If you could have dinner with an author…

I’m borrowing from Angela at Books and Opinions again (thanks, Angela!).

Usually I dislike this kind of question – “if you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be?” – I’ve never had a good answer. But for this questions, I had an immediate answer, but I debated whether it was stalker-ish to post it. Clearly, I decided it’s not:

If I could have dinner with an author, it would be UK indie author Lizzie Steel.

Lizzie SteelA while back I reviewed Lizzie’s first book, Running Home, calling it one of the best fiction books I’ve ever read. Recently, I looked her up on Amazon so I could recommend the book to a friend and I discovered she wrote a second (phenomenal!) book, A Life More Complicated. Having loved Running Home, I bought and read A Life More Complicated immediately. I do plan to review the book more thoroughly, but here I will simply say that this book was amazing. She calls it gritty – and it is. It is gritty and gripping and painfully real.

Running Home Book CoverA Life More Complicated Book Cover

 

So, I would like to have dinner with Lizzie Steel because I find her writing compelling, and I am in awe of how she masterfully tells her stories from her desk in the playroom while battling crippling anxiety. As a mom-trying-to-be-an-editor, and suffering with my own history of post-partum mental illness, I identify with Lizzie and take encouragement from her bravery in putting herself out there – and succeeding splendidly!

A Curse That Bites Deep

You all will recall my reviews of The Fever and The Mossback Cafe Cookbook by Thomas Fenske. SO good! Well, I finally finished his latest, A Curse That Bites Deep, and now I can’t wait for book 3!!!

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Much like when I read The Fever, I thought the beginning of the book was nice and steady – I was happy to read a chapter or two in a sitting and come back when I had more time. This, unfortunately, coincided with the birth of my now nine-month-old baby, and I took a looooooong break from reading it. So, in the mood for fiction, I picked it up again a week or so ago. Again, like The Fever, but better(!), the story picks up partway through. I binge-read the rest of the book over two nights, staying up way too late to finish. The kids get up at 6… I get up with the baby lots of times in the night…sleep is crucial. And I sacrificed sleep to read this book! I DON’T do that anymore.

I loved in The Fever how the characters and story were so real. That same authenticity carries through in A Curse That Bites Deep. The story is rounded out and made believable by the nuances of the characters, and the author presents so much life wisdom through them. In one scene, for instance, Sam reflects on his life as he washes dishes at The Mossback, noting that “his life was a tradeoff” in which he balanced pursuing the mine and his relationship with Smidgeon (15). Isn’t life full of tradeoffs for all of us? Life requires constant assessment and reassessment of priorities and how well our actions align with those priorities. Sometimes we do well, and sometimes we don’t. Sam experiences this same reality throughout the book.

Another “real” moment that I love, probably because I’m Catholic, is Fenske’s portrayal of Smidgeon’s relationship with the Catholic faith she was brought up in. Through Smidgeon and her respect for the Church and its sacraments, Fenske very powerfully conveys the loving reality the Church teaches. Due to life choices at odds with Church teaching, Smidgeon is unable to participate in the sacraments, particularly the reception of Holy Communion. She tells Sam, “I can’t fully participate but…well, you know, it doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of the church family” (45). This is so beautiful and powerful – it speaks a truth that is often misunderstood by those inside and outside the Church, and it felt nice to read it so simply put in an otherwise-nonreligious book.

So these are the kind of things I enjoyed in the “slower” part of the book.

And THEN. Oh my. The action starts! I don’t want to give away too much of the story, so I won’t get into details. I will say this, though – I was surprised a LOT, which was fun. I mean, I knew there had to be bad stuff going on — it’s about a curse, after all — but there was so much I didn’t see coming and I really enjoyed that. I’d have these moments of shock and just have to keep reading. Accidental deaths, murders, arson, ghosts! All revolving around a gold mine in west Texas, of course. I figured out the identity of the villain well in advance of when it was definitively revealed, but even that didn’t keep me from being surprised by the action.

All-in-all, it was a fun read – surprising and compelling and yet also reflective of so many realities.

Five stars!

Munchkin Monday Book Review, a day late: Oliver and Jumpy, Stories 43-45, by Werner Stejskal

Product Details

Is this your first encounter with Oliver and Jumpy? Yes? Then let me tell you about them. Oliver is an elegant tomcat, and Jumpy is his best friend. They are always on the lookout for new adventures together. Oliver lives in a treehouse on the mighty oak tree. He is the most famous cat in the country. Oliver and Jumpy have already been in many illustrated stories and new ones are being published all the time. (Author’s introduction to the series)

Author Werner Stejskal has written nearly 50 children’s stories about Oliver the tomcat and his best friend, Jumpy, all published as e-books. The book containing stories 43-45 was my first encounter with his work. As always with kids’ books, I read them aloud to my kids (2.5 and 5 next week!) because I feel like an adult-only review of a children’s book is just silly – of course, it matters what I think as a mother, but it’s essential to see a kid’s reaction to a book in order to really judge its worth. So, one day I sat down on my bed with my kids and my Kindle and we read the stories. Here’s a brief synopsis of each story:

Story #43, Flying Carpet: Oliver and Jumpy travel to Africa (probably Egypt, given the references to the pyramids and the sphinx) to rescue a princess in trouble. When they get there, they’re given a magic, flying carpet that takes them exactly where they need to go to help the princess meet her prince.

Story #44, Birthday Party: Oliver’s friends throw him a surprise birthday party, with paid singers, elephant rides, and a mud-ball fight. He thinks it’s the best birthday ever!

Story #45, Magic Berries: Jumpy eats magic berries that change his size. In order to change back to normal, he has to complete a quest without succumbing to any of the temptations along the way: free ice cream, hot dogs, and soft drinks.

All in all, I was underwhelmed by the books. They were fine – they’re short, and engaging enough, but I feel like (except for maybe #45) they generally lack a message. I like to learn from what I read, and I like the same for my kids. I also don’t particularly care for how often Oliver points out how well-known he is… sort of a “look how great I am!” attitude that I don’t particularly want my kids to adopt. On the plus side, the illustrations pair really well with the stories, which is really nice, and the stories are generally harmless entertainment.

What did the kids think? It’s hard to tell. Honestly, I think they were much more interested in getting to “turn the page” on my Kindle than they were in the stories. I’m not sure if that’s just because they’d never used a Kindle before (I never let them touch it!), but they also have never asked me about the stories again (not even to have a chance to touch the Kindle again). So, I’d say their verdict is pretty similar to mine.

So, three stars. Generally fine, nothing to rave about but not bad, either. That said, I don’t think I’m a fan of e-books for young kids. Maybe I’ll change my mind as my five-year-old gets older and reads more on her own, but for now…we’ll stick to paper.

*This book is currently available on Amazon for free. I obtained my free copy of the book for the purpose of reviewing, at the request of the author.