Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Willy ~ by Robert Dunbar



Review by Shellie for: Willy ~ by Robert Dunbar

A disturbing and poignant coming of age story with elements of suspense and psychological terror which verges on the paranormal.

About:  Arriving at his most recent boy’s school, the story’s narrator is among a number of “marginal” young adults living at the facility, perhaps with behavior problems or mental health issues – quintessential “lost boys”. The school appears to be their last resort before incarceration or asylums.

The story has a murky and gothic feeling – being set in an icy wintery season, containing dysfunctional adult characters, and taking place within decrepit halls and dusty corridors. Amazingly the story teller is never named. Lost in the system and within himself, our narrator tells his tale via cryptic journal entries, through which we see that he is “damaged” as he enters yet another broken educational facility.

Enter Willy, a charismatic, intelligent and contrastingly wealthy roommate to our story teller. He sees through the façade of the school and its teachers, and assists the boys to understand they are of value – especially our unnamed character. But this comes at a price, and as the story progresses the reader can only guess what is really going on.

My Thoughts:   Through the narrator’s journaling, appropriate for a young person’s developing writing skills, the reader is led on a dark rollercoaster ride with only small glints of hopefulness. We see a lack of self worth, dark teacher student conflict, and a crooked system where the needs of the lost and disabled are not met by teachers/administrators. This is contrasted with emerging feelings of self discovery, including youthful romantic angst, and some normal coming of age fun and games.

Robert Dunbar’s grasp of the human experience is heart-piercing and he clearly understands these lost souls. Here, Willy is speaking to our main character:

“You don’t know what you are. You’re lost in yourself and you can’t always be. Would be a tragedy. Yes? No? Don’t nod like that. You don’t understand. Are you even awake enough to hear? It would be a tragedy because you feel, and you can’t imagine how rare that is, not yet. But you could. Be strong. If you survive long enough.”

One thing I think may be difficult for some readers is accessing the narrator’s language – a key to the story. It is choppy with some stream of consciousness thought which gives it a dissociative feel. However, I loved it and was at the edge of my seat while reading the book. The author effectively uses this and a variety of techniques to create a combination of angst and chills

In summary Willy, with its bits of resolution and redemption, was hard to put down. I think that it will be enjoyable for many mainstream readers, especially those who enjoy coming of age stories, stories that border on paranormal, and those that leave the reader wondering how it will all work out. There is some light m/m romance and glbt intimacy with tasteful sexual allusions, and also some slightly strong language and gore. This novel is distinctly intelligent, emotionally insightful and alarming; the reader is left with only a reference, a wonder, and a delicious dark suspicion of what has actually occurred. This genre-blending story gets 4 stars in my opinion. I loved it!

Paperback: 272 pages; Uninvited Books (January 24, 2011) US|UK|Canada.

If you’re interested in reading an excerpt – see Uninvited Book’s excerpt of Willy ~ by Robert Dunbar.

Robert Dunbar is a playwright, has written for radio, television and theater and is the author of The Pines, The Shore, and Martyrs & Monsters. In his spare time he likes to imagine himself as a professional ice skater, or possibly a trainer of tarantulas for jungle pictures. You can find more about him on his website and blog, Goodreads (his wonderful group there – Literary Horror,) Twitter, and Facebook.

UNINVITED BOOKS is a new independent press dedicated to restoring the mantle of literary distinction to dark fiction.

Coming soon - an author interview and giveaway - I hope!  Robert Dunbar is such an interesting and talented person and he is hilarious. I can’t wait!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Giveaway: The River Kings’ Road (1 and 2) ~ by Liane Merciel (five sets for US addresses)


river kings road

Giveaway: Five sets of this epic fantasy series available for US addresses:

The River Kings’ Road (book 1) ~ by Liane Merciel US|UK|Canada; 448 pages; Pocket; Reprint edition (January 25, 2011)

The wounded maidservant thrust the knotted blankets at him; instinctively, Brys stepped forward and caught the bundle before it fell. Then he glimpsed what lay inside and nearly dropped it himself. There was a baby in the blankets. A baby with a tear-swollen face red and round as a midsummer plum. A baby he knew, even without seeing the lacquered medallion tucked into the swaddling—a medallion far too heavy, on a chain far too cold for an infant who had not yet seen a year.

A fragile period of peace between two eternally warring kingdoms is shattered when a surprise massacre on a border village is waged, killing its inhabitants—including a visiting lord and his family—and leaving behind a scene so grisly that even the carrion eaters avoid its desecrated earth.  But the dead lord’s infant heir has survived the carnage—a discovery that entwines the destinies of Brys Tarnell, a mercenary who rescues the helpless and ailing babe, and who enlists a peasant, a young mother, to nurture the child of her enemies as they travel a dark, perilous road . As one infant’s life hangs in the balance, so too does the fate of thousands, while deep in the forest, a Maimed Witch practices an evil bloodmagic that could doom them all. . . .

And its sequel which has just been released:heaven's needle

Heaven’s Needle (book 2) ~ US|UK|Canada; 480 pages; Pocket Star (April 26, 2011)

The second book in this epic fantasy series ~ The mountain fortress of Duradh Mal was mysteriously destroyed centuries ago. And now, in its shadow, evil stirs. . . .

Unaware of the danger, two inexperienced Illuminers set out for the village of Carden Vale, at the foot of Duradh Mal, to minister to the people. The warrior Asharre, her face scarred with runes, her heart scarred by loss, is assigned to protect the young clerics. But in Carden Vale they find unspeakable horrors—the first hint of a terrifying ghost story come true.

The Sun Knight Kelland has been set free by the woman he loves, the archer Bitharn, but at the cost of undertaking a mission only he can fulfill. If Kelland cannot contain the black magic that has been unleashed after six hundred years, an entire world will fall victim to a Mad God's malevolent plague. . . .

Now for the Giveaway!

  • Lets make this one very simple! 
  • You do not have to be a follower to win.
  • But you must leave your name and email address so I can contact you if you win.
  • That’s it!

(Please note - if you are reading this in an email or a reader you may have to link to the blog to view and use this entry form).


Optional ~  Keep up to date on our giveaways, reviews, interviews, quirky humor and general geeky nonsense with a subscription to Layers of Thought:

  1. Google: via the blog’s side bar (I will follow back if I can find your blog)
  2. Facebook: for updates in your feed - add me as a friend .
  3. Twitter (I will follow back).
  4. Your Email Box.
  5. Feed Reader.

Contest ends Tuesday May 31, 2011 at 12 pm US Pacific time. Winners will be posted and notified on Monday June 6, 2011.  

We use to determine our winners. If you have a question or a concern (a typo or bad link or a problem with this form) please email me via my profile – Shellie

Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad ~ by Jennifer Egan


visit from the goon squad pb

Review by John for:  A Visit from the Goon Squad ~ by Jennifer Egan

A complex time-jumping novel following the intertwined lives of a record executive, a woman he employs, and various people they have encountered throughout their lives.

Synopsys:   Bennie Salazar is an aging former punk rocker and record executive whose career has cratered. Sasha is a troubled young kleptomaniac who worked for him for many years and who he came to rely on. The book goes back and forth in time, delving into aspects of their lives and the lives of significant people that they have interacted with over the years – with each chapter written from the perspective of a different person.

John’s Thoughts:   It’s a complex story for sure, and the reader is convisit from the goon squad hbstantly challenged to keep connecting the dots and to grasp the various relationships, interconnected story threads and timelines. Indeed, it borders on being a collection of short stories rather than being one coherent novel. But within this complexity, Egan has created some really interesting (and mostly flawed) characters, and it all just about hangs together.

The writing styles in the individual chapters vary too, with the most extreme example being a teenager who writes in PowerPoint slides. Actually this worked really well and was one of my favorite chapters, being a touching description of the somewhat strained dynamics of a family with an autistic son.

If there is an overarching theme, it seems to be the impact of time and aging on relationships and behavior, with all of the key characters undergoing dramatic changes as visit from the goon squad uk pbthe timeline progresses. Egan is trying to achieve an awful lot within a fairly short novel and I can’t help feeling that she’s trying to be just a bit too clever for her own good.

Call me a traditionalist, but I kind of wish she’d reduced the scope of the plot a bit and focused more on a tighter cast of the main characters. There are lots of connections and plot transitions that feel underdeveloped that I’d liked to have read about in more depth. But clearly she has made some conscious decisions about the style of the book and the structure of the storyline, and I guess my views are in the minority as the book has won a variety of awards.

Overall I did enjoy the read, and it was certainly out of the ordinary compared with everything else I’ve read recently - I guess that was Egan’s objective. I’d rate it 3.5 stars.

US|UK|Canada; paperback; 352 pages; Anchor (March 22, 2011)

The top cover picture is for the paperback edition in the US and Canada, the blue cover is of the hardbound, and the orange is for the paperback in the UK.

John had this one on his pile next to the bed but decided to read it right away due Egan winning the Pulitzer Prize for it last week. I was hoping that this book would be his first 5 star review. It will be interesting to see which book it will be.

As always he will be answering all comments on his review, so don’t forget to click the follow up box to get his reply.

Happy Thursday!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Birthday ~ Celebration Announcement!


birthday candles without cake

Happy Birthday to John!  (and myself too but in just a little over a week.)

With a bunch of things happening that are all worth cheering about:

      1. Reaching the 500 reader/follower mark!
      2. A two year blog-a-versary  ~ the 20th of May!
      3. Our Birthdays ~ John’s Today!
      4. Spring Time!
      5. Every other excuse under the milky way!
rainblow cake


I am making a “layered” effort to think of a creative way to celebrate ~ better yet a way to share our figurative cake with our friends and readers.

I am open to any ideas anyone may have on how to celebrate here on the blog?  (Be reasonable though – no naked pictures or anything like that since we are “slightly over the sell by date”!)  *silly grin*

Happy Birthday to My Sweetie!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Time in the Desert ~ the saguaro flower




In honor of “every day should be Earth day” ~ the giant saguaro's blossoms courtesy of Mother Nature!

One of the many pleasures of living in our local environment – here in “Hadesville” AZ, Sonoran Desert, USA - is the spring time blooming season.

Our current home is so unusual in contrast to anything we have experienced before (Northern CA, and North Yorkshire UK) that when we first moved here we almost crashed into several cars due to staring at this awe inspiring, ancient, and huge desert icon – the saguaro.DSCN0556

As it starts to warm up we see a variety of colors dotting the stark landscape. The last to appear is this waxy and insect attracting flower. So beautiful to see, they almost make the oven-like heat we experience in the dead of summer bearable (116 degrees plus!) This year, due to some pre-spring deluges, many of the blooms that would normally appear are a little latter than usual. Here are some photos that we have taken in the last few years – giving you a vicarious spring visit to our desert home.

Please enjoy! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: WWW:Watch ~ by Robert J. Sawyer



Review by John:  WWW:Watch ~ by Robert J. Sawyer (# 2 WWW series)

Part two of an intriguing and clever science fiction story with a tremendous young female lead character.

