Fiction, Reviews

Rainbow Bridge

Rainbow Bridge by Dan V. Jackson

OUR BEST FRIENDS NEVER TRULY LEAVE … THEY AWAIT US AT THE BRIDGE.

Our dogs are our friends and companions, guardians and defenders. Their love enriches our souls, and few things bring us greater joy than their loyalty and devotion.

Until that inevitable day arrives when we have to say goodbye.

But what if that is not the final farewell? What if there comes a time and a place where we can be reunited with the dogs we have loved and lost? For Nathan Wilkinson, this magical realm of which all grieving families dream will one day become a reality.

At each juncture of Nathan’s life, he experiences friendship, guidance and personal growth from his canine companions. First comes Shiloh, the wise German shepherd of his youth; followed by Lindsay, the miniature schnauzer whose misfortune changes his adult life. When called to battle, he befriends Georgie, the stout war dog, whose courage under fire inspires all who serve with him. Finally there are the Labradors, whose seemingly mindless antics mask an iron-willed devotion to protecting his growing young family.

Each of these remarkable dogs shares with Nathan countless adventures, love and companionship, and ultimately, the heartache of loss. And then one day, an unexpected tragedy provides him the chance for a brief but joyous reunion with those very same dogs at the place where all departed pets await their human companions…the Rainbow Bridge.

(A copy of this book was provided by the publicist in exchange for an honest review.)

I don’t know about you, but this increased time at home has made me especially grateful for my animals. They bring joy and entertainment to our house on a daily basis.

My dog is a senior citizen. He’s somewhere around 11 or 12 years old. He’s also a big dog which makes me want to make time slow down to hold onto the years I have left with him. I knew when I adopted him we’d have less time together, but nothing in life is a guarantee. While I’m in no hurry to get another dog, my thoughts do occasionally stray to my next dog and what that experience will be like.

Rainbow Bridge is the story of Nathan Wilkinson and all the dogs that have left pawprints on his heart over the years. For fans of Marley & Me and The Art of Racing in the Rain this is a sweet story of a life lived in and shaped by the companionship of dogs.

Jackson is a great storyteller and I found myself eagerly flipping the pages. His understanding of dogs means that every dog in Rainbow Bridge feels real, whole, and distinct – which anyone who’s ever had a pet knows. No two are the same and every dog in Rainbow Bridge feels unique. As unique as Nathan’s life is, though any reader who’s had a dog can surely see themself in Nathan’s story!

For anyone who’s loved a dog or loved a pet, this book is for you!

Author Spotlight, Fiction, Humor, Reviews, Sci-Fi

Space Throne: Review and Interview With Author Brian Corley

Space Throne by Brian Corley

Parr never meant for any of this to happen. All he wanted to do was pilot the Aurora around the galaxy and avoid his royal duties for a while.

Now, in the wake of his parents’ mysterious demise, it’s time to un-fake his death and take up the mantle meant for him since birth.

Unfortunately, it won’t be easy.

A pirate king and the galaxy’s most dangerous bounty hunter stand between him and the gates of his home, Bilena Epso Ach.

Parr will need the help of two unlikely friends. Manc Yelray, a wise-cracking old pirate with money on his mind and an appetite for strange similies. And Ren, a smooth-talking outlander with a plan, and a shadowy secret of her own.

But do they have what it takes? And what will they eat along the way? Because there’s only one rule in space: never eat the hot snack.

ANYTHING but the hot snack. 

Let me start by saying it’s been a LONG time since I read five of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels (I’m unclear if there are more than five. I read the big compendium version), but from the very beginning, Space Throne gave me strong Douglas Adams vibes. And I do mean from the very beginning – I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this book from Brian. Which I loved and never quit loving. Now, there’s a book in the world I had a hand in shaping!

Lest you think my review is extremely biased (I mean, I’m sure it’s at least a little biased) let’s start with what Space Throne isn’t. It’s not a serious book. It’s not a sweeping treatise on the human condition (though it does succeed mightily in comically skewering some facets of our existence). It’s not a true space opera (though I might call it a comedic space opera).

