Friday, July 26, 2013

Heather Sutherlin's Seen Series, Review by Christine Locke

I'm delighted to take part in the Book Release Blast for Heather Sutherlin's Wandering, the latest book in her "Seen" Series.
Here is where you can find my brief but delighted review of Heather's first novel for this series, Seen.

Today, I get to tell you about Wandering, the second book in this fantasy series that might also be described as Young Adult romance.

Here's the amazon description of Wandering:

When you’ve traveled between worlds, there’s nowhere left to go but home. Rory has never been so cold in her life. But the biting wind only reminds her of another pain that grows more intense with each passing day. Each night Jaron’s beautiful voice sings in her dreams, and each day her footsteps draw her closer to his side. Danger and intrigue at every turn, no distance is too far when you’re returning for true love. Rin has spent the last five years searching for Rory across two worlds. Now a series of visions have him convinced he’s growing closer to finding her. But when Rory slips through another portal, taking his visions with her, he finds himself back at square one. To find her now he’ll need the help of an old friend and a little otherworldly magic. This time he intends to bring The Wanderer home for good.

I'm going to give Wandering 5 stars, because I loved the second half. I did not find the ending confusing.  Perhaps another review felt that it ended abruptly or that the flash forward at the end (so we can see main characters at a later point in time, when certain events reach resolution) was disconcerting.  I can understand that.  However, I like the flash forward.  I like the closure it offered.

I also continued to enjoy the lush and detailed (even when they're not so lush) settings described in this series.  I do recommend these all-age appropriate books for the younger Young Adult crowd.

Also, I do think it's important to note, again, that Sutherlin's ebooks are professionally edited and formatted.  At a time when anyone can take a draft and publish it as an ebook, it's hard for readers to know when a manuscript has been released only because it is ready, and when it's just been thrown out there.   Sutherlin's books are quality products.  You can purchase them with confidence.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Magic Realism in Movies by Christine Locke

I'm delighted to participate in the Magic Realism Blog Hop organized by Zoe Brooks.
After my post, you will find a listing of the other blogs on the hop.  At the end of the post, please enter our giveaway via Rafflecopter.  You could win a variety of ebooks (both of mine included) and a Franz Kafka bookmark.

Let's have a look at magic realism in the movies.  I've seen a few recently, and they were lots of fun, totally offbeat and a welcome relief from superhero blockbusters and animated kiddie bliss.

Did you enjoy Gwyneth Paltrow in "Sliding Doors?"  I know I did.  Over the last six months, I've been working on a story with parallel time elements, so
I love the fantastical elements here, the physical existence of two possible selves making two possible sets of choices.  And what I find most compelling is that the movie does not portray one path as completely good & happy and the other as wholly miserable.  As in real life, there has to be a resolution and some sacrifices must be made.  As a viewer, I was free to wonder which path would win out.  I was left to ask myself what I would do given the same sets of actions--both the ones Helen chooses to take and the ones that are beyond her control.

So, with that familiar example of a magic realism movie in mind, I'd like to share a few of my summer discoveries with you.  None of these movies are new, but they are movies I found as I completed my own manuscript this summer.  It was helpful to view how others handled some similar magical yet realistic elements.  Here are a few of the movies I "discovered" and found instructive.  Hope you will do the same.

I had never seen "Happy Accidents" before this summer.  The fantastical element involves time travel, so
maybe there's a little genre slippage here between Magic Realism and SciFi.  Yet, this movie does survive my personal test question for magic realism: Could you still have the same story if you changed the magic elements?  The answer here is yes, you could.  Because, even more than the how/why/when/where of the time travel questions, this movie is about falling in love and trust and wanting to change things for the better.  Just as you could explore the same options for Helen's life ("Sliding Doors") in a less magical way, you could also tell this love story without time travel.  And, yet, in both cases, the magic elements serve to catch the viewer off-guard and draw her deeper into the story.  The narrative becomes stronger through the magic, reminding us of those moments in our own lives when ordinary events appeared magical, sweeping us up in something compelling and mysteriously more than our everyday existence.

"And Then Came Lola" is the movie that's impossible to forget.  It's got that "indie"
quality, which I happen to love.  And "Lola" is very much like "Groundhog Day," one of my favorite movies of all time.  Lola needs to live the same day over and over again until she can get her act together enough to be present for the one she loves and win her over.  The magic element should be pretty obvious from that description.  I found that by the end of the movie I did love Lola, despite the fact that she was a true mess at the beginning.  There are a lot of teasing sex scenes in this one, so it's just for adults.  But it was really fun to watch a reworking of the Bill Murray classic.

I think my favorite discovery this summer, however, has been "Jeff Who Lives At Home."  It's the one I immediately told my husband he had to watch.  "Stick it out through the first few scenes," I warned him, because if you've ever had a grown child you feared would never get his own life, this movie might lose you there.  But you find out there's a lot more to Jeff's basement-dwelling than you think you know, and, then, there's the phone call.  The phone call.
Anyone else would have taken it for a wrong number, but Jeff doesn't.  This initiates a series of adventures that tell you not only all about Jeff's family and why each member as stuck as Jeff is, but also leads the viewer to ask the question.  Is Jeff nuts, or is Jeff on to something?  I've never wondered so much about a movie while watching it (will this just be another two hours of my life I'll never get back??) only to have my expectations so wholly subverted by the film's conclusion.  The characters in this film are so real, I feel like I might know some of them.  Seriously.  Maybe I shouldn't reveal that, given what wrecks they all
are when we first meet them, but participating--willing, by accident or coerced--in Jeff's quest (delusion??) resolves realistic problems for each one of them in very unique ways.  And then there's the magic element: Jeff, and the question...but I won't give that away.
If you've not already seen "Jeff," I hope you love it as much as I did.

What are your favorite movies in the magic realism genre?  I'd love it if you'd leave the titles in the comments here.  I'm always looking for some new ones for my to-watch list.

Thanks for visiting during the Magic Realism Blog hop.  Don't forget to enter our giveaway!

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Michelle Kemper Brownlow's In Too Deep, Review by Christine Locke

Today, I'm delighted to take part in the Blog Tour for Michelle Kemper Brownlow, author of In Too Deep. My review of In Too Deep follows the synopsis and author information, below.  An ARC was received in exchange for an honest review.

Gracie has just finished her freshman year of college in Memphis when she takes a job at a local pizza joint in her home town of McKenzie, Tennessee. She is the epitome of innocence when she meets Noah. Noah is unabashedly handsome, intriguingly reckless and just cocky enough to be sexy. Gracie’s instincts tell her to stay far away from him and based on the stories she hears from her co-workers he leaves broken hearts in his wake. But still, she can’t explain her fascination with him.
Noah puts aside his bad boy ways when what he thought was a summer crush has him unexpectedly falling in love. But soon after Gracie transfers to UT Knoxville to be with Noah, their unexpected love becomes riddled with anger, deceit and humiliation.

Jake, Noah’s former roommate and Gracie’s best friend, can no longer be a bystander. Gracie’s world falls out from beneath her and when she breaks she turns to Jake for strength. As Jake talks her through a decision she’s not yet strong enough to make, together they uncover a truth so ugly neither of them is prepared for its fallout. Will Jake pull her to the surface or is Gracie Jordan finally In Too Deep?

Meet the Author

Michelle Kemper Brownlow has been a storyteller her entire life. Her debut was on the high school cheerleading bus granting requests to re-tell her most embarrassing moments for a gaggle of hysterical squadmates.
Earning her Bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in Art Education and then marrying her very own “Jake,” she moved to Binghamton, NY where she taught high school. After having two children she quit work and finished her Master’s degree in Elementary Education at Binghamton University.
The Brownlow family of four moved to Michelle’s hometown of Morgantown, PA while the children were still quite young. A few years after moving, her family grew by one when they welcomed a baby into their home through the gift of adoption. The family still resides in PA, just miles from where that high school cheer bus was parked.
Michelle has been an artist for as long as she can remember, always choosing pencils and crayons over toys and puzzles. As a freelance illustrator, her simple characters play the starring roles in numerous emergent reader books published by Reading Reading Books.
“Writing is my way of making sense of the world. When I give my characters life on the pages I write, it frees up space in my mind to welcome in new stories that are begging to be told,” says Brownlow.
Twitter: @MK_Brownlow

Review of In Too Deep:
Have you ever wondered why a friend stayed in a relationship that was not physically abusive but still tortured her?  Have you ever been frustrated by her inability to see what everyone else clearly did?  And, if she did seem to see it, has it driven you crazy that she just won't walk away?  If you've answered "yes," read In Too Deep to better understand your friend and how to help her.

Five Stars

Confession: I didn't like the story at first.  Gracie drove me nuts.  Too sheltered!  Too innocent! Too naive!

I kept reading, though, and, then, the revelation: Gracie was me--not the me of now, but the me of 20 years ago.  I felt like rocks dropped from my stomach and pounded the soles of my feet as I understood this.  Sh*t, I thought, as Gracie uttered things like: "[Our love] wasn't a given.  It would only survive if I protected it," or "I...wished I could predict his reactions.  They were never the same twice.  I was always walking on eggshells."  Or, how about this beauty?  "'It's not like he knows he's making me feel that way.  I just do.'"

Some books tick you off because they make you realize or remember something about yourself, something you thought you were better off forgetting.  If you've ever experienced an abusive relationship similar to the one portrayed by In Too Deep, then reading this book will not be easy.  It's going to take you back to that place, and it's going to make you wish you'd had a book like this one when you went through what you did.  I didn't like Gracie much at first, because Gracie made me remember being...well, Gracie.

You should read this book if you've been through emotional abuse.  Even if you faced your own situation years ago, remembering can keep you compassionate (yes, it's OK for you to imagine me wiping a little egg off my face right about now) toward less experienced women who now endure what you once did.  If you are a survivor of emotional abuse, reading this book may be very helpful to you in understanding what happened and why you felt the way you did.

But let's take a few minutes here to discuss the intended audience for this book: New Adult women.  Although it's controversial, I do like the term, "New Adult" as a way to define a literary audience.  I like that it identifies contemporary fiction intended for women too old to need protection from "adult" activity descriptions but too young to have much personal experience of those same activities.  In Too Deep is a great example of the emerging genre of New Adult fiction and at the same time it is a great test case for understanding why we need that genre, separate and apart from, say, "Young Adult Romance."

In Too Deep is a romance novel and does contain explicit descriptions of sex.  In Too Deep also describes abusive situations that are very realistically portrayed but are not appropriate for a young audience.  But In Too Deep gives the reader an incredibly realistic and detailed portrayal of how a bright, lovely, and well-loved young woman finds herself entwined in a relationship she clearly must escape but feels she can't.  I've never seen this paradox so carefully explored.  

As for the story, I enjoyed it a great deal, which is significant since I am not much of a romance reader.  This is a very romantic, sweet tale--which comes as a surprise since for much of the novel Gracie is crying--or heaving.  She heaved a lot, to tell the truth.  For me, the best part of the book was the middle, as I was fascinated by the way Brownlow depicted the abuser's ability to draw Gracie back in again and again.  The ending of the novel is romantically satisfying and concludes the narrative well, but I was a little concerned to see Gracie jump from an abusive relationship into another relationship with a friend.  Don't get me wrong--Brownlow handles this very well and for the novel's story it works beautifully.  But, in real life, a victim of abuse like Gracie might have to find a way to stand alone for a while before she connects to someone new, and that can be very discouraging.

I'm giving this story 5* because it does something I have never seen before: In Too Deep entertains the reader with a sweet romance while at the same time effectively educating her/him on the causes, the allure, and the aftereffects of emotional abuse.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Madeleine L'Engle's Poly O'Keefe Series, Reviews by Christine Locke


The Poly/Polly O'Keefe series was recently re-released with beautifully simple cover art.  I've always meant to read them, so I bought them, I read them, and, now, I am deep in thought about them.

In a way, this kind of writing is what I would most like to be able to do in my own work.  It's the kind of writing I dream about, as in literally, when I'm sleeping.  These characters feel both real and like something I imagined.  This series fills me with the same sense of wonder and deja vu I felt when I read the Wrinkle in Time series.  There's something about L'Engle that gets into my head and then persuades me that she's been there all along.

Most of the time, I think Madeleine L'Engle's writing for children and young adults gets classified as scifi/fantasy.  I hear that, I really do, for after all her main characters are almost always scientists or children of scentists, and the "paranormal" or fantastical events that occur are often explained by these characters as a part of their scientific endeavor or as somehow explainable by science.

However, I am going to treat this series, written many years ago now but recently rereleased, as magic realism, for two reasons. 

First of all, this series of books will brilliantly illustrate what I mean when I say that magic realism, writing in this genre, requires that you treat the fantastic as if it were a mere detail in an otherwise realistic and exquisitely detailed story.  So, if you can take all the fantasy OUT of your story and the plot still holds, you may have written magic realism.  The fantastic makes the story more rich, like the description of a tall auburn-haired girl whose gangling, budding beauty will soon become glamour surpassing the petty prettiness of the bullying girls at school.  Understanding Polly's physical presence helps us understand L'Engle's story.  It would still be the same story were we not so able to "see" our main character; her description, seeing her through the eyes of other characters, ADDS to the story.  It is also like this with all the fantastical elements in the story, whether it is the regeneration projects her father works on, the telepathic abilities and prophetic dreams of her brother, Charles, or the ability of a South American tribe to heal others and see parts of the present/future.  All these things add to the stories contained in this series, but the stories would still hold water without them.

The second reason I'm going to treat these stories as magic realism is one of particular interest to me in a recent writing project.  First, there was magic, with pointy hats and cauldrons and wands and such.  Then, there was science, with goggles and beakers and the scientific method.  Now, the clear line between science and magic is growing more and more fuzzy all the time.  A couple of decades ago, it was the funky new-agers saying that stuff.  Now, it's the scientists.  Even more than when L'Engle was writing these stories, what was once thought of as magic IS an area of science.  Particle physics is now cross-disciplinary, with relevance in all kinds of fields.  So, with the unique elements L'Engle tended to employ, her work is a prime example of a magic realism in which the magic that may have a scientific explanation but is, as yet, unexplained.  We could soon see the day when all fantastic events have scientific explanations, yet that does not make them any less mysterious or wondrous or magical.

So, here are a few brief thoughts on each of these volumes:

The Arm of the Starfish
All three of these books are about the O'Keefe family.  Mom and Dad are scientifically oriented, although mom has many children and little time for her interests in mathmatics.  In this novel, Dad is conducting very secret experiments on starfish having to do with their ability to regenerate.  This research is valuable to many, and he has been threatened.  But we do not see the O'Keefe's story directly, which is part of the charm of this series.  Instead, both the first and second books in this series are seen through the eyes of a young, male narrator who is acquainted with the family through work or by chance.  In the first, a young man, Adam, gets a job as an assistant to Dr. O'Keefe.  It is through eyes of this imperfect narrator, as Adam struggles to make a choice between loyalty to the family and the allure of espionage, that we first get to know the O'Keefes.
You really cannot be sure what choice our young man will make, which I like.  I also like the way L'Engle does resolve the issues, although I won't spoil that here.  But I will identify fantastical elements: Poly gives a gift that seems to imply she has some ability to sense the future; her brother, Charles, also knows that something very sad will happen before it does; there is a dolphin that shows up at opportune moments; and Dr. O'Keefe's experiments seem to conclude that regeneration is possible for humans.  Yet, for all these elements bring to the story, you could take them away and be left with the same story.

Dragons in the Waters
Dr. O'Keefe's lab has moved but he is still doing super-secret research.  In addition, his assistance has been requested in the analysis of pollution in a South American bay, and he takes two of his children on the boat trip there: Poly and Charles.  For the second volume, our narrator is yet another young man, this one an American southern boy haunted by his family's past.  Simon was raised by his grandmother on a pitiful remnant of their family's once fine Southern home, and you know I was drawn by the detailed description of her gardens and their poor but cozy life.  In fact, I was delighted to find that the Southern grandmother has a prominent role in the story, even showing up in South America.
Fantastical elements here are Charles' usual abilities, along with the ability of a native tribe to "see" events in the past, present and future and to heal others (recalling Dr. O'Keefe's regeneration projects from the last book, although the two do not appear to be linked.
And here's a wonderful detail for you on this novel: its genre utterly defies classification.  There are elements of Southern Gothic, Fantasy, Science Fiction...but in truth, the overarching plot of this novel is a good, old-fashioned murder mystery that the kids help solve.  That's right, Scooby gang!

A House Like a LotusThere's a new genre out there these days, one that is designed for people who have been reading Young Adult books but have grown up a bit--ok, maybe a lot.  It's called New Adult.
I guess L'Engle was ahead of her time, because this volume, written in Polly's voice (she chose to change the spelling of her name, she explains in this one) and from her own point of view, is definitely New Adult.
Here, Polly is all grown up and is defining herself in all kinds of ways...and the new spelling of her name is just one example of that.  Polly is defining herself intellectually with what she reads and studies, socially by her choice of friends and activities, and, also, Polly is defining herself sexually.  She has several sexual experiences in this book, including assault and intercourse, so of course I would not recommend it for the Young Adult audience.  But I also would not make the mistake of saying the book should not be read by young people.  The window into Polly's thoughts as she works through these issues is a useful one for others going through the same things, or even for those who might want to look back on that time in their lives and think it through.
There are no fantastical elements of this book.  It's pretty much a straight-up coming of age story, and, yet, the natural scenes are so lush and Polly's interior life so rich, I'm still haunted by them.  The violence is so realistic; L'Engle conveys so well the horror of having a loved one betray us with an invasive act.  I do not recommend it for very young readers, but for mature ones, this book is a beautiful place to begin many responsible discussions.