Continuing on from WWW:Wake (links to John’s review):

The “Webmind” consciousness that has spontaneously emerged on the internet is becoming ever more powerful. Caitlin Decter - the young, blind math genius who helped Webmind to evolve – remains determined to help it to learn and to grow, and she now has the help of her two highly talented parents. Despite the exponential growth in Webmind’s powers and his newfound ability to connect with people, he feels a very strong bond with Caitlin and she remains his prime source of guidance.

Meanwhile WATCH, a secret Government agency that is tasked with monitoring the Internet for any threats to the United States, has become aware of Webmind, though it neither understands what Webmind is nor what its intentions are. What the agency does understand is that Webmind is getting stronger by the hour and WATCH is not prepared to let that happen. While WATCH sets out to destroy Webmind, Caitlin has absolutely no doubts about Webmind’s compassion and good intentions, and so begins a battle over its very existence. What will happen when Webmind sets out to help people in a very direct way?


Not to repeat everything I said in the review of WWW:Wake, but Sawyer has a fabulous imagination and this is an excellent story with a clever plot. Caitlin has already been established as a great character and in this book a bit more time is spent fleshing out her parents. I would have to say that the pace has dropped off a smidgeon from the previous book, and some of the side stories are starting to feel like distractions. I can’t help but wonder if making this into a trilogy was the right thing to do. I guess I’ll have to read the third installment in order to find out!

And, despite my normal reticence to read trilogies or book series, I will read part three (WWW:Wonder has just been published), which says a lot about the strength of the storyline and Sawyer’s imagination. Prior to the WWW series, the only other Sawyer book I’d read had a fabulous story and an ending I really didn’t like. I’m hoping this won’t go the same way.

For now, I’d rate this book 4 stars – just. The first in the series was a 4 bordering on 4.5, while this is a 4 bordering on 3.5.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for WWW:Wonder.


WWW:Watch (#2) - Hardcover: 368 pages Ace Hardcover; (April 6, 2010)  US|UK|Canada.

WWW:Wake (#1) (April 7, 2009) US|UK|Canada.

WWW:Wonder (#3) (April 5, 2011) US|UK|Canada

Stay tuned since a review for WWW:Wonder, the last in the trilogy is coming very soon since the book is on order at our local library.

As always (unless he forgets!) John will be answering all the comments on this review, so do not forget to check the follow up box to get his response.

Don’t you just love these covers?  Gorgeous!  Thanks for reading.

Giveaway: Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Blog Hop ~ April 20th till 25th


hoppy easter

Welcome to the ~ Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Blog Hop!

What is a blog hop?  It’s a link up of a bundle of blogs (via Linky Tools – see below) that have a goal in mind – this specific hop is for giveaways which involve books. It currently has 265 blogs that you can hop/link to and enter to win bookish stuff and is hosted by Kathy from I am a Reader not a Writer with Once Upon a Twilight as a co-host!

The cute badge above links to the host’s site in case you are interested in joining an up-and-coming blog hop with your bookish giveaway. She is currently hosting at least one per month.

Now for our books on offer:  We have two books that you can enter to win here at Layers of Thought. You do not need to be a reader or follower to enter these offers. Each book cover links to the dedicated page for the giveaway where you can fill out the Google forms. I have made this very easy requiring just a name and email address needed. Yes that’s it!

all the lives he led


Book 1:   All the Lives He Led ~ by “grandmaster”  Frederik Pohl  US|UK|Canada; 368 pages; Tor Books; (April 12, 2011)

We have two copies to giveaway to two US residents!

Two thousand years after Pompeii’s destruction, a thriller of upheaval—volcanic and political—as only SF Grandmaster Frederik Pohl can write it!





Book 2:  Galore ~ by Michael Crummey  US|UK|Canada Paperback: 352 pages; Other Press (March 29, 2011)  (first published September 8th 2009)

We have one copy for giveaway in the US!

When a whale beaches itself on the shore of the remote coastal town of Paradise Deep, the last thing any of the townspeople expect to find inside it is a man, silent and reeking of fish, but remarkably alive.

Click on each of the Book Covers to enter!

This blog hop is now closed ~ stay tuned for the next event in and around the 25th of May!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Giveaway: Galore (a novel) ~ by Michael Crummey



Giveaway:  Galore ~ by Michael Crummey

We have one copy for giveaway in the US on offer from Other Press.

This is a recently re-released historical fiction story based upon the mythic and biblical tale of “Jonah and the Whale”

Publisher’s Blurb:  When a whale beaches itself on the shore of the remote coastal town of Paradise Deep, the last thing any of the townspeople expect to find inside it is a man, silent and reeking of fish, but remarkably alive.

The discovery of this mysterious person, soon christened Judah, sets the town scrambling for answers as its most prominent citizens weigh in on whether he is man or beast, blessing or curse, miracle or demon. Though Judah is a shocking addition, the town of Paradise Deep is already full of unusual characters. King-me Sellers, self-appointed patriarch, has it in for an inscrutable woman known only as Devine’s Widow, with whom he has a decades-old feud. Her granddaughter, Mary Tryphena, is just a child when Judah washes ashore, but finds herself tied to him all her life in ways she never expects.

About the Author:  Michael Crummy was born in Buchans, Newfoundland. He grew up there and in Wabush, Labrador, where he moved with his family in the late 1970s. He graduated with a BA in English and won the Gregory Power Poetry Award. He ha published two collections of poems and one of short stories. His debut novel, River Thieves (2001) was a Canadian bestseller and a second novel, The Wreckage (2005), was a national bestseller. He lives in St. John's, Newfoundland with his wife and three step-kids. Connect with him via Goodreads.

US|UK|Canada Paperback: 352 pages; Other Press (March 29, 2011)  (first published September 8th 2009)

Just a hint folks - I am half way through this historical page turner and I am loving it!

