Monday, December 31, 2012

From Mountains of Ice audiobook available for pre-order

Just thrilled to let my fans know my fantasy novel, From Mountains of Ice, is now available for pre-order from Iambik Audiobooks.

Diana Majlinger does a wonderful narration, with her delicious accent (at least to these Canadian ears), adding an exotic flavour to this tale of honour, loyalty and betrayal.

Once at Iambik's site you can listen to the first chapter for free, and then decide from there whether you wish to add From Mountains of Ice to your audio collection.

I'm given to understand the audiobook will be available soon from as well.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: The Palace Job

The Palace Job
The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Palace Job, by Patrick Weekes, is a quick, easy read that doesn't require anything of the reader other than being awake. It's pure fantasy pulp, a sort of Ocean's Eleven meets horny unicorn, sentient war hammer, and butch-bitch disinherited baroness.

There isn't much here to grab your attention, no remarkable writing, no ingenious plotting. Weekes' attempt to write book from a black perspective is a bit laughable, with a very white-centric focus. There is a social structure and several institutions which are never fully explained or fleshed out so that this reader was unable identify with the fantasy world Weekes' attempts to build. Mostly it's just a lot of fight scenes and reads a bit like a script for an online game, complete with sexual innuendo and adolescent fulfilment.

Based upon this example, I won't be looking for any further works from Weekes, and likely not from Tyche Books either.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Turkey Mango Curry

So the great roasted beast (turkey) happened for Christmas Day, and with only two of us that means a lot of leftovers. I don't mind leftovers. Leftovers means lots of creativity in the kitchen. I also had a mango that needed to be used, and leftover cranberry chutney. After skimming a few recipes for chicken mango curry, I decided to wing it (please pardon the pun), and voilà, this is what I came up with.

Turkey Mango Curry

Turkey Mango Curry

olive oil for cooking
1 medium onion peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
4 teaspoons good quality curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
1 mango peeled, seeded and cubed
1 cup leftover spicy cranberry relish (from Stonehouse Cooks, with 1 chilli pepper added, or just use about 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cranberries, 1/2 orange peeled and chopped, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 small chilli pepper finely minced)
1/4 cup mango chutney (India House and Patak's make very good versions)
2-3 cups diced leftover turkey meat
1 cup coconut milk
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 pint whipping cream
green onions or fresh cilantro chopped for garnish

In a large skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the first six ingredients until the onions begin to develop a little colour. Add the pepper, mango, relish, chutney and turkey, and sauté for another five minutes. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice and zest. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid reduces by about half (about 10 minutes). Add whipping cream and simmer for another five minutes.

Remove from heat. Spoon into bowls and garnish with green onions or cilantro.

Can also be served over steamed rice.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Every day miracles

If there is one profound lesson I will carry forward from 2012, it is the knowledge that miracles still do exist and occur every day. Perhaps we just don't recognize them as such because we have become blinded by the abundance of amazing (yes, I'm using amazing as a noun) in mundane and expected events.

Today this knowledge created a profound and happy two hours. Our son, Adam Stephens, lives and works in Calgary, Alberta with his wonderful girlfriend, Crystal Andrushko. Our daughter, Kelly Stephens, lives and works in Toronto with her gentle man, Ulysses Viello. We are separated by 2700 kilometres. 

And yet today, through the free and amazing technology provided by Google+ Hangouts, all six of us were able to gather over coffee, spinach shakes and assorted beverages as though we were sitting together under one roof. Cats came into and out of each others' living-rooms. Porch decorations were revealed, dracena Christmas trees shared, giggles and news, thoughts and hopes all passed back and forth. 

And somehow the distance closed. It was as though we were together, and it wasn't until it was time to say our farewells and go our own ways that the ache of not being physically together became obvious. There were virtual hugs, no shared warmth of bodies. And yet for that absence a poignant and significant reminder that because of modern technologies this family, separated by enormous distances, was able to come together for a sizeable period of time in a real and tangible manner.

No longer the long wait for letters to cross countries. No longer the uncertainty of facial expression while chatting on a phone. We were together, laughing, watching silly actions while men-folk poked women-folks' noses. 

And the miracle of this technology today has become profound.

It makes me wonder what marvels there will be 30 years hence, when I am 87. Will our son and daughter's families be able to be with us as holographic images, or will some sort of animatronic temporary clone be able to press flesh? Will the globe truly shrink so that distance and time are no longer relevant?

I cannot wait. It's like being a kid again, waiting for a legendary figure in red to find his way into your home with an unimagined gift of wonder.

But for today, Google+ Hangout gave this family a gift beyond value. There are miracles. You just need to know how to see them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

From Mountains of Ice soon as audiobook

I received the proofs for Diana Majlinger's reading of From Mountains of Ice. Must say I'm delighted with the Iambik narrator's delivery; there is a delicious European accent in her voice which gives the novel a very cosmopolitan feeling.

I'm told by Gesine Kernchen at Iambik the novel should be available at Iambik's website, and at in the new year. Not sure at this point about pricing and such, but will be sure to keep my loyal fans posted here on the blog.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: The Indigo Pheasant

The Indigo Pheasant
The Indigo Pheasant by Daniel A. Rabuzzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Daniel a. Rabuzzi concludes (or does he?) the story of Yount in The Indigo Pheasant.

Overall this is a well-crafted, highly intelligent tale, drawing upon Biblical and literary sources (so many literary sources!) Yet throughout there is a distance between story and reader, perhaps because Rabuzzi chooses to narrate his story more from an impersonal third person, rather than a tightly focused, character-driven third person, which renders the tale more as a story to be read aloud to someone, than an intimate dialogue between writer and reader.

Rabuzzi also chooses to relate part of his narrative through a series of letters, broadsheet clippings and the like, which, although clever, because of the number and length of these sometimes expository passages, tend to arrest the tension of the plot arc, which is already stretched and somewhat thin.

Categorizing the novel as YA, is perhaps a bit of a stretch, given the elevated and sometimes archaic (although beautifully true to period) vocabulary, and there was, at least for this reader, some considerable confusion regarding the lengthy descriptions of the science of fulgination.

In the end, having fulfilled the mission of returning Yount to its rightful place, it would seem Maggie and the Cretched Man make for New York, just before the great stock market crash of 1929. Given the ambiguity of the ending, I suspect Rabuzzi plans to explore what choral escapades and escapes this talented and magic duo may undertake.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Under the Hawthorn Tree

Under the Hawthorn Tree
Under the Hawthorn Tree by Ai Mi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Perhaps one of the most disappointing factors in a reading experience is when you finish a novel that had all the potential for greatness and fell so far short. This is exactly my experience with Under the Hawthorne Tree by Ai Mi.

It is difficult to point to just one reason the novel failed. It could have been the English translation that was so very uninspiring, spare, flat. There was not one inspiring passage, one beautifully turned phrase. For me it was like reading a young child's first fiction.

The novel's failure could have been in the utter naivete of the author's story, an unrequited love like unto Romeo and Juliet, but so far short of the depth of story required to have significant emotional impact.

It could have been the characterization of the heroine, Jingqui, who swung from sympathetic waif to spoiled and self-centred idiot.

Combined, these flaws create a saccharine romance that should please lovers of Twilight, Harlequin Romances, and other novels of similar ilk.

Throughout the narrative, the author attempts to create a romantic tension between the two main protagonists, Jingqui, who is a young female student, and Sun Jianxin (known as Old Third),who is a soldier in the People's Republic of China.

Set in post-revolutionary China, Jingqui meets Old Third while working on a farm as part of her school curriculum. Jingqui then proceeds to bounce between the extremes of loving and loathing, admiring and mistrusting the handsome soldier, Old Third, who does everything in his power to ensure her happiness and safety, even unto his own destruction.

Her sexual naivete is beyond ridiculous, especially for someone who is allegedly as well-read and intelligent as she, little say someone who works among farm folk. The ridiculousness of her lack of sexual understanding extends to belief that she might become pregnant through a kiss, or sitting on a bed with a man, or even just allowing a touch. For a girl who has watched ducks mating, and likely seen other farm animals mating, this protracted lack of understanding wears thin by the denouement. And given she has knowledgeable female friends who very much indulge in gossip, and have a keen awareness of sexuality, it is only logical that some of the basic, physical facts of sex might have filtered through. Overall, Jingqui's lack of understanding of the sexual act entirely lacks credibility.

And if the author hoped to create a romantic tragedy, she only succeeded in that the character of Jingqui proves to be so selfish and uncaring of Old Third's genuine well-being, that the death-bed scene ends up a melodramatic screech of Jingqui's presence.

Now a major motion picture, I can only hope the screenwriter, Lichuan Yin, used the novel only as inspiration, and created something far more credible and memorable.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: The Five People You Meet in Heaven

The Five People You Meet in Heaven
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been some time since I've been so deeply and profoundly moved by a novel, indeed moved to a shattered state and uncontrolled weeping. The Five People You Meet in Heaven is not only a subtle, deftly crafted novel that deals with the ambiguities and silent secrets ordinary people carry with them, like burdens or crutches, but a clear insight into motivation, cause and effect.

The story follows a relatively simple narrative, employing a relatively simple style. No flash and dazzle here. But it is in the deception of simplicity that Mitch Albom creates the complexities in which humans chain themselves.

We follow the life of Eddie, an aged maintenance man at an amusement park, who believes himself trapped by his wartime disabilities, and by his inability to confront his father. The story begins, as Albom puts it, at the end, in this case the end of Eddie's life.

What unfolds is a story of redemption and discovery, and in the end of reconciliation and peace. It is a very human story. Any lover, any friend, any child and any parent will find common cause in this story, will nod, will identify.

The passage, perhaps, I found the most moving was this:
All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.

I believe The Five People You Meet in Heaven will remain on the shelves of classic literature for generations to come.

Highly recommended.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Good Calories, Bad Calories

Good Calories, Bad Calories
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While reading this minutely researched, well-presented scientific look at the entire debate regarding calories, health and obesity, I found myself consistently angered by a medical establishment interested more in accolades and advancement of careers than in solid research and the health of people.

If Taubes' research is accurate, and it certainly seems well-documented, there are hundreds of thousands of people struggling with weight, dropping considerable cash on questionable treatments, diet plans and exercise regimens that have no scientific basis whatsoever to either improve health, or relieve people of poundage on a permanent basis.

I'd recommend every family physician (particularly mine, Dr. Phillip James), dietician, bariatric surgeon, psychologist -- in short anyone involved in health care -- to read this book. While it won't answer your questions (in fact I have more questions now than when I started), it will stimulate you to investigate further and perhaps find some truth behind the myths of obesity.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Remembrance

ashokan farewell (civil)

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For relatives in the Stephens family:

For Duncan Albert Long, June 24, 1915 - March 24, 1944. Served in WWII. RAF pilot shot down over Germany, recipient of Distinguished Flying Medal.

Distinguished Flying Medal
For Duncan's brothers, John and Jim who served in the British army and navy during WWII.

For Thomas Cecil Phillips, August 14, 1922 - December, 2008. Served in WWII. Served with the Gloucester Regiment, British Army WWII, Burma, March 1944, and returned for demobilization in Nov 1997 and discharged.
King's Badge for Loyal Service

For Walter John Phelps, February 25, 1914 - January 26, 1996. Served in WWII. Enlisted in East Yorkshire Regiment. POW at Stalag Luft VII-A 2-3 years. Served with Desert Rats in Tobruk.
Stalag Luft VII entrance

For George Joseph Stephens, March 12, 1924 - February 21, 1978. Served in WWII. 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, private, #22203420, tank driver. Regiment part of the British 1st Armoured Division in WWII in the Middle East, and was part of Montgomery's battle against Rommell. Later served in Malaya.
George Stephens in Malaya

For George's brothers, Terrance, Jack, Michael, Ernest and Donald who served in British army and navy during WWII.

For Harry Page, who served in the Canadian Navy during WWII.

For Duncan Albert Long, August 12, 1890 - 1965. Served in the British army WWI, 9th Gloucester Regiment. Recipient of the Victory and Star Medals.
Star Medal
Victory Medal

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Review: And the Birds Rained Down

And the Birds Rained Down
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And the Birds Rained Down is a delicate, introspective fiction of a photographer's journey to chronicle the great bush-fires that consumed so much of Ontario's north during the early part of the 20th century. In doing so, she (the photographer) uncovers the story of a boy who walked through six days of inferno to find the twin girls he loved.

The simplicity of the story, however, is belied by the complexity of the lives of the people who had been involved, now either dead or advanced in age, some of whom have retreated from society and live in isolation around a lake, each with a pact with death, to control their destiny with dignity and independence.

It is also a story of love found in the last act, of love never found, of love acted out through creative expression that ends up a legacy.

Beautifully and skilfully written, the story evokes emotion with a subtle hand. Highly recommended.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory, June 6, 1944

Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory, June 6, 1944
Juno Beach: Canada's D-Day Victory, June 6, 1944 by Mark Zuehlke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

NB: I read the eBook version, which may be different from the hardcover.

A quick, informative, journalistic view of Canada's involvement in the D-Day operation, Juno Beach. Zuehlke's style makes for a well-documented overview of this complex operation, and would do well as a text for schools.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review: Ortona Street Fight

Ortona Street Fight
Ortona Street Fight by Mark Zuehlke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark Zuehlke, with his clipped, factual, journalistic style presents the facts of one of Canada's little known, bloody struggles and triumphs of WWII, the Italian campaign.

Without fanfare or blatant patriotism, he illustrates the tenacity, one might even say insanity, of Canadian troops who, once again, seized and held a strategic objective.

If I were teaching WWII history in Canada, this is certainly a book I would incorporate into the curriculum. Well researched, well written, well done.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and Pear Chutney

Yesterday was another kitchen therapy day, and on the menu were pork tenderloin and some lovely red Anjou pears. So, what to do with them? Here's what resulted, but alas no pictures this time.

Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
12 pieces dried tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1 small chilli pepper
6-12 spears of asparagus, depending how large the are the spears, washed and tough ends removed
pastry, enough for a double crust pie
1 pork tenderloin, silver-skin removed
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a food chopper or mortar and pestle, make a paste of the tomatoes, garlic and chilli pepper. Set aside.

Roll out the pastry into a rectangle, large enough to wrap the tenderloin, but not too thinly. You're looking for about 1/4" thickness. Spread the tomato paste over the pastry, keeping it fairly centralized. Lay the asparagus spears in the centre of the pastry, alternating ends and tips. Lay the tenderloin over the asparagus. Carefully pull the pastry and up and over the tenderloin, much in the way you would create a jelly roll. Pull in the pastry ends before sealing the edges. Sprinkle the top of the pastry with salt and pepper. Coarse salt in this case is lovely.

Place the roll on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 45-60 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes before slicing into thick slices for service.

Serves 4

Pear Chutney
1 red Anjou pear, cored and cut into 1/2"-1/4" cubes
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 green onion, finely sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup natural, unflavoured yoghurt
salt and pepper to taste

Toss together first four ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Combine next three ingredients in a bowl; pour over the pear mixture, toss and serve.

Serves 4-6

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Thirty Years from Home: A Seaman's View of the War of 1812

Thirty Years from Home: A Seaman's View of the War of 1812
Thirty Years from Home: A Seaman's View of the War of 1812 by Samuel Leech

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a reader I came to this autobiography from an historical perspective, not a literary, and thus should most historical accounts of this type be considered.

Samuel Leech, originally a sailor aboard a British brig, and later an American, during the Napoleonic and War of 1812, writes from a temperance and religious point of view some years after his experiences aboard ship. Some of the details are horrifying in their candour, of the floggings and abuse which formed daily life for the common sailor, of the starvation, privation and death. Perhaps most surprising of all was to learn about the details of what it meant to be flogged through the fleet, and that women indeed formed part of daily life for some sailors, even to the extent of giving birth aboard ship and the agonies that brought about to father, mother and child.

For anyone interested in the naval aspects of War of 1812, I would recommend this quick and fascinating read.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Roasted Lamb Chops and Apple Pecan Salad

Seems I needed a little more kitchen therapy this weekend, inspired in part by some lovely shoulder lamb chops Gary brought home from a wonderful little Mennonite market in Teviotdale. So, Saturday evening we sat down to a delicious meal, Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas playing in the background, candlelight, and wine.

The recipes I concocted for our fare follow.

Roasted garlic and rosemary lamb chops
Apple pecan salad
Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Lamb Chops
2 thick-cut shoulder lamb chops

6 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves
1 fresh chilli pepper
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil

Finely mince together the garlic, rosemary and pepper; add salt and olive oil and combine well. You can also pound this in a mortar and pestle, or throw all the ingredients into a small chopper or food processor to obtain a coarse purée.

Rub the marinade liberally over the chops and allow to sit for about 1 hour at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 450F. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and lay the chops on the rack. Roast for about 20 minutes or until medium rare. You do not want to overcook the lamb as this will render the succulent quality of the meat tough. What you're looking for a slightly pink centre, nice crispy fat at the edges.

Apple Pecan Salad
This is another variation on a Waldorf Salad and my Stonehouse Salad (which appears in my cookbook, Stonehouse Cooks). 

2 apples (Your choice of variety. I used Crispins in this case because it's what I had on hand.)
1 small onion
1 celery stalk
1/2 cup whole pecans
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, of whatever variety you wish. I used a Danish blue in this case.
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain yoghurt
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Wash, core and dice apples; place in a bowl. Peel and finely mince the onion; add to the apples. Finely chop the celery and add to the apple mixture. Toss in the pecans and cheese.

In another bowl combine the mayonnaise, yoghurt, salt and pepper. Pour over the apple mixture and toss liberally to coat. Serve on a bed of finely shredded greens.

The salad can be made ahead of time and refrigerated; the flavour improves overnight.

Serves 6

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: The Moor's Last Sigh

The Moor's Last Sigh
The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time I read one of Rushdie's novels I come away enlightened and amazed, and certainly reading the literary masterpiece The Moor's Last Sigh is no exception.

Perhaps one of Rushdie's more accessible novels, the story follows a more conventional narrative, although to call anything Rushdie writes conventional is inaccurate. In this case the story follows a family history, that of the Zoigoby clan, which takes us into Jewish, Moorish, Spanish and Indian heritage, illuminating perfections and defects of the body, mind and spirit. There is very much a theme of isolation of spirit and intellect in this novel, of loneliness despite crowded and intimate environments. In conjunction with that Rushdie marries political unrest to to restless spirits, so that both microcosmic and macrocosmic time flow around and through each other, so that one has a sense of a ship tossed upon a boundless sea.

As always there is a fluid and adept use of language and phraseology that defies every literary convention, and in doing so creates breathtaking art. One comes away wanting to memorize phrases for their utter beauty and sagacity. But let it not be thought this is a novel only of high art, for certainly throughout the story Rushdie's irreverent and incisive wit prevail, so that at times I caught myself bursting into laughter.

I would have to say that if a person is new to Rushdie's work, The Moor's Last Sigh would be a perfect introduction.

Highly recommended, and certainly a novel that should be a staple in anyone's library.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

4-star review on LibraryThing for Shadow Song

Available from
Barnes and Noble
Came across this review of Shadow Song on LibraryThing this morning and thought I'd share, particularly because of the reviewer's validation of the First Nations aspects of the novel, given she is a member of the First Nations herself.

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Starting this book, I had no idea it would end up where it did. Lorina Stephens did a wonderful job crafting this book, taking us on a lifelong journey of little Danielle. While the actual historical event the book is based off has little to do with the story, it serves as a wonderful starting ground, a brainstorm-ready event that falls into place seamlessly.

While I did not quite understand the intensely deep hatred for Danielle, her family, and Shadow Song by the uncle—was he just an insanely bitter man? A hateful drunk driven by insanity to incessantly torment?—I allowed that to slip me in order to enjoy the other characters and their stories.

Stephens had some wonderful word choices that caught me off guard, wrote imagery that furthered the story rather than embellished, and built suspense with clever foreshadowing.

While some traditional, more conservative modern Native Americans may shake their heads at what some may see as an inaccurate description of their ways and the supernatural, I instead felt immense respect for the feelings and beliefs. As a young native woman growing without much guidance, the emotion behind the writing describes to me what my ancestors felt. Simply felt. That is something I cannot learn entirely on my own.

I spotted a few editing errors, but they did not take me out of the reading… too much. :)

I plan on adding other Lorina Stephens books to my collection as soon as possible!  )
  vote   flagonbrien | Sep 28, 2012 | 

Friday, September 7, 2012

My novels as audiobooks

Heard from Gesine Kernchen at Iambik Studios earlier this week, regarding auditions for two of my books they're developing for audiobooks. We've settled on Sandra Gayer for Shadow Song, and Diana Majlinger for From Mountains of Ice.

Sandra has a wonderful English accent, perfectly suited to narrate Danielle's voice in Shadow Song. In fact, I was so moved by her inflection and expression that I was weepy by the finish of the audition.

Diana Majlinger's voice is a delicious melange of European accents, and her handling of Italian phrases and words is flawless. It was nothing short of delicious to listen to her read for her audition. Will be very excited to hear what she does with the entire novel.

Anyway, both novels are in production now. Not sure when they'll be done, but I'm sure Gesine will keep me posted.

You know, there are days it's very hard and very depressing going the indie route. But then there are days when you get a five star review and someone really gets what you're trying to create, or something like the experience I've had so far with Iambik happens, and you think, yes, it is possible.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

A response to Jeff Vitous

I came across a review at LibraryThing last week which, beyond it's disappointing rating, quite startled me with its inaccuracies, to the point I wondered which novel Jeff Vitous read, because it didn't seem to be From Mountains of Ice.
Although I make it a policy never to respond to a review, I'm going to fly in the face of conventional wisdom to comment. Jeff Vitous' review is set off as a quote, my response in blue.
In the afterward, Lorina Stephens tells us how this book, her first in 16 years, made it to digital print. The wonderful thing about digital publishing is you don't need to be a pedigreed writer just to get consideration. The bad...nearly anyone can do it.

Not quite what I wrote, Jeff Vitous. I stated From Mountains of Ice was the first novel I'd written in 16 years. It was first published as a trade paperback, later as an eBook. I quibble, but if we're going to start splitting hairs, let's be sure we're making the correct comparisons.

As to my pedigree, while I don't have international fame, I have earned my way as a writer for over 30 years, primarily as a freelance journalist for Canadian national, regional and local periodicals. I also worked as an editor for a regional lifestyle magazine, now defunct, was wooed by several others, and am now publisher at Five Rivers Publishing. And before snorts of derision can be made about the publishing house, it should be noted it does not exist as a vanity house for the glory of Lorina Stephens. Quite the contrary. We presently have published 11 authors and 19 books, and have signed and will soon be publishing six more authors with another 32 books, all of which are most definitely not pulp, churned-out, manufactured dross for the masses. I invite you to take a look at our catalogue and amend your comment.

Pedigree, Jeff Vitous? Beyond writing reviews of books and war-gaming, I don't see a publishing background in your CV. I apologize, but perhaps I've missed something.
This is the third ebook I've read this year that was published by a small digital publishing company.
Once more, where does it say Five Rivers is a digital only house?
All have one thing in common: terrible editing! Do the majors have a lock on good editors?
A matter of opinion, I'm sure. I could easily point you to several novels published by major houses which have terrible editing. The Twilight saga immediately leaps to mind.
Or, and I suspect this is more the case, does these small publishers see editing as an obstacle to getting large volumes of content quickly to the market?

Hardly. A recent publication from Five Rivers, Mik Murdoch: Boy Superhero, was in editing for 18 months or so, with a total of three passes from the same editor, Robert Runte, who edited From Mountains of Ice, the novel to which Jeff Vitous takes such umbrage.
Oh, and if we're speaking of editing, it's do these small publishers see editing as an obstacle, not does.

From Mountains of Ice is set in a fictional analog to medieval Italy. Having a fictional world with a real-world ethnic analog didn't work for me; I found it distracting.
That's unfortunate. I suppose Jeff Vitous wouldn't like anything written by, say, the award-winning Guy Gavriel Kay, or Caitlin Sweet, or perhaps even any of the myriad Arthurian sagas.
I remember advice from long ago that unless you are really really good at it, don't try writing accents. It's not that Stephens writes a lot of accents, but it naturally seems so with so many ethnic Italian names.

So, the complaint here is that the names aren't recognizable Anglo-Saxon white names? Jeff Vitous is correct, however, that I didn't write a patois in From Mountains of Ice. As he says, unless you're really good at it, like, say, Salman Rushdie (Then why speakofy such treason and filthy up my children's ears with what-all Godless bunk? -- The Moor's Last Sigh) then you should simply refrain.
The second major problem I had was a reliance of narrative to move the story forward and define character relations in some cases. The narrator should not play such a prominent role...we should know by the action of the story and dialog between character what the emotional relationship between characters are. Here, we are told that simply that two characters have tension after long months of working together -- well, their story lines during these months were omitted altogether! So when they confront each other, it is without prior foreshadowing. These kind of issues compounded as the book wore on. In the end, you had the narrator telling us how deeply torn and emotional the characters were, but there was no precedence for this outburst. Character actions were largely contrived and baffling throughout the book.
Funny thing is, I quite agree with Jeff Vitous statement that we should show not tell. However, the method employed in what he terms narration is a literary device easily to be found in say, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, in which Conrad continually tells us of the insane and cruel Kurtz, who we don't meet until the last pages of the novel. It's a device employed by Bram Stoker in Dracula. The device has also been employed extremely well by a myriad of modern writers. But, perhaps, given the consistently poor ratings Jeff Vitous offers from his LibraryThing podium, and the type of books he seems to prefer, it would appear a less subtle and more obvious narrative would better suit his tastes.

It would be interesting to see what Jeff Vitous might have to say about the above-quoted Salman Rushdie, or Rohinton Mistry (I bet he'd have a field day with him!), or Linden MacIntyre for that matter. Oh, I think he'd have his knickers in a right knot were he to read Giller-winning, The Bishop's Man. Lots and lots of narrative there with which to deal.
There are also fantasy elements in the story that seemed forced an[d] employed as a crutch as needed. The village truthsayer, Aletta, can always tell when someone is lying.
How is that a crutch? Aletta herself admits it isn't so much magic as learning to read body language, to hear inflection of voice. All of what she does is well-researched psychology of the present day.
[I]t seems dead ancestors serve in an advisory role.
Again, I have to ask, why is that a crutch? Or any different from any of the belief paradigms of cultures past and present all over the globe?
Her husband, Sylvio, exiled brother of the prince, [...]
Sylvio is Carmelo's brother? Really? Wow. I don't remember writing that. Not anywhere in that novel. I didn't realize mentor is a synonym for brother.
[...]is a bowyer who crafts unique bows containing bones of the dead. Those dead speak to him as well.
 And the problem with that is?...
When Sylvio is summoned to his brother's court, he encounters a child prostitute who he enlists on a mission to Aletta, with instructions that Aletta is to look after her.
A mission? Sylvio gives the child (Passerapina) coin and tells her to go find his wife so that the child will be safe, to get her off the street, to give her a life. There is no mission. It is an act of compassion.
Surprise surprise, the dead talk to her too, and she becomes a protege of Aletta. By the end of the story, we find that it appears to be a special talent of anyone born with a genetic lineage to the country, much to the chagrin of would-be neighboring conquerors.
 Ah, so the problem is Jeff Vitous doesn't like the premise of the story, that the dead can speak to the living, that there is a race of people genetically capable of such a thing. How is that any different from vampire or zombie stories, one wonders?
From Mountains of Ice wants to be an epic tale, Stephens fails on all fronts when it comes to developing that tale. Characters have no dimension. The history of this created world is undeveloped. Fantastical aspects are created and employed as convenience, not because they add to the story are inconsistently employed. I felt as if there was originally a much bigger story, and the author took it upon her self to cut it down to an arbitrary length. An author who knows the motives of the characters is not the best person to do such massive edits -- the end product still makes sense to the author, but not so much for other readers. ( )
vote | flag JeffV | Aug 24, 2012 |

Oh well. I guess Jeff Vitous just needed to vent spleen, exercise intellectual muscles, display erudition. As they say, can't please them all. Oh, and Jeff? Do me a favour, don't read novels outside your narrow view of the world and war gaming. And most especially don't read any of my novels. I guarantee you won't like them.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Review: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In this installment of Discworld, Pratchett explores religion and bigotry, and with a fairly weighted hand. One might even say with a 20lb sledgehammer. His usual wry and farcical sense of humour was lost under the weight of his indictment of organized religion and racial ignorance, and I couldn't help but feel he used the story as his own personal lectern from which to broadcast, and that frankly he just tried too hard with this one. All of that is perfectly understandable and within an author's right. In fact, I quite agree with Pratchett's condemnation. It's just that I couldn't help but feel he might have chosen a different vehicle; but then humour is such a personal and weird category.

Worth reading? Sure. But not one of the better crafted stories of the series, in my opinion.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: A Laodicean: A Story of Today

A Laodicean: A Story of Today
A Laodicean: A Story of Today by Thomas Hardy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Laodicean is a bit of a departure for Hardy, in that he deals with a contemporary time period, rather than a previous, although the subject matter remains true to one of his themes, that of people attempting to shrug off the yoke of religious and social convention. In fact, the entire tone of the novel is set in the title, as someone who is indifferent to these very subjects.

For its time it was a bit of a radical novel, putting forward concepts that contractual marriage was unnecessary and even outdated, and that organized Christianity had out-lived its relevance in society.

One has to wonder if, in fact, Hardy was a mysogynist, because certainly he doesn't cast women in a particularly good light, portraying them as flighty, inconstant and coy. Perhaps, though, this was a nature cultivated by middle to upper class society and considered the norm. Difficult to say from this historical vantage.

Still, very much a novel worth exploring.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Rasputin's Bastards

Rasputin's Bastards
Rasputin's Bastards by David Nickle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no disputing David Nickle's ability as a strong story-teller with an aggressive style. If you're looking for subtle and lyrical, Rasputin's Bastard's is not it. If you're looking for a Clancy-ish SF, you've found your writer.

Set in the confusion of post-Cold War Era, Nickle's story unfolds around a large cast of characters, all working toward the same end, to either prevent, or create, world domination not through force of arms, but through aggression of a far more insidious and devastating means, that of mind control.

In the utopia of the villains of this story, humans would exist as vehicles for the consciousness of their overlords. In the utopia of the heroes, those with the ability to dream-walk others would simply be able to exist in harmony, without fear of persecution or harm.

The story itself, although not particularly new, is a good one, and Nickle tells it in a style very much mirroring the implacable reasoning of the Cold War mentality.

And this is where we get into personal taste in this review, something I'm always loathe to do, but usually succumb, because so much of the interpretation of art is subjective.

Although I understand Nickle's artistic paradigm, to mirror tone and word choice to the atmosphere one attempts to create in a story, in this case I think he fell just a tad short of what could have been a brilliant novel. The voice, or the tone if you will, is so married to the impersonal insouciance of the Cold War, that much of environmental detail, of the minutia that draws in a reader and invests them emotionally, was missing. In the end the reader, like the super-beings that inhabit this story, wander through a metaphor which is described, but never realized. It is a dream, and therefore without substance. And therefore without emotional impact. And so without reader investment.

The cast of characters in the novel is enormous, and while it's perfectly acceptable to have a huge cast (I am often guilty of this myself), of necessity for we plebian brains who are reading, many of those characters could have been relegated to walk-on roles only. I believe that part of my problem with being unable to connect to the narrative is that I'd entered a convention and couldn't get to know anyone.

Is Rasputin's Bastard's worth the investment of your time to read? Absolutely. But will it be one that leaves you transported and translated? Not likely. Still and all, a good novel to embrace on one of summer's dog days, or winter's solitudes.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A 5-star review for Shadow Song

Well colour me tickled silly over this 5-star review from a LibraryThing reader.
Available at Amazon
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens in the Early reviewers giveaway, and am thoroughly pleased I did. Previously having not read anything by Lorina Stephens work, so for me it was an venture into a new authors work.
The book is set in the 1830’s in Canada, and centres on a young orphaned English girl who is shipped to Canada upon the death of her Parents to her only living relative – her uncle. The story runs alongside a true tragedy that occurred in the village of Hornings Mills, Ontario, Canada, and follows the lives of the young orphan and Shadow Song an Native Indian Shaman and medicine man.
This book offers so much to the reader, with its unique blend of tragedy, love, coming of age, folk lore and history that it should appeal to most. The story flows smoothly with the author treating us to beautifully descriptions of scenery, fully developed characters and enough action to keep you turning the pages. I enjoyed the insight to the Native culture with the stories, beliefs and way of living woven with ease into the story.
The only critic I can offer is the “blurb” on the book does not give it justice. I wonderful novel, from an author whose work I will be purchasing in the future. ( )
vote | flag Silverlily26 | Aug 8, 2012 |

Monday, August 6, 2012

Goodreads 4-star review for Stonehouse Cooks

Found this review posted today on Goodreads for my cookbook, Stonehouse Cooks.

Stonehouse Cooks by Lorina Stephens

's review
Aug 06, 12

4 of 5 stars false
bookshelves: own, first-read
Read from February 03 to August 06, 2012

First, of all I received this book as part of Goodread's first reads giveaway.

Secondly, it did take me awhile to read this book because I wanted to try out a few recipes. I liked the style of writing. I felt that the author was talking to a friend about food rather than just reading a dry cookbook.

Some of the recipes are not for me. I am a picky eater but making your own food means you can take out the things you don't like.

The food is more fancy than what I am use to making. Of course I'm new to cooking and still burn cookies.

I'll update this review after I have tried more recipes. But I'm glad I got this cookbook.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Iambik Makes me an Offer

Tickled silly to be able to share the news that Iambik Audiobooks will be releasing audiobooks of my two novels, From Mountains of Ice and Shadow Song.

I'll be receiving voice auditions for From Mountains of Ice some time in the next few weeks from Gesine Kernchen at Iambik, and shortly thereafter for Shadow Song. Not sure how long production will take for either of the novels, but you can be sure I'll let you know.

Now, if someone would make me a serious offer for the movie rights....
Shadow Song
ISBN 9780973927818 $23.99
eISBN 9780986563041 $4.99

From Mountains of Ice
ISBN 9780973927856 $23.99
eISBN 9780986563027 $4.99

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo by Michael J. Martineck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Martineck's Sawyeresque novel Cinco de Mayo we're introduced to a global event in which some cosmic force causes people to share their entire memories with one other. The resulting narrative deals with the lives of a series of individuals and how they cope with this sudden awareness, and the actions they take in their heightened state of social consciousness.

The vignettes Martineck paints are, for the most part, poignant, at times even palpably disturbing in their reality. For myself, I may never, for instance, be able to countenance purchasing an eastern, hand-woven rug because of one reality Martineck used as a basis for one of his narratives.

And while this is a well-crafted novel, in the end there is no resolution as to what, exactly, caused this global phenomenon, and thus the story is left unresolved.

Overall, the story is one worth reading, and the author one worth investigating again.

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