Review: THE FACE IN THE FROST by John Bellairs

“P.S. Unexplained noises are best left unexplained.” – Prospero’s note to his cleaning lady, Mrs. Dufrey

John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost, Olmstead Press, 1969.

What I Read

 The Face in the Frost is humorous, low fantasy novel with Poe-esque foreboding. The protagonist Prospero (not that wizard) is threatened and stalked by an unknown enemy. His old friend Roger Bacon (implicitly not that fellow) brings him crucial information. Together they begin a road trip/fact-finding mission.

Bellairs is a master of setting. He combines humor and horror in his description of towns and landscapes. Throughout the novel, the author surprised me with flourishes of figurative language, such as the following:

“…(B)ehind him floated large silent owls. They drifted and hung like paper lanterns…” (70)

I can’t pinpoint when my initial impression (“Too many details!”) changed to full immersion in the wizard’s journey. Suffice to say, the setting reflects the transition from his everyday life to increasing peril. A good example is the lead-in to his encounter with a ghost. There was typical foreshadowing: the locals spoke of a spooky forest and a rusty barrier showed an attempt to keep its denizens at bay. Yet the sense of danger was elevated by Bellairs’ earlier depictions of normal sights and sounds of August (albeit unusually cool). Prospero’s harrowing foray into the cursed forest was nothing like his previous travel through woodlands.

Besides his awesome powers of description, Bellairs uses dialogue and snippets of backstory to great effect. Despite this being a stand-alone novel, Prospero and Roger’s friendship seemed to have a long history. When Roger disappeared less than a third into the book – just as Prospero discovered the identity of his tormentor – his reaction of fear and hope felt real. (And I did miss Roger!)

What didn’t I like?

Authorial asides* using second-person which bumped me out of the character’s point of view. For example, “It was as if you were half asleep” (75) could have substituted the character’s name.

The last third of the novel has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink vibe. A key supporting player, Millhorn, is introduced suddenly – after Prospero is dropped into our contemporary world.

The climax felt abrupt. Rereading it, I liked that the protagonist used both recently-acquired and previously-mentioned items to conquer the villain. That was clever. However, I wanted to know more about a certain Lovecraftian object.

What I Learned

While enjoying the interplay between Prospero and Roger, I had a brick-in-the-head moment: “Maybe I can grow my protagonists’ friendship BEFORE they’re forced to rely on each other!”

I tossed three chapters out of my work-in-progress and wrote 3214 words of new dialogue and description. (I’m not sure how many words I deleted, what author Mary Catelli calls “antiwords.”) I restored a confrontation between Argenta and bullies, which I initially worried would be too intense for readers 8-12.


*FOOTNOTE: I have discovered several authors have quirks related to their “authorial voice,” for lack of a better term. Some address the reader directly, in the style of old novels. It’s meant in fun, but it can be annoying. Other authors insert asides, discretely or intrusively.  

Book Review: Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff Gerke

Note : This is a review I wrote and forgot to post a loooong time ago. Mea culpa.

Gerke, Jeff. Write Your Novel in a Month: How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do next. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest, 2013. Print.                          

Summary: A fast-paced guidebook that incorporates and condenses much of Gerke’s previous material

Having recently The First 50 Pages, I skipped half of this book after I recognized the first nine chapters as a condensed version. See my previous review for details.

I must mention Gerke’s continued use of film examples in his guidebooks about writing novels. He’s gotten bolder, going so far as to write, “I do that without apology” (9) in the introduction. Too bad he’s using the same examples as The First 50 Pages. Fortunately, he’s added Game of Thrones (TV adaptation) to keep it fresh.*

The bigger issue is that he doesn’t really give much in the way of “what to do next” if one does, in fact, finish a novel in 30 days.

Book Project Conclusion: 

Gift to the Library


*I never watched it because I have no cable, only Amazon Prime. If he had used Justified, however…

 

Book Review: The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke

Gerke, Jeff. The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers and Set Up Your Novel for Success. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest, 2011. Print.

Summary: A guide to writing a novel beginning that hooks readers.

Jeff Gerke writes fiction under the pseudonym Jefferson Scott but teaches at writers conferences and writes advice under his own name. I bought a few of his guidebooks on the recommendation of honest-to-published authors. This is the first I’m reviewing for my ongoing Book Project. Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Cool Melons – Turn to Frogs!

Gollub, Matthew.  Illustrated by Kazuko G. Stone. Calligraphy by Keiko Smith. Cool Melons-Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa. New York: Lee & Low, 1998.

This is a beautiful book, even for children who aren’t fond of poetry. Matthew Gollub tells the story of the haiku master Issa, interweaving translations of 33 haiku. The narrative creates a framework for understanding, especially the plaintive poems written when Issa keenly felt the loss of his mother.

“Motherless sparrow,/ come play/ with me.” Continue reading

Book Review: Three Haiku books for children

Confession: When I get stuck while writing – such as 400 words into a scene that I realize doesn’t move the plot – I have a couple pick-me-ups. One is to pick up a dry academic book and read until my brain screams for creative release.* The other is to read a children’s book.

While perusing my library’s catalogue, I came across a title I hadn’t seen since I was little: Flower Moon SnowA Book of Haiku by Kazue Mizumura. I requested a couple contemporary haiku books, too, which made an interesting contrast. Continue reading

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Kondo, Marie. Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Trans. Cathy Hirano. Berkley: Ten Speed, 2011. Print.

Summary: A cheery little book that walks the reader through culling one’s belongings

Now that I’ve had a chance to “do the book” aka the KonMari Method, I can review it. It’s quirky, written like a conversation sprinkled with anecdotes. I enjoyed it, particularly Kondo’s folding method, which helped me organize La Casa de Tontería’s  linen closet of doom. (However, she did a poor job of explaining it. See related link below.)

I’ve read many books on organization (not to mention having time-management seminars and work-efficiency training – oh, the corporate world!)  Yet I still found interesting variations on the theme.

Sort By Category

Forget moving clockwise through a room or tackling one space in a weekend. Kondo calls for dealing with one category at a time, starting with clothes and ending with sentimental items.

Reading this, I felt nostalgic for the days of spring-cleaning my bedroom, where everything but my bicycle “lived” with me. I used to empty my closet and dresser onto the bed, try everything on, and ta-da! only the best were kept.

Kids will love this, and her Rule of Thumb regarding papers: Throw them out!

However, adults have to hunt for like items all over, including storage areas for off-season clothes. Kondo is tough about getting  everything from the category.

“You can forget about any clothes you find after this. They’ll automatically go into the discard pile.” I let them (my clients) know I’m quite serious. I have no attention of letting them keep anything found after the sorting is done.

Yikes! Long-time readers will understand how I felt when I decided to use the KonMari Method on books.

Everybody Thing Get On the Floor! (Walking Dinosaurs and Shaking One’s Booty are optional)

Yes, the floor. My klutziness instantly recognized a good way to trip and die!  Imagine the challenge it poses for parents of small children. Not to mention cluttered people already have difficulty clearing floorspace.

However,  Kondo insists on it.  Items in their natural environment (shelf, closet) “remain unseen, just like a praying mantis still in the grass, merging with its surroundings” (p. 87). She notes that if books are already stacked on the floor, moving them to another location will allow the tidier to really see them. Continue reading

Book Review: This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley

Mosley, Walter. This Year You Write Your Novel. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 2007.

Summary: An unpretentious book for the beginning writer

I rediscovered this book behind some others when I cleaned a shelf – not surprising that it slipped away since it’s just 111 pages, including index.  It’s a collection of elements related to writing a novel – not publishing, not marketing – and recommendations of how to complete a final draft in 12 months. Continue reading

Seven Continents Book Challenge

As part of the reading for my DIY Writer’s Summer Camp, I’ve been setting some time aside for reading. (And cheating a bit – I’ve been listening to an audiobook while excavating La Casa de Tontería). One of the exercises this week is to think about favourite books, and voila! here’s a questionnaire courtesy of Julie at Happy Catholic (and co-host of my favorite podcast “A Good Book Is Hard to Find”). Continue reading

What not to read for a good night’s sleep

I awoke this morning after nearly going over a frozen waterfall on an inflatable raft that was rapidly deflating. That wasn’t what jolted me awake. I had saved my late grandmother from drowning and was carrying her piggyback through a summer forest (with snow loading down the branches). Then I heard branches cracking ahead and knew it was carnivorous deer.

“What a wild dream,” you might think.

Not at all. I’ve been reading Gene Wolfe, and my dream has nothing on him.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson when reading Peace, his novel about a man who lives in a house in which room is a different era. The narrator alludes to the rooms being designed as additions to his house – not unlike the famous Winchester House – and to commemorate different times in his life. However, he could be a ghost in a house.

Yeah, trippy stuff. Continue reading

Book Review: Tobit’s Dog by Michael N. Richard

Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Ignatius Press.

It’s hard to believe that Tobit’s Dog is Michael Richard’s first novel, considering how engaging it is.  The story slips easily from character to character, starting with the titular dog Okra and ending with Tobit’s son Tobias.  Each one has a distinct point of view, but the connections between them are tightly-woven.

The story mirrors the Book of Tobit, part of the Old Testament still read by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, about a faithful man’s descent into complete vulnerability and his son’s journey to collect an old debt. Instead of an ancient landscape, Richard’s characters live in the American South during the Great Depression.

When the novel begins, Tobit Freeman Messager (accompanied by the dog) is scavenging in a garbage dump and dealing with the unwarranted scrutiny of the white sheriff; his main concern is to secure the material stability of his wife Anna and his son Tobias. His life takes a turn for the worse when he transports the body of a murdered child to the police. He’s arrested, his mule and cart are confiscated, and a freak event blinds him. It seems nothing short of a miracle will save the family’s home. Continue reading