Now for the Giveaway!

Lets make this one very simple too!  You do not have to be a follower to win. But you must leave your name and email address so I can contact you if you win. That’s It!  (Please note - if you are reading this in an email or a reader you may have to link to the blog to view and use this entry form).


Optional ~  keep up to date on our giveaways, reviews, interviews, quirky humor and general geeky nonsense with a subscription to Layers of Thought:

  1. Google: via the blog’s side bar (I will follow back if I can find your blog)
  2. Facebook: for updates in your feed - add me as a friend .
  3. Twitter (I will follow back).
  4. Your Email Box.
  5. Feed Reader.

Contest ends Monday April 25th, 2011 at 12 pm US Pacific time. Winner will be posted and notified on Monday May 9th, 2011.  

We use to determine our winners. If you have a question or a concern (a typo or bad link or a problem with this form) please email me via my profile – Shellie

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Trouble and Her Friends ~ by Melissa Scott


Trouble and Her Friends

Review by Shellie: Trouble and Her Friends ~ by Melissa Scott

A futuristic science fiction novel with underground “noir-ish” themes, which takes the reader on a journey via internal biological internet connections into an intriguing online world.

Trouble is well known online as one of the best and most notorious “crackers”. She is a future version of a hacker, where cracking is breaking through IC(E) –  the acronym for the complex security systems which simulate actual ice.  Intriguingly, web users have connections to the web via “dollie ports” and “brain worms” giving a “virtual reality” experience to being online, where one smells color.

A story set in a dystopian US where things have gone environmentally sour, the beaches are so polluted that visiting them is toxic. Political factions have set in place laws which make “cracking” illegal and dangerous. As the stakes become higher, Trouble disappears in an effort to protect herself.

What brings her out of hiding is that someone is using her name. Not happy (neither are some significant powers that be), she emerges to set things right. As Trouble lives up to her name - she and her friends have an interesting and not entirely safe romp into an online and real-world futuristic adventure.

Trouble and Her Friends is cyberpunk. It is a subgenre which is characterized by a high tech dystopian environment with characters that are of marginal class standing. It is also said to have a “noir-ish” feel. Which are perfect descriptions for this science fiction novel.

Melissa Scott uses many intriguing science fiction concepts - for example the “dollie ports” and “brain worms” which actually hook the user up to the net through implants into the body. Beyond the nerdy bits she also has included romance (lgbt), virtual sex (nicely done), and the experience of traveling the net via internally hard wired brain connection with some excellent results.

I could not imagine a writer being able to tell you about a virtual web experience as it occurs in Trouble’s world. But she does – and very well at that. Scott uses a technique that toggles between real world and internet experiences, using italicized letters for the virtual world travels and normal text for the real world experience.

Despite the description, the book is very accessible and is actually a mystery thriller set in a darker future time. There are strong female characters (another favorite element) and it has some realistic science (another one too). I will be looking at this author and this subgenre more. This is an impressive novel with a redemptive ending. I give it 4 stars.

Amazon links US|UK|Canada; 384 pages; Orb Books; First Edition edition (February 1, 2011)

The version of the novel that I read is a reprint by Tor/Orb which was originally published in 1994 winning a well deserved Lambda award in the same year. For more information on the book check out our release post for the book – Trouble and Her Friends.

Tor has a number of posts around LGBT science fiction and fantasy for anyone who is interested in this element check out their feature - Queering of Science Fiction and Fantasy. They currently have a variety of books out which has LGBT themes included in their pages. One which is on my nightstand that I have not had the chance to read is Black Blade Blues ~ by J. A. Pitts.

For additional information on the cyberpunk genre this text links to Wikipedia's definition, as well as a list of books which are included in this subgenre.

This novel will be included in The Basics Challenge; The LGBT Challenge; The Science Fiction Challenge, and goodness knows where else it will fit!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Possession (in audio) ~ by A. S. Byatt



Review by Shellie:  Possession ~ by A.S. Byatt  (in audio, performed by Virginia Leishman)

A multilayered award winning tale of interwoven romances. Set in two different centuries and connected ingeniously through letters and journals. It has elements which include faeries, myth, poetry, science, feminism, lgbt, and Victoriana.

Setting:  Primarily set in the late 1980s in London we have a variety of academics whose interests lie in a celebrated poet’s life and work - Randolph Henry Ash. He is a source of intense exploration and historical interest for these scholars, as they research his body of work in their highly competitive environment. From their findings on his life during the mid to late 1800’s it appears Ash led a very quiet and uneventful life. But as one researcher finds out via misplaced letters, they are very wrong.

Thus begins the recovery of the missing pieces that will fill in the blanks for this group of academics, who become ever more obsessed as they struggle to be the first to piece together the juicy details that are alluded to in the new findings. As two of the scholars try and answer their questions they find themselves traipsing to various areas in England and France to find the answers.

Sound simple? Not a chance - there is so much more. This convoluted story will take you back to a very different time, but there is also a wealth of incredible subplots and threads.

Thoughts:  I started and abandoned Possession several times. Giving up on try number two, I thought the writing to be inaccessible, overly intellectual and boringly academic. Now I am thinking one develops “reading muscles”, and considering my years of hiatus from reading fiction I was out of shape. Having read bits about the book’s elements since, I realized the book fits inside a favorite circle of my interests. I gave it another try in audio.

This unabridged audio version was read by Virginia Leishman, and she moderates her voice for each of the character’s while changing accents - ranging from English to Scottish to American and with a believable voice for changes in gender. Excellently done, my only “complaint” is that the narrator’s voice is so pleasant she lulled me to sleep on various occasions. So listening while tired or sleepy is not recommended.

