Review: North of Sunset

North of Sunset
Henry Baum

North of SunsetIf there's an everyman, then Michael Sennet is every celebrity. Michael Sennet is a movie star. He should be happy, but he's bored. What does he do after he's achieved the best of everything: the best women, the best cars, the best homes, the best drugs? He doesn't have an answer. Meanwhile, the Vanity Plate Killer is roaming the streets of Los Angeles looking for new victims and dreaming of fame of his own. When Michael Sennet uses the M.O. of the Vanity Plate Killer, they find something that eclipses any starring role.

I need to start off by saying that the language in this book really held me up for some time. During the first few pages I think I read the F-word used in every part of speech. Seriously... noun, verb, adjective. The whole bit. For me, it was a bit much, even though I know people talk like this often. I managed to keep reading because I knew the story line would be good, I just had to make myself read through the language. Usually my intuitions are right, and they did not disappoint me this time.

Michael Sennet is an A-list celebrity. Actually, more like an A+ list celebrity. He thinks he's a god, but that does not keep him from being bored with his life. Everything is given to him, which makes his ego almost unbearable. However, the one thing he wants the most he can't have.

Cur Knudsen is a kool-aid drinking lunatic. As I read through his description and role in the American Purity Church, I just couldn't help but thinking about some of the various cults you hear about in the news. He would be grade-A material for such a news segment. In case you don't figure it out early on, Curt has some issues. He is the Vanity Plate Killer.

As a general rule, I try not to read the back covers of books. I tend to read the first chapter and the last page. I can tell whether or not I'll like a book from the first 20 pages or so. Going into this book, I had no idea about the twists in events that I would encounter fairly early on. Needless to say, I was surprised. Given Michael's arrogant nature, I thought he would be a target and that would be the story. I really didn't anticipate his role in the copy cat murder. It made complete sense though, since his selfishness has created this unobtainable view of perfection that no one can live up to. Not even Michael Sennet himself. When all the loose ends start to wrap up, I got my Pulp Fiction tingles. At least that is the mood I contribute to the ending. (By the way, Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies--even with the language.)

The characters in this book are phenomenal. The are well written, flaws and all. I liked how the story was told from one character's view at a time. You really had an opportunity to get into their heads. The hubris of each of the "celebrity" characters (mainly, Michael Sennet) was real. All of the characters were flawed but believable. Surprisingly, the traits that made Michael vain and arrogant can also be found in many of the other characters. Personally, when I think of Hollywood, these are the types of people I imagine.

Overall, I can't give the book a four (4) because of the over-abundant use of the F-bomb. Seriously. It really did hamper my reading. I found myself only being able to read three or four pages at a time because of it. I eventually conditioned myself to it and made it through the remainder of the story fairly quickly. (Michael's slip into crazy land made it easy to become engrossed.) I give it a solid three (3) for my tastes. If language doesn't bother you, I'm sure you'll rate it higher. The basis of the story is original and well written/ developed. And, the characters--as screwed up as they were-- were actually likable (to some extent). North of Sunset is marketed as a satire, and I fully agree. It's a well-written Hollywood satire.


Blog Hop and Follow Friday (20)

Book Blogger Hop

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted at Crazy for Books. This week's question asks us "How many books are in your TBR pile?

I really thought I had a lot of books waiting to be read, but then I saw that some people have over 1,000! I'm pretty sure I would be kicked out of my house at that point. Currently, I have two large shelves full of books (two rows each, of course). I think that equals around 150 once you include my little piles around the house and next to my bed. I use my books as decorative pieces. =) You know, like Potterybarn does with the coffee tables and all. 




Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View and features a new blogger each week. This week's feature is Rhiannon Paille. This week's question is:  What's your favorite genre and which book in that genre made it your favorite?

 Fantasy is my favorite genre-- hands down. I think it all started with a Tamora Pierce book that featured a main character with my name. Four series and 15 books later, I was hooked. Before that though, my grown up self read a lot of Victorian Literature. I even thought about getting my Master's in it. That can be attributed to the awesome Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice and Kate Chopan's The Awakening. (sigh)


Review: The Wild Adventures of Eli Johnson and Curly Bill

The Wild Adventures of Eli Johnson and Curly Bill
Dan Wright


Product Details:
Pages: 113
Reading Level: Middle Grades (boys)
Publisher: CreateSpace, October 30, 2010
ISBN: 1453721045
Source: A copy of the book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

The Wild Adventures of Eli Johnson and Curly BillIn the mid 1800 s many American s headed West in search of gold and adventure. These folks traveled on horses and buggies down perilous trails filled with bandits, wild animals, and hostile Indians in an effort to strike it rich. Our story follows a young man from Virginia, Eli Johnson, who shares the same dream of discovering gold. His plans are derailed as a card game goes bad in a small hotel/saloon in the mountains of Colorado, and is forced to live a life on the run with his comrade Curly Bill. Along the way, the men encounter a host of interesting characters, battle dangerous animals, and try to stay one step ahead of a group of bandits looking for revenge. The men learn valuable lessons about friendship, survival, and a love of the great outdoors.

I am always looking for books that will appeal to my 8 year old son (and my male students). It seems like there is an abundance of "girly" books, but a very limited selection for boys. I'm not in the market to give my kids (or the ones I teach) books that are overly gory and full of suggestive content. They get more than enough of that from public television and video games. When I received the request to read and review The Wild Adventures of Eli Johnson and Curly Bill by Dan Wright, I was elated to have the opportunity. 

Originally, I handed the book to my son and asked him if he wanted to read it first, but he freaked out when he saw how many chapters were in the book (50). Now, mind you, the chapters are 1-2 pages long! But I guess that equates to Moby Dick length in the eyes of a lazy 8 year old. I decided it would be best if I read it aloud to him before bed time each night. That way I could read it for the review, and I could get his opinion on the book since he is the target audience.

He loved this book!  From the first confrontation in the saloon, he was engrossed in the plot. I would only read a few chapters a night (I had my own reading to do), which often left him begging for me to read a few more pages. He was predicting and anticipating what would happen-- there were great cliffhangers at the end of most of the chapters. We even found ourselves laughing hysterically at Sal the donkey and Miner Mike. A donkey that chews tobacco and sits at a table is hysterical, I don't care who you are! There were also lessons about ecological preservation and our responsibility to nature. Pretty hard stuff for a book intended for 8-11 year olds. 

If you're expecting an epic novel full of deep characterization, you're not going to get it with this book and that is okay. Curly Bill is a nice balance to Eli and he does manage to teach us a few things-- preserving nature, PETA friendly relationships with wild animals, etc. There were certainly lessons you could discuss based on the characters' actions. The humor was one of my favorite aspects of this book. Just when things would seem to get a little heavy, Miner Mike would enter and offer up the perfect comic relief. And I can't forget about Sal... hysterical. 

There were also some pretty diabolical villains in the story. Three in fact: One Arm Jack, Rattlesnake, and Horseshoe. They were cut throat. There is also a one-eyed grizzly bear after Eli. The book read like an elaborate version of a bedtime story, which I really liked. It would be too long to read in one sitting for a younger child, but it was perfect for nightly readings.

I loved the fact that my son begged me to keep reading each night! That in itself gives this book 4 stars in my eyes. Anything that makes a young child--boy or girl-- want to read should win an award. With so many distractions thrown at our kids, it's nice to have a wholesome book to offer our younger readers. There was plenty of adventure and six shooter action to make this book seem "mature" for their young palates, but it was still appropriate for the intended age group. 

Anyone with a son between the ages of 8-13 should get a copy of this book. Your child will love it.


Author Interview + Giveaway

Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin
E.H. Jones


Gatehouse: The Door to Canellin (Volume 1)I read this book a few weeks ago and fell in love with the story instantly. This has to be one of the BEST fantasy novels I have read in a long time. A really long time. The Door to Canellin has everything that you could want in a fantasy book: magic, struggling protagonists, evil dragons, adventures, and plenty of sword fights. You can read my complete review here. It's an amazing book!



The author, E.H. Jones, has graciously agreed to an interview (below) and to giveaway a copy of his book to one lucky person!

Contest Rules:
  • The contest is for US participants only. 
  • The contest will run from June 15-21. 
  • I will e-mail the winner, which will have 48 hours to respond with his/her mailing information. From there, the author will ship the book. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, a new winner will be chosen.  


