Undertow by Lynne Cantwell – A Review

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 8.13.32 PMIt seems fitting that I post this on Thursday, because Lynne posts a review each week for her “Rursday Reads.” Here’s my review for her just-released Undertow, the second book in her new Land-Sea-Sky series.

The second book in Lynne Cantwell’s Land-Sea-Sky trilogy digs deeper into the characters introduced in the first installment. (And if you’ve missed it, or if it’s been a while since you read the first, she includes a really helpful recap.) The tension between and among Tess, Sue, and Darrell in the aftermath of the events of Book One is palpable. Sue’s jealousy that every man she meets seems to like Tess first is poignant and well drawn. I could really identify with her. Tess has her own insecurities, especially the inability to accept the guidance of her goddess, Morrigan. Darrell tries to balance his Potawatomi medicine-man background and his new warrior persona after an attempt to reconcile with his ex-wife fails. I especially like Darrell’s journey in the series so far, with his trickster god Nanabush by his side giving him…well, sometimes advice that makes sense, and some Darrell can only scratch his head at as he tries to do the right thing.

Among the many reasons I liked this book is that the humans are so wonderfully human and so well portrayed. They aren’t always sure of themselves. They try to do what they think is best; they have doubts. So I felt relieved along with Tess and Sue when a new assignment in Virginia Beach pulls Darrell away from the house the three share, giving them all some much-needed space. But the human interaction is only one layer of this story. With her journalistic and precise writing style, Ms. Cantwell twists together a possible terrorist crisis (and a powerful hurricane barreling their way) with the personal lives of three engaging main characters and the divine entities who assist them. Well done, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion.

Seized by Lynne Cantwell: a review

LynneI expected to enjoy Seized, the first book in Lynne Cantwell’s Pipe Woman Chronicles, because I am a fan of Ms. Cantwell’s direct, journalistic writing style and wry wit from her Indies Unlimited blog posts. What I didn’t expect was that Seized kept me up late several nights in a row because it was so hard to stop reading. The story started easily in the realm of the familiar, with Naomi, a smart mediator who seems to have it all: the powerful job, the handsome boyfriend, and the best friend who understands her better than she understands herself. But wait…we know that nothing comes easily in fiction without consequence. So things twist up a bit when said best friend urges her to tag along on a New Age adventure. Several rounds in a sweat lodge release more than perspiration, including a visit from White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman, a mysterious Native American spirit that weaves in and around Naomi’s life, tasking her with a near-impossible challenge for a mediator…no, for anyone. Lynne’s writing style (and choice of first-person narration) is key here. I became deeply invested in Naomi’s future, and the author rides a nice, believable, and relatable line between the protagonist’s cynicism with the happenings around her and her faith that it’s all for a greater good. The story is smart and thought provoking, the fantasy element sophisticated and well integrated into the storyline. Never did I feel that this was fantasy with a story attached or vice versa. It just worked so well. I’m eager to read the rest of the series.

Grimsley Hollow: The Chosen One by Nicole Storey, a review

Meet Gage. He’s eleven years old, helps out in his mother’s tropical fish store, loves everything to do with Halloween, and doesn’t have any friends, mainly because he feels too different. He has autism, and while he understands why autism makes him do the things he does, he doesn’t like it, and retreats into his routines and a fantasy world he creates inside of a homemade fort on his family’s property.

But what he doesn’t know is that he has secret powers beyond his understanding. These are called into action when a mysterious visitor shows up at his fort with a gift and begs for his help to save her world. After wrestling with himself about how or even if he can help with such a daunting task, and why he, of all people, has been chosen, he is drawn into a universe of endearing, magical creatures: a witch in training, a young vampire, a smart aleck pixy, and a teenage werewolf who becomes a good friend.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, because it’s lots of fun, but overall I loved Gage’s wry sense of humor and positive spirit, even as he doubts his abilities. I like the relationship between Gage and his four-year-old sister, Sydney, who is wise beyond her years and adores her brother with every fiber of her being. And I really grew to care about the characters, even the ones who aren’t always so nice.

While adults are present in the story, and lend their influence, support, and encouragement to the kids, the kids are the real heroes, which is one of the best things about the story and about middle grade and young adult fiction in general. After a while, I even found myself forgetting about Gage’s autism as I fell into Nicole Storey’s sweet, funny, scary tale.

For any child who feels different, who feels cast out, this story shows that we are all human underneath, all want to make a difference, all want to have friends.

I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, so I can spend more time with my new friends.

I Will NOT Go The F**k to Sleep by Richard Crasta – A Review

I had the pleasure of meeting Richard Crasta years ago at a networking event, and if not for that meeting (because he’s mainly been published in India), I might have lost out on the experience of his clever wordplay and the playful but biting satire that peppers his writing. Immediately I purchased a copy of his first and most well known book, “The Revised Kama Sutra: A Novel of Colonialism and Desire.” (Buy it if you can.)

Through an accident of the Internet, our paths crossed again, though we are now living on opposite sides of the globe. And through the magic of electronic publishing, I was able to catch up on the books that I missed.

The one that caught my eye first was a book of essays titled, I Will NOT Go the F**k To Sleep, the title meant to be a satire on the recent and popular Adam Mansbach children’s book that’s more for parents, Go the F**k to Sleep. It is, indeed, the title of the first essay in this book, a Stewie Griffin-meets-Bart Simpson take on this command from the child’s point of view. The humor continues, some essays with a political bite, some with inspired silliness, but thoroughly enjoyable.

For instance, one essay, “What You Don’t Know about Bangaloring Could Hurt You,” is a wisecracking look at outsourced American jobs from India’s point of view. Another, “On The Trail of Sex in Kama-Land,” got him censored in his homeland. Crasta also includes an especially funny excerpt from The Revised Kama Sutra, in which our hero, at a tender age and with a repressed upbringing, is disturbed to discover the assertiveness of his male appendage. “A Tale of Two Weddings” puts a satiric lens on the stereotypes many people have about Indian culture.

Crasta is funny, yes, sometimes with a Pythonesque goofiness, but often with an irreverent poke in the eye to those in power. But all good satirists, from Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain to Christopher Buckley and Bill Maher, know that humor is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. Or, as C. K. Chesterton put it, “Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.”

Or, as Crasta writes in his introduction, “The king’s jester had no sacred cows, and was the only one who could laugh at the king and not pay for it with his life–why? Because to prevent a society from going insane, it needs a band of men and women who have carte blanche, carte blanche to point out that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes, or even that black polka dots on his polka dot pants are not dots but holes.”