The novel has some interesting elements and literary techniques interwoven inside it. These include threads about fairies, what appears to be paranormal events, and scientific research – including the collection of insect, plant and sea life (all popular with the gentry during Victorian times). The author also expertly uses several literary devices; for example, the usage of poetry as a preclusion to the chapters called epigraphs. Through this method the author has written and included some complex poetry. Lastly the story is told via letters and journal entries making it epistolary. 

Not a fluffy romance, it is a complex, realistic yet sad romance – where real life choices and their consequences are exemplified and I liked that it does not end with everyone living happily ever after. In summary, Possession is out of the ordinary, intellectual and academic – making it a book that not everyone will enjoy. It is also descriptive, metaphorical, dense and an amazing work of fiction. It deserves a rare 5 stars in my opinion.

US|UK|Canada; Duration: 22 hours, 45 minutes Dec 21, 2004; Unabridged; HarperCollins – HarperAudio  Awards: Best Audio Books - Library Journal; Man Booker Prize for Fiction -1990.

yellow and purple savvy poetry 2011

Although not completely poetry, Possession includes poems and the story is about poets.

I am thinking that for readers who are not all that excited about poetry this book could be a perfect way to honor - National Poetry Month in April. So, with that in mind, I am including this review in Savvy Verse & Wit’s celebration.

It will also be included in several other challenges including – Fill in the Gaps; LGBT Challenge and others to be determined.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Release Day and Giveaway: All the Lives He Led ~ by Frederik Pohl


all the lives he led

It’s release day for the brand new science fiction thriller:  All the Lives He Led ~ by “grandmaster”  Frederik Pohl

Better yet we have two copies to giveaway to two US residents!  Here’s a bit about the book via the publisher’s blurb: 

Two thousand years after Pompeii’s destruction, a thriller of upheaval—volcanic and political—as only SF Grandmaster Frederik Pohl can write it!

With a keen eye for the humanity in any situation, science fiction icon Frederik Pohl has crafted a compelling new novel of a not-too-distant future we can only hope is merely science fiction.

About:  When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. it gave so little warning that Pompeiians were caught unawares, and many bodies were preserved in volcanic ash. Two thousand years later, in 2079, Pompeii is a popular theme park eagerly anticipating Il Giubeleo, the Jubilee celebration of the great anniversary. But Vesuvius is still capable of erupting, and even more threatening are terrorists who want to use the occasion to draw attention to their cause by creating a huge disaster. As the fateful day draws near, people from all over the world—workers, tourists, terrorists—caught in the shadow of the volcano will grapple with upheaval both natural and political.

Bio:  Multiple Hugo and Nebula award–winner FREDERIK POHL was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Pohl has also been an award-winning collaborator and editor of magazines and anthologies. Most recently he won yet another Hugo Award for his blog, “” He and his wife, editor and academic Elizabeth Anne Hull, live outside of Chicago. 

Just in case you don’t want to wait to win this book: US|UK|Canada; 368 pages; Tor Books; First Edition edition (April 12, 2011)

Frederik Pohl has been writing for over 70 years and in honor of his considerable body of work, and the release of his latest novel, Tor has been hosting blog updates from a variety of authors such as Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and David Brin who have all added their favorite Pohl book. Link to see their choices.

Now for the Giveaway!

For a Spring Celebration and for a bit of freshness – lets make this one very simple.

You do not have to be a follower to win. But you must leave your name and email address so I can contact you if you win. That’s It!

(Please note - if you are reading this in an email or a reader you may have to link to the blog to view and use this entry form).


Not required ~ but to keep up to date on our giveaways, reviews, and more with a subscription to Layers of Thought:

  1. Google: via the blog’s side bar (I will follow back if I can find your blog)
  2. Facebook: for updates in your feed - add me as a friend .
  3. Twitter (I will follow back).
  4. Your Email Box.
  5. Feed Reader.

Contest ends Monday April 25th, 2011 at 12 pm US Pacific time. Winner will be posted and notified on Monday May 9th, 2011.  

We use to determine our winners. If you have a question or a concern (a typo or bad link or a problem with this form) please email me via my profile – Shellie

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: Variable Star ~ by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson


variable star

A review by John of  Variable Star ~ by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson 

Love, teenage angst, mysticism, music, humor, rites of passage, pioneering and adventure - all wrapped up in a hard-core science fiction novel.

Robert A. Heinlein (regarded by many as modern science fiction’s greatest author) died in 1988, but among his belongings was found the detailed outline of a novel that he was never to complete. Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Spider Robinson was offered the opportunity to take the outline and to turn it into a full novel, and what resulted was Variable Star.

Joel Johnston is the orphaned son of a deceased Nobel prize winning scientist, and is now a struggling music student who is deeply in love with fellow student Jinny Hamilton. He’s ecstatic when she says that they should marry and have children – but he is flat broke and thinks that they should wait until he has finished his studies and has established himself as a composer so that he can support them financially. Then comes the bombshell. Her name isn’t really Hamilton but Conrad, granddaughter of the richest man in the solar system and part of the Conrad dynasty. Suitably convinced that Joel loves her for who she is and not for what she has, Jinny introduces Joel to her family who share their vision of him becoming part of the business empire and siring a family to carry on the dynasty.

Joel is horrified - by the prospect of joining a business empire, by the fact that his future has been mapped out for him, and most of all by the fact that Jinny has been lying to him. After going on a drink and drug fuelled binge, he decides to join a starship that’s setting off to colonize a planet many light years away from Earth and the solar system; as far away from Jinny and the Conrads as it is possible to be.

