Saturday, November 17, 2018

Book Review: The Fox and the Train

The Fox and the Train by Alice Gent is hard to define by genre. Part fable, part folk story, part allegory, part fairy tale. From the first page, the reader is invited into a world of magic and the seemingly impossible. “For we have some flax golden tales to spin…” From that moment I knew I would love this tale of the fox and the train. The story is set some time in the last century, and there is a war and hardship. Thirteen-year-old Anna has lost her father, but he was “lost” from the time of the previous “Old War” anyway. With the help of her grandmother, Anna cares for her mother, whose memories have been stolen by “the black foxes.” Her brother Anderson is away fighting on the front, and her other brother, Michael, works on the mine. Bad news comes of the cave-in at the mine. When the train and the tracks are damaged by a treefall, someone must go on foot to help the miners. Anna decides to go with her friend, Benny, who is clever and strange and not like other people. However, to get to the mines, their journey takes them into the magic, danger, and darkness of the woods, the home of the Spirit King.

The descriptions are detailed, intense, and lyrical, giving an immediacy that draws the reader right into Anna’s experiences. The first part of the book is quite realistic with hints of magicality and the pace is slow as the author sets the scene of Anna’s life and the events leading up to the tragedy of the mine collapse and the damage to the train tracks. The second half dramatically speeds up the chain of events as it plunges the reader and Benny and Anna into a world that isn’t quite real. One wonders if Anna’s visions of the Spirit King, in the form of a fox, are perhaps hallucinations from the cold and hunger. The pace becomes quite frantic as the two teens must combat fatigue, cold, hunger, the environment, and enemy soldiers. The story itself is fascinating as the reader is taken along with Anna in her quest, both internal and external, and in her being able to overcome the tests presented to her. I found myself completely absorbed in the unfolding of events and I loved the appearance of the Spirit King.

I am not very fond of present tense in a story but somehow this works in The Fox and the Train. There is a lot of telling as the author sets the scene, which I find did slow things down a bit, and perhaps it would have been better for the reader to work out the meaning behind the apparitions of the Spirit King. However, the author has delved into many themes that will resonate with readers and perhaps the most important message to take from this story is the power of love, and how courage comes from the most surprising places.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Q and A with Author Cheryl Carpinello

Please welcome my friend and fellow author Cheryl Carpinello to my blog today.

I have read and reviewed and loved both Cheryl’s Arthurian books, and so I decided to do a little Q and A to get behind the scenes and the characters in Guinevere: At the Dawn of Legend.

Although Guinevere is only 15, still a young girl, how seriously does she take her future duties as queen?

Guinevere, not yet married to Arthur, still enjoys the freedom of being herself. At 15, most of the time she doesn’t think beyond the current day. And since her father and Arthur are up north away from the castle, she really has no one to answer to although Brywyn, Cedwyn’s mom, still exercises some authority over her. Cedwyn lets us know in the beginning of the book that his ma will not approve of their adventure to the magical stones. It is when the consequences of her actions come crashing down around her that she remembers who she is supposed to be. That’s when she remembers the story of the Red Deer and the Unicorns. In return for saving for red deer, those creatures save the unicorns. She understands then that her role is to protect her people.

How does she ‘learn’ to become queen? What would her daily duties be and her ‘future queen duties’ be?

Behind the pages of the story, Brywyn, Cedwyn’s mom, is teaching her. Brywyn has taken care of the castle for many years since the death of Guinevere’s mother when Guin was young. Besides taking care of the Keep where she and her father live, Guinevere is still in ‘school’ and learning math, Latin—and possibly a little Spanish and French—to be able to talk with visiting rulers from Gaul and other countries when she is queen.

How important is Cedwyn to her and why?

Cedwyn has been her constant companion and friend forever. He was raised alongside Guinevere since his ma worked closely with King Leodegrance. They are closer than a sister and brother. Because Cedwyn’s dad is a knight, he understands more than Guinevere about what his role in life will be. He knows how unpredictable adventures with Guinevere can be, but still goes along with her. This is for two reasons: one, he enjoys the adventures, and two, he also knows that he is to be her protector when he becomes a knight.

What role does Merlyn play in her life?

Merlyn acts as a second father and friend, and as her teacher. He has been around since she can remember. The times when her father hasn’t been around, Merlyn was there. Guinevere was able to talk with him and ask questions about her future. As her teacher, Merlyn’s way was subtle. He let her discover the meanng behind Nimue and the unicorn’s passing in On the Eve of Legend. He also guided her in understanding the lesson behind the red deer and the unicorns. We will see further lessons from him in Book 3, Guinevere: The Legend.

Amazingly, Cedwyn repeats word for word what the goddess said. Does he have a photographic/eidetic memory?

No, he does not. What he does have is the huge impression the goddess had on him at the Stones. And it doesn’t hurt to have a little of the goddess’ magic. The goddess obviously thought her message important enough to burn it in Cedwyn’s memory.

What would daily life at the monastery be like?

In the 400-500’s, life as a monk would have been terribly simple compared to today. Their duties would include spreading the word of the new religion as they could. It would have been a life with little in the way of luxuries. Winters would have meant long hours spent at the abbey with few visitors. They grew what food they could mostly vegetables. Hunting would have provided meat. The orchards surrounding my particular abbey provided fruits. They would have worked hard to make friends in the area because of the prevailing belief in the goddess. They did this by trading foodstuffs with the residents of the castle and providing what assistance they could.

Although this is Guinevere’s story, it seems to be more like Cedwyn’s coming of age story?

At the Dawn of Legend is Cedwyn’s story much more than Guinevere’s. While they both grow up, it is Cedwyn who determines his course of action before he and Guinevere try to save the kids. His main concern is that he protects Guinevere.

[Cedwyn] kept watch and formulated his own rescue plan. It was dangerous, and neither Guinevere nor his ma would like it. That’s why he’d say nothing to either of them. Sometimes a knight had to keep his own counsel and just do what had to be done.

While he will continue to grow up in book 3, Guinevere will catch up to him, I hope.

How dangerous was life back then?

Life back then was as dangerous as any time. Compared to today, it might have even been safer.  But aside from that, Britain was in a struggle between local kings and the remnants of the Roman occupation. Renegades roamed the isle, robbing and creating havoc. Local leaders carried the reminder of the Roman occupation and were not eager to offer allegiance to a new leader, Arthur. Thus, the young king would have had a tough time convincing them to join him. Most of these skirmishes would have taken place in the north away from Guinevere’s home in the south.

Will Cedwyn have the courage to follow through with his plan to save the children?

I almost answered this one, Fiona! Everyone is going to have to wait for book 3 to answer this question. I hope to have Guinevere: The Legend out for Christmas 2019.

What is Guinevere’s finest quality? What is Cedwyn’s finest quality?

I believe Guinevere’s finest quality will be what her father has always told her not to do.

…[K]ings must rule with their heads not their hearts.

Even in the toughest times in front of her, Guinevere will rule from her heart first.

For Cedwyn, it is his undying loyal to his friend and his queen.

Sitting there he remembered their adventures. The unicorns, the painted dragon, King Pellinore, the bratchet, and the wild boar…This was real. This was what the goddess meant…Cedwyn wiped a tear from his eye and squared his shoulders…He wondered if he would see her again.

About Cheryl: Cheryl Carpinello is an author, retired high school English teacher, and Colorado native. Since retiring from teaching, she's been able to devote her time to writing and traveling. Although she may be away from teaching, she is still a teacher at heart and especially enjoys meeting with kids and talking with them about reading and writing. Cheryl hopes through her books she can inspire young readers and young-at-heart readers to read more. Visit Cheryl's website for more on this author and her books!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Book Review: Moscow Airlift

Although many people are probably unaware of this fact, by 1991 and for several reasons the Soviet Union had run out of grain. Faced with the threat of a starving population and mayhem, Gorbachev signed a deal with the USA, committing them to purchasing 8 million tons of grain over the next five years. World powers were then, and even more now, so finely balanced that the collapse of any country was not desirable. This one would send millions of starving Russian refugees fleeing to other countries. But the Soviets have more than just a food problem. Inflation rises, rumblings of dissent sound from within the ranks of the powers that be, and Gorbachev faces a coup. This is the perfect moment for Iran to illicitly obtain nuclear weapons. Seasoned Captain Josh Haman is sent by the US government to be their eyes and ears on the ground, and to submit accurate intel on the situation. But his impersonal attitude ends when he meets a KGB general who promises to give him the names and addresses of the man who ordered the killing of his first wife and her parents. Josh is torn between his military goals and the personal desire to exact revenge. Plus, he meets a former flame from the past! Adding to that is a radicalized mole in the FBI and a bomb threat in New York…

Besides being a political thriller to satisfy even the most exacting of fans, Moscow Airlift by Marc Liebman is fascinating reading on world affairs. Although the title is Moscow Airlift, and the operation is named Operation Deny Famine, the action starts in 1971, in war-torn Laos. It moves over the years between Russia, France, the USA, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The narrative is detailed, perhaps overly so for fans who like to race through the action, but is perfect for those readers who enjoy savoring facts and minutiae. The author’s style is somewhat reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth, John le Carré and Terry Hayes. I am a huge fan of Hayes’ and Forsythe’s work and I appreciated this element of Marc Liebman’s tale.

The action starts at a time and place and involving characters that seem unrelated to the main actor and his mission. But be patient. Liebman weaves an intricate web of espionage and treachery, covert action and duplicity. All the threads, sub plots, and seemingly disparate characters are drawn together inexorably. The narrative is detailed, informative and succinct, yet the story flows without dragging. Liebman keeps the reader intrigued and reading on by changing the various scenarios quickly and this creates tension and interest. The author’s extensive military experience shows through in the story and plot.

There are too many characters to bond deeply with each of them, but Josh is the most well developed and necessarily so as he is the pivot around which the action turns. Danielle is also a character that readers will care about. The others are well drawn within their roles. Despite being a complex story with much to keep track of, Moscow Airlift was a surprisingly easy read. The historical background on Moscow Airlift, found at the end of the book, is well worth reading in advance. I enjoy political thrillers and especially when facts are woven carefully into a thrilling plot, which is the case here. For fans of the genre, this is an excellent reading choice.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review: The Language Thieves

The Language Thieves is a young adult fantasy by Marc Remus. Sixteen-year-old Daniel is none too happy about his father’s decision to move the family from Arizona to a remote Scottish island, of all places. His mother was stricken by a mysterious illness that has rendered her incapable of communication. Daniel speaks English and Irish Gaelic although he isn’t too keen on overtly displaying his Irish roots. Once on the island, he meets two new friends, Jenny and Connor, who are as suspicious as he is about a strange, elusive tribe that inhabits a part of the island: the Cerebrals, with their own unique culture, obsession with language, and their worship of the brain. The Cerebrals keep themselves apart from the rest of the population, and don’t want their kids to have anything to do with the locals. A bit difficult when Daniel finds himself falling for the cute Emily, who just happens to be a Cerebral. What is the mystery behind the Cerebrals, and do they have anything to do with Daniel’s mom’s affliction? How can they possibly be dangerous?

This is a young adult fantasy that is quite different from the norm. The plot dives back into ancient history and draws together some very intriguing theories. Young adult fans of Atlantis and ancient civilizations will devour this story. The plot is full of twists and turns and although I am not usually surprised, this book made me sit up. The action starts right away, aboard the ferry en route the island, when a young teen is attacked by strange men. The pace is steady and escalates as the youngsters team up to resolve the mystery behind the Cerebrals, their mission, and how it will affect the whole world.

Daniel is the most well developed of the trio, but Jenny is a solid sidekick gifted with IT skills and Connor is close behind as the loyal friend willing to follow first and ask questions later. The teens sound and behave mostly as one would expect teens to do and this adds realism to the plot. The romance between Daniel and Emily is sweet but underplayed so that it does not overshadow the main plot. The intrigue and mystery behind what the kids discover will certainly have young readers doing their own investigations into history, culture, and the value and place of ancient languages in society. I liked this thought-provoking angle – just how many ancient languages are still spoken today, and how many have been lost in the last century? The descriptions of the Cerebrals and their culture, dress and architecture are unique and showcase the author’s incredible imagination. A great cover and good layout and editing add to one’s reading pleasure. Themes of friendship, loyalty, teamwork and family abound. This is an intriguing fantasy by Remus and perfect for the young adult market.