I would like to thank E.H. Jones for participating in this interview AND giving away a copy of his awesome book. I can't say enough times how much I enjoyed reading The Door to Canellin, and I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series.


1. What inspired you to write this book? Where did you get the idea?

The idea and the inspiration are two very different things in the case of this book. The idea for The Door to Canellin was something that had been simmering in my brain for a while when I finally got around to writing it. I have always been an avid reader of fantasy, science fiction, and horror of all types. I’ve always loved, in particular, books in which a normal, average person is placed into a fantastic sci fi universe, or a world of magic and wizardry. Jack Chalker and his Dancing Gods books, or the Landover books from Terry Brooks, or the Narnia series… books that made me imagine that something like that could happen to me. I wanted to have a basic premise that would allow me to explore multiple genres in the various books, and write everything that I loved.

The inspiration, however, was my son. He was 11 years old at the time I wrote the first book, and he was having his share of problems in school, and socializing, in life in general. I was a single father raising a young son, and despite all the things we had in common, we had trouble relating to each other. So I conceived the Gatehouse as a short story, starring my son as the protagonist and me as the father, desperate to save him. The idea sort of grew from there, until the Gatehouse became first a book, and then a series of books.


2. Can you tell us anything about the next book in the series, The Door to Justice?

The Door to Justice takes our young hero to an alternate Earth, and the city of New Utopia, where two factions of super-heroes battle for control of the entire world. There is a larger cast of characters, including Wes’ cousin, Jack, and Jack’s mother, Fred. There are plenty of colorful costumed heroes, and hopefully a bit of mystery, intrigue, and humor to appeal to readers of all kinds.

3. In your opinion, what is the hardest part of the writing process?

The hardest part for me is making cuts. I tend to be kind of wordy. I want my readers to get every bit of information I have in my head, and it’s always been hard for me to realize that sometimes it’s better NOT to share it all. There’s an old (not that old, really…) saying among writers about murdering your little darlings. Every word I write is one of my little darlings. Just think how many of them I killed… the first draft of The Door to Canellin was almost 140,000 words, and the final published version is just over 110,000!

4. I found it interesting that The Black Knight’s story seemed a lot like King Arthur’s
story. Was that intentional? Will we see a return of the Black Knight in the next book?

There was an intentional parallel between The Black Knight and the story of Excalibur, in reverse. The Black Knight came from nowhere and saved the day, and then left the sword embedded in a stone for its next bearer to claim. The Black Knight (in his current incarnation… no spoilers!!) will of course make future appearances, and the mystery of The Obsidian Blade will eventually be explained. It plays a much deeper role in the mythos of The Gatehouse than is first revealed.

Also, the parallels to Excalibur and King Arthur were played for a bit of ironic humor, as evidenced by Ryan’s reaction when he first spied the sword in the stone. His laughter hopefully showed that I didn’t take my own references to Excalibur or Arthurian legend too seriously. The connection is there, but Arthurian legend has been used, overused, and abused over the years. I wanted that connection, but I wanted to also acknowledge that yes, in a certain light, that connection can seem almost silly.

5. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
  
Write every day. Write a lot. Set reasonable goals for daily word count and page count. You may end up throwing away half of what you write, but you have to write.

But the most important advice I can give comes after the author probably thinks the job is done. Edit! Edit extensively. Have other people read your work for the things you will probably miss, simply because you’re too close to the words. The biggest complaint I have heard about self published authors is that their books are sloppy and filled with typos. While I’m certain that my editors and I probably missed a couple of things here and there, I believe there’s no excuse for shoddy editing in our masterpieces!

6. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about YA books being too violent and centered on “dark” themes. The article took on a negative tone towards YA reading material. Do you—as a YA author—feel that the majority of the YA books are too “dark” (as the article’s author stated), or did the journalist blow things way out of proportion?

There is a lot of darkness in YA books these days. There is even a little in The Door to Canellin, and wow, you should wait until Book 3, The Door to Fear! But I try to keep a balance of the lighthearted tone and the dark subject matter. That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a dark tone. I remember when I was in the “young adult” age group. I tended to avoid books that were written for readers my age, preferring to go with books with a more mature tone. I feel that if we write our books “dumbed down” or too vanilla, we’re insulting the intelligence and maturity of the young people we want to inspire.

Fun stuff:

1. Which character from your book is your favorite? Why? (I’m not sure I could pick a favorite. I enjoyed all of them so much and for many different reasons!)

Elarie is by far my favorite. I could write a couple of books with her as the protagonist. Even if I never write the character again (spoiler: you can expect to see her again), I know exactly where her life is going after the events of The Door to Canellin.

Me: I am glad to hear that she will be coming back! I loved the noble thief aspect of her character. Not to mention the budding romance between Wes and herself. It didn't seem fair to end it so soon.

2. If you could be any character from a book, who would it be and why?

Joe de Oro from Jack Chalker’s Dancing Gods books. (I’ve been asked this before, and for some reason I always pick a different character!) Joe de Oro, Joe the Barbarian and his magic sword Irving. After all the trials and tribulations thrown at him, he ended up with an amazing life in his new world.


3. If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would be the fist thing you would do?

I’d buy a couple of Espresso book machines and open my own small press. It’s not really about making money to me, it’s about my love of writing, and reading, and my desire to share that with as many people as possible. I don’t know the first thing about running a publishing company, though, so you can bet it would be run differently than anything else out there! That could be a good thing or a bad thing, but it would certainly be an interesting experience!


4. If you could invite any author—past or present—to dinner at your home, who
would you invite? Why?

Piers Anthony. Piers didn’t write my favorite book, but he has written most of my top favorites. His books have always been consistent, and his work ethic as far as producing books is definitely something to emulate. He’s had such a long career in both traditional publishing and self publishing that I would love to pick his brain!

Mythological Mondays (4)


Mythological Mondays is a weekly meme hosted by http://www.abackwardsstory.blogspot.com/. It is used to highlight all things myth related.


I thought rather long and hard about something myth related to post on this week. I didn't want to repost a review or highlight an already over played book. So, I went to my bookshelf, pulled out a book, and started reading covers to see which ones had mythology undertones. This is what I found:

Fury


This book will hit the shelves in August (2011), but it's already receiving a lot of attention in the blogosphere. Rightfully so. Doesn't the cover look amazing? LOVE all that red hair. Not sure what this book is about? Check out the synopsis:

Wondering where the mythology element is? Me too! Ok, I THINK those three girls mentioned that choose who will face the consequences for their actions... I think they are supposed to be something like the Fates. Call me crazy, but I think that's where things are headed with this one. Luckily, I have an ARC sitting on my shelf so I can actually read and find out before August!
Okay, kiddos. That's all I got for this week. If you read this one before me, let me know if my assumptions were accurate!


It’s winter break in Ascension, Maine. The snow is falling and everything looks pristine and peaceful. But not all is as it seems...


Between cozy traditions and parties with her friends, Emily loves the holidays. And this year’s even better--the guy she’s been into for months is finally noticing her. But Em knows if she starts things with him, there’s no turning back. Because his girlfriend is Em’s best friend.

On the other side of town, Chase is having problems of his own. The stress of his home life is starting to take its toll, and his social life is unraveling. But that’s nothing compared to what’s really haunting him. Chase has done something cruel...something the perfect guy he pretends to be would never do. And it’s only a matter of time before he’s exposed.

In Ascension, mistakes can be deadly. And three girls—three beautiful, mysterious girls—are here to choose who will pay.

Em and Chase have been chosen.

In My Mailbox (11)


In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.


For review:


Stay With Me by Paul Griffin. No cover image available at this time, but here's the synopsis from my copy:

Cece and Mack didn't expect to fall in love.She's a sensitive A-student; he's a high school dropout. But soon they're spending every moment together, bonding over a rescued dog, telling their darkest secrets, making plans for the future. Everything is perfect. Until. Until. Mack makes a horrible mistake, and suddenly the future they'd planned becomes impossible. In this stark new reality, bothe Cece and Mack must find meaning and hope in the memories of what they had. To survive when the person they love can't stay.   
 Bought at Books-a-Million:

Hush, Hush After Peeps The Smile

Bought at Barnes & Noble:

Siren Graceling 

I think it should be noted that my cover of Siren looks MUCH more interesting than this one I found on Amazon. I probably would not have picked this version up.

Given to Me:


Here Lies Arthur The Juvie Three 

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