Monday, August 18, 2008

Craven Deeds - Review by Tom Powers

Once again, my sincere thanks to renaissance man about town, Tom Powers, for contributing the following review.

A neuroscientist by trade living in San Diego, author Heather M. Elledge, in her debut novel Craven Deeds (Infinity Publishing 2008), crafts a fantasy world that is paradoxically familiar and unique. This assessment itself could be criticized as sounding trite, but, once you’ve read Elledge’s work, you’ll see that this statement honestly captures the tone of her writing. The author begins her tale with the freshly orphaned Carla attempting to adjust to her new ostensibly mundane existence living with her wealthy grandmother Hanna, whom she’s never met hitherto now due to familial estrangement. Hanna, however, with a subtle wink-wink to the audience, is not as simple and boring as Carla believes the woman to be as she introduces her granddaughter to an object Carla’s mother once owned – an old snow globe. On this side of reality, the globe appears as a nostalgic remnant of Carla’s mother’s childhood – but this is the world of fantasy; consequently, the globe becomes the magical catalyst that propels young Carla on a quest accompanying a gnome rescue party as they go in search of their kidnapped King Ruben.

Elledge then rapidly introduces a world that echoes well-revered fantasy tropes –quirky creatures, ancient royalty living in mighty castles, dark, mysterious forests, and treacherous mountains. Elledge indeed applies these fantasy traditions in her writing, but the novelty in this first-time writer’s approach to these elements is the sense of joy she brings to her world-building. Along these lines, she offers such creations as gongors – a sort of fantasy horse – and sand pouches that represent a gnome’s soul married with magic. She also taps into contemporary fantasy reader needs, in a manner similar to the cross-genre short stories found in last year’s Bad-Ass Faeries collection, by combining adventure-fantasy with murder mystery in a successful recipe for continual page-turning on the reader’s part.

Despite enjoying Craven Deeds’ brisk-paced narrative, I must confess that Elledge’s ending leaves me wanting much more, as the story’s tantalizingly unfinished by the novel’s end and certain characters remain underdeveloped and their motivations unexplained. Of course, there’s an apparent method to Elledge’s circumvention of these necessary storytelling elements – she’s wisely committing trilogy, assembling the narrative scaffolding for her projected “Gnome King Trilogy,” the second part of which she has already begun composing. For this reviewer, then, the literary expansion of Elledge’s world awaits…

Available September 5, 2008, from Infinity Publishing.

-Review by Tom Powers

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sound and Noise

As a rule, I don't read books on my computer screen. The strain on my eyes gives me a headache, and there’s something about holding a bound volume in my hand that’s simply too intoxicating to give up for the cold, lifeless experience of interfacing with a machine. I say all of this not so much to rail against technology but to underscore how much I enjoyed reading Curtis Smith’s new novel, Sound and Noise. My admiration for his storytelling skills (see, for example, his wonderful book of short stories, The Species Crown) was enough for me to bend my hard and fast rule against reading novels on my computer just once, just for him, but it was his gift for imagining characters and their settings that kept me coming back for more--blindness and aesthetics be damned!

The novel presents the parallel lives of two characters for whom heartbreak is no stranger. Tom is an artist who pines away for his comatose wife while life ostensibly passes him by. Jackie is a former backup singer in a classic rock band whose life has settled into a rut that consists largely of tending to the bar she inherited from her family and prowling the aisles of her local grocery store in search of the meaning of life. Or love. Whichever comes first. Bereft of joy, both characters struggle with loneliness and its various cousins—depression and despair, chief among them—only to find hope in each other and, perhaps more importantly, in the flaws that make them so human.

While the basic premise of Sound and Noise may sound a little gloomy, Smith is as adept at tackling weighty subjects with a light touch as he is at breathing life into his characters. Indeed, it’s the “extras” in the world that the protagonists inhabit that make their struggles not only bearable but ultimately so enjoyable. The small college town Smith envisions is teeming with well-meaning if not always reliable compatriots for Jackie, and despite ingesting mind-altering substances on the least opportune occasions, Tom’s friend Blaine, an otherwise down-to-Earth novelist approaching middle-age, gives the proceedings an atmosphere not unlike that of a classic buddy-film.

Granted, I’m a big fan of Curtis Smith, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this is a wonderful work of fiction that will allow even cynics (such as myself) to find a deeper appreciation for the day-to-day miracles inherent in every life. Available soon from Casperian Books, Sound and Noise is a winner.

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Friday, August 1, 2008


Weighing in at 95 pages and typeset in what appears to be 14-pt Times New Roman, Alive by Jeffrey Murray (Trafford 2007) follows the efforts of a young African-American male to “understand blacks, whites, the whole universe, and how it is designed to intricately work together.” Early in the purportedly true story, Murray-as-first-person-narrator writes, “Thursday, twenty years ago, a rage of pure hell was ignited within my mental capacity from racial broadcastings of black people struggles in America.” As the book progresses, Murray takes the reader through a number of racially-charged incidents that helped to shape his attitudes toward race, life, and the universe: moving from school to school, interracial romance, violence, bigotry, the death of a family member, and a personal near-death experience. Throughout this very short memoir, Murray punctuates his life-story with footnotes explaining the greater significance of each incident. This strategy produces an interesting result: two narratives running almost simultaneously, one depicting events in the narrator’s external life, and the other charting his emotional and intellectual growth. Overall, Alive is a quick read that offers an interesting and personal glimpse into the mind of a young man coming of age while exploring the significance of race in America.