Wednesday, May 25, 2011

CFBA Tour - Over the Edge

Glad to finally beat Blogger at its own game and get back into my own blog (being locked out for a day stinks).

I'm helping out with the CFBA Tour this week, and we're featuring Brandilyn Collins and her latest suspense, Over The Edge.

Brandilyn Collins is a prolific writer (working on her 20th book) who has created a strong following of her Seatbelt Suspense (meaning: you'd better strap yourselves in). She's a great fiction mentor as well, and her blog Forensics and Faith is a great resource for fiction writers.
Over The Edge follows Janessa McNeil, the wife of a prominent doctor and medical researcher at Stanford. She stays at home, taking care of their 9 year old daughter Lauren.

After fighting flu-like symptoms for several weeks, she wakes up one day with baffling symptoms: confusion, fatigue, weakness in her legs. She falls in the kitchen and can barely pull herself upright. Her joints ache and she gets episodes where she feels she's suffocating.

Getting sick is bad enough, but she receives a mysterious phone call.

Someone claims to have infected her with Lyme disease.

Dr. McNeil is a leading researcher in the field of Lyme disease, and he's published official reports denying the existence of chronic Lyme disease. Most experts believe Lyme disease can be cured with a month's worth of antibiotics, but a group of patients and doctors contend there is a deeper possible infection. Janessa's stalker wants her to convince her husband to change his mind, or he'll continue infecting victims - starting with their daughter.

Janessa is faced with a huge challenge to overcome the marital issues they already battle, along with her worsening symptoms and the fear that a small tick could strike her daughter at any time. Her will is strong, but can her weakened body hold out?
Brandilyn is a master of suspense. She has proved it in many prior novels. She also has experience with this subject, because she has battled Lyme infection in the past. You can go to her website and read her testimony of being healed from it.

The reader is sucked in from the first chapter, as we follow the stalker on his first contact with Janessa (or Jannie). She uses language strategically, and she certainly paints a picture of someone who is very sick. As a reader, you feel what Jannie is going through.

Unfortunately, the length of the book and the slow pace of actual action drag it down. Jannie is a sympathetic character, but it gets hard in the middle to constantly live in her viewpoint of confusion and sickness. She can't do much, and it bogs things down. There is the occasional point of view of inspector Jud Maxwell, but these are too few to provide enough counter to the battle of her illness. Her husband is a very unsympathetic character, and his extreme callous behavior is a turn-off as well.
The last few chapters pick up the pace and bring the book home to a mostly satisfying conclusion. Her suspense skills are allowed to shine once there is mortal danger.

The book is a good read. Brandilyn is a skilled writer, and there are many positives. I have a few issues with this book though:
  • She's done better. This just isn't her best work.
  • She wants to educate people about the possibility of chronic Lyme disease. The agenda weighs the story down, especially during a few pages of explanation that become didactic over entertaining.
  • Jannie's viewpoint when battling sickness is potent initially, but has a hard time carrying the middle of the book.
As a disclaimer, I should say that I am a physician assistant. I see the research that doesn't support chronic Lyme. However, in hearing Brandilyn's story and meeting a couple of patients who claim to have it, I don't have a hard and fast opinion. I know medicine is growing in knowledge, and I'm not ready to discount it. Still, I understand the arguments of Dr. McNeil in a different light than the average reader. I've thought carefully about this review though, and I think my issues are not from the controversial subject itself.

Overall, fans of Brandilyn's prior suspense will find a familiar read with episodes of her trademark roller coster rides. There is interesting information about an evolving field. As a health care provider, I am reminded to show empathy even if I don't fully understand what the patient is dealing with. If you're looking for a Brandilyn Collins book to start with, I would recommend Violet Dawn or Exposure as better examples of her skill and talent.

Legal mumbo jumbo: I received this book free from the publisher for review purposes, without obligation regarding my opinion. There you go lawyers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CSFF Tour - The Ale Boy's Feast Day 2

The end of the journey nears.

Yes, The Ale Boy's Feast is the last book of the Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet, which is the featured book for the CSFF Tour this month. We've highlighted each book in the series, and my prior post linked to all of my posts regarding the books. Also check Becky Miller's blog for all of this month's tour participants.

The long journey continues for the houses of the Expanse, the land of Auralia's Thread. House Abascar continues their journey toward the Forbidding Wall under the captain of the guard, since King Cal-raven has gone missing.

The ale boy called "Rescue" has survived the collapse of the Cent Regus Core, the remains of another house where the people had been corrupted into beastmen. He finds an underground river where he tries to lead ragged slaves to freedom.

The beastman Jordam, now free of the Cent Regus curse, also seeks redemption while hiding a terrible secret.

Will the citizens of the expanse survive the worst attack from the disgraced Seers, a Deathweed that strikes without remorse throughout more and more of the land? Will House Abascar find their king and their new home? Will the sliver of hope found in Auralia's Colors prove to be more than a pretty decoration, or will the life within shine a way for these desperate people?

I'm being a little vague in my synopsis, because there are significant spoilers to the series if I delve too much into the plot. There are a lot of questions in my summary, because Overstreet has been asking a lot of questions throughout his series. The question today is, how does The Ale Boy's Feast fare in tying together the various strands and capping off such an ambitious series?

The prose of these books continues to be beyond standard fiction fare. He intentionally writes with a poetic flair and uses a lot of description and figures of speech to paint vivid pictures. The style is a unique voice, and it is one of the strengths of the book.

It can also be a weakness, as the book is a dense read. It is not light and easy fare, not a quick read for those pressed with time. It takes some effort, as does the series. Still, the series has been enjoyable in seeing the way he uses words so carefully.

Plot-wise, there are a lot of points that have been introduced all through the series. I think the book does a good job in bringing the major points to conclusion, but there are so many trails that they don't all get a satisfying resolution. Overstreet is not going to spell out the ending, purposely leaving things up to a reader's imagination, so this isn't what I'm talking about. There are just dangling threads at the end that don't get tied off. Sometimes the action slows and drags in paces, with bursts of excitement interspersed.

The main characters of Cal-raven, the ale boy, and the fate of Auralia play prominently through the book. The biggest complaint I had is that there are so many introduced in the series that I was seriously confused through much of the book. If one is reading the series through without much delay, it shouldn't be a problem, but after 4 years of the whole set, I couldn't remember everything. The first third of the book alternates widely between various characters, so even if I had been better on the characters, I believe the wide cast of viewpoint characters would create too much distance for readers to engage.

I've said before that the series was important because it tried to do things differently than much fantasy fiction nowadays. I still believe that, but I think the wild trails of the Expanse got a little away from Overstreet in this last book. The questions raised are poignant, the surprises revealed in the end satisfying, but it is like a beautiful English garden that got a little overgrown over time. In my opinion Cyndere's Midnight, the second book, is the best of the series. The Ale Boy's Feast was a little frustrating in the density of characters and plot points, but it is an admirable finish to an imaginative tale.
Legal mumbo jumbo: I received this book free from the publisher for review purposes, without obligation regarding my opinion. There you go lawyers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

CSFF Tour - The Ale Boy's Feast, Day 1

One last voyage.

The CSFF Tour is about to finish up a series that we've featured since it started. Four books is a lot, and it is cool to see it through to the end. I'm talking about Jeffrey Overstreet's Auralia Thread series, and the 4th book The Ale Boy's Feast.

I've been involved with each tour, so to give some context, I'd point you to my previous posts about the series.

Book 1: Auralia's Colors

Book 2: Cyndere's Midnight - including an interview with Jeffrey Overstreet.

Book 3: Raven's Ladder

For further information, you can check out Jeffrey's site Looking Closer. Also, my fellow travelers at the CSFF Tour will have many interesting posts for your perusal. Check them out below.

Gillian Adams
Red Bissell
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Shane Deal
Chris Deane
Cynthia Dyer
Andrea Graham
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Carol Keen
Dawn King
Inae Kyo
Shannon McDermott
Shannon McNear
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Sarah Sawyer
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Secret of Happiness


I've been working on a novel set primarily in Thailand for a loooong time now. Much of it is based off of my own experiences there. I've used the web many times in research and helping me to set the mood. Still, there's one thing I've overlooked until recently.

Travel bloggers.

Seems pretty obvious now, especially where one of my characters spent time backpacking in Thailand for his backstory. In the social media age there are numerous bloggers using their writing to help support their travel addiction (color me jealous).

One I've started following has journaled some amazing adventures - way beyond what I experienced. It has been enlightening. But when this blogger announced finding the "secret to happiness," I was curious what it would be.

There are some good points in there about making time for what matters, getting out of the rat race, and so on, but it boiled down to one point:

Ooh, look at ME!
Do whatever makes you happy.

Ah, the old idea of hedonism. It became all about what the blogger wanted to do - having the freedom to go with the flow and travel where there is opportunity. I'd love to do that as well. Wouldn't it be nice to find a way to live simply and engage in whatever strikes our fancy?

I still think we are made for something more.

Serving self brings joy for a time. Eventually, there is a realization that even this is empty. A wiser man than I once tried living for all of his desires, and he came to the conclusion that all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11).

I was saddened by this blogger's announcement, because they were so excited by this epiphany. I know that it won't end well if this is where they camp out for life.

I would submit that we are meant not to live for ourselves, but we are meant to live for others. My greatest joy comes when I can truly help someone and give it freely without strings attached. This isn't often, because my selfish nature makes a mess of me, but when it does happen it resonates so deeply the ripples carry through my life for a long time.

Our ultimate example comes from a humble Jewish carpenter, who forsook everything, even when he had everything, to meet the needs of me. And you.

I hope this blogger realizes a life of sacrifice and giving, of serving others, will bring lasting happiness more than they have ever experienced in focusing on self. This is your life, so I encourage you to give it a try.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

One Little Detail

Sometimes it is the one little detail that changes things. One "tweak" in the regular ways of things can make a big difference.

Last week I was signed up for a photography class in the evening after work. I had to work in a different town, so I brought my laptop in my backpack to mess with the photos from last class.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I realized I was closer to the vehicle next to me than I liked. Trying to be considerate, I only opened my door halfway. I'd have to squeeze out, but no big deal.

Except for one little detail.

Hurts right THERE!
I threw my backpack on my left shoulder. The backpack loaded down with extra weight. I slipped it out first, and twisted and leaned to the left as I got out of the car.


Yeah, that was the sound of my back going out. I started having pain before I got to the doors of the building. In two hours I couldn't sit OR stand for long periods of time. Thankfully I work in a medical office so I was able to use an e-stim machine to zap my spasming muscles to buy a little relief.

There are actually several "little details" that contributed to my back going out. If I wasn't taking the class. If I hadn't brought my laptop. If I hadn't parked too close to the other vehicle. If I loaded my right shoulder instead of the left.

It made me think of the spiritual life. Sometimes all it takes is that one little detail: a white lie, a tiny compromise, a small sin. It's not a big deal, right? What is it going to hurt?

Sometimes it can hurt a lot. Trust me.

It took a few days of rest and a visit to my friendly neighborhood physical therapist to get put back together. All of the yard work I had planned for the weekend? Not happening. Still, the physical issues could be restored with a skilled therapist and rest.

The little sin, the small compromise, the white lie?

Not as easily.

Catch us the foxes,
The little foxes that spoil the vines,
For our vines have tender grapes. Song of Solomon 2:15