Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Here at Halloween: The House in Windward Leaves

Today's posting is my fantasy book tab.

Although The House in Windward Leaves starts out on Halloween night, it's about identity.  First written as a short story for a Halloween storytelling at The Loft literary center, most of the book takes place on a star where costumes make the kids.

Because children run the star, it’s both commonsense and madcap.  There are more moments of humor than terror, having been inspired by Roald Dahl.  But the horror on Mistral's star is its static state.  What would happen if you were stuck in your costume?

That's a horror adults know.  The House in Windward Leaves is part adventure, part satire.  After all, aren't our fantasy identities a part of us?  And isn't the world we live in a menagerie of fantasies come true?

Before I ever experienced writer's block, I blocked about my Halloween costume. I don’t know why it was so meaningful. My maternal grandfather’s birthday was on October 31.  And one of my first stories was about Halloween – “The Witch Who Stole the Unicef Boxes.” One year, we had a Halloween party in the basement which made me relish them in the years to come.

Our neighborhood group especially liked to visit mystery residents on Halloween.  When I was writing the book in Minneapolis, a house covered with leaves was a block away from where I lived.  It reminded me of a mystery house from childhood. 

Costumes connect in The House in Windward Leaves “if it is possible to blend in with so many freaks.”

Halloween night, the wayward Sadie leads her friends past cardboard cut-outs of the painter Mistral and a lady at the leaf-covered house on Windward Road. A wall mural transports them to a Halloween party on a star where their costumes become real.

As Fortuneteller, Sadie only has to look in her crystal ball to help the others with their transformations. Her friend Candy is the Homecoming Queen and her brother has turned into a zebra. The neighbor boy has become George Washington and his brother is a musician in the star band.

That begins the adventures of Sadie and the enchanted children who make up the bizarre star community. Then Mistral's woman friend finds that her star-of-sapphire necklace is missing. After the gangster Riff Raff is accused, he displays a map and riddles for a treasure hunt. The winner must locate the Tooth Fairy, pass by a weredog, and follow directions to an invisible unicorn to be granted a boon from Enchanter Mistral. But other wishes have to be discovered.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords in ebook and paperback. 

 '"The House in Windward Leaves" is a thrilling tale ... highly recommended.' - The Midwest Book Review

"This book is filled with humour and adventures, and children can't help feeling they are there with them..."  - Faith Mortimer, author or Assassin's Village and The Crossing.

"The House in Windward Leaves is a great read for girls with the ability to also capture the interest of boys. The ease in reading is perfect for the struggling young reader ..." - MG Villesca, teacher and author of The Bully in ME.

"The author has created an amazing new world...This was a very exciting and engaging book that I think young readers would love!"  -   Sarah Renee, author of  The Tiger Princess

Enter the Goodreads giveaway for The House in Windward Leaves.  It's open until Nov. 15 for two paperbacks.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Putting on the Irish: Reviewing Gerald Hansen and Gerry McCullough

As Halloween approaches, I’m putting on the Irish.  It’s too long to wait until March.  On this post, I’ll be reviewing Gerald Hansen’s Embarrassment of Riches and Gerry McCullough’s Belfast Girls, both already successful on Amazon.   

In the Midwest when I was growing up, our agricultural region had indeed melted.  People might ask what nationality a name was and friends might disclose their ethnicity. But it was a little like racism today.  People were sensitive about ethnic backgrounds and histories.  Most  people identified with being a 20th century American. Yet if an Irish person was around, there was more openness about ethnicity.  Maybe it was the red hair or the O’ or Mc in front of a name.  It seemed lucky to be Irish .  Or that the Irish had pluck.  In every 10 Americans, one is likely to have Irish heritage.  Irish is the second most prevalent ethnicity in America, German being the most prevalent.

I wanted to say I was Irish too. I was more Welsh since my grandmother was first generation Welsh in America.  My father’s Holmes ancestor came from Coleraine, Ireland to New York in 1765.  That’s straining the Irish blood after so many generations.  My father said that any genealogical records were probably destroyed in the 1920s.  This summer, I found a book for genealogies in that period,  Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors: The Essential Genealogical Guide to Early Modern Ulster, 1600-1800: Ulster 1600-1800 by William J. Roulston.   Yes, there are records, church records and land estate records and Freemason records.  My great-great grandfather was a Freemason so maybe I could check on that if I wanted to know about my Irish heritage.

In college, I  wrote a paper on Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey for my Irish Literature course.  I’ll never forget being introduced to Guinness beer.  My paper was about O’ Casey’s play being a tragi-comedy, a form that was a discussion point then.

Gerald Hansen’s  An Embarrassment of Riches  might be considered realism or a well-portrayed story about an Irish family.  To me, it exemplified that Irish talent for tragi-comedy.   I think Gerald was surprised when he hit the top 10 books for humor on Amazon.   It was certainly that, and more.  My review:

Gerald Hansen has written a whole book. It's not often that a book catches with characters that seem almost novelties at first and with prose that delves into setting and situation.  That he maintains the hilarity while weaving an undercurrent of contemporary temptation and its outcomes, is nothing short of a feat.

The impetuousness of the Flood family surges with the pathos of a raucous younger generation and an older generation's obsessions with gain. Ursula's attempts to revive love from her relatives with her lottery win are orchestrated with their responses:  Siofra's confirmation dress, her brother's street drugs and police informing, Dymphna's schemes for her child to have a Catholic father.  And Ursula's husband Jed.  What has he done with the lottery money?

This is a book you decide to finish early on and, surprisingly, the laughs and the amazement come more frequently in the latter third of it. I found myself waiting for certain members of the Flood family to appear again because, while there's hostility in this, you've come to care about some of them.

Belfast Girls by Gerry McCullough is both heartfelt and ominous.  It’s a winning book for a wide audience of readers, and although the turmoil in it keeps one reading, its ending is realistic and satisfying.  My review: