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The Telling Stone

12 May

Hey! It’s me again. I’ve been writing for a newspaper, creating a radio show, finishing up writing my second book (though the first one still is sitting on the shelf for a few months waiting for me to edit it down yet again) and doing all of the usual things a mom of a 15, 13, and 8 year old does all day. I’m hoping to begin shopping around for a publisher for this second book by autumn.

Obviously, all of my writing and running around hasn’t included much blogging. But here I am for today, at least!

A few years ago I reviewed a book written by my friend, Maureen McQuerry. (You can read that review here.) Today I get to review a second book by Maureen! I know that book reviews by friends are perhaps subject to suspicion. I mean, she’s my friend for a reason and I’d probably like anything she likes, right?

Not necessarily. I have a lot of friends who, if they wrote books, I’d never be able to honestly write my opinion of them because while they may be my friends…they don’t necessarily read and/or write stuff that I’d agree with or enjoy.

But, thankfully, I like Maureen’s book. A lot.

I have always like fantasy books. C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien were some of my favorites. Still are. I also like a lesser-known children’s writer, also British, named Susan Cooper. In fact, for years I regretted the fact that I had not kept my series of Susan Cooper books, The Dark is Rising. Well, turns out, my mom had given them to my sister and she had given them to her daughters and finally, a few years back, I got them back.

Horray!

These books are fantasy, yes, but they’re more myth-based, and less magic-centered. Yes, there’s magic, but it’s not Harry Potter flashy magic, it’s more subtle, more realistic, if that’s possible to say!

Enter Maureen’s Time Out of Time series. Book one, Beyond the Door, came out last year. I enjoyed it as a well-written, entertaining, appropriate-for-kids book. I didn’t LOVE it, but I liked it. It reminded me of the Cooper books, and that felt good.

Then along came it’s sequel, available as of today, The Telling Stone.

This time I loved the book. I tend to like children’s books anyway (the kind kids call “chapter books”), but so often these days there is something in them to hold back my full love. They’re inappropriate in spots, or they’re badly written. This book is neither of those things. (Not that any of Maureen’s books are!)

Here’s my official review. (Yes, I’ve learned to be more succinct since the first review I wrote of her book, The Peculiars as linked above!)

The Telling Stone, while a sequel to Beyond the Door, stands perfectly well on its own. Full of adventure from the start, the story keeps its readers hooked though intrigue, suspense, and compelling characters. I felt like a kid again, sitting in my playhouse reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, books which I have gone back to as an adult. The Telling Stone too, will bring me back in the future because it is told by a writer who correctly handles her research. She includes interesting details that don’t overwhelm, has realistic characters and exciting plot twists, all of which prove McQuerry’s powers as an exceptional storyteller. We need more books like this in today’s world!

So there you go. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your kids or grandkids or neighbor’s kids. Or at least ask your local library to acquire it. Thanks!

And I’ll be back again…hopefully more reliably soon…

Here’s the Amazon link…http://www.amazon.com/Time-out-Book-Telling-Stone/dp/1419714945/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=0NJQCF6HPC3GN7PW45J2

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“Hang it All!”

14 Jan

I recently finished reading a book. It was a good book, well-written, kept me interested all the way through. But then I got to the last page. Only I didn’t realize it was the last page. I was reading on my Kindle and so there was no thickness of the remaining pages to clue me in. I knew from the “% read” at the bottom of the screen that I was nearly done. Knew too, that there was no Glossary or Tolkien-esque appendix that took up half of the book, but I assumed, as I pressed the “Next Page” button, that there would be an epilogue if not a short final chapter.

I read to the end of the page. I turned to the next. And the book was done. And I did what I have never done before. I shouted,

“You jerk!”

as if the author could hear me.

I am a person who likes her loose ends tied up. As a writer I keep a list of loose ends that I must not forget about. As a reader I do this too, only they’re mental lists and not separate files on my computer.

Loose ends Drive Me Bananas. And the loose ends in this book I read were HUGE.

I suppose you’re all dying to know what the book was. I debated telling you or not, but I guess I will because I’m not saying she is a bad writer, or that I disliked the book…I just HATED being left hanging!