And so he joins 500 others on a dangerous voyage that will take 20 years, locked inside a ship traveling at very near the speed of light. The starship’s drive is controlled by six “relativists”, and the only meaningful contact between the ship and the solar system is via telepathic twins whose communications are virtually instantaneous despite the distance. Of course, things go wrong. Horribly wrong. The ship and the crew appear to be doomed after a cataclysmic catastrophe in the solar system they have just left.

I enjoyed the read and the book has many merits. It has a clever storyline, tons of imagination, some strong and interesting characters, a lot of puns and droll humor, and some great scientific concepts. The story builds very nicely, but as I got nearer to the end of the book I kept on wondering how on earth (or off Earth!) was this all going to end with so few pages remaining. And that for me was the trouble. The ending came all too soon and seemed to lack a lot of the detail and believability that had characterized the rest of the book; I flat out didn’t like the way the story was wrapped up. Maybe this has something to do with Robinson announcing recently that there would be three sequels to variable Star – but I think not. Most loose ends were tied up, just not in a way that I found very satisfying.

Oh well, I really did enjoy the first 90% of this book, and maybe others will like the ending better than I did. The book is probably a “must” for all Heinlein and Robinson fans, and I’m sure many other science fiction readers will enjoy it too. For me this book gets 3.5 stars; and not variable ones!

US|UK|Canada. 320 pages; Tor Books; 1st edition (September 19, 2006)

As always John will be addressing any comments around this review, so please don’t forget to check the follow up box to get his response.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: Seven Years in Tibet ~ by Heinrich Harrer


seven years in tibet3

Seven Years in Tibet ~ by Heinrich Harrer (Translation by Robert Graves) – reviewed by John

A fascinating autobiographical account of Harrer’s time spent in Tibet and the forbidden city of Lhasa, during the reclusive country’s final years of independence.

Harrer was an Austrian mountain climber who was returning from a trip to the Himalayas when the Second World War broke out. He and his colleagues soon found themselves in a British prisoner-of-war camp in northern India. While conditions there were very reasonable, Harrer was determined to escape, and decided that the best route was to head north into Tibet (which was neutral) and then try to make his way via China or Burma to the Japanese lines.

After some false starts he and a colleague (Aufschnaiter) did manage to escape and made it to the Tibetan border, high in the mountains. At the time Tibet was a mysterious country which spurned attention from the rest of the world and did not welcome foreigners, but the two Austrians were hoping to rely on Tibet’s neutrality in the war as they tried to pass through heading to the east.

And so began a grueling two year trek travelling hundreds of miles through the Tibetan mountains heading for the forbidden city of Lhasa. Having no entry permit or official travel documents, they were always under threat of being kicked out of the country and had to rely on their guile and the kindness of strangers to help them progress. After many adventures they eventually made it to Lhasa, cold, bedraggled, hungry and penniless.

Despite their condition they were again able to rely on the Tibetan’s natural kindness and hospitality. Although always under threat of being expelled, they gradually were able to establish a network of friends and contacts, helped in part by the local’s curiosity about these strange westerners. Harrer and Aufschnaiter tried very hard to fit in, bending to the local customs and always striving to be helpful. They succeeded, to the extent that Harrer eventually became a kind of tutor and friend to the young Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader of the country. They stayed in Lhasa for five years, and left only when the country was invaded and overrun by the Chinese army, which ultimately led to the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet.

The book is full of fascinating insights about this simple reclusive country, its Buddhist-dominated culture and its friendly people. In many ways Tibet was like a throw-back to several hundred years ago – it shunned virtually all technology, relied on the power of prayer and superstition, had a strong feudal foundation, believed in the God-like power of its young leader, and was almost totally cut off from the rest of the world. The country and its people charmed the two Austrians, and they in turn were able to help in many ways.

Sadly this simple society has been crushed and has been forced to change beyond all recognition. Ironically the very seclusion that Tibet yearned for turned out to be its worst enemy – when it needed help to ward off the impending threat from its large neighbor, it had no-one it could turn to for help. Not only is the book an interesting read, but it also serves as a valuable historical record of a culture which no longer exists and which remarkably few outsiders ever experienced. I’d rate the book 4 stars and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about foreign cultures or who likes good travel-oriented biographies.

US|UK|Canada; originally published 1953; 368 pages; Tarcher (August 20, 2009)

Purchased at a local junk store this copy was pilfered by John from Shellie’s teetering TBR pile. As always John will be addressing any comments on this review, so please don’t forget to check the follow up box to get his response.

Have a great Thursday… and remember it’s just a short hop till Saturday and there's always a strong cup of English tea to get you through till then.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Winners ~ We have 7 of them!




Lets Congratulate our Lucky Winners!

Life is so much better when you win a book.   Don’t you think?




5 copies!  Five winners!

  1. Megan M
  2. Adamsparerib
  3. Chrissy
  4. Just Another Book Addict
  5. Drey

Yeah ~ to the five winners!

Giveaway 1 ~  WWW:Wake ~ by Robert J. Sawyer US|UK|Canada.  Link to John’s review ~ An intriguing and clever science fiction novel with a tremendous young female lead character.

The Thieves of Darkness

One copy, one winner! 

The winner is Julie.

Yeah ~ Julie!

Giveaway 2 ~  The Thieves of Darkness ~ by Richard Doetsch US|UK|Canada





One lucky winner!

The winner is Ashley K.

Yeah ~ Ashley!

Giveaway 3 ~  Short Story or Synopsis edited ~ by Lou Aronica  author of Blue (title links to review; and it is now available in ebook format for only 2.99 or less in Kindle format ~  in the US|UK and Barnes & Noble).

hoppy easter


If you did not win - stay tuned, because loads of giveaways and more blog hops are coming. In fact in two weeks time the Hoppy Easter Eggstravaganza Blog Hop will be live!

As always I will be emailing each of  you. Please respond back to my email with your contact details and also comment on this post within 72 hours, then I will forward your information onto the publicist, publisher, and editor.


Congratulations to all our Winners!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Post: Molly Harper author of ~ The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf


molly harper and wolf

Guest Post ~ author Molly Harper.

Molly Harper’s ~ The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf and its predecessor How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf have both been recently released.  The latest on March 29th and the first February 22.

Both are humorous paranormal romances published by Pocket Books. They are purse sized, and fun for light reading.

Earlier this year we posted a piece by Molly about the creation of this series – which happened during an ice storm. It’s an interesting and funny post (you can link to it via the previous text), since you never know when you’ll get an idea for a book series. Though today’s post is is a bit warmer, as is the title of her latest book, it revolves around actual wolves and their true nature, as opposed to those in fantasy stories, and Molly’s comparisons of them with several of the characters in her recent novels.

This is a cute and educational snippet, especially if you’re an animal advocate. Enjoy!  (photo credit: Memories by Chris/Chris Meyer/Georgetown, KY)

When I was little and came running into the house, sweaty and caked in dirt, my mom would cry, “What the- have you been rolling around with wolves?”

the art of seducing a naked werewolf

Well, here I sit, sweaty, caked in various layers of dried mud.  And I have indeed been playing with wolves. While promoting the release of my Naked Werewolf romance series, I visited the Wolf Run Wildlife Refuge in Nicholasville, KY.  Wolf Run, a state- and USDA-licensed non-profit educational facility, provides a safe, loving and permanent sanctuary for 23 adult wolves and wolf-dog hybrids. The refuge is also home to two full-grown lions, deer, goats, sheep, monkeys, and other exotic wildlife. And Rowdy, the most obese raccoon I have ever seen. 

Most of the animals are former pets that were either confiscated by or surrendered by their owners. Because it turns out, wolf hybrids do not make great house pets.

As Savannah Massey, director of animal care and education at Wolf Run told me, “These animals are gorgeous, appealing and unique. But they’re also aggressive, destructive and territorial. This is not an animal you want in your home.  Wolf genetics do not go away. And it’s not just that they could tear up your furniture or hurt one of your other pets- you are physically in danger when you’re around them.”

Just what you want to hear when you’re sitting right next to one, and he’s been licking your face.

Honestly, Boone, a 10-year-old grey male, could not have been nicer during my visit and our subsequent photo shoot. He was a dignified statesman compared to raucous Razz, a three-year-old tan specimen who seemed to think my make-up was bacon-flavored. (Note to Sephora, wolf-oriented face powder may be a niche market you haven’t considered yet.)

how to flirt with a naked werewolf

I learned a lot during my visit to Wolf Run. I was happy to find there are some definite similarities between actual wolves and the characters in How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf and The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf.

For instance, a wolf will pee on whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to make sure you know that thing belongs to them. It is now your tree, Boone, we understand. Thank you for not choosing my shoes.

Wolves have to date.  There are five packs at Wolf Run, each with three to five pack members. New wolves are matched to potential packs based on temperament when they arrive at Wolf Run. If the initial matches don’t work, they are moved to different packs until they find a good fit. Some wolves, like Boone, don’t fit well with any group and end up being loners. (Which, I think, makes him a bit like Cooper.) 

Wolves struggle over the Alpha position.  Large males jockey for the position and it can lead to inter-pack tension. Unlike Boone, who was an Alpha contender, Razz, just seemed to want to play, which made me think of Samson. I did not see a real-life counterpart for Maggie, which was probably a good thing given her penchant for biting people on the butt.

Mary Kindred, CEO of Wolf Run, calls the animals her babies. When she walks around the yard, any effort to distract the wolves is futile, because a) she is mom and b) she has Pupperoni in her pocket. Kindred noted that the sanctuary receives no outside funding, and all expenses, such sturdy fencing, food, veterinary care, and upkeep of the grounds, are paid through donations. The facility welcomes volunteers. And despite the love and effort Mary and her staff devote to the sanctuary, both she and Savannah look forward to the day they’re no longer needed.

“These animals shouldn’t be here,” Savannah said. “The lions should be in Africa. The wolves should be in the wild. Our goal is to rescue animals and educate the public, until a facility like this is no longer needed.”  

To learn more about the wolf sanctuary that Molly visited link to Wolf Run, or contact Mary at

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf ~ US|UK|Canada. February 22, 2011

The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf ~ US|UK|Canada.  March 29, 2011

Link to check out the trailer for the Naked Werewolf series.

About Molly:   Raised in Mississippi and Kentucky, Molly Harper graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor's degree in print journalism. She worked for six years as a reporter and humor columnist; Molly lives in western Kentucky with her husband and daughter. Her books are published by Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  For more on Molly and to connect via her website, twitter, and facebook link to the publisher’s website.

This article was sent via the publisher, Simon & Schuster, to share with our readers!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Image of the Fool (in books, myth, and history) ~ for April 1st!


the fool

Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere. ~ William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Its April Fool’s Day! 

One of our favorite days of the year. Its just another excuse to have a bit of silly fun.

Unlike last year - we have opted out and gone academic. If you would like a little trickster mirth please read on since last year John/JD and I had an absolute blast at our friends’ and readers’ expense here on Layers of Thought. The prank we played on April 1, 2010 links via this text, to the post which has been updated for newer readers so they may get a feel for the context of our prank. Do not be shocked!

Beyond our obnoxious playfulness, what I find intriguing about the fool is that it has mythical origins, so I have included a short snippet at the bottom of this post. I had fun and learned a lot.

