Thursday, September 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Bloodshot -- Cherie Priest

SOURCE:  Audiobook dramatization by Natalie Rose

The first audiobook I ever listened to put me to sleep faster than my Econ textbooks. So did the second.  Audio was the best cure for insomnia I've ever tried.

Thanks to vendors such as Brilliance Audio and narrators like Natalie Rose, we do not have to just listen to someone reading the text. Cherie Priest's narrative is  lively, but Rose's voicing adds dimension and strength to the story that will keep you up past your bedtime listening.

So, what's the story?  Raylene Pendle's an international jewel thief known to the authorities as Cheshire Red and known on the streets by a series of pseudonyms. She's a vampire -- and what sparkles about Raylene is her witty repartee and the knife she'll stick in your back if you mess with her.  Raylene doesn't play well with her own kind, but Ian Stott charms her. He's not looking for jewels or to embroil her in vampiric politics. He needs her help finding out about a government program called Bloodshot that might make Dr. Mengele blink. Under the guise of helping the troops, the US Army tortured and destroyed the senses of vampires they held captive. Ian lost his sight due to the "experiments" and he believes if he can recover the files, a Canadian physician might be able to help.

I actually heard these books out of order. Hellbent is the first audio I heard and that was so good my husband got interested in the story on a road trip. Suspect I will be listening to Hellbent again now that I know what the set up is.

Characterization is good. The dialogue is witty and fast-paced. It's very difficult not to slip in the next disc in the series once you're done with the first. Well worth a listen--or a read, whichever you choose.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

COMMENTARY: Books that Changed my Life

There have been many books that influenced me throughout my life. I thought I'd name just a few here:  

GREEN EGGS AND HAM -- As a visually-handicapped student, I struggled to learn to read. Dick and Jane bored me to tears. I was in the slowest reading group and I dreaded getting called up to read. While I had an excellent vocabulary for one my age--least that is what my Mom and her teacher friends told me--the words just didn't make sense on the page. Then, Mom bought Dr. Seuss and I couldn't get enough! I loved the colorful fantasy world he created and I couldn't wait for the next book to come in the mail. I moved from the slowest group to the medium group and to the best group from first to third grade. To my surprise, Mrs. Holley, my third-grade teacher, asked me to read to the kindergarteners.  Green Eggs and Ham was the book I chose. Reading to those kids was one of the best moments of my life. I still love this book because of the message about prejudice and acceptance. For my seventeenth wedding anniversary, Tony got me a signed Dr. Seuss print from Green Eggs and Ham.

DAVID COPPERFIELD -- By fifth grade, I was in the top reading group, but I was stagnating reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. That was the year we got a school library. It was a raggle-taggle collection of dusty books, most of which needed mending, but that was my favorite place in the school. When Mrs. Cowden, my fifth grade teacher, told us she wanted us to read, I asked her for a suggestion. She handed me David Copperfield. The book was heavier and thicker than the family Bible. I stood there, somewhat flummoxed and asked how I read it. She said, "One page at a time."One line got me hooked:  "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." That year, I read over 100 books, including Shakespeare, all of Dickens and Greek mythology.

HUCKLEBERRY FINN -- Another author Mrs. Cowden handed over to me was Mark Twain. In those 100 books, she literally covered much of my reading lists til my Senior year. Huckleberry Finn was the first book I read which took place before the Civil War. I realized how much better off all the races were and I was grateful we'd come past the point of dehumanizing people for profit. 

1984 -- This was the first sci-fi outside of the pulp Star Trek books I read. I was hooked. That got me moving to Jules Verne and many others. George Orwell also got me thinking about the state of the world. Sometimes, that scares me.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD -- I'm not sure what grade I read this book in the first time. Right then, I wished Atticus had been my father. I also decided that no matter what kind of person my father was, I would strive to be better. 

GO ASK ALICE -- By eighth grade, I was getting curious about drugs. I read Go Ask Alice and I wasn't so sure. By ninth grade, I had a counselor, Mrs. Bashford, who told me drugs probably weren't a good idea for me. She told me the story about working in a drug rehab center in California. They had a group therapy session and one of the members pretended to be a jukebox for roleplay. The guy sat in the corner and did a beautiful job humming "A Man and a Woman." When the roleplay was over, they told him he could quit. Only he couldn't. He was stuck on that song. Try as they might, they couldn't get him off that song--she left that rehab center several years later and he was still humming that song. She said that was what happened to highly creative people sometimes when they took drugs. Yeah, I thought about taking a toke and that stupid song played in my head.

