the Dodo Knight by Michelle Rene – out today!

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Have you ever wanted to analyze Alice in Wonderland?  It’s been picked apart by Freudians and other critics who look through its fantasy and fancy searching for deeper meanings Carroll likely didn’t intend.  Still, there remains an aura of mystery surrounding Alice in Wonderland and its enigmatic author that compels us to dig into the story. In the Dodo Knight, Michelle Rene imagines the real Alice Lidell’s perspective on Lewis Carroll, known to her as Uncle Dodo.

Mr. Dodgson, a math professor at Oxford University, stuttered, so his name often came out Do-do-dodgson.  For short, his many child-friends called him Dodo. He was a frequent playmate at the Liddell household. Mr. Liddell, Alice’s father, was dean of Dodgson’s college.  But after a boating trip on July 4, 1962, Alice and her beloved Dodo hardly saw each other.

Oxford’s majestic setting and the subjects, whimsical Lewis Carroll and his young muse, Alice, make a perfect pairing for this imaginative tale.  Oxford’s famous haunts and quirky characters are ripe with intrigue. Rene’s descriptions of places and people are pithy and clear, leaving room to picture and feel what’s going on without using too many words.  “There is a space, however small, that provides a window to their mind. The tiny space behind Dodo’s eyes spoke of stress not discussed” (38). Such tantalizing hints at Dodo’s inner life, as detected by Alice, make the pages easy to turn.  

The most pleasurable parts of the read – scenes of Dodo making up games he and the children play, and stories for them to hear – render the rift between Dodo and the Liddells all the more heartbreaking.  The book is in part a coming of age story, about the pain of putting away childhood and becoming an adult. In some ways, Lewis Carroll, in his writing, got to remain a child while Alice didn’t.

The helpful author’s afterword sets fact apart from fiction.  It invites further creative inquiry into other historic figures.  Check out Michelle Rene’s other historical fiction. https://www.michellereneauthor.com/

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To Air the Laundry by Krysta MacDonald

A day in the life of a 1960s housewife encompasses a lifetime of dreams and decisions in To Air the Laundry, the precursor to Krysta Macdonald’s first novel.

Sharon’s day is like any other: making breakfast, cleaning, volunteering at the hospital, afternoon tea with a neighbor, dinner and drinks over putting together a puzzle with her husband.  But amidst her routine tasks, the dream from the previous night haunts her. She must choose what to reveal to her husband.

The book captures Sharon’s inner life in symbols.  The whites of her wedding, birds, water, puzzles – these recurring images carry forward the feelings from Sharon’s dream.  What she does during the day triggers her back to the dream, filled with memories she wishes to silence. The people she interacts with notice her anxiety and invite her metaphorically to “air her laundry.”  But she doesn’t. As understated as quiet Sharon, the writing conveys the power of suppression. It becomes a force larger than her life, reaching out of the book to touch our pasts, our secrets.

Sharon’s character development is rich and layered.  On one hand, she is a model wife to whom her husband looks forward to returning every evening.  On the other hand, she is intrigued with the hippie culture of her time. Her cousin and closest friend, a hippie, speaks impulsively and swears off marriage and family life.  Sharon admires her from afar. In the end, in her own subtle bravery, she adds up the pieces of her life and chooses her own path.

A literary historical fiction, To Air the Laundry conveys with sensitivity and grace a struggle common to many women, through one woman’s experience.  Available May 21.  Author site

Departure from Indifference by Octavio Melo

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Octavio Melo’s second philosophical work, Departure from Indifference, argues that consciousness matters in a material world.

The book uses questions to frame the argument.  Is the material world all there is? What else is there?  Is there a God? Is death the end? Careful to adhere to the premise of the question, answers are reasoned in succinct language, without jargon, and with reference to common experience, not unfamiliar ancient texts.    

The book addresses a message in today’s culture: that humans are ruining the planet.  Is Earth better off without us? Melo argues that this question answers itself. The material world doesn’t (can’t) care.  It is indifferent. Matter can’t feel. But people do. People manifest intangible elements – consciousness, feelings, good, bad, right, wrong – in our actions.  Our very questions and concerns, which drive us to act, we are evidence that we have a purpose here. These questions and concerns in turn become a defense of yearning to learn and understand as the means of expanding and perpetuating human consciousness in the material world.  

“[O]ur mere presence on this Earth – on this field of obstacles – is indicative of our desire to take the opportunities found herein and use them as catalysts for growth” (76). Consciousness not only matters, but is our, and the world’s, greatest asset. A tight and positive conclusion to a pithy philosophical inquiry.

The Tunes of Lenore by J.T. Blossom

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J.T. Blossom’s, The Tunes of Lenore, sings a hopeful future.

Ella considers the boarding school her divorcing parents send her to, a prison.  Limited wifi, bugs, lots of hard classes with lots of homework, sports, work, chores and a small dating pool – Wandering Pines is a far cry from the cushy life she’s used to in suburban Northern California, 2026.  Prison becomes opportunity, though, as Ella immerses herself in her junior project and befriends an eccentric boy who loves his dog and his instrument as much as she loves her dog, Jenny, and her violin, Lenore. Together, these companions adventure into adulthood.

Ella’s maturing comes about as she discerns problems and meets them with aplomb.

The challenges she discovers aren’t obvious at first.  Despite her initial reactions, Wandering Pines seems like a utopia.  But her thoughts, in italics, and Jenny’s reactions, depicted in images, suggest suspicions about some of her classmates and teachers.  The more perfect the school seems, the more the questions mount. Is the niceness a facade? A nearby zoo owned by a famous rapper is also cause for concern.  On top of these micro troubles, there’s global climate change and food shortage to consider. The book builds tension surrounding these problems through a series of increasingly fraught encounters between Ella, her parents, and school mates.  The scenes are vivid and steady pacing increases interest in the plot. Dialogue doesn’t always help, however. Ella speaks like an adult, too self-aware and articulate, as though she’s already developed, not still developing.

The fantastical elements of the story add intrigue to Ella’s development.  The future setting sets an imaginative tone. The book accurately describes music’s magical effects on players and listeners alike.  Jenny is an extraordinary dog, the result of engineering experimentation. While scientific, she also reminds of Philip Pullman’s spiritual daemon characters in the Golden Compass series.  Love emerges realistically, subtly, starting as friendship and growing into something deeper, more pervasive and sensual. Ella’s ability to navigate and harness these mystical forces in the face of conflict shows the curious and critical, ambitious and eager – the best side of teen-dom.    

This third novel by J.T. Blossom isn’t just a coming of age story about a teenage girl, but about the potential for human society to be shaped and informed by shifting natural forces.  Stay tuned for a sequel coming out soon.  Author’s website

The Intrinsic Self by Dennis Portnoy

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The Intrinsic Self, Dennis Portnoy’s second self-help book, is refreshingly insightful, as opposed to the typical overly simplified, patronizing tone of many self-help books.  

Happiness and serenity are often at odds with success and doing well in the world’s eyes.  In his thirty years as a therapist, Portnoy sees that success often comes when we conform to external standards instead of our own inner values, with the result of risking our well being.  Portnoy helps people discover their intrinsic worth, and shift from an outward orientation to a more internal one by using a method he refers to as “piercing the threat”.  

The method is straightforward.  In seven short chapters, Portnoy defines external versus internal foci, demonstrates how to identify and confront external threats to inner focus and how to cultivate healthy ways of living from within.  Addressing “you” throughout the book sets an informal and intimate tone, as though Portnoy is speaking in a therapy session or conference. This personal perspective also makes identifying with all the challenges cited natural and easy.  Quotes from psychological and spiritual literature are relevant and illustrative, and encourage further inquiry. Each chapter contains examples from real situations and exercises to try. One of the most illuminating is to list your most important qualities then ask whether you’d be okay with yourself if you don’t exhibit the inner qualities you list.  Why or why not? How do you feel about yourself if you are achieving less or giving less to others?  Portnoy is pointing out that the very ways that we define ourselves and our sense of worth is often the source of our unhappiness.  More than a self-help guide, the book expands its focus with the claim that external focus is a “modern day epidemic” (24).  A topic for a future book?

Organized, easy-to-read, and insightful, The Intrinsic Self convinces that working toward inner harmony is worth the effort.  Find the book and other resources on the author’s website.  Released June 1, 2019, the book will be available on Amazon.

We Are Family by Fabio Bartolomei

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A rousing family portrait set in Italy’s recent past, Fabio Bartolomei’s We Are Family makes a salvific splash.

By age 4, Al Santamaria, narrator, is declared a genius destined to save the world.  With his talents (among them starting fires and telepathy), he is sure to find his way.  But first, he must help his parents struggling to make ends meet in Italy’s volatile 1980s economy.  His mother Agnese’s beauty fades as she tries in vain to find work. Due to his long hair, Al’s father, Mario Elvis, barely keeps his job driving bus.  Accident-prone sister Vittoria only makes matters worse. When the family finally finds their “dream house,” Agnese and Mario Elvis disappear on an extended trip, leaving Vittoria and Al to establish a home to which their parents would be proud to return.  

Al’s child perspective makes the perfect lens through which to face modern society with levity.  “I’ve come to the conclusion that it is possible to summarize the world as follows: it works just like a high school class year” he says (140).  Noting observations in his “human flesh diary,” he concocts this and other metaphors to understand adults. They are “bigger, hairier kids” (117).  “The UN behaves exactly like the electric company” (215). But more than bringing humor and fantasy to the current human condition, Al’s youthful observations pose serious criticisms of postmodern problems and absurdities.  The “independent principality” he and his sister make of their parent-less household becomes a winsome, convincing alternative model. With Elvis currency, walls made of Legos, a stunning bathtub as well as the principle of Responsible Neocolonization, Al may not succeed in saving the world, but does build family with those around him, including We who read his antics.

We Are Family draws us back to the basics of fun and family with comic-like Calvin Hobbes adventures combined with Italian movie Life is Beautiful wisdom couched in games.  A fanciful baptism into a promising new era.  Find it on Amazon

Stories of The Mother Bear by Myrtle Brooks

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Myrtle Brooks’ Stories of The Mother Bear warms the heart with a series of encounters with a silver-haired grizzly in the Teton mountains.

Bill Larkin, narrator, first meets the majestic Mother Bear and her three cubs on a camping trip with family and friends when he’s a boy, in the 1960s.  His experience informs his journalism aspirations. He reports about the Vietnam War and other national news out of Omaha and other Western cities. When he brings his wife and kids back to the Tetons to inquire further into Mother Bear sightings, he enters into a life-changing legacy involving black cowboys, Indians and family rifts.   

The plural title (Stories of The Mother Bear) is apt for a book that stretches the confines of a single novel.  There is no one conflict. Rather, narration is shared by a host of speakers, in diverse formats.  The histories of Bill and his family, the Headrick family of black ranchers, as well as Vietnam vets, pioneers traveling West, and Shoshone Indians are told in letters, journals, and dialogue.  Historic objects – a painting, a key, an etch-a-sketch – keep the text rooted in each time period. Keeping track of all the connections between characters requires attention, and serves the purpose of showing Mother Bear’s far reaching and enigmatic influence.  She is the real heroine of this story, setting the expansive tone with a poem at the outset.

“Drawn from the ocean womb, fathered by wind and water

I remain dandled upon the two knees

Of my mother who understands my progress

Clearly written

As are rings of growth into the whitebark pine” (11).

The “I” in this opening poem takes up Bill’s “I.”  Mother Bear speaks through Bill first and foremost, but through all the characters, a voice of forgiveness in the face of suffering, comfort in longing, and peace toward anger.  She is akin to Aslan from the Narnia series, a God-like figure who draws people with his regal bearing coupled with kindness. Mother Bear’s spirit is expressed in poetry and also the caring exhibited between characters.  They’re about the friendliest cast of characters to be met in literature.

A mystery, inspirational, historical-fiction and love story rolled in one, Stories of The Mother Bear is a lush saga of human-divine interaction.  Find it on Amazon