The best bit is the books that I unearthed which are based around this archetypal image. So in the rare case that you don’t have enough to read here are eight, all based upon this satirical and truth exposing character - the fool.

Most have Medieval Themes ~ fools are everywhere

Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World ~ by Beatrice K. Otto (nonfiction)  US|UK|Canada444 pages; University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition published April 1, 2001.

A journey around the world in search of one of the most colorful characters in history—the court jester. These characters crop up everywhere, from the courts of ancient China and the Mogul emperors of India to those of medieval Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas highlighting their humanizing influence on people with power. Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen: NOOKbook Cover

Queen’s Own Fool ~ by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris (historical fantasy – Young Adult) US|UK|Canada. 390 pages; Philomel (May 22, 2000)

Only a few facts are known about Mary Queen of Scott's young female jester, le Jardiniere, but Jane Yolen and Robert Harris, have created a fascinating narrator based on what they do know. Le Jardiniere relates the tragic tale of the ill-fated 16th-century queen of Scotland. 

King's Fool ~ by Margaret Campbell Barnes (historical fiction) US|UK|Canada320 pages; Sourcebooks Landmark (April 7, 2009)

Published in 1959, here is a remarkable tale of the intrigue, ruthlessness, and majesty of the Tudor court. When country lad Will Somers lands himself the plum position of jester to the mercurial King Henry VIII, he has no idea that he's just been handed a front-row seat to history. 

Darkmans ~ by Nicola Barker (contemporary literary fiction) US|UK|Canada. 400 pages; Fourth Estate (May 2007)

An examination of the ways in which history can play jokes on us all... If History is just a sick joke which keeps on repeating itself, then who exactly might be telling it, and why?  - Could it be John Scogin, Edward IV's infamous court jester, whose favorite pastime was to burn people alive - for a laugh?

This novels was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  

Fool ~ by Christopher Moore  (historical satire – humor/fantasy) US|UK|Canada311 pages; William Morrow; First Edition edition published February 10, 2009.
A man of infinite jest, Pocket has been Lear's cherished fool for years, from the time the king's grown daughters were mere girls. So naturally Pocket is at his brainless, elderly liege's side when Lear—at the insidious urging of Edmund, the bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester—demands that his daughters swear their undying love and devotion before a collection of assembled guests. Mayhem ensues and the only person who can possibly make things right . . . is Pocket, a small and slight clown with a biting sense of humor. Pocket may be a fool . . . but he's definitely not an idiot.     

Alas, Poor Yorick ~ by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (historical horror) Kindle only - US|UK. Hidden Knowledge (October 5, 2002)

An historical fiction adventure with dramatic interest since it's the "backstory" to Shakespeare's "Hamlet". All set in Elsinor Castle two decades before the events of the play, it features the political affairs and romantic entanglements that will lead inexorably to the events of the Tragedy of the Prince Hamlet.

The Fool's Girl ~ by Celia Rees (young adult – historical romance)  Soon to be released in paper back US|UK|Canada. Young Adult – grade 8 and up; 304 pages; Bloomsbury USA Children's Books; 1 edition published July 20, 2010.

Young and beautiful Violetta may be of royal blood, but her kingdom is in shambles when she arrives in London on a mysterious mission, but it is not until she meets the playwright William Shakespeare that she gets to tell the entire story. Violetta and her comic companion, Feste, have come in search of an ancient holy relic that the evil Malvolio has stolen from their kingdom. This original young adult story is spun from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Holy Fools by Joanne Harris: Book Cover

Holy Fools ~ by Joanne Harris (historical suspense) US|UK|Canada. 368 pages; William Morrow; 1st edition published February 3, 2004.

In the year 1605, a young widow, pregnant and alone, seeks sanctuary at the small Abbey of Sainte Marie-de-la-mer on the island of Noirs Moustiers off the Brittany coast. After the birth of her daughter, she takes up the veil, and a new name, Soeur Auguste. But the peace she has found in re-mote isolation is shattered five years later by the events that follow the death of her kind benefactress, the Reverend Mother.

And the question of the day is: which of these books would you read first?

Historical and Mythical info around ~ The Fool:

The Fool, Jester, Clown, Trickster is an image/character/archetype that is considered by scholars to be universal. It appears in many different forms in a variety of cultures throughout history. The fool has a playful but complex role – with the appearance of the fool there will be an opportunity for truth, balance, play, recreation, destruction, creation, and change. Interestingly scholars of mythology say that some cultures portray the trickster as either a hero or as a destroyer. Here are some examples of this archetype:

  • The Fool, known in Irish and Scottish Gaelic as Amandán is a social fairy, and is sometimes seen as wiser than their masters.
  • A similar role is played by the Mudhead clowns of the Hopi. In the Hopi rituals, the sacred clowns are combination jester and shaman.
  • The Norse god Loki is the instigator of conflicts.
  • The Raven trickster of the Northwest Indians brings fire to the people and is both a destroyer or creator.
  • The Fool or The Jester is one of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck and is used in divination as well as in game playing.
  • The Medieval jester commonly found in folklore, folktales, legends, and religious myths was one of the few characters in the court who could freely speak his conscious without causing offense.

April Fool’s Day Origins (via Wikipedia)

The true origins of April Fool’s Day appear to be lost in antiquity with a variety of mentions and suspected beginnings. However obscure its origins may be, it is a chance for us to use humor and have a bit of fun, which is why it is one of our personal fun days of the year -  especially the hoaxes!

For further research:

Academic findings and links around the multicultural Trickster from Mythic

Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888) and The Celtic Twilight (1893) were written and edited by William Butler Yeats with both referencing the Irish and Gaelic fairy tricksters - Amandán.

Happy Fool’s Day!

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