Instead, Space Throne is a fun romp through a galaxy far, far away. It’s a breezy weekend read to distract you from the general madness of 2020 and the bat-shit crazy madness of the weeks leading up to the 2020 election. Ever wish you could escape to someplace where COVID-19 doesn’t exist, the news headlines don’t resemble a screwball comedy, and the good guys still mostly triumph over evil? (I refuse to comment if that last bit is a spoiler or not.) Here’s your ticket. Space Throne just released into the world today! If you like accessible world-building, colorful characters, wacky hijinks, jokes on jokes on jokes, and a plot you WON’T see coming a mile away, give Space Throne a try.

To celebrate Space Throne’s release day, I have Brian back to do another interview for the book. Some of you longtime readers might remember when I interviewed Brian after his first book, Ghost Bully, came out. I lured him back by promising not to ask (all) the same questions.

Shannon Fox (SF): What inspired you to write Space Throne?

Brian Corley (BC): One of my earliest memories is watching Star Wars at a drive-in theater outside of Dallas, TX. I was two years old and just the right age to grow up with the original trilogy.

(I also remember being extremely jealous of the kids beside us that had a pallet set up on the roof of their van with blankets and pillows … that sure was a next-level 70s family)

My earliest foray into storytelling were scenes staged with the old Kenner Star Wars action figures, so it was really a no-brainer for me to have a go at my own little Sci-Fi adventure.

SF: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

BC: A desire to write glowing reviews everywhere they can and purchase other books by me.

Kidding.

(kind of)

I want people to have a good time with it. I meant it to be a breezy read with a nuanced message if you want to look for it.

SF: How was writing this book different than writing Ghost Bully?

BC: Both had kind of a false start. I wrote the first couple chapters of Ghost Bully then set them aside for a year or two, but once I picked it back up, it came together all at once. With Space Throne, I got about 30,000 words into it before setting it aside for a while. Once I picked it back up, I finished it at a more methodical pace.

Of course, the most significant difference was workshopping Space Throne with my writer’s group. Shout out to Tornado House.

SF: What was the hardest part of the book to write? The easiest?

BC: Once I figured out everyone’s voice, it was pretty easy. Manc started with a voice like the tordaver, but I switched it up about halfway through (that was a tough re-write).

SF: Who is your favorite character in Space Throne?

BC: Manc Yelray. Not even close.

I’m not sure if it’s because Parr, Ren, and our antagonists did most of the heavy lifting to drive the plot, but Manc’s parts were super-easy to write. I mostly wrote him with the characteristics of Peter Ustinov in Blackbeard’s ghost, but with a deep, gravelly voice somewhere between Vin Diesel and Hagrid.

Although, someone in our writing group said that she thought of him as more of a Jason Mamoa type, and I couldn’t help but work that in on subsequent passes.

SF: If you, like Parr, found yourself living in self-exile in the Sixteen, how would you survive?

BC: I think these COVID times, or whatever we’ll end up calling them, give me a great sense of what I’d do. Work a set amount of time each day, exercise for a little bit, then consume as much media as possible via Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and Prime before falling asleep.

I think I have a leg up on Parr since I can garden and go outside without a breathing apparatus*.

*Except for last month when we couldn’t go outside because of the air quality in Portland.

SF: What has it been like finding your style as a cross-genre humor writer? Any tips for anyone who wants to get into writing humor? Or make their work more humorous?

BC: I guess like the Talking Heads sang, “Same as it ever was.”

I’m not really trying, it’s just the way I tell stories right now. What’s cool about indie publishing is that if my style changes, I can just write those books too.

I guess I’d say, don’t force anything. That doesn’t mean don’t try, you have to try. Just keep working on the spot where you want a joke or comedy until you’re happy with it. You won’t always nail it on the first go.

Listen to people you trust—if no one thinks it’s funny, don’t be afraid to either hone or cut it.

SF: When I last talked to you, it was shortly after Ghost Bully came out. What have you learned about indie publishing since then?

BC: Oh man, I want to say “so much,” but it doesn’t feel like it.

Indie publishing is kind of this mercurial troll market. Just when you think you know where things are or where they’re going—poof, they’re gone.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned since the launch of Ghost Bully is the power of AMS ads. Amazon has something like 70% of the book-buying market place, so their ads are targeted at just the right people.

Newsletter promos help too, but I usually save those for special occasions like Kindle Countdown deals.

Was that too inside baseball?

SF: What’s next for Parr, Ren, and Manc?

BC: Two more books, hopefully. We’ll see how Space Throne does.

(Two more books for two of the three of them, maybe)

SF: And what’s next for Brian Corley, the man behind the curtain? 

BC: Me? Who knows. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to stop thinking I have any idea of what’s coming next.

Writing-wise, I’m working on a contemporary fantasy set in and around my new hometown of Portland, OR. I already have a book with ghosts, one in space, so now I need some weird, trippy elves in my life.

It should be out next year.

Hopefully, I’ll be on Book Two of the Space Throne trilogy shortly after. Come visit me over at www.brian-corley.com and read Chapter 1 of Space Throne for free!

(Thanks for having me, Shannon!)

How to Win a Free Signed Copy of Space Throne

Thank you to Brian for agreeing to give you a chance to win a signed copy of his newest release! All you have to do is leave a comment below with the name of your favorite sci-fi adventure (book, movies, or tv) to enter. For extra chances to win, hop over to my Facebook and Instagram.

Personal, Writing

Writing Update: Starting Something New and Winter’s Cry Reprint Available

It’s been a minute since I’ve done a writing update. Not because I’ve had nothing to report, but because I’ve been basking in the magic of starting something new.

Last fall, I had an idea for a short story that I started, but didn’t finish until spring of this year. I loved the seed of that little idea so much, but it was a tough one to get going, to turn it into all I felt it could bee. I finally had a spark of another idea to help me this spring and finished my little short story. I loved it immensely and was tremendously proud of it. I remember thinking, “This is the best thing I’ve ever written.”

I took it out to a couple of my beta readers. The three of them have been reading early drafts for me for years. And they loved it too – enough to set me in the direction of taking my little short story, a germ of an idea that took half a year to incubate enough to get it to roughly 6,000 words, and encouraged me to do more.

In the midst of a hellish year where the truth is stranger than anything fiction could devise, that little short story got a revamp and is now the entry point to a new novel.

Fast-forward a few months and I’m now coming up on 45,000 words into the draft of a book I never intended to write. And I still love it with all my heart. It’s lovely and odd in all the right ways. Dark, but also punctuated with moments of hope and beauty. A tribute to both a world that no longer exists and one that never existed at all. It’s the book that only 2020 could write, but also just a step past where I was headed all along.

There’s something very strange about creating inside a year that’s haunted by darkness. Anyone who’s started something new this year, made a positive life change, gotten engaged, married, had a baby, bought a house, I think understands the friction that exists when you set your personal happiness alongside a year that continues to staunchly declare itself itself the worst year of our lives. Many creators have stopped creating entirely, unable to make art or create beauty out of the ether.

It’s also why those of us who HAVE found a way to create, to carve happiness in small fits and starts, who are experiencing some of the most profound joys of the human experience even against a backdrop of darkness, find these moments taste a little bit sweeter, as if to compensate for the bitter taste of life that is the year 2020.

I’m so excited to finish this draft, to get all the pieces down so I can really shape it into something I think is special. Even if it’s special to no one else, but me in the end, I think there will be something unmatched about a creation that sprung unbidden out of the wasteland and that for its creator, presents an ever-refilling well of ecstasy, light, and hope.

This is getting a bit longer than intended and I do have some other things I wanted to drop into this update since it’s been a while so let’s shift gears!

-I’m still continuing to query Shadow of the Magician. Doing that during a year like 2020 is about as soul-crushing and wearying as you’d expect. Nothing much to report here.

-In happier news, an older short story of mine, “Winter’s Cry” was reprinted in The Magazine of History and Fiction this spring. You can read it here.

-My recent short story, “Hyde Park,” received a mention in this awesome review on The Nerd Blitz for the Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem anthology. You can check it out here.

-I wrote a new short story this fall and am continuing to shop around a short story from earlier this year that I received a nice, personalized, and very encouraging rejection for from a publication I really admire. Fingers crossed it finds a home somewhere soon!

-And in non-writing news, we officially have a date and venue for our wedding!

Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Reviews, Young Adult

A Map of Days

A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery—a subterranean bunker that belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe.

Clues to Abe’s double-life as a peculiar operative start to emerge, secrets long hidden in plain sight. And Jacob begins to learn about the dangerous legacy he has inherited—truths that were part of him long before he walked into Miss Peregrine’s time loop.

Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom—a world with few ymbrynes, or rules—that none of them understand. New wonders, and dangers, await in this brilliant next chapter for Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children.

I loved the original three books in the Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children series so I was apprehensive when I heard the series was continuing on. I’m always afraid that some things are better off left where they are, rather than continuing to try to create more story in order to continue to move forward and sell more books.

As a result, there’s been quite a gap in time since I finished Library of Souls. Enough time for books 4 and 5 to come out in the series. So starting A Map of Days, I realized I’d forgotten quite a bit about the earlier books. Much of the finer plot points and certainly what all of the kids’ peculiarities were. I wish this book had come with an appendix to help you get back up to speed, but alas, I had to make do with contextual clues. Luckily, the story does a good enough job situating you in the story that, after a little patience, I got it figured out. Enough to start sinking back into the story again at least. Though if you, like me, are returning to the series after a long absence, I would probably do a reread first.

Perhaps owning to a pandemic year that has all stuck at home, I find I’ve been really enjoying books set in own backyard, in America, the country I know best of all. As much as it is to escape to exotic locales and worlds, there’s something special about seeing the country you know in the pages of a book. Particularly a part of the book that is intimately familiar to the author (Ransom Riggs spent some of his life in Florida). And of course, it’s always a treat to see a part of the US that’s not commonly depicted in books and film (Florida that’s not Miami and the rural south).

In contrast to other series I’ve read where the books extended beyond the author’s original pitched and sold vision e.g. was a trilogy and now it’s 4, 5, or 6 books, there feels like enough new story here to keep the story going without it feeling boring or tiresome. This book still had all the quirky fun, magic, and inventiveness I’ve come to associate with this series. I also enjoyed how different Peculiar America is from Peculiar Europe and I look forward to exploring more of that contrast and how the kids have to learn to navigate a world that’s unlike anything they’ve ever known – for both Jacob and the original Miss Peregrine’s crew. I’m excited to see these characters continue to grow up and struggle to find their place in the world as young adults, not children. And I’m hoping the new books might inspire a film or tv series reboot that does the books more justice than they got the first time around.

Author Interviews, Horror, Paranormal, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Thriller

The Newton Cipher: Review and Interview With Author Steve Ruskin

The Newton Cipher by Steve Ruskin

Historian Trina Piper is summoned to the British Library to authenticate a coded manuscript believed to be authored by none other than Isaac Newton himself. At the same time, London finds itself in the grip of a series of ghastly murders.

When a malicious Russian scholar appears and demands the manuscript, Trina becomes the target of his wrath. She soon realizes that Newton’s papers and the terrible murders are connected, and both hint at something far more ominous: a secretive Order dedicated to reviving alchemy for sinister purposes.

Caught between ancient magic and a shadowy cabal, Trina must find a way to save not only herself, but all of London. With the help of Ulrik Stander, a handsome and resourceful agent from Interpol’s Art and Artifacts Division, she rushes from Westminster’s fog-filled alleyways to the hallowed halls of Cambridge University in a race to prevent a forgotten seventeenth-century plague from being unleashed on modern London.

As Big Ben ticks down, she discovers that Isaac Newton carried a secret so dark he buried it beneath layers of stone and forbidden magic. But now the secret is out and people are dying.

Will Trina have enough time to solve the mystery before disaster strikes?

I met Steve a few years ago at Superstars Writing Seminars, but really got to know him more in the last year or so when we both had stories in the Cursed Collectibles Anthology. When Steve told me about his new book coming out and I read the description, I knew this was something I wanted to read because it was right up my alley.

But when I sat down to start the book, I didn’t predict how much I would love it straight off the bat. It reminded me a lot of when I first sat down to read The DaVinci Code, which was my first introduction to adult thrillers in general and more specifically to thrillers with a historical angle to them. I fell instantly love with this subgenre and all these years later, The Newton Cipher delivers the same captivating reading experience.

I read almost the first half of the book in one evening and then finished up the rest the following weekend. The book gets quickly underway, delivering a smart, fresh story that, unlike some others I can think of in the genre, is as well-written as it is entertaining. I enjoyed the historical angle Ruskin covers in this story and think it is a fantastic introduction to a new series. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment. Actually I need about ten more of these books, stat!

I particularly loved the meticulous research that went into the story and those that have previously visited London and Cambridge will enjoy journeying back to England in The Newton Cipher. Since it is 2020, I’ll note that the book does contain mention of a plague which is about as eerie and unsettling as you’d imagine it would be to read about while experiencing a global pandemic. Of course, I have to give credit where credit is due and Ruskin gets all those details exactly right as well. I just wish we weren’t actually having to live through it to fact-check that part.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced and fun new read this fall, definitely pick up a copy of The Newton Cipher on Amazon!

Today I’m also excited to bring you more than a book review – Steve agreed to do an interview with me AND give away a signed paperback copy. Make sure you read all the way to the end to find out how you can win your own copy of the book!

Shannon Fox (SF): You’re a historian of science. What exactly is that, how did you become one, and how does it inform your writing?

Steve Ruskin (SR): I have a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science, which is a sub-field of history in general. As an undergrad I studied various sciences and engineering, and also history. I think I loved history most of all, but still had a heart for science. Around my junior year, I learned that there were universities with entire departments devoted to the history of science! So I applied to a few, got in (I chose Notre Dame), and that was that.

As to myself, for a long time I wrote a lot of non-fiction about the history of science, and, when I started writing fiction, that history stuff invariably spilled over into my fiction writing. My first professional short story sale was inspired by a book of scientific drawings I had in my personal library. And recently, of course, I wrote this new novel called The Newton Cipher

SF: What inspired The Newton Cipher?
SR: This is tough, as I don’t exactly remember. The real Isaac Newton was very interested in alchemy, and a few years ago I had a germ of an idea about his alchemical work being more than just an interest, but a full-on scandal, a secret that he tried very hard to bury. From there, it made sense to me that the story should become a thriller, the kind where a modern person stumbles upon that forgotten secret, and, well, BAD THINGS start to happen and suddenly the world is in danger unless the secret is solved. So, I ran with it.

Plus, I used to live in Cambridge, England, and spent a lot of time in London, so I already had my setting all picked out!

SF: Were you a Newton scholar before you write this book?
SR: Not really, at least not in the sense of having written anything about Isaac Newton as a scholar. I had however studied him as part of my PhD coursework, reading his work (like his Opticks, and some of his other stuff). He is one of the truly pivotal figures in the history of science, so given my studies in that field it was inevitable I should know something about him.

SF: Do you have a connection to South Bend, Indiana?
SR: My PhD is from the University of Notre Dame, which is in South Bend. So I lived there for about five years. Being from Colorado it was far too flat and I don’t miss it now, but it’s a beautiful campus, especially in the Fall.

SF: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
SR: Like any book, just cranking through the actual writing is the hard part. I more or less knew how it was going to go, but there are always surprises in the plot even you the author can’t predict. I do admit I had to spend a good deal of time working out the various codes and ciphers that my fictional Isaac Newton left behind, in order to make them as believable as possible. So I did spend a lot of time fussing with that.

SF: What period of history is your favorite?
SR: Just one? I’ll give you three: in the ancient world, the Golden Age of Athens (under Pericles) and the Pax Romana of Rome (under Marcus Aurelius) were both pretty awesome. And I’m quite fond of Victorian England as well. Those would have all been fun times to live. Or to visit, if you had a time machine…

As to the time when Isaac Newton was alive? There was a little too much bubonic plague for my liking in the mid-17th century. And war. And fire. But it makes for a great story setting. 🙂

SF: What’s one stupid cool fact of science history you bet most people don’t know?
SR: “Stupid cool”, huh? Hmm…how about this?

Everyone knows Charles Darwin was hesitant to publish on his theory of natural selection, due to concerns about both its implications for religion and contemporary scientific theory. So, he sat on it for roughly two decades. In the meantime, he was absolutely and utterly obsessed with barnacles. You know, the things that attach themselves to the bottoms of ships? But from Darwin’s perspective, barnacles (or Cirripedia), provided crucial insights into his theory. He studied both living and fossilized barnacles and used them as a model for his understanding of how species developed over time. Crazy, huh?

In fact, Darwin was so obsessed with barnacles–I mean, he worked on them for hours a day, for many years–that his children just assumed dissecting barnacles was what everyone’s father did. One day, when his son Leonard went to a friend’s house to play, Leonard reportedly walked into the friend’s house, looked around with a puzzled expression, and then said “Where does your father do his barnacles?”

SF: Who is your favorite scientist?
SR: The word ‘scientist’ wasn’t coined until 1833. So it would be anachronistic to call people scientists before then. Alas, this fact excludes people like Isaac Newton, and Leonardo Da Vinci, and even women like Margaret Cavendish from being called proper scientists. Those folks would have thought of themselves as ‘natural philosophers.’

“Fine,” you say. “But aren’t you just being pedantic?” Yeah, probably. But I just want to clarify, that when I say my all-time favorite scientist was Galileo, that he wasn’t technically a scientist. He was a natural philosopher. And also a badass.

SF: What authors have inspired you on your writing journey?
SR: There are honestly too many to mention. So many contemporary writers, both friends and mentors, inspire me all the time, and I am fortunate to be in a community of writers (which includes you, Ms. Fox), who keep me inspired by their hard work. Among the authors whom I love to read, however, and who inspire me by their own work, are Neal Stephenson, Michael Flynn, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. And if I don’t stop typing now, I could probably extend this list to 100 or more.

SF: What was your writing (and rewriting) process like?
SR: I tend not to rewrite too much, but I do spend a lot of time on my first draft so that the second draft is mostly refining.

SF: Do you use a computer or write by hand before transcribing?
SR: Computer. I’d love to be one of those who write their first draft by hand, but my handwriting sucks. I’d end up looking at the manuscript and thinking, ‘What the hell is this gibberish?”

SF: Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you like to listen to?
SR: Yes, I often do, but rarely music with words. I try to find soundtracks and “mood” music on Amazon Music. I also like the really cool 10-minute clips on TabletopAudio.com. They are designed for gamers, but they can really help writers set the mood for different scenes.

SF: What did you edit out of this book?
SR: Many, many, many mistakes. And bad ideas. And things I thought were funny at the time but clearly were not. Like, not even close.

SF: What’s next for Trina and crew?
SR: I’ve been thrilled at the response to The Newton Cipher, and readers tell me they want more. So, there are some fun things ahead for Trina and crew. Let me just say that I love Europe, have lived and traveled there extensively, and so I think Trina will find herself doing the same things as she realizes that the forces of evil, who still want to possess ancient alchemical secrets, are none too happy that Trina stopped their little scheme in London, and are now looking to execute their nefarious plans elsewhere…

SF: Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?
SR: On the web I’m at www.steveruskin.com, where people can sign up for my newsletter (and get a free book!). I’m also on Facebook at facebook.com/SteveRuskinAuthor. Stop by!

How to Win a Free Copy of The Newton Cipher

Thank you to Steve for agreeing to give you a chance to win a free signed copy of his new book!

Entering is easy – all you have to do is leave a comment below with the name of your favorite scientist (or favorite historical fact!) to be entered to win!

This contest is also open on Instagram and Facebook so please visit my pages to see the corresponding post with more instructions on how to get extra chances to win! The contest is open from now until September 6th, 2020!
Business, Non-Fiction, Personal Development, Reviews, Self-Help

Stillness is the Key

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

All great leaders, thinkers, artists, athletes, and visionaries share one indelible quality. It enables them to conquer their tempers. To avoid distraction and discover great insights. To achieve happiness and do the right thing. Ryan Holiday calls it stillness–to be steady while the world spins around you.

In this book, he outlines a path for achieving this ancient, but urgently necessary way of living. Drawing on a wide range of history’s greatest thinkers, from Confucius to Seneca, Marcus Aurelius to Thich Nhat Hanh, John Stuart Mill to Nietzsche, he argues that stillness is not mere inactivity, but the doorway to self-mastery, discipline, and focus.

Holiday also examines figures who exemplified the power of stillness: baseball player Sadaharu Oh, whose study of Zen made him the greatest home run hitter of all time; Winston Churchill, who in balancing his busy public life with time spent laying bricks and painting at his Chartwell estate managed to save the world from annihilation in the process; Fred Rogers, who taught generations of children to see what was invisible to the eye; Anne Frank, whose journaling and love of nature guided her through unimaginable adversity.

More than ever, people are overwhelmed. They face obstacles and egos and competition. Stillness Is the Key offers a simple but inspiring antidote to the stress of 24/7 news and social media. The stillness that we all seek is the path to meaning, contentment, and excellence in a world that needs more of it than ever. 

Back in December, I restarted my morning routine practice after feeling like I’d gotten a little off track in my life last year and struggled more than I wanted to. I’d say my practice is a combination of Hal Elrond’s Miracle Morning and Rachel Hollis’ Start Today. And an important component of what I do every morning is ready. But it has to be a book that’s either related to business or personal development.

I don’t always review the books I read in the morning on my blog, though it’s amazing how many you can crank through when you read a chapter or so a day. And yes I know, cranking through isn’t the point of these types of books. But I do read a lot more of them then I actually cover on the blog so if you’re wondering if I’ve read something, check out my Goodreads!

Stillness is the Key is the first book I’ve read by Ryan Holiday and my first real introduction to stoicism, though I’ve heard the term before. This was a fantastic read, just in terms of the content, stories, and teaching packed into such a small book. But I really identified with the practice and ideas of stoicism, at least the way Holiday presents them. I signed up for his daily newsletter after I read the book and it’s actually been several months since I finished Stillness is the Key and I’m still loving these teachings.

I think stoicism is a slight misnomer if you’re not familiar with the concept. To me, I associate the word “stoic” with being tough and strong, even in the face of immense mental or physical pain. If you’ve read George Orwell’s, Animal Farm, I think Boxer the horse embodies the concept of “stoic,” at least the way I’ve always thought of it. I might not have mentioned this on this blog before, but I identify with Boxer in how I approach work/life which SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the book, but that’s not always a good thing. I acknowledge the good in the way that I am and I also use Boxer as a reminder of where that slippery slope can lead.

But that’s not really the use of the word “stoic” that’s on display in the concept of stoicism. Used in the way Holiday means it, Stoicism is more about creating mental fortitude, cultivating inner peace, and finding the kind of stillness that allows great leaders to make game-changing decisions with clarity and precision of thought. In short, if you’re trying to survive as a high achiever in the modern world, get this book. It is an introduction and a road map to the intensely different way of living we are all craving. This movement is growing louder, about rejecting the hustle, hustle, hustle mindset for a quieter, more focused and measured way of being.

You’ve probably heard the story about the two woodcutters. Taking a stoic approach to business is to me, a lot like that. Sharpen your ax, take deliberate, thoughtful action, and at the end of the day, reap the benefits.

I’m excited to continue cultivating the wisdom and practice of stoicism. I’ll definitely be rereading this book soon and I plan on picking up the rest of Holiday’s books for my morning reading.

Memoir, Non-Fiction, Reviews

Forty Autumns

Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner

In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family—of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom—leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home—was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.

In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love—of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.

When my book club picked this one, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t look at it too closely when I ordered it. So when it came in the mail, I glanced at it and was like, “Cool, they picked another WWII book” and nightstanded it. Cause ya’ll know how I feel about WWII books.
Then when my friend texted me to see if I’d started it yet and was liking it, I dug it back out of the pile and actually READ what it was about. Turns out it’s not about WWII, but the Cold War.

And then I started reading it and HOLY WOW this book was so good. I feel like I say this about every memoir I read, but honestly some people have absolutely fascinating lives. This one is the story of a family divided by the Berlin Wall for 40 years. About the family that stayed behind in East Germany and the branch of the family that went to West Germany and ultimately the United States.

Not only is this book a riveting, absolutely fascinating read, but the quality of the writing is also excellent. The result is a stunning portrait of life behind the Iron Curtain, contrasted with a portrait of life in the West during the Cold War years. A story so richly and deftly intertwined, a fiction writer couldn’t have done it better.

If you like memoirs, family stories, and history, GET THIS BOOK. I feel like this is an under-the-radar memoir that we all need to stop sleeping on. Especially because some of what is discussed in terms of what life was like at the start and end of the Cold War is applicable to our current world – and also left me with a measure of hope in these tough times. If the Berlin Wall can fall not with a bang, but with a whimper, then this too shall pass. I believe.

Fiction, Personal, Publications, Writing

Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem Included in the Chills and Wonder StoryBundle!

Looking for something good to read this weekend? Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem has been included in a new StoryBundle curated by New York Times bestselling author, Kevin J. Anderson! The “Chills & Wonder Bundle” includes 13 dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and thriller titles available in ebook format from authors like Jonathan Maberry, Lucienne Diver, Amity Greene, Kevin J. Anderson, and others. It also includes a copy of The Wolf Leader by Alexandre Dumas! All 13 books are available for as little as $15 and a portion of the proceeds go to support the Challenger Learning Centers. The bundle is only available for a limited time so click here to buy!

Anthology, Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Personal, Publications, Sci-Fi, Short Stories, Writing

Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem Out Today!

Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem is officially available today! This anthology features 23 new stories celebrating monsters and the movies. I’m honored to have my story, “Hyde Park” included in the stellar lineup. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and published by WordFire Press, this is an awesome anthology you won’t want to miss. Available in paperback and ebook.

Click here to buy it now!

Lights! Camera! Monsters?

Sometimes you go to the movies. And sometimes, the movies—and their monsters—come to you. At any moment, without notice, monsters once relegated to the screen become a reality. Aliens and demons, dragons and ghosts, werewolves, vampires, zombies, and seemingly ordinary people who are just plain evil.

Join award-winning authors Jonathan Maberry, Fran Wilde, David Gerrold, Rick Wilber and others for 23 all-new tales of haunted theaters, video gods, formidable demons, alien pizza, and delirious actors. Each story takes you to the silver screen with monstrous results. 

Funny or grim, unsettling or cozy… You’ll laugh! You’ll sigh! You’ll scream!

Grab popcorn—and good running shoes—and enjoy the show.

Featuring stories from: Jonathan Maberry, Rick Wilber, Brendan Mallory, Ryan F. Healey, Hailey Piper, Julie Frost,  Karina Fabian, Charles Maclay, Jesse Sprague, Kevin Pettway, Luciano Marano, Linda Adams, Cindy Hung, David Boop, Phyllis Irene Radford, Andrew Hearn, B.D. Prince, David Gerrold, Ben Monroe, Shannon Fox, Steve Rasnic Tem, Fran Wilde, and Sam Knight

Children, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews, Young Adult

Here There Be Dragons

Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

An unusual murder brings together three strangers, John, Jack, and Charles, on a rainy night in London during the first World War. An eccentric little man called Bert tells them that they are now the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica — an atlas of all the lands that have ever existed in myth and legend, fable and fairy tale. These lands, Bert claims, can be traveled to in his ship the Indigo Dragon, one of only seven vessels that is able to cross the Frontier between worlds into the Archipelago of Dreams.

Pursued by strange and terrifying creatures, the companions flee London aboard the Dragonship. Traveling to the very realm of the imagination itself, they must learn to overcome their fears and trust in one another if they are to defeat the dark forces that threaten the destiny of two worlds.

I met the author of this book (and the subsequent other titles in the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series) a few years ago at Superstars Writing Seminars in Colorado Springs. I’ve heard the story of this book’s publication a few times and it never fails to both impress and move me to tears. But only recently did I get around to reading the first book in the series.

It proved to be another perfect quarantine pick. Imaginative, fun, charming – the perfect antidote to long days of worry about the world, cabin fever, and growing wanderlust.

To me, Here, There Be Dragons is a wonderful nod to classic children’s fantasy by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carrol, L. Frank Baum, and many others. I admit to not being super well-versed in all of the classic children’s fantasy titles – I’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time or A Wizard of Earthsea. But I’ve read enough to say that if you enjoyed the above authors and their stories, you will love this book. Even as an adult coming to this series for the first time, I found much to love here and knew I would have been obsessed with this series as a kid.

Growing up, we had a small, highly-stylized globe that bore the inscription “here, there be dragons.” I love that this series used this classic cartographic feature as a jumping off point – that “here, there be dragons” literally means, dragons, and also that sailing into uncharted waters brings you a world of myth and magic and fantasy – and also dragons.  I don’t want to reveal a few of the twists that occur in the story, but I will say they were all absolutely delightful and everything I could have hoped for and more.

Finally, it should be noted that the author is a supremely talented illustrator and both the cover and the artwork inside the book (there’s an illustration that heads each chapter) are the work of the author.

I am looking forward to acquiring the next volumes in the series and continuing on with the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica!