Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Buy some books for Christmas! (by authors Tom Saunders, Steve Augarde, and Robin Slick!)

Okay, I've got to sit on assorted Julie and Eric news for a couple of days, so in the meantime, I'm going to appeal to you on behalf of some very talented author friends of mine to have a look at their wonderful books, because, you know, what makes a better holiday gift? And if you scroll all the way down, and I hope you do because I would not be urging you to buy these books and take the time to cut and paste in all of these reviews if I didn't think it was so, so worth it, you'll see this insanely generous and flattering email I got on Thanksgiving from a reader who'd just finished Three Days in New York City...

First up is a magnificent collection of short stories written by Tom Saunders, which you can buy right here.

Take a look at some of the reviews this book received:

Wonderful stories, superbly written. May 29, 2005
Reviewer: Tania Casselle
Two months after reading this collection, many of the stories are still vivid in my mind. I feel like I've stumbled across a modern classic, with fresh storylines, strong characters, and original language.

My favorites include Aunt Frank's Legacy, Remember Us, The Seal Man, and Nave Nave Mahana, but to be honest it's hard to pick any one story out. It's rare to read a book of short fiction where the standard stays so high throughout, but the diversity and richness of this bunch of stories kept me hooked. I read some to my husband as we drove cross-country, and he loved them too.

Saunders is a bold stylist, not afraid of examining both the dark and the tender sides of life. The mood is sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet, sometimes hauntingly scary. He shows good insight into the ridiculous aspect of human nature and doesn't hesitate to point that up. In some stories I snorted out loud at the witty observations, in others I was scared for what would happen next. Often I was just deeply moved.

I'm looking forward to re-reading soon, and for anyone who enjoys entertaining and literary short fiction, I'd say that Brother is a no-brainer.

Superb Collection!, February 25, 2005
Reviewer: Katrina Denza

In the title story, successful composer Griffin Curzon attempts suicide and his inventor brother tries to resurrect him from his rapid mental decline to the man he once was. In the heart of his illness, Griffin writes in a letter to his brother this apt metaphor for life:

" `Brother,
We see merit in numbers, in sequences. We search for the infinite in variety. We are imbeciles. Every note of music is a whole, deep symphony of sound. Play it soft, than softer still, breath on it, then strike it hard, harder, hit it so it rings on and on, the texture wavering and changing. Then add rhythm, slow, slower, a little bit faster, build it up, rat-ta-tat. There is staccato, legato, on and on and on. One note, one beautiful, indivisible note.'"

In "Aerobatics," a father must face the inevitable changes in his relationship with his adult daughter, and in "The Seal Man," a lonely woman sees hope for herself in the arrival of a stranger to her island. The characters in these pages don't just make do, they transcend their circumstances. And the reader will find a variety of people here: transients who move into an abandoned zoo; an eccentric patron of the arts; a man coming back to his grandmother's house after her death; an infirm man bracing himself for death.

From "Sweet Mercy Leads Me On:"

"Now I'm lying awake trying to think of when I was at my happiest. Because of the drugs I've been given it's difficult to focus on anything but the present. My thoughts zigzag back and forth like a dog let loose in a park, picking up a scent only to discard it when a better one comes along."

Intelligent and sophisticated, these stories showcase Saunders' ability to render imaginative lives and settings in exquisite detail. Each story in the collection is a unique and lively world, yet each carries the mark of a sure hand, and the cohesive glue that binds them together is Saunders' understated brilliance and compassion for his characters.

If you have not already done so, I suggest you purchase a copy of this superb collection. You'll be glad you did.
Exquisite stories, February 9, 2005
Reviewer: Kathryn Koromilas
Tom Saunders has tuned into the deep dark secrets of our world, of happiness and sadness, and has articulated them in the stories collected in "Brother, what strange place is this?".

The title story with the brother Griffin jumping out of a window only to survive and end up in an institution for the insane addresses the title question in an emotional and philosophical way, but really, all the stories in this collection are studies of the same question.

"Aerobatics" is the one that most got to me, the one I can't forget: A father tells his daughter about the time, when he was a boy, that he came home from school to see to his mother crying, "breaking her heart". He explains that up until that moment he was happy and then "suddenly I was landed with this knowledge about my mother...I wasn't prepared for what I saw...I wasn't prepared for a world where that sort of sadness was possible."

