brittni in ink

Author of The Patch Project and A Place That Used to Be

Category: review

far, far away anthology review

Hello everyone! I usually don’t post book reviews on my blog, but I’m making an exception for Mirror World Publishing’s new anthology Far, Far Away.

In today’s post, I’ll be giving a quick review of each story including a content warning (cw), so you know what to expect if you pick up a copy of the anthology.

And folks, it’s going to be my legit reviews. I encourage you, if you read this book, to also post your reviews on whatever platform you use, even send them along to Mirror World. They’re planning a volume 2 of this anthology, so I’m sure they’d appreciate the feedback.

Cover design by Mirror World Publishing

“Piece of Mind” by L.R. Braden

An interstellar ark for human minds goes on a journey to save the human race. But as time drags on, what makes the minds human begins to degrade.

Really enjoyed the concept of this one, though I felt like the story could’ve been a bit longer. Strong P.O.V. and deft writing made this one a solid starter for this collection.

cw: isolation, memory loss, violence

“Songs and Superstitions” by Shana Scott

Now an outsider, Krem returns to his home planet to work a job with his best friend Max and her insufferable companion, Commodore McFlufferton. When the job goes wrong, they discover that they’re not alone in the underground tunnels.

This may have been my favourite story of the collection. The characterizations are strong, there’s a vibrant streak of humor throughout, and the world-building feels effortless. There were so many little details that made this story a delight to read, as well as a satisfying arc overall.

cw: underground, cave in, guns

“Black Spire Isles” by Barend Nieuwstraten III

Shipwrecked on an island no one ever leaves, the group of survivors uncovers centuries-old secrets. There is magic at work here, but will they find out the truth before it’s too late?

I wasn’t sure about this one when I started. The preamble before the story was a bit much to take in, and the writing had an archaic flavour common to high fantasy stories. However, as the story got going and the style loosened up a bit, it really drew me in and became one of my favourites from the collection. It reminded me of parts of the Odyssey. And the end was satisfying, very well-crafted. My only qualm was that the people already living on the island are portrayed as a group, with little individual characterization apart from their roles in the community. Given that it was a short story, though, I’ll give it a pass.

cw: gender roles, shipwreck, injury recovery, themes of loss

“Field Notes from the Unknown Planet” by Brittni Brinn

When Idylwild finds herself on a dangerous planet under strange constellations, she’ll have to use all of her skills as a surveyor to survive the resident predators.

I wrote this one, so I’ll leave the reviewing to you all!

cw: isolation, childbirth, death

“The Colour of Roses” by Kelly D. Holmes

In a world where only Soulmates can see colours, a young woman discovers the nature of soulmates isn’t so obvious after all.

Think of the part in The Giver where the kid sees red for the first time, then move that concept out of a dystopic YA novel and set it instead at a supportive writing group in the suburbs. It was a sweet story, and fit nicely in the middle of the book. Some stand-out imagery work, especially playing with the title. Given that this is Holmes’s first publishing credit, I say bravo.

cw: heteronormativity, themes of loss

“The Prime Crusade” by Buddy Young

Time travelers aboard the Hindenburg fight to save time itself in the face of impending disaster.

So. This is a story that takes place almost entirely on the Hindenburg, an airship that crashed in 1937. This is fine. It’s a historical event that would definitely draw time travelers to experience the famous airship before it was destroyed. The story itself is well-written, with attention to detail and historical tidbits ingrained into the story. And who doesn’t love a good time travel story? Well, I did not love the part where the heroes wore Nazi armbands and their main contact was a time traveler pretending to be an SS officer. You could argue that they were all just playing a part and their use of Nazi imagery didn’t mean anything. But the thing that really stood out was how not one of the time travelers wanted to punch the Nazis on board. Even if it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the story, shouldn’t at least one time traveler be there for the sole purpose of punching Nazis? If Indiana Jones had time to fight Nazis, I should think someone on that airship would have made time to do so too.

It CONFOUNDS me that this story was chosen to be included in this anthology. With fascist ideologies gaining more ground in the United States and Canada, these “harmless” and “neutral” stories featuring Nazi imagery aren’t really that neutral at all. If memory serves, this author had two stories shortlisted for the top ten stories that were submitted. Why was the one featuring Nazi imagery, as window dressing as it was, chosen? Maybe this doesn’t bother anyone else, but I found it concerning. And don’t even get me started on the Crusades.

cw: Nazi imagery, sexual harassment, war, violence, the Crusades

“Fatestorm” by Justine Alley Dowsett and Murandy Damodred

When her village is destroyed by a colonizing military force, Deneige tries to help her people by falling in love with the soldier in charge.

The framework of a Roman-esque soldier leading a massacre of a village, enslaving the survivors, and taking their spiritual leader captive doesn’t really feel like a set up for a love story to me. But, to each their own.

cw: genocide, slavery, colonization

And that’s the anthology! I told you these would be my legit responses. I also wanted to provide a place for content warnings, because I believe it’s important to recognize the elements that may be triggering to readers. If I missed anything, let me know! I hope that if you pick up this anthology, that you’ll join the discussion about the stories inside. Words are how we shape the future as writers and as readers, after all.

out in the world

This month, I’ve been focusing on The Patch Project. This book has been out in the world since 2018, and I’ve enjoyed hearing all of the feedback, online and in person. My favourite review compares the book to a ’70s psychedelic film. It was a two-star review, but I love the comparison, and that the person felt strongly enough to leave a review at all!

I’m in the process of planning a reading for the spring, and looking at other ways to put myself out there as an author. Maybe I’ll start carrying my book around, just in case people want to read a chapter. Self-marketing is a huge part of having a book, but I’m terrible at it. At least I have business cards now.

I’m really enjoying working on my next draft of my work in progress. After this weekend, I’m going to take a couple weeks to overhaul the entire manuscript. We’ll see if I can keep to my goal of getting it out for beta reads by March.

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Have you read The Patch Project?

The Patch Project is available online through Amazon, or locally at Juniper Books. I also have copies on hand I can sign. If you do give it a read, let me know what you think 🙂

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If you’re making creative things, you may be interested in the following developments: 

The Windsor Review is open for submissions!

The Windsor Endowment for the Arts is taking grant applications until March 31, 2020. If you’re in the Windsor area, you should consider applying!

the third thursday, featuring Sharon Ledwith and Lost and Found

Welcome to week three of our blog tour! Four local authors have joined forces to share their stories and answer questions about their writing process.

This week, I asked YA author Sharon Ledwith some questions about her newest book, Lost and Found!

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About Lost and Found

“The Fairy Falls Animal Shelter is in trouble. Money trouble. It’s up to an old calico cat named Whiskey—a shelter cat who has mastered the skill of observation—to find a new human pack leader so that their home will be saved. With the help of Nobel, the leader of the shelter dogs, the animals set out to use the ancient skill of telepathy to contact any human who bothers to listen to them. Unfortunately for fifteen-year-old Meagan Walsh, she hears them, loud and clear.

Forced to live with her Aunt Izzy in the safe and quiet town of Fairy Falls, Meagan is caught stealing and is sentenced to do community hours at the animal shelter where her aunt works. Realizing Meagan can hear her, Whiskey realizes that Meagan just might have the pack leader qualities necessary to save the animals. Avoiding Whiskey and the rest of shelter animals becomes impossible for Meagan, so she finally gives in and promises to help them. Meagan, along with her newfound friends, Reid Robertson and Natalie Knight, discover that someone in Fairy Falls is not only out to destroy the shelter, but the animals as well. Can Meagan convince her aunt and co-workers that the animals are in danger? If she fails, then all the animals’ voices will be silenced forever.”

 

The Q and A

Brittni Brinn: Can you tell us a little bit about Fairy Falls?

Sharon Ledwith: Would love to, Brittni! When I ‘built’ the mythical town of Fairy Falls over ten years ago, I drew from all of my childhood and adult experiences from vacationing and living in cottage country. When you think of a small, northern tourist town, what emotional cord does it strike? Vacationing with the family when you were young? Visiting your grandparents at their cottage? Camping in the backwoods with your friends? Living the dream on a lake? Whatever vision you conjure, I’m sure you have plenty of happy memories of that special place. That’s the basis for creating the town of Fairy Falls.

I also knew I didn’t want to lose that ‘small, tourist town feeling’. True, change is good, but there’s something about going to a tourist town and connecting with the people living there that somehow leaves you feeling better than you did before you arrived. I also wanted to be realistic in the fact that growth is a necessary part of life, and Fairy Falls will have to deal with all kinds of challenges that will create conflict and divide the residents, believing that they are doing what’s best for their hometown.

The psychic teenagers in each of my stand-alone books in the Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls series will have their fair share of adversity and prejudice to deal with. They truly believe they’ve arrived in a place so foreign, so backward, that they try so hard to find a way to leave, only to realize in the end that Fairy Falls has been waiting for them to finally come home to themselves. Welcome to Fairy Falls. Expect the unexpected.

BB: Are the animal characters in Lost and Found based off of animals you know in real life?

SL: Absolutely! All the shelter animals in Lost and Found are based on an animal I cared for in some capacity while working at the Animal Shelter for Huntsville, a Muskokan tourist town three hours north of Toronto. Now, trying to come up with each animal’s unique voice wasn’t that hard for me, since I went by the personality of the cat or dog. I observed certain quirks, how each animal behaved, what were they afraid of, what they liked, and so on. What I found was that every animal (even kittens born in the same litter) was different. Just. Like. People.

When I was ready to sit down and write their story, I compiled a list of shelter animals that readers would emotionally relate to and connect with. Many came to me as a surprise, others were firmly planted in my imagination from the very beginning.

BB: Why did you choose to write about an animal shelter?

SL: During my year-long stint as an animal care attendant, I learned so much about the procedures and daily routines of working in an animal shelter. Then, one day, I found myself wondering what the animals would say if they could talk? How they would act and sound? What did they really think of humans? So, chasing down the animal voices frolicking in my head, I decided to write their story. The result is, Lost and Found, the first book in my teen psychic mystery series, Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls.

BB: Who was your favourite character to write scenes for?

SL: Hard question, Brittni! But if I had to choose it would be Whiskey, a cantankerous, old calico cat who doubles as the Fairy Falls Animal Shelter’s observer and sage of the shelter. In real life, Whiskey was named Whiskers, but I thought that might be confusing when describing the cat’s anatomy, so I changed her name. I guess I just love the fact that Whiskey doesn’t take any crap from any of the animal or human characters in Lost and Found, and she makes decisions for the good of the whole, not the one. Now that’s one smart kitty!

BB: Do you have any words of wisdom for YA writers who are just starting out?

SL: Life is short, so follow your heart, regardless of the challenges ahead of you. Let’s face it. Life is full of challenges and obstacles. Those are the things that makes us stronger, better, faster. That’s what our characters face every time we writers drag them through the muds of hell. Then, like us, our characters evolve and grow. Writing is a tough gig, but so rewarding when you write those final two words ‘The End’. It’s a badge of honor, and feels wonderful and uplifting, like you’ve reached the pinnacle of super hero status. Never give up on your dreams.

BB: Thanks for giving us a glimpse into Lost and Found, Sharon!

SL: Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Brittni! I really appreciate your support and kindness in helping out a fellow Windsor writer share her reading wares. Cheers and happy writing!

 

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Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/young adult time travel adventure series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and the teen psychic mystery series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercising, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a southern tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

 

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

BONUS: Download the free PDF short story The Terrible, Mighty Crystal HERE

 

Book info:

The Last Timekeepers Time Travel Adventure Series:

The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret, Book #2 Buy Links:

MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀

The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis, Book #1 Buy Links:

MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀

Legend of the Timekeepers, prequel Buy Links:

MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀

 

Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls Teen Psychic Mystery Series:

Lost and Found, Book One Buy Links:

MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀

 

***Check back next Thursday for the last post in our Windsor writers blog tour!***

the second thursday, featuring Justine Alley Dowsett and Mirror’s Deceit

For the next installment of the Windsor author blog tour, let me introduce you to Justine Alley Dowsett and her newest co-authored fantasy novel, Mirror’s Deceit!

Meet the Author

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Justine Alley Dowsett is the author of nine novels and counting, and one of the founders of Mirror World Publishing. Her books, which she often co-writes with her sister, Murandy Damodred, range from young adult science fiction to dark fantasy/romance. She earned a BA in Drama from the University of Windsor, honed her skills as an entrepreneur by tackling video game production, and now she dedicates her time to writing, publishing, and occasionally role-playing with her friends.

About Mirror’s Deceit

A gifted student of majik, Mirena is on the verge of graduating from a secret college that will give her a leg up in her political career, when her achievements are overshadowed by the arrival of a mysterious woman with an unknown agenda.  Desperate to keep what she sees as her rightful place in the spotlight, Mirena goes to astounding lengths including taking it upon herself to pose as a double agent to investigate a rebel force plotting to destabilize the government. Unfortunately, her actions cost her the trust of those around her, so when she is proclaimed the Dark Avatar of the Destroyer, she finds she has nowhere to turn.

In a seeming utopia, Mirena is now a pariah with the force of Destroyer behind her and her once bright dreams have darkened, leaving her a threat not only to herself, but to those she cares about. Can she turn her life around, or will someone need to stop her before she goes too far?

series

Mirror’s Deceit is the third novel in the Mirror Worlds series. If you like reading about parallel worlds, time travel, and magic, this is a wonderful series to check out! Mirror’s Deceit can also be read independently of the earlier books; I read this one first and enjoyed it!

More about Justine Alley Dowsett and Mirror’s Deceit

Mirror World Paperback:

https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/adult-fiction/products/mirrors-deceit-paperback

Mirror World Ebook:

https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/adult-fiction/products/mirrors-deceit-ebook

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Mirrors-Deceit-Mirror-Justine-Dowsett/dp/1987976428/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1531757231&sr=8-2&keywords=justine+alley+dowsett&dpID=51iwU-xvuML&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Mirror World Publishing:

http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com

Blog:

http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.wordpress.com

Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/mirrorworldpublishing

 

***Check back here next Thursday for an interview with YA author Sharon Ledwith!***

the first thursday, featuring Ben Van Dongen and The Thinking Machine

For the next four Thursdays, I’ll be featuring a different book by a local author – and they’ll be featuring The Patch Project! It’s our version of a book exchange-style blog tour, and should be a lot of fun!

First up is Ben Van Dongen, with his new cyberpunk novella, The Thinking Machine!

The Thinking Machine.jpg

The Thinking Machine follows an outsider named Zed, a new arrival to the massive metropolis that spans most of the Eastern seaboard. The purpose of his visit is to hunt down a machine who, strangely, shares his name. A cyberpunk novella infused with Zed’s personal sense of mythos, this tale of humanity’s relationship with technology is full of suspense and intrigue.

It reads like a detective novel. Zed follows leads, passing through the less frequented corners of the bustling city. Ben Van Dongen’s cities are usually gritty and unforgiving places, riddled with back alleyways and dangerous doorways. This city is no different. The distinct locations of each scene create an impressive thematic atmosphere. Zed’s impressions of the city and the intermittent thoughts of his home in the forest, along with references to why he entered the city in the first place, really put muscle on the bones of this story for me.

The beginning of the book includes a couple of stereotypical side characters you would expect from an 80s dystopian film like Bladerunner, and there is a lack of multi-dimensional female characters. Until Belle, that is. I found that the interactions between Zed and Belle kicked this story up a notch, and created another layer of tension.

Also of interest is the implant which Zed receives in the city. I asked Ben about the role of technology in this book. “I write a lot from the hip,” he replied, “so the implants came from me thinking it was a neat idea that could push the story forward during an early writing session for the book. The idea of mechanical and technological prosthetics terrifies me. I am excited for the possibilities for people who need them, but when fake eyes out perform real eyes, how long will it take before people opt to get the new tech? Will that keep the people who don’t want augmentations behind? It’s a personal fear that I can see on the horizon.”

Overall, The Thinking Machine is a well-paced and engaging read. I’m really excited to see what Ben writes next!

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Ben Van Dongen was born in Windsor Ontario. He likes to think that if he tried harder he could have been an Astronaut, but he is happier writing science fiction anyway. He co-authored the books No Light Tomorrow and All These Crooked Streets, and is one half of the founding team of Adventure Worlds Press. You can read more crazy notions on his website BenVanDongen.com

**Next Thursday’s featured author is Justine Alley Dowsett with her newest co-authored novel, Mirror’s Deceit! **

Restful Reading

I took yesterday off. No writing, no editing. No mental scolding to vacuum or apply for jobs. Just a chill day.

So, I ended up reading, of course! It’s been awhile since I’ve really sat down with a book. And it showed – I finished half a book I started in March, and devoured another.

The first was She Dreamed of Dragons, a charming YA novel by Elizabeth J.M. Walker. I’d been meaning to read the book for a long time, but, as I’m constantly having to read books to prepare for co-hosting a podcast about books, it would constantly get sidelined. And this book is too good for that kind of treatment! If you love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and believe that young women should be encouraged to act instead of wait around for the knight in shining armour, you’ll enjoy this book.

The second was Looking for Alaska, one of my favourite novels. It’s also considered YA, but approaches topics like sex, personal and communal grief, and relationships in a way that resonates with older readers as well. It’s also my favourite John Green novel. It’s raw, philosophical, character-driven, and although the rapping is a little stiff, overall it’s a fascinating entry in American Lit.

Now,  the eternal question: what to read next?

 

 

January/ February Books

Quick reviews of recent reads!

Insurrection by Peter Rollins

This book is rad if you’ve ever felt disillusioned about “happy Christianity.” Some challenging criticisms of institutional structures and how we think about God. Rollins uses anecdotes that border on folk tales, examples from his own life and the bible, and psychology to comment on how real faith does not necessarily make us happier people. Alternatively academic and humourous, with a casual yet compelling tone throughout. A few years old, but still relevant.

The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This book is pure fun. Allan, a man who hates talking about politics, whimsically affects world politics through the power of friendship – and a nip of the hard stuff. A rewarding book for history buffs and casual readers alike, with an understated humour that reflects on the absurdity of prescribed society. Sometimes cynical, but still tells a story in which humanity is good, if at times ridiculous.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Atwood retells The Tempest. In this modern day fictionalization, Mr. Duke runs a Shakespeare program for Fletcher Correctional while he plans his revenge on those who removed him from power years ago. It’s a brilliant piece of fiction, but may be more enjoyable for Shakespeare-savvy readers. The tension leading up to the re-enactment of the play (a play within a play, so to speak) is palatable and delivers a Shakespeare experience like no other. As a theatre enthusiast and Atwood fan, I applaud this well-crafted project.

tragic comic

This month, I’m reading Maus by Art Spiegelman (for the third time) and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien (for the first time). Both are quite different – I mean, one’s a comic book about the Holocaust and one’s Canadian literary fiction about the effects of the Cultural Revolution in China. But there are surprising similarities.

Both are incredibly personal family stories. In Maus, Art interviews his father Vladek about his experience as a Polish Jew during WWII. Art frames the narrative by including scenes of his current rocky relationship with his father, and the effect of his mother’s suicide. Thien also writes about a family affected by suicide, focusing on stories of Marie’s father especially, both in Canada and in China.

In a post-modern vein, both stories include other texts to offer background and depth to each respective narrative. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Ai-Ming tells a fable-like story about the Cultural Revolution and its effects. In Maus, Art includes a short comic illustrated in a completely different style that explores his guilt around his mother’s suicide.

Both books are award-winning and critically acclaimed. Thien won the Giller Prize and made the shortlist for the Man Booker, and Spiegelman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work. The storytelling in both is creative, nuanced, and authentic, with plenty for the seasoned reader to think about.

Finally, both stories use just the right amount of humor. This may seem like an out of place element in stories concerned with such heavy subjects, but humor offers relief, clarity, and contrast. When Vladek throws out Art’s coat, for instance, we are given a needed chance to smile a little.

Both books are from different times and unique perspectives of course, but it’s interesting to consider the connections and themes that emerge in our lives and in the art that we interact with. I’m a bit of a tough reader these days (maybe a bit jaded?) but I’m enjoying both books immensely.

ocean wonder

P. and I are currently enraptured by ABZÛ, a video game journey through stunning ocean scenes filled with puzzles, myth, and wonder.

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According to the game’s website, its “name references a concept from the oldest mythologies; it is the combination of the two ancient words AB, meaning ocean, and ZÛ, meaning to know.”

Despite its linguistic roots, the game depends entirely on visual storytelling informed by a score that is perfectly attuned to the tone of each section of the game. Exposition is revealed through hieroglyphics and a short holographic series of images. The first half of the game is mostly about discovery, whereas the second half focuses more closely on a simple and moving storyline that does nothing to impede on the game’s most impressive quality: wonder.

We were showing the game to a few friends last night. We each took turns navigating though the unique levels, audibly gasping at unexpected breaches from the water, and exclaiming in delight when we caught up with a Common Dolphin and were able to hold on while it swam through the rich orange kelp. There was no rush, no push to solve puzzles until we were ready. There was time to enjoy the world, to be filled with wonder.

Not to say that the game is always that laid back. There are rushing currents to ride, threats in the waters, and there is definitely something at stake in this ocean utopia.

In a market that seems to produce more and more games in order to satisfy the instant gratification culture that has taken root in North America, it is so refreshing to find a game like this. ABZÛ reminds us of the wonder that lies beneath the surface of our world, and the surface of our lives. Definitely worth playing, and playing again.