss,” a wendigo, is “killing” everyone - even the programmers’ characters with their god-like powers Ellen, a brilliant debugger, discovers that the massive computing power of the game’s servers have created a breach between the supernatural world and our own and this wendigo isn’t a bit of code, it’s the real thing and it’s on the brink of breaking out of the computers and into the real world. 

    Bio:  Mercedes Lackey is a bestselling author of many other fantasy novels in a wide variety of genres from high fantasy to urban fantasy and back again.  For more about Mercedes Lackey and her books visit her web site.

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)


    Dream Park ~   by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes  (May 2010)

    About:   First published in 1981 and just republished in May by Tor, it is about a group of pretend adventurers who suit up for a campaign called "The South Seas Treasure Game."  As in the early Role Playing Games, there are Dungeon Masters, warriors, magicians, and thieves. The difference at Dream Park, a futuristic fantasy theme park full of holographic attractions and the latest in VR technology, they play in an artificial enclosure that has been enhanced with special effects, holograms, actors, and a clever storyline. The players get as close as possible to truly living their adventure.

    All's fun and games until a Park security guard is murdered, a valuable research property is stolen, and all evidence points to someone inside the game. The park's head of security, Alex Griffin, joins the game to find the killer, but finds new meaning in the games he helps keep alive.

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.  

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (May 11, 2010)

    The Barsoom Project-1 (2)

    And Just Released! - The Barsoom Project ~ by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes  (November 23, 2010)

    About:  Just released, it is a reissue of the visionary 1989 SF classic and a direct sequel to Dream Park, which has been hailed as one of the most influential SF novels of all time.

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.

  •   Paperback: 352 pages

  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (November 23, 2010)

  • Bio: Larry Niven is the multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces.  He lives in Chatsworth, California.

    Bio:   Steven Barnes’ published collaboration, "The Locusts," was nominated for the 1980 Hugo Award.  His Outer Limits episode "A Stitch In Time" was nominated for a Cable Ace Award and won an Emmy for Amanda Plummer. He lives in Covina, California.


    Virga: Cities of the Air  (books #1 and #2) ~ by Karl Schroeder

    Re-released in July 2010, it contains the first two novels of the series: Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce.

    About:   A hard science fiction space opera, it is set in the distant future. The medieval like world is set in space with elements of steam punk; the world is known as Virga. It is a fullerene balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter, filled with air, water, and floating chunks of rock. The humans who live in this vast environment must build their own fusion suns and “towns” —enormous wood and rope wheels that are spun for centripetal gravity.

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.  

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (July 6, 2010)


    Pirate Sun (Virga #3) ~ by Karl Schroeder,   re-released in paper back November 2010 it was first published in 2008

    About:   Chaison Fanning, the admiral of a fleet of warships introduced in the first book, has been captured and imprisoned by his enemies, but is now rescued and set free. He must flee to his home city to confront the ruler who betrayed him. Perhaps while there he will also regain his lovely, powerful, and subversive wife, Venera. He has not seen her since she fled, careening off into the air of Virga, with the key to the artificial sun, Candesce, at the center of Virga.

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.      

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (November 9, 2010)


    The Sunless Countries (Virga #4) ~ by Karl Schroeder,  hard bound version first published in August 2009

    About: In an ocean of weightless air where sunlight has never been seen, only the running lights of the city of Sere glitter in the dark. One woman, Leal Hieronyma Maspeth, history tutor and dreamer, lives and dreams of love among the gaslit streets and cafés. And somewhere in the abyss of wind and twisted cloud through which Sere eternally falls, a great voice has begun speaking.

    As its cold words reach even to the city walls—and as outlying towns and travelers’ ships start to mysteriously disappear—only Leal has the courage to try to understand the message thundering from the distance. Even the city’s most famous and exotic visitor, the sun lighter and hero named Hayden Griffin, refuses to turn aside from his commission to build a new sun for a foreign nation. He will not become the hero that Leal knows the city needs; so in the end, it is up to her to listen, and ultimately reply, to the worldwasp.

    Amazon purchasing links US|UK|Canada.  

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (August 4, 2009)

    The fifth novel in the series is slated for release in 2012 and will be its first publication.

    Bio:   Karl Schroeder lives in Toronto, Ontario. He is an Aurora Award winning pioneer of hard Science Fiction and explores topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality and interstellar travel, all colored with a deeply philosophical streak. For more information on the author and his books visit Karl Schroeder’s website, blog, and twitter.

    We have some exciting new re-releases here just in time for Christmas for those who love speculative fiction from established authors, all with exciting covers.

    Have a great black Friday ~ happy shopping!

  • Thursday, November 25, 2010

    A Wish ~ Happy Thanksgiving!


    From our computer to yours ~ a natural progression for our US tradition in a satirical poem (of sorts):


    Very handsome these toms….




    and the delicious meal they become…..




    all magically combined with some harvest libations…




    and do not forget the best of the season ~ the delicious desserts!




    then back to reality with a bit of relief…..






    And here is where the real thanks begin ~

    Thank goodness for modern medicine, and pharmacies.



    The best is yet to come ~ Let the Holiday frenzies begin.


    Happy Thanksgiving to our US friends and readers.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Review by Shellie: PATHFINDER ~ by Orson Scott Card



    It’s release day for PATHFINDER ~ book one in the Serpent World series!

    It’s a dryly humorous young adult science fiction novel which includes the elements of time travel and the building blocks of an amazing and science filled world.

    My Blurb:  Our main character, Rigg, is a teen boy who has a special ability that he has taken for granted. He can see the paths of almost every living thing including those who have existed in the past. He lives in what appears to be a “medieval like” world which is not as it first appears. He is joined by a variety of interesting characters including several other young adults with other curious abilities all related to time travel, as well as a few supporting adults. All setting up for what I imagine to be an epic young adult hero series.

    Here is the interesting bit - juxtaposed through the story is a ship traveling through space which houses another young man, Ram, who is the human caretaker of its immense and valuable contents. As the ship does some time travel of its own, which the author blends via multiverse theory, both stories are linked and interwoven and will keep the reader guessing.

    Thoughts:  I love young adult science fiction, and this is it at its best. Although we are given only a taste of what the extensive world will entail in this first of the series, it’s just enough to excite me to read more when the others are released.

    Orson Scott Card has included some great characters - strong women, men of character, feisty teens, and with antagonists that are not clichéd and which feel human yet flawed. There are some interesting lessons for the main targeted audience, young men (and perhaps geeky girls), such as rhetoric theory, and the beginning of understanding a business savvy of sorts. The author does a wonderful job of telling the story from dialog which I think a lot of young men would enjoy. There is light potty humor and realistic and light references to sexuality which grounds the book for a mature young adult audience.

    My only niggle about the book would be my inability to “completely get” the “magical time travel” aspect of the story. It was just beyond my grasp and I was left feeling confused. So instead I focused on the science, character building, great dialog and dry humor, and trusted in the story’s process. The version I read was an ARC so perhaps some of this concern was addressed.

    The most exciting bit is that there are quite a few interesting scientific theories progressing within this first book of the series. It looks like this promising world will bring in some theory around genetics and what appears to a grand biological experiment. But that’s the thing with experienced story tellers, you can only guess what will happen next since they toss you little bits at a time. 

    As my first foray into Scott Card’s fiction writing I would say that I enjoyed this book immensely and would rate it a 4 star, and am very much looking forward to finding out what this promising world entails.

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

    *This book will be a great holiday gift for a number of nerdy folks, children and adults – highly recommended!

    For more information on Pathfinder please see Layers of Thought’s preview for the book, which includes publisher’s blurb, author data, as well as purchasing links.

    This book will be included in The Basic’s Challenge, The 42, and The Speculative Fiction Challenge.

    Thanks for reading!

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Review by JD: Neverland ~ by Douglas Clegg



    What happens when the horrors of family relationships cause innocent boys to seek refuge in a dark, dank place which has its own secrets and a terrible past?  A nice creepy southern gothic tale of innocence lost.

    About:   As usual the Jackson family gathers for a summer vacation at the decrepit old family house on Gull Island that is owned by old grandmother Rowena Wandigaux Lee. And, as usual, the parents, auntie, uncle and grandmother are soon drinking, squabbling and arguing. A mixture of embarrassment, boredom and annoyance drives the young children to seek escape and entertainment beyond the confines of the house and the grown-ups.

    Beau’s cousin Sumter has found an old abandoned shed in the woods, and the fact that they are forbidden to go near the shed adds greatly to its appeal. The somewhat strange cousin soon starts to play somewhat strange games in the shed. At first Beau willingly joins in, but as their imaginations run wild the games become ever stranger, inexplicable things start to happen, and Beau’s sisters are also drawn into the circle. As the group plays at worshipping a god that Sumter seems to have created, events (and Sumter) start to spiral out of control.

    It transpires that both the place and the family have some dark secrets which the children gradually start to uncover, but as they do so a terrible past starts to open up and plays havoc with the family and the island.

    John’s Thoughts:  I found the book a little slow to start, but once it got going it moved along at a good pace and kept me hooked. Told from the point of view of the young Beau, the story is a nice mix of strained family dynamics, growing pains, believable characters, creepiness, and a scary tension that builds to a nice climax. I think that Clegg does a really good job of capturing the essence of young pre-teens and how they react to people and to situations. I also like that there isn’t an overly simplistic demarcation between right and wrong, leaving you to ponder some of the complexities, much as you have to in real life. But above all else, this is a really strong piece of storytelling.

    I’m not entirely sure if the book was intended primarily for a YA or an adult audience, but I think it bridges the needs of both and could appeal to either. If you like a strong story with well-developed characters and a big dollop of horror, then this one is for you. I’d rate it 4 stars.

    Neverland ~ by Douglas Clegg

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vanguard Press; Reprint edition (April 13, 2010)

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

    For more information please see our preview post for Neverland.

    As always John/JD will be addressing the comments for this book. Please don’t forget to check the follow up box for his response.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Friday, November 19, 2010

    Twitter Chat Today! Ilie Ruby ~ The Language of Trees (magical realism and literary fiction)



    Like to chat with debut authors about their books, their process, and perhaps win a signed copy?

    Here's your chance!

    Author of The Language of Trees, Ilie Ruby will be live for a twitter discussion via the blog Lit Chat ~ TODAY Friday November 19th ~ 4 pm EST.

    What is Lit Chat?  ~  It exists to bring readers and writers together for fun and fast 1-hour Twitter chats, M-W-F, 4 pm est. Join in.

    To follow on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/litchat

    For more information on The Language of Trees please see our preview and excerpt combination post. We also attended a book signing and have pictures!

    I plan to be there.  ~ @layersofthought (links to friend me on twitter.)

    Challenges ~ Dystopian Challenge 2011 and Get Steampunked!


    We love Steampunk and Dystopian Books!  These two challenges are hosted by ~ Bookish Ardour.  Dutchie, the challenge host, is extremely organized and has options for non bloggers to join in, and a number of other fun challenges. There are even options for up to 200 books within the categories for the truly masochistic.



    Get Steampunked!

    There are different levels; we have chosen the level Geared ~ 5 books to read





    Dystopia Challenge ~ 2011

    We have chosen the level Asocial ~  Choose 5 books to read




    Books will be taken from Shellie’s Steampunk and Dystopian/Appoc/Utopian Goodread’s shelves.

    Let us know in the comments if you will be joining in the challenge!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    A Writer’s Characterization: Laurel-Rain Snow tells about one of hers from ~ Chasing Stardust



    NaNoWriMo is half way to the finish line ~ and as a segue we have author Laurel-Rain Snow here to chat about one of her characters. All in the hope that it may help those who are working on their own. 

    Laurel is the author of a number of books and is currently working on another via her first try at NaNoWriMo.

    Here she tells us about Merrilee,  from her women’s fiction book Chasing Stardust. Her main character, like herself, is a product of the 1950 and 60s and is what makes the story an excellent example of a female experience in the era.

    Having recently reviewed this book as well as hosted an interview around her writing and self publishing process (linked below), it is a pleasure to have her here again. Lets welcome Laurel! 

    In Laurel’s Words:

    Merrilee Hennessey, our lead character in Chasing Stardust, is like many young adolescent girls as she grows up—rife with fantasies and illusions. But unlike some of her generation, she also bears the burden of budding addictions. Growing up with alcoholic parents, (even though functional), her view of life is already distorted. Throw Elvis and James Dean into the mix, and you have a hopeless romantic, questing for love in all the wrong places.

    We first meet Merrilee as she looks back upon her life and as she yearns to provide stability for her granddaughter.

    Then the story begins and takes us through the yearning, the rejection, and the ongoing challenge that is her life. She struggles to provide a home as a single parent while building a semblance of a career. She hopes for love, despite every rejection and despite every obstacle along the way. She clings to these “hopelessly romantic” ideals long past their shelf life and despite every failure along the way. And she discovers, finally, that even after she apparently won an earlier battle with eating disorders, an alcohol dependency crops up to challenge her yet again.

    In the end, she learns that taking care of herself brings the most satisfaction. And then, almost as a side effect, she discovers love in the most unexpected of places.

    When I wrote this book, several things were going on in my life. After twenty-seven years as a social worker, I had retired from the local child welfare agency, and then took on a job with a private foster family agency, where I would then work for an additional three years. My children were all grown, I had bought a home in the foothills, and hoped to settle down into my writing career with relatively little angst. Little did I know what would be around the next bend. My youngest son, his partner, and their newborn preemie baby moved into one of my guest rooms and proceeded to add major drama to my life.  


    Hence, some of the characters in this book grew out of that experience. I would awaken each day, early, before heading to the office, and write pages for this book. When we see how Merrilee, a single parent, moves into the next phase of her life, with her troubled son, it is no accident that some of my personal stuff found its way into the book. There was more than a slight resemblance between her son Colin and my own youngest son. They both shared a tendency to make impulsive choices, with long term consequences.

    My four year old granddaughter would visit, too, during this time; she would lean over my shoulder while I wrote and ask questions about what I was doing. Thus, her sunny personality imbued itself on the character Brandi (Colin and Carly’s child), which is why I dedicated this book to her.

    But before any of these events took shape, I had created the story idea based on many of my experiences with impulsive clients, so they also form the core of some of the characters. And then I borrowed liberally from some of my own youthful experiences of listening to Elvis and dreaming about romance. Some of Merrilee’s early jobs also took a page from my own resume.

    Many aspects of my own life, the lives of clients, and the day-to-day stuff of my children’s lives make their way into my books. When I mix up the characteristics and embellish the situations, they are transformed into fictionalized versions. Therefore, I have no qualms about calling these creations fiction.

    But I never forget that without life’s moments, I would not have the opportunity to create any of my characters.

    Once again thank you Laurel!

    About Laurel:   Laurel Rain Snow is the pen name for Lorraine Frost Sandone, who was born in California's Central Valley. She earned her MA in counseling from California State University of Fresno in the seventies. Ms. Snow, now retired from social work, lives in Fresno, CA, and is the mother of four grown children and proud grandmother of seven.

    Since retiring, Ms.Snow turned to an old dream---writing---and has published five novels. The author weaves three decades of experience into her novels, which sets them apart and lends authenticity to the characterizations.

    You can connect Laurel and find more about her books via Goodreads, Twitter, Website, and her blog specific to her book Chasing StardustStardust Dreams

    For more about Laurel’s self publishing experience please link to Layers of Thought’s interview with her around her publishing process.

    For more information about Chasing Stardust please see Layers of Thought’s review and/or preview for the book. Amazon purchasing links for Chasing Stardust are US/UK/Canada and from the Book Depository.

    Thanks for reading!

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Review by JD: Palestine by Joe Sacco ~ a graphic novel



    This is a dark, thought-provoking and deeply disturbing graphic “novel” detailing the time that he spent in the Palestinian Territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    About:   Sacco has become well known for his journalism in the comic book medium. He has based this book on several months of research and two months that he spent in the Palestinian Territories in late 1991 and early 1992 – during the time of the First Intifada (or uprising). He conducted over a 100 face-to-face interviews, and lived among the Palestinians in their towns and refugee camps. He specifically set out to focus primarily on the experiences and views of the Palestinians, feeling that in the West the Jewish side of the story was already well known.

    The book follows him as he moves from town to town, house to house, interview to interview. He lives with and befriends some of the locals as they show him around, introduce him to people and make him welcome. And they make tea for him; lots and lots of tea. The book recounts their stories and histories, and the grim reality of their day-to-day existence. Meanwhile the graphics capture the people and the abysmal conditions quite brilliantly.

    John’s Thoughts:  This is not an easy read. Sacco leaves you in no doubt that he feels strongly that Palestinians have been treated appallingly – ejected from their home lands, deprived, brutalized and dehumanized (and a word of caution – he pulls no punches in depicting those horrors graphically). But he does provide some balance and he is also clear that there is no simple solution. While the Israelis and the Palestinians remain locked in a seemingly never-ending struggle, there are also deeply divided factions within each side. And the intervention of other countries is usually unhelpful and driven by their own local politics, with all commentators in the book deriding the supposed “Peace Process”.

    This whole situation is both horrible and horribly complex. I’ve been fortunate to visit Israel a handful of times so do have some first-hand experience, though for sure that doesn’t make me any more knowledgeable or enlightened than most other observers. Sacco does sum up the experience (and human nature) rather well towards the end of the book:

    “That’s the thing about coming to the Holy Land or Palestine or Israel or whatever you want to call it … no one who knows what he’s coming here looking for leaves without having found it…”

    I also liked one of his final questions on the nature of power and humanity, made after he observes a soldier mistreating a boy:

    “… what can happen to someone who thinks he has all of the power – and what becomes of someone when he believes himself to have none?”

    While the book does include some humor (most of it directed at Sacco himself), this is a difficult and provocative read and not one that I could describe as enjoyable. But I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to broaden their understanding of the Middle East and some of its complex dynamics. And if you have any doubts about the use of the graphic novel/comic book format, you shouldn’t – it works remarkably well in the hands of this gifted artist. I’d rate this book 4.5 stars.

    Palestine ~ by Joe Sacco

    2001  (this is a collection of individual comics that were originally published separately 1993-1995)

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books; First Edition. states edition (January 2002)

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

    This book will be included in the Graphics Novel Challenge.

    As always John/JD will be addressing the comments for this book. Please don’t forget to check the follow up box for his response.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Gratitude Giveaways ~ Loads of Blogs linked from November 17th till 28th



    Gratitude Giveaways ~  is featured by I’m a Reader, Not a Writer is taking place from November 17th at 12:01 am EST and ending on Sunday, November 28th at 11:59 pm EST.

    (Clicking on the badge links to host’s blog site.)




    City in Shadow ~ by Evan Marshall

    For our giveaway please click on the book cover to the dedicated giveaway page.

    This page includes publisher and author information as well as how to enter the giveaway. It is a short mystery in a hard cover format written by the author of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software.

    It is available for US and Canada shipping addresses and would be a fun Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukah gift for an adult mystery lover.


    Please visit the other blogs included in this event through the links provided below ~ Have Fun and Good Luck!

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    We Have Winners ~ A Bunch of Them!


    Winners! Winners! Winners!


    I have decided to include all the winners in one post; all in an effort to save time, space, and most of all sanity (mine mind you – pun intended *grin*.)

    Now for the Drum Rolls Please…….

    The Random.org gods have spoken!


    The winner of the newly released Siren Series ~ by Cat Adams is:




    Yeah Ricki!

    The winner of this genre bending steampunk ~ The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman is:



    E.J.  ~ From the Shadows

    Yeah E.J.!

    The winner for Dying Light ~ the futuristic vamp sci fi is:



    Ashley ~ from Ashley’s Bookshelf



    Congrats!  ~ Life is Better When you Win a Book!

    I will be contacting the winners by email. Winners please respond to this post and to my email so that I can forward your info onto the publisher and publicists - within 72 hours. Thanks!

    If you missed the giveaways and want to know more about the books, including an excerpt for Dying Light, please see the original giveaway post which links to the book information.

    Amazon purchasing links for each of the books:

    A BIG THANKS to Inspired Kathy from I’m a Reader, Not a Writer for helping to make these giveaways even more successful with her giveaway blog hop feature.

    For more information Kathy’s blog title leads to the page for the upcoming Mid Winter’s Eve Hop for anyone interested in including their bookish giveaway. The Gratitude Giveaways hop begins tomorrow and includes over 100 blogs participating and will be live here tomorrow.

    Let the book winning frenzy begin, so ~ Please Stay Tuned!

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Review by Shellie: The Principles of Uncertainty ~ by Maira Kalman (a graphic novel)



    A stylized yet simple graphic novel which questions life and its inevitable uncertainties, where the author asks about the meaning of life and death within a one-year segment of her life.

    Thoughts:   Author Maira Kalman is the illustrator for The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, as well as the author and artist for a number of children’s books.  As a collector of many curious things, she has compiled her thoughts, drawings, and photographs in this book which reflect her feeling on some of the oddities within life. All compiled here in an adult’s picture book of sorts. It’s a philosophical, sad, yet mildly funny trip where the examples of human experience she shares also have a very universal feel. As the reader follows her path and the author questions life and the inevitable ups and downs of it all, we are left with more questions than are answered.

    She has included her lovely drawings and photos she has taken, with her simple yet dryly lyrical thoughts around a year in her life. A lovely books which is easily read in one sitting but is one I would like to pick up again and again – it’s a meditation on life, art, human nature, all of its disappointments and within them, hidden joys. Asking the quintessential human questions in a slightly different and adult way: what is life about? Why do I feel sad? What happens after we die?

    Highly recommended reading for adults who like stylized art and contemplating the nature of life. It’s a 4 star in my opinion and would make a lovely Christmas or Hanukah gift for the right person.

    • Paperback: 336 pages
    • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (October 27, 2009)

    Amazon purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.

    This graphic novel will be included in the Graphic Novel Challenge, the New Author Challenge, and Feel My Sorrow.

    Thanks for reading.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Review by JD: Hawkmoon ~ The Sword of the Dawn by Michael Moorcock



    This is the third of the Hawkmoon books, which is itself part of Moorcock’s huge and interconnected world of Eternal Champions. It seems to be archetypical Moorcock, where the hero warrior battles against overwhelming dark forces - a combination of science fiction, fantasy, swords & sorcery, and the early seeds of steampunk.

    John’s Blurb:  In this series of books the role of the Eternal Champion is played by Duke Dorian Hawkmoon von Kőln. As the book starts, the forces of the evil Dark Empire led by Baron Meliadus have already conquered much of the known world, and Hawkmoon and his allies have only managed to escape by using the ancient machine of the wraith-folk to shift the last free city into another dimension of the Earth. But fearing that it is only a question of time before the Dark Empire finds a way of following them, Hawkmoon and his friend Huillam D’Averc go on a dangerous quest to find the one man who seems to hold the key to connecting the two dimensions – a man who lives in the home country of the Dark Empire. The book follows the heroes as they travel through time and strange lands and encounter a mystifying range of people and creatures, both good and bad.

    Thoughts:  This is my first encounter with Moorcock, and my reaction is a bit mixed. On the one hand there is a wonderful imagination at work, and there’s a dizzying display of characters, concepts, landscapes, machines, ideas and plot lines. Moorcock’s worlds have a nice mix of the medieval and futuristic fantasy - while there may be some mind-boggling technology around, everyone fights with swords!

    On the down side there is so much crammed into 220 pages that everything feels a bit shallow, and in particular the characters are very two-dimensional. An enticing storyline or character is introduced, but before it develops into something really interesting you are suddenly zipped on to the next situation. In places I found myself longing for Moorcock to slow down and dig deeper – which is odd as this is just one book from a series of four, and that series is itself part of a much larger body of connected work.

    I don’t know if this pace and style is common to all of his work; I kind of get the feeling that it is, but perhaps I’ve just chosen the wrong place to enter the world of Moorcock. I will try again, as some of his ideas and creations are quite brilliant. In the meantime, I’d rate this book 3 stars.

    Now for a bit of “musical geekishness” via John. Moorcock has worked a lot with the rock band Hawkwind, writing lyrics for them, adding vocal tracks and sometimes even appearing live during their concerts.

    Here is a link to one of their songs associated with Moorcock’s Eternal Champions series. Taken from the band’s album “Warrior on the Edge of Time”, Moorcock is reading his own lyrics. Sadly the “video” is only a picture of the album cover; we did find a great video clip of him appearing live with the group but unfortunately it was one of those where the download/re-post function was disabled. Nevertheless, this is still a wonderful piece of 1970s sci-fi/fantasy rock and roll.

    Believe it or not John and I still listen to this stuff; we love it and still rock on!

    Please note, if your are receiving this post via email the video will probably not show ~ so link to the blog, take a break, sit back, turn up the volume, and enjoy!

    Hawkmoon: The Sword of the Dawn ~ by Michael Moorcock

    • Paperback: 224 pages
    • Publisher: Tor Books; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
    • Originally published in 1968

    Amazon links for US/UK/Canada.

    The first and second books of the series are listed here:

    • The Jewel in the Skull ~  Amazon links for US/UK/Canada.
    • The Mad God’s Amulet ~ Amazon links for US/UK/Canada.

    If you would like more information about this series please link to the preview post which includes all three books for this extensive series.

    Stay tuned for more “classic” Sci Fi/Fant/UF recently republished by Tor.

    • Karl Shroeder’s ~ Virga series
    • Philip José  Farmer’s ~ Riverworld series
    • Niven and Barnes’ ~ The Barsoom Project (the sequel to Dream Park)
    • Mercedes Lackey’s ~ Trio of Sorcery (three new stories based on older characters)

    As always John/JD will be addressing any comments around this book so don’t forget to click the follow up box to get his response.

    Thanks for reading.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Giveaway: City In Shadow ~ by Evan Marshall



    As we move deeper into fall and toward the winter its great to move into a different kind of scary ~ Mysteries!

    City In Shadow ~ by Evan Marshall

    About:   A Hidden Manhattan Mystery - A frightened woman leaves a note reading HELP ME outside Sanitation supervisor Anna Winthrop’s apartment . . . A career-making story leads a journalist to a human-trafficking ring . . . A woman acts as bait in an effort to track down her missing sister . . . and Anna’s visiting cousin Patti prowls New York’s dark streets, but won’t say why. All roads lead to the Kirkmore, a sinister apartment tower harboring a secret more horrifying than anyone could ever have imagined.


    Author Bio:  Evan Marshall is an internationally recognized expert on fiction writing and author.  A former book editor, for 27 years he has been a leading literary agent specializing in fiction. His Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, written with Martha Jewett, is an adaptation of his bestselling Marshall Plan® series.

    Connect:  WebsiteWrite A Novel Fast; Writer’s Forum – to ask questions;  Facebook; Twitter; Psychology Today – a literary blog; and Goodreads.

    More links on this blog which are associated with Marshall Evan:

    Just in case you can’t wait to win the book:

    • Purchasing links for US/UK/Canada.
    • Hardcover: 192 pages
    • Publisher: Severn House Publishers (November 1, 2010)

    *Please note we have no affiliation with the Marshall Plan®, or the author.

    The Giveaway: 

    Since the book will be sent by the publicist - you do not need to be a “reader” for this giveaway. Anyone can enter, but the book is only available for mailing inside the US and Canada.

    Contest Info:

    To enter you must:

    • comment
    • include in the post your email so that I can contact you

    For optional extra points you can do any, or all or none of the below for 1 entry point each: (All entries may be included in one single comment.)

    1. Be a subscriber of Layers of Thought – google or facebook. (I need to be able to see you! – to get updates in facebook feed and add me as a friend otherwise it does not count.)
    2. Blog it - side bars are great - please provide links
    3. Tweet it – provide links please
    4. Friend on Twitter
    5. Friend on Goodreads
    6. Friend on Book Blogs
    7. Friend on Glue  - new to glue? have questions? let me know.

    As stated above, this giveaway is for the US and Canada only.

    Contest ends Sunday November 28, 2010 at 12 pm US Pacific time. Winner will be posted and notified on Tuesday November 30, 2010. 

    Please note unlike other posts we do not respond to comments for giveaways. If you have a question or concern (like a typo or bad link) please email me via my profile – Shellie.

    Thanks for entering and good luck! 

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Review by Shellie: The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors ~ by Michele Young Stone



    One of my favorite books this year - it’s a sweet, funny, and heartbreaking novel with a metaphorical link to lightening.

    Shellie’s Blurb:   Set in the 1980s in the Midwest and the Southern Eastern Coast of the US,  this is a coming of age story of sorts with multiple characters experiencing their respective lives and their connection to lightning and its similarities to life.

    Buckley Pintak the main male character is a good boy even if his life is far from perfect. Separately and interwoven with Buckley’s story we learn about Becka Burke, an artistic girl with flaming red hair, who at the age of eight is struck by lightening. She survives and it affects her in mildly paranormal ways. Interwoven in between their life experiences are tips about lightening, which as they become adults are key a key aspect for the story; it can strike at any time, particularly when one least expects it.

    Thoughts:    This is Michele Young Stone’s debut novel. She is an author with an easy to read style which had me sauntering along relating with the characters and then, when least expecting it, being “hit” by an event which knocked me off balance and left me in shock. So much so that I ended up with my heart in my throat and on the verge of tears.  It’s a sweet and wonderful book, with a very creative and metaphorical theme of  lightening strikes running in strands through its pages. I completely loved this book and the book’s theme, and would say its one of my favorites this year at 4.5 stars.

    • Hardcover: 384 pages 100331_youngstone_michele
    • Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books (April 13, 2010)
    • Purchasing links from Amazon for the US/UK/Canada.

    Bio:   Michele Young Stone earned her MFA in fiction writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Once, many years ago, she was struck by lightning in her driveway. She survived. Visit her at her blog, website.

    Top Ten Things You Might Not Know About Lightning ~ by Michele Young-Stone*

    1. 90% of lightning strike victims survive. Treat the apparently dead first.

    2. Most people struck in the head die, but in 2009 an Oregon teenager was struck in the head, and the lightning exited his foot, melting his sneaker. Today, he’s fine. Is he lucky? You bet!

    3. Anxiety, insomnia, headaches and memory loss are common side effects reported by lightning strike survivors. (Believe me, I know.)

    4. Men are struck by lightning four times more often than women. Some attribute it to stubbornness, but chances are that men are engaged in more outdoor activities.

    5. Ball lightning was once thought a hoax, but these balls of fiery light travel through windows and traverse roads, lasting longer than ground-to-cloud strikes. My neighbor had one enter through her dining room window and move through her living room as she sat, awestruck and tingling.

    6. If you’d like to get struck by lightning, visit a golf course in the state of Florida on a sticky afternoon.

    7. If you’d prefer not to get struck by lightning, visit the northwestern United States where lightning is less prevalent.

    8. Scientists claim that those struck by lightning are not at greater risk to be struck again, which begs the question: why does it keep happening to the same people?

    9. If you feel the hair on your arms stand up and a pin-prickling sensation along your skin, seek immediate shelter. You’re surrounded by expanding electricity.

    10. Your odds of being struck by lightning are, according to some statistics, as high as 1 in 3,000—much better than winning the lottery.

    *Survivor, and author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors

    For more publisher’s information on The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors please see our preview for the book.

    This book will be included in the New Authors Challenge, and Feel My Sorrow.

    Thanks for reading!

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