Monday, April 23, 2012

Dark, weird, sort of dystopian fantasy detective story: Review of Joe Golem and the Drowning City

For my birthday I got Joe Golem and the Drowning City, an illustrated novel by Mike Mignola (the Hellboy creator) and Christopher Golden, NY Times bestselling author of The Myth Hunters, The Boys are Back in Town, etc.

The setting: Lower Manhattan, submerged under more than thirty feet of water. The streets are now canals and people must live in the upper stories of buildings. It's a gritty, dangerous existence for the inhabitants.

Okay, they've got a cool concept, but what about a story? Prepare to be pleased. You've got a dark, weird, sort of dystopian fantasy detective story with emotional impact. Sounds like some strange mashup, but it really makes sense in the story. I couldn't put the book down, it was so compelling.

A fourteen-year-old girl, Molly, working for a magician/psychic medium is our heroine. When her boss/father figure, is abducted by men in gas masks and rubber suits, she is determined to rescue him. One of those helping her is a very Hellboyish character, Joe Golem, with a mysterious past. He's a hulking private detective with strong fists and a big heart who is unsure about who/what he really is. This is my kind of hero.

Don't forget, because this is a Mignola novel, you get awesome illustrations.

Maybe you're asking yourself, "What is an illustrated novel?"

Well, it's a novel--you know a fiction book with chapters--with illustrations. I didn't count up the pictures, but this book has one on almost every double page. This is Mike Mignola we're talking about, so that's quite a bit of black ink. ;)

You can get Joe Golem and the Drowning City at Amazon. Or if you want just a taste of the character, Joe Golem, check out the ebook for Kindle of the short story Joe Golem and the Copper Girl.

Oh golly, I didn't even see the short story until I looked up the novel link for you. I must order it now!!! :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whimsical and Somewhat Dark: A book review of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"

Do you like peculiar children? How about old photographs, mysteries, and fantasy?

I just finished Miss Peregrine's Home for PeculiarChildren by Ransom Riggs, a novel that weaves vintage photographs of oddities, such as a floating girl and an invisible boy, into a fascinating story about sixteen-year-old Jacob searching for the truth about his grandfather's past. In the process, he learns much about himself.

The novel feels a bit like the Tim Burton film, "Big Fish."

Riggs notes that the pictures in the book are authentic, vintage found photographs. A few have undergone minimal postprocessing.

When my sister handed me the novel, I flipped through the pages, looking at each photo, wondering about the story behind it. As it turns out, this was a delightful approach to the book. The main character himself wonders about these photos before learning the true story behind them. (Oh gosh, I'm dying to say more, but I don't want to spoil it for you.) So, along with Jacob, the reader discovers the mystery of the old pictures.

The writing is brilliant and multilayered. The language is vivid. As my sister described it, "There's not a wasted word." I found it whimsical yet dark. Layered, because it's a fantasy time-travely story, but also a coming of age book. It comments on WWII, the challenges of being different, and about family dynamics. Some of the characters make questionable choices, but the book leaves the reader to evaluate them for him or herself. It was a compelling read and I'd recommend it to teens and adults.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Cast of Characters

I have something delightful to show off!  Rhonda over at DoLittleSayMuch, in spite of a painful wrist injury, has been working on my book trailer for Syzygy. Hop over to Rhonda's blog and take a look. She has more pics over there.

I've blogged before about her nifty machinima films.

Here you can see much of the cast. I'm so delighted to see my "babies" come to life!

Here I took a screen shot of the actual video to draw your attention to Bea's cup. Recognize the logo?

Yeah, it's he actual Syzygy logo my niece, Jasmine, designed.

So, you have a wild thing going on, like when they stick a comic book or acion figure of the superhero into the live acion comic book movie. They're winking at their own genre. 

Hellboy Quote: "I hate those comic books. They never get the eyes right."

But back to the trailer. It's super fun! Rhonda asks me what things look like, such as Bea's kitchen or bedroom. I describe it and send pictures of some ideas. BOOM! She sends me back cool pics which are so detailed, it's like a virtual doll's house. Every time I look, I notice somehing else.

You can see right out Finn's window!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Harry Potter and the Third Party E-Book Store on the Edge of Beta Testing Limbo

Cases of the seventh Harry Potter book wait to be sold at the Harry Potter release event, held by the Sheppard Air Force Base library

Though J.K. Rowling's Pottermore site seems to be lingering in beta testing limbo, one aspect is up and running for the general public, the ebook shop. You can now get all of the Harry Potter books for your Kindle at the Pottermore Shop. Sure, you can go to Amazon, but it will only send you to the "third party site" Pottermore. They cost $7.99 each. It will be interesting to see how well they sell.

Having the whole collection on your Kindle would be easier to travel with than packing the books. Plus, you could highlight and make notes in the Kindle version without writing in your books, and do searches for particular words so you can locate favorite passages.

Pottermore, in case you didn't know, is the website that virtually takes you through each book. You get to be sorted, make potions, and such. I gather at the moment the beta people get to experience Book One. The rest of us were meant to join in months ago, but there's been some sort of hold up. I've listened to the Mugglecast podcast, and they're not overly impressed with the Pottercast experience. Too bad. Well, perhaps it's meant for a younger audience. Maybe when it's open for the public (hint-hint) I'll let my kids try it out. So sorry if I wasn't going to get up at 2am and answer riddles in order to have the chance of getting on during the beta testing period. ;)

Antique Gizmos and Listening to Your Critique Partners

antique slot machine

One of my critique partners (every writer needs one or more of those) questioned my reference to a character comparing a particular gadget to a slot machine. I had to pause. In this wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey mixed up space/time continuum universe I've created, would this character know what a slot machine was? The short answer is "yes" but I never choose the short answer. I decided to research slot machines.

To get to slot machines, we first travel though the history of another coin operated device--the vending machine. According to this article by Mary Bellis, the word "slot machine" once was used for all automatic vending machines, not just the gambling ones.

But how far into history do you want to go? Ancient times? Around 215 B.C. a Greek engineer and mathematician invented a machine to stand outside of Egyptian temples and dispense holy water in exchange for coins, according to

But jumping to modern times-- to around 1880. That does sound modern compared to the B.C. era. :) According to The Polar Stationwebsite, that's when coin-operated vending machines were introduced in London, dispensing postcards.
 Russian postcard vending machine. Sorry, couldn't find the original old London one.

Vending machines didn't arrive in the U.S. until 1888 when Tutti-Frutti gum machines were installed on New York City subway platforms.
slot machines

Now we get to slot machines, aka- the "one armed bandit." Apparently "fruit machine" is a slang term they use in England. 1895 is when the slot machine was invented by Charles Fey of San Francisco. Well, there is some dispute as to the exact year. With inventions, it can take time to work the bugs out, so I expect he was fiddling with it for a few years. In 1896 he opened the factory to produce his "Liberty Bell" slot machines, according to's history page.

So, will I keep the slot machine reference in my novel? Much as I like it. I don't think it'll work. I've smashed modern times with 1850's. If my character had any experience with slots, it would probably be of a modern variety, not a Liberty Bell sort. So, I say, no. I'll modify the scene and thank my lucky gum balls that I have critiquers that make me stop and think.
gum ball machine
*Image sources embedded in image captions.
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