I know, I know: it’s a writer’s prerogative. She or he can do whatever they like and if they like leaving their readers unfulfilled, well, fine. They have a right. For whatever reason, she wanted to leave the reader wondering, pondering, considering her book as we drive down the road to pick our children up from school. She wanted us to think. She wanted us to have lively discussions at book club – which I know we will! She wanted us to blog about it.

And so I say to Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, yes, you’ve made me think. You’ve made me consider Easter’s fate and the narrator’s future and the crotchety doctor’s wishes as I wash the dishes and fold the clothes and do other things that I’m too proper to write about.

And you’re driving me nuts.

So my question for you all is this: do you like loose ends that make you think? Or do you wish that all authors would tie their loose ends up in pretty bows that don’t stress you out and cause you to call them names when you reach the last page and discover THE END written in nasty, bold letters?

As my children like to ask, “Which would you rather?”

The Mystery is Solved

23 Jul

I probably will never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that I knew I wanted to become a writer. Nor, for that matter, will I be able to pinpoint the precise reason. All I know is that when I was a kid I loved to read and I want to write books for other kids of that age to help them love reading as well as I did.

There were many places – both real and unreal – that fed my love of reading. Narnia, Middle Earth, Walnut Grove, Prince Edward Island. And there were authors: Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Enid Blyton, Author Ransome, Elizabeth Goudge. There were characters I fell in love with, and pets, there were styles of writing that I adored, and others that I found irritating or dull. There were turns of phrase, and words too, that changed my vocabulary, causing one friend in college to remark, “Gretchen, you have an entirely different vocabulary than I do.” Which, while untrue in many ways, was, perhaps, tinged with truth. I like to think that I never used those words to sound pretentious (the word I had used in that conversation was “vernacular” – not such a bizarre word, I didn’t think) but, perhaps, without meaning to, I sometimes did…

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation out on Orcas Island, Washington. I’ll post more about that in days to come. But for now, I’ll set the beaches and mountains and reunions aside to tell you about one small incident that occurred on the vacation that made my day…or, rather, my decade. At least in a literary sense.

For about ten years I have been searching for one of my favorite childhood books. Every so often I’d think of it and go to the internet to have a search. Only trouble was, I couldn’t remember the title, let alone the author. I thought the title was “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase.” But every time I searched for that – or any variety thereof (The Mystery of the Lost Staircase, The Hidden Stairs, The Mysterious Staircase) – my search would come up with Nancy Drew books.

Not what I was looking for.

I even went so far as to inquire from a bookseller once if the book he was selling was set in Quebec and contained chapter titles about staircases. He never responded.

For, you see, those were the two of the four things I remembered about the book. I remembered the setting, I remembered the stairs, I remembered that somehow whistling came into play, and I remembered that the protagonist was a little girl and she solved the mystery of the stairs.

Beyond that I was stumped.

I did hold out one glimmer of hope over the years. My niece. She told me that she had a box of children’s books in storage and that when she could, she’d pull it out for me to look through. Finally the stars aligned and I was in Washington when the book box was available and so was I. Turns out there were actually two boxes. My hopes grew…yet I dared not hold out too much hope…it just seemed too much of a reach to think that they would have held on to that book for so many years.

I opened the first box. Lots of great books!! But not THE book.

Then I opened the second box.

I lifted out a book. Nope. Then set aside a few more, knowing they weren’t IT. Then I took out a gray, thin, hardback book.

The Mystery of Lonsome Manor, by Harriet Evatt.

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My heart began to race. Could it be?

I turned to the Table of Contents. Quickly scanned, my hopes grew.

Then I turned to page one, chapter one. The words, “French Canada” jumped out at me. I flipped a few more pages. An Indian – yes, that sounds familiar, albeit politically incorrect – a sledge, a girl, the old manor house. Suddenly I knew and I shouted out in the middle of my niece’s living room, “This is IT!!!!!”

I didn’t cry. I didn’t hug it to my chest. What I did was stand up from my place on the floor, walk to my purse, put the book in my purse and zip it shut. It rode home with me in my carry-on, not in the large Huggies Diaper box full of books that we checked as luggage.

Filled with books - from the sublime to the absurd.  But all worth the search.

Filled with books – from the sublime to the absurd. But all worth the search.

You may be thinking that I read it as soon as I possibly could.

Nope.

I savored it first. Reveled in the anticipation. I even finished the book I was currently reading first (I was almost done with it) simply because I loved the feeling of KNOWING I had it. I even let my daughter start reading it on the plane.

And then, the afternoon of our first day home, I began to read. I finished it before bed.

And no, I was not disappointed.

Oh, it’s a little politically incorrect, as I mentioned, and it’s a wee bit old-fashioned (it’s copywrite is 1962) and it’s very abrupt in its mystery-solving (no prolonged searches or plot twists), but it was simple and sweet and a wee bit exciting and definitely a little mysterious.

I love it.

And that’s why I write. So that someone, someday, when he or she is 43 and wracking their minds for a good book for their daughter to read, or desperately searching for that book they loved as kids, will think of my book.

And be glad.

The Peculiars – A book review

17 Apr

Several weeks ago I received in the mail an uncorrected proof of a soon-to-be-released book , The Peculiars, written by a friend of mine, Maureen Doyle McQuerry. How fun it was to hold her book in my hands! I heard her read the first chapter or so of the book aloud when I met her two years ago, and I had waited all this time to learn what happens. I was not disappointed!

And so I present to you here my official first-ever book review! I was honored when Maureen asked me to write the review. I was also afraid! I wanted to do a good job, to do justice to the book, to be honest and readable and relevant. I read the book twice, taking notes the second time, and then I sat down at my favorite coffee shop and set to work. It wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be! However, it was hard in that there is so much that could be said, so much I had to leave out…not becuase there was a strict rule of word count (that I was aware of) but because I, as a reader, know that short is best when it comes to reviews. When I’m reading a review I am not going to plow though paragraph after paragraph…short and sweet, please!

But, that being said, I didn’t want to tell the plot or give away secrets…it’s a fine balance.

So I wrote about Lena, the heroine, who, I discovered, I could truly relate to. I’ve been in her too-trusting shoes, though, to be sure, her shoes would never have fit me…

The Peculiars is available now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites, as well as in discerning book stores! It is written for a YA (Young Adult) audience, though as you’ll see in my review I’d recommend it for almost any age. It is published by Amulet books, an imprint of Abrams.  It is currently available in  both hardback and Kindle versions ($10.95 and $9.99, respectively).

P.S. – I have always loved the word, “peculiar” – I like words that you have to work at to pronounce correctly! 

The Peculiars, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Lena Mattacascar has lived her whole life being scrutinized by her mother and grandmother, watched constantly for signs of wild thoughts, goblinish behaviors, and anything that might prove her heritage which for so many years has been kept hidden or explained away.

Lena’s father, a suspected goblin, who abandoned his family when Lena was small, has come back into her life via a letter he left for her 18th birthday. Lena is determined to discover just exactly who her father is and, ultimately, who she herself is.

So she sets out alone on a quest into a world of steam trains, dirigibles, and gas-powered lights, a world where science trumps superstition and criminals and “peculiars” are sent to Scree, a wild land where they are forced to work in the mines for a government that considers them soulless and expendable.

Yet this is the place Lena knows she must go to find her father. Along the way she meets friends and foes, people who love her and people who suspect her overly-long fingers and feet as signs of her peculiarity, her valuelessness.

Lena, while unwavering in her purpose, is far less sure of her own self. For the first time in her life she is out on her own, an obedient girl going against her mother’s wishes, full of fears and desires and self-doubt. Through deceit, discovery, flying machines, and adventure, Lena discovers not only who she is, but also that what we think we see may not be what is truly there; that who we think we are may be completely wrong…or completely right.

Well-researched and carefully written, McQuerry has written a relatable book that I can recommend equally to my 10 year old daughter and my 75 year old mother, as well as to anyone who is intrigued by fanciful machines, adventure, and even budding romance. I look forward to the sequel that is surely on its way.

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