You have to be prepared to read this collection. You won't be, of course. Like the little boy who is suddenly faced with the shock of his mother in tears, one can never be prepared to face the depth of the world's sadness (for the boy) or strangeness (for the brother, Griffin).

Yes, I recommend this collection of stories. Tom Saunders is a sensitive and intelligent writer who is concerned with the truth of the human condition.

Rare quality. , December 29, 2004
Reviewer: Ed Touchette
A Compeling Exploration

Tom Saunders' collection is the work of a true artist.
His writing leads you through a range of human interaction and emotion. In stories like THE RED TRAIN, Saunders tackles subjects that are delicate, controversial at best and with great sensitivity lays it out for the reader to advance conclusions. Without pretense or presumption he offers the reader the opportunity to explore. A true gift Brother, What Strange Place Is This? is a remarkable collection by a remarkable writer.
Bob Arter is a happy reader, December 28, 2004
Reviewer: Robert W. Arter "Happy reader"

After decades of minimalism, modernism, postmodernism, and batty maunderings, Saunders' careful, credible storytelling is as an oasis to the parched mind. My own personal favorite in this varied collection, The Calle de Obra Pia, will sit you down on a piano bench next to a man who is hopelessly in love. You may like him--and this is true of all of Saunders' characters--or you may not, but I tell you that you will care about him, you will know him, you will very likely find in him yourself.

And this is the truth that infects Saunders' stories, and draws the reader into them: he does not write about Everyman; instead, he continues to show us variations on the species. None is wholly good nor entirely sympathetic. Each is as imperfect, as yearning, and as capable of greatness in small spaces as are you, as am I.

This collection is clean air. Do yourself a favor.

Pure Genius, December 28, 2004
Reviewer: Robin Slick

Tom Saunders' debut short story collection took my breath away. These are timeless classics -- quirky, colorful, and incredibly intelligent. Each story stands alone as a perfect little gem; they are a rare treat for the reader who not only likes to be entertained but for the reader who likes to be challenged as well. Think Raymond Carver; think Barry Hannah; think Tobias Wolff and maybe, just maybe, you'll get an idea of the genius of Tom Saunders. There are tinges of subtle humor throughout certain pieces, bittersweet reflections in others..just an amazing, amazing read. Brother, What Strange Place is This is akin to discovering a wonderful hidden treasure...a treasure to be shared and savored.
unique and stunning , December 28, 2004
Reviewer: susan_d
British author Tom Saunders' debut collection of short stories, Brother, What Strange Place is This is a glorious success. Multi-layered and eclectic, the work showcases the literary talents and broad imagination of its creator. Saunders breathes life into a multitude of styles, characters, and settings, weaving strings of charming wit, gorgeous description, interesting plots, and heartfelt pathos into this gorgeously crafted tapestry.

From the title story, turn of the century brothers, one a talented pianist relegated to a mental institution and the other desperately trying to reach and understand him, to a modern-day father coming to grips with daughter's independence, he never fails to strike a unique and human chord. The language and phrasings are thick and lush, nearly an embarrassment of delightful, dizzying prose. Saunders has a keen knack for plucking unusual, but perfectly suited, words to highlight and accompany the themes and voices and tones of the pieces. His styles and subjects have a diversity and range. He plays with the clever and cheeky, such as in "Not For What You Are", which tells the story of a baker who believes he is the reincarnation of painter Dante Gabriel. And he doesn't shy from the tragic, such as in "The Seal Man" - the story of a man shipwrecked on a small island with brutal people. He takes a leap inside an abandoned zoo in "Nave Nave Mahana", where the homeless congregate and make shelter for themselves while finding hope in a stray monkey.

This is a captivating read, where the stories are fresh and engrossing, unpredictable, sometimes disturbing, and all of them are rendered with precision and a finely-tuned wordsmith's care.
Emotional Depth, Memorable Characters, December 28, 2004
Reviewer: Lydia Theys
This is a collection of incredibly varied short stories with one thing in common: the characters are quirky and often inhabit unusual worlds, yet I almost always recognized something of myself in them.

Mr Saunders does a beautiful job of setting the mood and of drawing the reader into it. There is a sense of quiet introspection about the stories that will leave you thinking that for a few brief moments, you got to know these people, and that you are happy you did. You won't find any convenient plot turns, melodramatic coincidences or neat-and-easy endings. Just a collection of stories about people and about big and small moments in their lives, all of which seem to matter.

I would love to see a novel from Mr Saunders and judging from the quality of the writing in these stories, I think we will.
And from Steve Augarde, Celandine, the second book of his Various trilogy, has just been published, and you can purchase both books here.

Below are some reviews for those two magnificent books. Now, Steve says they are "young adult", but I can tell you firsthand that they are also very much for grown-ups; Steve writes beautiful, intelligent fantasy like my other hero, best-selling author Neil Gaiman. And if that's not enough, he is also an amazing artist and responsible for the covers of both books, as well as the incredible artwork within:

Here are some reviews for Celandine and The Various:

Celandine, November 8, 2005
Reviewer: reabooks from Nr. Exmouth, E. Devon United Kingdom
Every once in a while a children's book bursts upon the literary scene and carries children of all ages before it. Celandine is one that belongs in the company of such classics as Watership Down, The Secret Garden, and the later Harry Potter books.
Set in the Somerset levels at the time of the First World War, it brilliantly evokes the brutality of home education under a sadistic governess, the even greater tribulations of a callously cruel boarding school, interspersed with flights into the world of the Various.
Running parallel to the troubles of our heroine, Celandine, the Northern tribes of the Various are engaged in a hazardous trek to seek the long lost Southern survivors that have formed a secret enclave in a wood on the farm where Celandine lives.
The course of the narrative, although riveting, must remain unrevealed here for fear of reducing the huge pleasure that any reader is boumd to experience.
5 out of 5 stars Worth the wait!, November 6, 2005
Reviewer: Joy from Leeds
This long awaited sequel to "The Various" will take you back to an era almost a century ago, just before the outbreak of World War I and before women’s’ rights. Celandine is “different”, an exotically beautiful and high spirited young girl not only misunderstood by adults but by those her own age, too. Her parents fail to recognize that she has a very special magic, and therefore she is the forgotten one in a family of two older brothers, a loving but helpless mother, and a stern, unforgiving father. So not knowing what else to do with her after Celandine finally retaliates following several incidents with a cruel, sadistic governess (which her parents refuse to acknowledge or believe), they send her off to boarding school, where she is teased and taunted by the other students and severely disciplined by her teachers. But Celandine has a secret. Before being sent to away to school, during an accident in which she strikes her head while playing with her brother on the vast property owned by her father, she meets Fin, a member of The Various, a tribe of little people living unnoticed among the “Gorgi”, or giants – humans, like Celandine herself, who are fighting for their survival. Breaking all rules of the tribe, Fin takes her through a secret tunnel to meet them. Once Celandine convinces the Various she is not their enemy, they accept her help – everything from useful gifts like fishing hooks to teaching them to read and write. Their trust in her is complete when they offer their home among the hidden caves in the forest as a refuge when circumstances at school become too horrifying to bear and Celandine learns of an unspeakable tragedy at home…events that make it impossible for her to return. She is lost, she is lonely, but somehow she becomes part of this strange, mystical community as she struggles to come to terms with all that has happened while realizing that The Various themselves are in terrible danger as well from not only the outside world but from forces within their own ranks -- and that this danger extends to her, too. Celandine's experiences are a fascinating mixture of humor and heartache that make for a fast paced, nail biting adventure, and there is a direct link to her own personal torment and joy to that of The Various. Like them, she is a lost soul who is searching for a place in what seems to be a cold, cruel world, and the book’s tender, beautiful conclusion will have many reaching for a box of tissues.

5 out of 5 stars a wonderful read, March 9, 2005
STRING(top-500-reviewer_5245) Reviewer: ilonacat from EASTHAM, WIRRAL United Kingdom
I was attracted to this book by its cover and by the Somerset setting- I deliberately don't say "background" because the landscape in this book is almost a character in its own right. . Suffice to say that Midge, a contemporary girl, encounters a winged horse in a disused barn. . .and nothing will ever be the same again. There are fairies galore, and none of them is of the glittery Disney variety-they are the genuine article-British fairies,many of whom are squat, grotesque and hairy whilst a few are unnervingly beautiful. Both Midge's world and that of the "Various" are rendered in superb and lively writing.The landscape of field and forest is rendered beautifully, as is the Somerset dialect that the fairies speak.

I'm very much looking forward to the remaining books of the trilogy.

An Enjoyable Book, February 17, 2005
(top-500-reviewer_5245) Reviewer: cogsworth from United Kingdom
An enjoyable story about 12 year-old Midge, who comes to stay on her cousin's farm and discovers a fairy world in a soon to be demolished forest. These are not the Enid Blyton twee fairies - or the gun toting elves of Artemis Fowl - but something much more believable. There are several races/communities each with their own cultures living in uneasy alliance with one another. When Midge rescues a tiny winged horse, she is invited to share her knowledge of the forth-coming demolition with the Fairy Queen (described as a tubby little creature in faded finery), and so doing, puts her cousins in mortal danger.

The author has created a believable world, paying immense attention to detail. However, this strength means that the book is quite lengthy for its intended age group and at times the pacing is rather slow. Illustrations are pleasant, but rather too few. I like the notion that the race of Fairies considered to be of the lowest rank are, in fact, the only ones who have learnt to read and who appreciate art and music. Their world, however, is in danger - and it is up to Midge and her cousins to save the day. But only if they can escape the bows and arrows of those faries who believe their intrusion is a threat rather than a rescue mission. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

5 out of 5 stars One of my favourite books this year, October 27, 2004
Reviewer: A reader from England
Other reviewers here have well covered the plot. I would simply like to add that this is a fantastic book. The cover is lovely - it stood out on the bookshelf and made me pick it up - and the story, characters and style are wonderful.

I didn't want to finish it but at the same time couldn't put it down. Now I cannot wait for the follow up book. It will be well worth the wait I'm sure.

5 out of 5 stars From the New York Times. July 11. 2004, July 10, 2004
Reviewer: A reader from United Kingdom
Written and illustrated by Steve Augarde.
David Fickling Books, $16.95. (Ages 10 and up)
In this rousing addition to the durable genre of British fairy lit, a 12-year-old girl named Midge is packed off by her violinist mother for an extended summer vacation at her uncle's ramshackle farm in the West Country. Grumpy about being left alone with the family eccentric, Midge discovers he is actually quite kind, if a bit dotty, and begins to feel at home as she explores her rural surroundings.
One day she discovers a tiny winged horse wounded by an old piece of farm machinery. When she nurses it back to health she learns -- telepathically -- about the realm of the ''Various,'' five tribes of ''little people'' confined by human encroachment to a dense, bristle-protected patch of woods known as the Royal Forest. With the tribes' resources drying up and extinction looming, the horse was sent to scout for new frontiers, unaware, until Midge tells him, that the forest had already been put up for sale by her Gorji (human) uncle.
Before long, Midge and the winged horse are making their case before a full muster of the knee-high Various, presided over by the comically addled Queen Ba-betts. From there, the story swings back and forth between the Royal Forest -- where we learn of the ancient ways of the Troggles, Tinklers, Irckri, Wisps and Naiads -- and the farm, where Midge is soon joined by her two cousins and where the two worlds inevitably collide.
Steve Augarde, an illustrator and author who has worked on two animated BBC television series, sprinkles a few black-and-white line drawings into the narrative, but is careful to leave his characters' appearance to the imagination.
The first instalment in a planned trilogy, ''The Various'' is long on atmospherics and rolls along at an unhurried pace that might test the patience of more jaded young readers. But there's also plenty of action -- including a gripping showdown between some little people and the hulking, remorseless barn cat Tojo the Assassin (''the scourge of all living things that dared cross his path'') and enough foreshadowing of mysterious secrets and future culture clashes to lock in an audience for the next two volumes.

5 out of 5 stars From The Washington Post, May 23, 2004
Reviewer: A reader from Yorkshire. United Kingdom
Sunday, April 11, 2004; Page D08

Twelve-year-old Midge, whose father is dead and whose mother is a concert violinist, has been shipped to spend the summer with her rather bumbling Uncle Brian. Midge has a strange sense of having been on the family's old farm in western England before, and almost immediately odd things start to happen.

For one, she discovers a tiny, wounded, winged horse. The horse leads her to several tribes of small beings, called "the Various." The creatures are barely eking out an existence in the woods on her uncle's property -- woods that are slated for development. When good-hearted Midge tries to warn the little people, some of them turn on her, and things go badly. Then her two cousins show up, complicating the already dangerous situation she has made for herself and for the Various.

This book mixes the fanciful with very real situations, such as missing a mom and not getting along with cousins. Midge and her family are easy to relate to and the Various are convincingly detailed, so you'll find yourself lost in this story. The magic seems real, the real seems magic and the book weaves a spell you'll be reluctant to break. Thankfully, it's the first in a trilogy.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

And of course one more time, let me hawk my book because the sequel is finished and like, you need to read part one before jumping into that. But a few days ago, on Thanksgiving, I received a fan letter from a woman who is part of my online writing group. This letter thrilled me, because as I've noted on several occasions, there are over 65,000 people worldwide who belong to that group and it contains some of the most talented people in the world, such as the above mentioned Tom Saunders and Steve Augarde.


I just finished Three Days In New York City, and this is my poor attempt at some resemblance of half-ass intelligent feedback.

Reading this was my greatest gift-to-myself since my hysterectomy (and this is a compliment. If you haven’t had one, do it, you’ll never regret it!)

(Note from me: Um, I think I'll pass but I'll take your word for it)

I won’t tell you that reading it changed my life: It didn’t, and I have some serious doubts about anyone who says that merely reading one book could actually change a life, but I will say it gave me a good, wholesome, maybe I’m not totally nuts and perhaps there are other people like me out there who aren-t really nuts either feeling that I haven’t experienced in a very long time. To say the book made me laugh out loud, rue my current sexless marriage, and pat myself on the back for being so at-one with the guilty pleasure of sex-via-reading about it would be too much to actually say on paper. After all, I am paranoid at sounding like a total idiot, and this fan letter is beginning to sound a lot like Richard’s porn writing fiasco. (All I need is a few phrases like “his blood-engorged member” or “feint with wanton lust” ---no, even he wasn’t that bad.

(Note from me: Richard is the name of the male character in my book, and yeah, he does write porn as a side thing though his primary occupation is that he's an attorney)

You drew me in on the first page – the paragraph about woman next to you and the guy in the turban – and then that wonderful sentence-I wonder if men can sniff these things out. I didn’t put it down ‘til the last page.

Ok, I lie. I went to the bathroom a couple of times. I checked on my 16-year-old, who had her wisdom teeth out yesterday and is high/comatose on real drugs. But it was a nonstop read, right down to those last few pages that signal the inevitable end you don’t want to happen yet. You rock. Truly.

I have always read a lot, and wanting/trying to write has really called my attention to how much has already been written and how much there is I haven’t read: Even to call oneself “well-read” is a near-impossibility in this age. I won’t say that you have invented a new genre, since I guess this is close to impossible as well, I’ll simply say that I, in my lowly, southern redneckedness, have never read anything quite like it before now. And to say “thank you” for making it available to me is not near enough.

No matter how I try to dress it up and disguise it, all my fiction is in some way autobiographical. I know (from some online “conversation” whether through email, workshopping at Zoe, or IM) that your life finds its way into your work as well, but you are a stellar example to the rest of us. You take a fantasy, a mid-life crisis, or simply an insoluble situation and use it to make something creative, intellectual, and damned funny all at once. This is what our alter egos, the ones that never really surface, do in our lives, yet you’ve put it out there and shown us that it can be done for real. Like I said before, a mere “thank you” is just not enough.

Two years ago, you helped me with a flash story I really liked, one of my favorites that no one else seemed to get. You red-inked it like a pro and made it exactly what I wanted it to be all along.

Now I can order you from Amazon.com--- this may be my only touch with greatness in this lifetime.

But I’ll always remember the perfect teacher that made me feel like F. Scott Fitzgerald. To find out that’s really who SHE was, is just that more amazing. (Okay, I’ll stop gushing now, I realize you’re seeing Gina and John without the sex. God, how boring….)

( Note from me: Gina and John are the characters in "Richard's" abortion of a porn story which he reads to the female heroine during one of the "hot" scenes in the book)

Well, today is Thanksgiving, and I guess this is my shot at being thankful.

Thanks for making this a happy holiday.

And when can I get the next installment?

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and the Best of Ground Hog’s
Wow. So how cool was that letter. It really had me choked up.

I am not exactly sure when the sequel will be out, but look at the cover -- isn't it pretty?

Oh, regarding Three Days in New York City, you can buy an autographed copy here.