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February Book Reviews and Author Interview

This month I read three books including memoir Home Boys by Seth Kadish (4 stars), middle grade dystopian Sheltered: When a Boy Becomes a Legend by Jacob Paul Patchen (4 stars), and adult fiction Crazy Love by Daniel Blake Smith (3 stars). The reviews are below.

But first, here is an interview I did with fantasy author Anton Anderson.

Interview with Anton Anderson, author

Bio: I'm a programmer by trade, but a fantasy writer by soul. I enjoy creating. And creating fictional worlds offers more freedom than programming. Previously I worked in the field of autonomous vehicles, and now moved to cybersecurity.

From early childhood, I love fantasy, science-fiction, detective, thriller and mystery. My first published book “The Seekers: Soul Ties” was long in the making, but rich with experimentation and discovery. And I hold a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics and Informatics in Economy.

And a picture of one of his cats, for your viewing pleasure:

The Q&A:

1. What is your background in terms of writing and more generally?

I don't exactly have a writing background. My first book, The Seekers: Soul Ties," was published last year, and I'm still working on a second one in the series.

My desire to create stories started, maybe, fifteen years ago. I was still a teenager at school. I remember the vivid image in my head. The main character. The setting. The strange, and yet so familiar world. I wrote a whole page that day, saved it on a USB stick, and that was it. At some point, I lost the file. But the world is still alive in my head. No, it's not "The Seekers," but an entirely different universe. One day I shall put it on paper.

When I was studying at my university, there was a period of "writing notes." Back then, I had another universe in my head, so I wrote on my phone a scene. Then another. And then another. As far as I remember, I managed to write no less than twenty thousand words this way. They all are parts of one big story, but I didn't bother to connect them into something coherent. One day I shall retrieve my notes and make a few books out of them.

I started writing for real probably three years ago. I watched an educational video by David V. Stewart, and it finally pushed me. I knew my first books were unlikely to be good, so instead of ruining the two universes I already envisioned, I decided to create another one. "The Seekers" wasn't the first name, but I think it's accurate. The books are about people who are not idle. They seek something. Happiness. Safety. Wealth. Revenge. They are active in their desire, and that's what separates them from deadbeats.

My "more general" background is programming. I always loved computers, wanted to understand how they work and how to make them do my bidding. So, I received a bachelor's degree in Applied Mathematics and Informatics. For a few years I was involved in creating autonomous cars. And now I'm working at a company that develops programs and computers for vehicles that are more protected from hackers.

2. What inspired your book and what are your goals with publishing it?

Here's a free advice for you all -- keep seeking inspirations! I'm still writing my second book and was struggling with it. What I had didn't really work, so I had to replace it with something. Luckily, a few weeks ago I got inspired! In a matter of days I've got so many ideas that now my book can become even longer than I originally anticipated. I'm no longer struggling because now what I want to write is actually awesome. So, what inspired me? A couple of good movies and video games. It doesn't matter which ones, since we all have preferences. They just need to be very good, that's all.

If by my publishing goals we mean the reason behind it, then I just want to share with others what I have in mind. I don't think my books are educational or therapeutic, but I do have plans for an educational book. Entertainment in moderation is also important and helpful, so I don't sweat about making my every book the pinnacle of utility.

3. What was the writing and publishing process like for you?

I have close to no willpower, so in order to write, I have to make it a habit. Therefore, every minute of my day is scheduled, and writing takes no less than two hours each day.

Before writing a new book, I make an outline. Just a sentence for every major event, not even a scene. I tried to make a more detailed outline, but my imagination can't do it. It either works so well, that I see and hear the scene like it is real, or it doesn't work at all. So, I need to feed my imagination, and to do that I need to start actually writing instead of outlining.

When the story doesn't go as the outline says, I'm not strict with myself and let the story win. But if I see a good way to return to the plan, I do it, just a scene or two later.

I also like to have illustrations, and I feel that my drawing skills are adequate for simple illustrations. I had a few beta-readers, and all of them had different opinions on how the character looked like. I don't mind it, but personally, I like to have a reference when I read. The key to a good illustration is that it has to look like how the writer envisioned the world. Since I'm my own illustrator, I have confidence that the readers will see at least a semblance of the world in my head.

Publishing is the easiest process. I just assemble the book as Amazon and other stores tell me and push the button.

What's hard is marketing. I haven't solved it yet.

4. What are fun facts about you that people may not know from your books?

I think you shan't confuse the author and their work. Yes, sometimes the readers can be right. I use "shan't" in my writing and my life. Yet, for other writers, it may be untrue. Some would never use the language of their book in speech. Some don't share the beliefs of their characters at all. But some do. You can never be certain, and I think you shouldn't be. In fact, when I read something, watch something, or listen to some music, I don't think about the artist. I may learn their name to find more of their works, but I'm not interested in them personally. I love their work and only their work. Live and let live. They are not their books. And you are not them. That's all.

February Book Reviews

Home Boys by Seth Kadish

My rating: 4/5 stars

The premise: “Home Boys” is the poignant and humorous story of a beginning career psychologist learning about diagnosis and treatment, and more importantly, discovering ways to connect with troubled teens -- manipulative Timothy, jokester Enrique, wanna-be gangster Antonio, and many more.

My review: This was a good read, giving the reader the privilege to see the development of Seth's career as a psychologist, the therapeutic alliance between him and his clients, and some of the more raw moments of mistakes, trust, doubt, and growth. The honesty is palpable and helps shed light on institutional issues like lack of support, cycles of being "in the system", and the tension between wanting to make a difference and the difficulty in doing so.

The main reason for 4 rather than 5 stars, perhaps due to personal tendencies to not read memoirs (and to prefer high-tension fiction), is that I had some trouble finishing the book.

Sheltered: When a Boy Becomes a Legend by Jacob Paul Patchen

My rating: 4/5 stars

The premise: “We are all given a space in life to fill, a roaring emptiness in time... and it’s how you choose to fill that void, that will determine the difference in becoming a man or a legend.”

That’s what my father said to me a few years ago before he walked out on Mom, Emily, and me. If I would have had any sense back then, I would have asked him exactly what that meant.

Instead, I’m out here learning it the hard way – dodging bullets and bombs while America is at war – my friends fighting back with all we have, while trying to keep these orphaned children safe and our dreams alive.

They call us The Risers. Well, okay... so we call ourselves “The Risers.” But either way, we’re out here doing everything we can just to survive and rise up from our nation’s ashes with honor, integrity, and justice.

Now, with smoky memories of a lost childhood, and the horrible, lingering, cardboard taste of MRE crackers (still left over from living in Dad’s bomb shelter), my mini army and me march forward, taking back what was once taken for granted.

But to be honest, I’m really just out here winging it. Wish me luck.

My review: Overall, this is a solid book. After the first chapter I looked at Patchen’s bio because it read in many ways like literary fiction, especially the sentence structures and the types of descriptions. (He did, in fact, study creative writing). As such, this is a book you may enjoy the craft of, more than a plot-driven story that sucks you in. I didn’t mind the before/after structure (clearly, since I’ve used it as a writer…) but I felt that the plot relied on it too much for the tension. As such, I was left wanting more, perhaps from knowing the kid militia’s goals/conflict earlier on.

I think the themes are really important- trauma and coming-of-age, the delineation between civilians and military, parentification of youth, and more. They’re also not often explored in young adult literature.

There were definitely some elements that were too grotesque. While I appreciate the context of war and loss-of-innocence, certain things didn’t need to occur, like dogs dying on-page.

Overall, Patchen is clearly gifted with a unique voice who writes about important themes.

Crazy Love by Daniel Blake Smith

My rating: 3/5 stars

The premise: Danny Fenton and Dawn Robinson are two twenty-something misfit dreamers. They have fled their down-and-out existence in backwoods Arkansas, hoping to make a new life for themselves in the big city of St. Louis. Leaving sketchy jobs behind, Danny is starting afresh as a private investigator while Dawn schemes to open her own restaurant, The Dawn of Good Eats.

But they soon find that it's not so easy to outrun their past as dangerous and depressing connections catch up with them. Dawn finds herself unwittingly entangled in an illegal scheme that Danny accidentally exposes in an off-the-books investigative effort. With criminal activity that Danny can't ignore, Dawn finds her dream threatened by the very person she loves the most.

How they find their way through this tragicomic clash of their desperate but endearing ambitions reveals the magic of their crazy love.

My rating: I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Crazy love is a good book that doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters are not particularly likeable. In some cases, this is charming, and in some cases frustrating. Namely, their personalities and complexities are clear from the first page. However, it isn't always easy to root for them. I wanted more tension, and unfortunately I had trouble being sucked into the story.

As someone living in St. Louis right now, I appreciated the setting. Additionally, Smith is clearly a talented author with a unique voice.

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