THE UGLY AMERICAN--This book was recommended by my Civics teacher in 8th grade. I don't think the lessons here apply just to Americans abroad. You can sully the waters even locally if you're not respectful of the group, church, whatever you are attempting to join. The book's good advice on how to walk softer in this world, which we sometimes badly need. 

BIRD BY BIRD -- I don't know what age I was when I happened on this treatise on life and writing. Whatever the project is, when I find myself getting under stress, I remember Anne Lamott's words and I calm down. If I need a good laugh, she is my go-to girl.

THE POWER OF NOW -- I made my first ventures into yoga in tenth grade. I'm not great at meditation, but I remember the mantra: "I'm not in the past, I'm not in the present, I'm in the beautiful NOW." I never fully got that until I read this book. Being in NOW has helped me deal with PTSD and hard memories from my past.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- Lovecraft didn't manage to scare me half as much as Margaret Atwood. The best dystopic fiction takes a root fear, links it to trends, and makes it happen. I read The Handmaid's Tale probably twenty years ago and the imagery still sticks with me. Recently, a friend's librarian in light of the War on Women, filed the book under "Current Events." That gave me chills.

BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS -- This is one of the first YA books I have read in my adulthood and it drove my desire to write in this genre. Book of a Thousand Days traps two vastly different women in a tower. From this construct, their characters are stripped bare. This is one tale with a life lesson that's unforgettable. You'll want extra copies to share with your friends.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Book of a Thousand Days -- Shannon Hale

"Book of a Thousand Days" ranks right up with "Briar Rose" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" as one of my all-time favorite books. I honestly can't say whether it's Dashti, the music of Hale's language, or the story itself that kept me reading til 3 AM and now sitting in front of the computer trying to compose a review that's even halfway fitting to the tale within.

When you are done with this book, you do want to tell people. In my case, I want to give this book to several lovely young women of my acquaintance to sit along with others that I hope they'll read and be inspired by. I know our local schools are always looking for donations, too.

The story is written as entries in Dashti's 'thought book.' It opens with Dashti recounting being sent to her new assignment as a lady's maid. Orphaned at 14, the child of the steppes had walked to the city and given her last horse as payment for a job. When The Mistress learned she could sing the healing songs, she trained her as a lady's maid and sent her to Lady Saren.

Before she knows the circumstances, Dashti pledges herself to the 16-year-old Saren. Then, she learns her oath will trap her in a tower with her charge for 7 years because Saren has refused to wed Lord Khasar, the man her father has chosen for her.

You'd think a tale of two women stuck in a tower for many days would be boring--it's not. The contrast between Dashti and Saren's reckoning of the situation is riveting. Saren weeps at her misfortune, but Dashti rejoices--she has a place to live and food for seven whole years!

And those contrasts are what keep you reading the book long past your bedtime into the night. Next, we see two suitors--one kind and one unthinkably cruel.

Dashti is what keeps you reading. Despite whatever misfortunes are dealt her, she works to keep her heart full of song and faith. She believes both in herself and others and that's a powerful message for people of all ages. "Book of a Thousand Days" is one of those stories that's good to find during your own hard times because Dashti's faith and message are inspiring to the reader as well.

I strongly recommend that you reserve about 4-5 hours to read this book and perhaps a bit more time just to look back on some of the lovelier passages. I hope if you love this book, you'll be passing it along to others as well. Dashti's is a worthwhile message to spread.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcome to Six Sentence Sunday

An author friend, Maryellen Brady, suggested a new blog hop called Six Sentence Sunday. This is basically an authorial blog crawl where people post six sentences from their current WIP on their blogs. The sign-up is here, if you would like to visit the blogs of other authors participating: 

Six Sentence Sunday Sign Up

The following are six sentences from Madame President, which is a young adult novel that takes place in the 1970's. The narrator is Leslie Ann Ryan. She's a senior at Cleveland High and struggling with racism, recession, and real life. These sentences are what I hope establish her character arc:

All I wanted out of school was to get a good education so I could go on to college. What I needed were good grades, because we didn’t have any money.
Did integration improve everyone’s education? Perhaps not in the sense of the three R’s, but in Real Life anyone who survived Grover Cleveland High gained excellent coping skills. Two critical events happened to me because of the integration plan: I became friends with people of many races and I learned to speak out and get involved. For me, a shy studious girl, both were huge.

Thank you for reading my six sentences. I hope you enjoyed them. If you did, please leave a comment and I'd love to have you follow my blog.

Happy Sunday!  

Friday, September 21, 2012

COMMENTARY: The Three Hardest Lessons I Learned

We all learn lessons the hard way. Some of them in school and many of them not. I'm focusing on school in this post, because my current WIP brought up some of these issues.

LESSON ONE:  Don't ever let anyone share your work

It was fourth grade and a girl who I both went to church and school with begged me to let her see my homework. At the time, she had a good reason and I took pity on her. As she said, "It's the Christian thing to do..."

Big surprise. She copied all my hard work. She got an A and I got called up by Mrs. Stone to explain why I copied HER. Lucky for me, Mom helped me find the information I needed and worked with me on my homework. She ended up talking to Mrs. Stone about the situation.

Result:  The girl who copied still got an A. I got a C-. Why? My handwriting wasn't as good as the girl who copied me. Of course, there were other reasons, I was the handicapped kid in the classroom and the copier was the Senator's Daughter. I never made that mistake again.

LESSON TWO:  Follow the Rules

The next lesson came in a Masters level course in Creative Writing. Jerry Vancook, the instructor, gave us a pretty nitpicky assignment including margins, word count, font, etc.

My homework came back with a big fat F. So did most of the class'. What was the objective of that lesson? According to Jerry:  "Publishers will reject your MS if you don't follow their rules. This time you got an F. Next time, your book's rejected. That's a lot harder to deal with."

Jerry was kind. He let us re-do our assignments, but as he said, real life doesn't give you that option so learn now.

LESSON THREE:  Check Your Sources

Dr. Wyllys taught my first class at library school and I learned more from him in one semester than many years before. Our first assignment looked deceptively simple. Find the answers to some common questions on the Web and cite your sources.

I had the work done in five minutes. So did many of my other classmates taking their first LIS course. Big mistake.

Our answers were correct, but we got the whole question wrong when we didn't have an authoritative source.

What's that, you're going to ask. Good question, it's important. Just because something appears on the web as factual, you can't take it as such. You've got to question the source and find the most authoritative answer.

I thought about writing up the answer here, but I've found excellent sources to help you, Dear Reader, learn if you are interested:

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

COMMENTARY: The fault is not in our streets but ourselves

Tony and I moved into Kingston Woods Neighborhood seven years ago in November. The real estate agent told us at the time that the neighborhood was very friendly with an active neighborhood association.

Well, that was half-true. At the time, the neighborhood association was very active. The group had one major goal. Since a dedicated exit off I-40 for West Town Mall was opening up shortly, the group wanted traffic control to prevent drivers from using our neighborhood as a shortcut to get from the mall to other portions of town.

We made enemies right off the bat at the first meeting when we both spoke up. Been there. Done that. Had the speed bump right in front of our house in Austin to show for it and that bump didn't slow anything down, but it did make an awful racket, give you a backache driving over it and create an interesting palette for an inspired neighborhood graffiti artist.

The folks in charge assured us this would be different. They pointed us to a cross that's already in place from where a young boy was killed in a traffic accident. Surely, we'd want to prevent something like that from happening again? We both backed quietly away and watched as the scenario progressed.

First, the city of Knoxville conducted a traffic study of the three entrances to our neighborhood to determine if there actually was a speeding problem. The results (I've rounded DOWN to the nearest 10% because I cannot remember the actual numbers):
  • Luscombe -- 80% + over speed limit
  • Twining -- 60% + over speed limit
  • Cessna -- 30% + over speed limit

Seeing that we had a problem, the next step was to bring the police out and ticket the offenders. That was pretty revealing. Over sixty percent of the drivers ticketed were our neighbors.

Emotions in the neighborhood were heating up. At that time, the association was made up of four distinct groups. One of those groups did not want traffic calming and backed out of the association, causing some serious ill feelings. The president of the neighborhood association got threatening phone calls and had one anonymous neighbor follow them to church in his van threatening all the way.

Then, the final design came in. Big surprise, the speed bump that was supposed to be in our area got moved when someone the president described as a VIP didn't like the hump in front of their home. Yes, you can still see the spot in the pavement where the original hump was supposed to be. So much for good traffic planning, eh?

So, we now have speed bumps. Sadly, we don't have a graffitti artist in residence. They haven't slowed traffic down, but we're already getting complaints about auto maintenance issues from neighbors who are driving over them at full speed or dodging at the last minute to avoid jarring their backends or spilling their coffee.

No big surprise, when it came time for someone else to run for President, nobody volunteered. Our neighborhood association is defunct save for an Internet group, which provides news of government events, break-ins, and other neighborhood pertinent information.

The group who broke off from us wanted traffic calming after ours came in. Guess what? Knoxville isn't providing that service anymore because it's too expensive. (And while I've never caught anyone actually admitting it, traffic calming does not change the behavior of drivers.)

To paraphrase the Bard, the fault was not in our streets, but in ourselves. Nothing, not even a little white cross, is going to stop someone who's bound and determined to keep speeding through a neighborhood zone where people walk and kids play. Clearly, this kind of respect is something too many people expect others to provide.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

The Next Big Blog Hop

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Today over on the lovely and talented Gae Polisner's blog, she talks about her work in progress, In Sight of Stars as part of a little "blog hop" tour. Allison Dickson tagged me for this post, so I'm tagging some friends to do the same.

The Rules:

Answer these ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) on your blog

Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title of your book?

Madame President -- Book 1

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The story's loosely based on two real-life incidents from my high school days:
  1. The election of a Black female Student Council President and other racially-charged incidents
  2. Two years after I graduated, the school kicked out the KKK

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult -- the story takes place in 1974-1975 time frame, but this would not qualify it as Historical Fiction, since I was alive during that time.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Good question. I'd probably pick unknowns for the leads. One actor I'd love to have is John Boyega from Attack the Block.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

All Leslie wants is a good education and grades sufficient to get a scholarship, will racial tension, politics and violence prevent her from achieving her dreams?  

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm submitting to traditional publishers without an agent at the moment. We'll see how that goes.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This was my NaNo project last November 2011. I finished the first draft more or less in November, but I almost totally re-wrote it.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Soul of the Band
by Karla Brady comes close, but it takes place in a contemporary setting.
Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers is another book I believe touches on personal responsibility and similar themes. 

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

The issues America is experiencing with their first mixed-race President brought up some old memories and I thought the story would make a good YA novel. (The names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty)

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There's a tie-in to To Kill a Mockingbird. In addition, I've included quite a bit of interesting 70's history and trivia. 

Now Hop away to some really great writers

Check out all of the authors I have linked above. They're as varied as snowflakes, but all very talented. As for the one who inspired me to write this, you really should check out Gae Polisner's amazing book, The Pull of Gravity and keep watching out for her new work (I hear tell there will be a new book out soon, and I plan to buy it oh yes I do). This kid's going places.     

Sunday, September 9, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: Robot and Frank

Directed by: Jake Schreier
Written by: Christopher D. Ford

Cast: Frank Langella, James Marsden, and Susan Sarandon

Geezer power seems to be the new flavor in films. Well, you think about it, Hollywood's got a bunch of former megastars and not enough space for character actors. With an aging bunch of Baby Boomers, why not give these folks some leading roles? The audience can certainly identify.

Frank & Robot is one futuristic film which is thankfully not completely dystopic. In this near future, the elderly can have personal robots who'll help get them involved in activities, see to their diets, even give them an enema. And, in the case of Frank, if the seniors are enterprising enough, help them pull off jewel thefts.

Humor and pathos mix beautifully in this short character piece. Langella does a smashing job portraying the aging Frank, who's still fiendishly clever. Despite recently having read Robopocalypse, I couldn't help having some sympathy for the robot as well. The relationship between patient and caregiver here was a fascinating one to watch. I personally would not mind having this kind of helper and life-coach around.

As a librophile, there's an interesting take on future libraries, which was somewhat saddening when I realized all but the most valuable books would be recycled. Imagine coming to a day where people do not remember reading books--and folks like us who have are retro? I guess that might be sooner than we think, though I still believe many people will still have a fondness for the feel and smell of leather and the heft of a beautifully bound volume in their hands.

This was a charming film and a delightful way to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon. I doubt if I would own the DVD: however, I would probably watch this film again if it came on television.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Robopocalypse -- Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse was not on my radar until my cousin, Gale, sent me an email with a red-letter headline in all caps shouting:


Well, that got my attention. Kids learn to swear in school? I learned, "SHIT!" my first and favorite swear word from Grandma McFarland. As a matter of fact, I thoroughly moritifed Mom by standing outside on the back porch at my grandparents' home in Leedey, Oklahoma and shouting "SHIT!!!!" at the top of my lungs first thing in the morning. I was eighteen months old.

Yeah, that pretty much typifies how I feel about mornings. Don't sing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" to me unless it's somewhere around 2 PM.

I advised Gale that most kids learn swearing much sooner than school. And, I looked into Robopocalypse.

A book about robotic rebellion written by a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon? Those facts even convinced Gale that perhaps a bit of swearing might be tolerated considering the author's expertise on the subject.

And yes, I got an audio copy of Robopocalypse. I just finished Disk 10 and I'd be perfectly happy to start back with Disk 1. This does not happen often to me. I'm generally a read-it-once-and-move-on kind of person. And I'm certainly not a huge fan of books about war.

The base story's simple, a scientist accidentally creates Archos, a robot bent on taking over the world. Humans aren't prepared to fight the machines which they've come to depend upon, but the best of them are learning. Resistance fronts spring up, in cities and primarily on the Osage Indian Rez near Tulsa, OK.

I found myself lost in the fast-paced narrative. The combatants are believable. Even the robotic intelligence Wilson creates makes you want to see the unit Nine-Oh-Too continue to live. I am actually hoping to see this book in theaters sometime soon. It's definitely much worthier than many of the Memorial Day disaster flicks I've seen of late.

The swearing? All of it's done by soldiers in the field. IMO, the oaths are authentic and merited under the circumstance. If the kids learn a quarter of what Wilson teaches in this book about robotics and a few swear-words, it's worth it.

Rebecca McFarland Kyle, September 2012

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Interview with the Author Ian Thomas Healy

Ian Thomas Healy Talks Candidly About The Archmage

Tell us about your latest book.

The Archmage is a sequel to the novel Just Cause, starring the super-speedy Mustang Sally along with the rest of the Just Cause superhero team. In it, I explore the use of magic in a superhero setting. In this case, a character named Wolfgang Frasier has been slaughtering other mages around the world and taking their power for himself. He’s gotten so powerful that there is only one other mage remaining besides him, the hero Stratocaster, who is a member of the Lucky Seven hero team that Sally trained with at the beginning of Just Cause. If Frasier manages to kill Stratocaster, his power becomes absolute and he could plunge the entire world into darkness, becoming its total ruler. This is, of course, his goal. Sally and the other heroes have no choice but to try to stop him, even though his power is so great that he can call armies of the dead out of the ground and turn anyone captured to his side. There’s a nifty bit of time travel thanks to magic going awry that sends the team back to the 1870s, and of course some great intrigue and epic, cinematic battles. At the same time, Sally’s relationship with Jason is growing much more complex and suffering growing pains all its own.

What is Local Hero Press?

LHP is an imprint I created specifically for the release of my novel-length work and collections. I didn’t want to simply release them under my own name as the publisher because with such a wide variety of genres under my belt, I wanted something to tie them all together. This way, if someone buys The Archmage, likes it, and looks to see what else LHP has to offer, they might discover Blood on the Ice or Pariah’s Moon or Troubleshooters.

You do write in a variety of genres. Tell us about some of them.

I don’t like to be pigeonholed, so I don’t force myself to stay in one genre if I’m interested in writing in a different one. This goes against common wisdom of building a brand, from what I’ve seen on the internet, so I’m forming my own uncommon wisdom instead. That again ties back to the LHP imprint by creating a common thread beyond just my name. I follow my muse, so I’ve gone from superheroes (Just Cause, The Archmage) to funny science fiction (The Milkman), to cyberpunk (Troubleshooters), to fantasy/Western (Pariah’s Moon), to urban fantasy sports (Blood on the Ice), to religious symbolism (Hope and Undead Elvis) and even more. And if my agent sells The Guitarist, I can add “Mainstream Young Adult” to my genres.

You have an agent? But I thought you were self-published.

I do have an agent, Carly Watters of PS Literary Agency in Toronto. She represents my Young Adult
work only, and when we discussed the possibility of her representing me, we both agreed that she could still effectively represent a portion of my work and I could still effectively release my speculative and adult fiction without interfering with one another. I am, in fact, searching for a second literary agent to represent The Oilman’s Daughter, the epic steampunk/space opera that I coauthored with my dear friend Allison M. Dickson.

What’s it like working with another writer so closely on a project?

I’m not sure I have anything better to compare it to than a successful marriage. We worked very closely together on the project (two time zones separating us notwithstanding!). We had complete trust with each other, and were able to discuss what should have been extremely divisive and difficult issues not only with calm heads, but with a sense of joy that only two opposing viewpoints between dear friends can bring. The best thing about working with someone like that is going back through the manuscript and not being able to tell exactly who wrote which parts. That’s just awesome.

The Archmage, book 2 of the Just Cause Universe series, launches from all online retailers on September 1, 2012. Exclusive signed editions can be purchased directly from Local Hero Press (

Find Ian on Twitter as @ianthealy, and follow Local Hero Press as @LocalHeroPress.

Author website: