Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guest Post: Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story | Philip Brown

Hey, lovely readers!

Today I'm happy to present a guest post from Philip Brown, author of the recently published Light Runner! He's got a great post lined up and he's graciously provided a copy of his novel for a BOOOOOK GIVEAAAAAWWWWAAAAYYY!!!

I had a chance to review The Light Runner and you can read that right here.

So without further ado, bookworms and bibliophiles, let's hear it for Mr. Philip Brown!

Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story

First, I’d like to thank Amanda for inviting me here as a guest on her wonderful book review blog.

I love stories that feature a hero I can relate to. One reason why we resonate with certain fictional characters is that their heroic journeys mirror our own life and its potential. Each of us has a hero inside, just waiting to be called to our own special journey.

Joseph Campbell was a mythologist who showed how heroes undertake a journey that shares several common features. Campbell wrote that at the beginning of the journey, the hero is living in the ordinary world and doesn’t seem terribly special. That can help us to identify with the hero. All of us go about our lives tied to the everyday world of family, school, friends, fashion, music, and movies. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey is a scavenger on a galactic scrapyard of a planet named Jakku. To her, it’s just life. But, as it turns out, this humble setting has given Rey the skills and toughness she will need after she is called to become a hero. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s existence was first defined by a seemingly ordinary life with a conventional Muggle family, the Dursleys.

The next step in the hero’s journey is the call to adventure, to step outside of the ordinary world. Katniss Everdeen was called to leave behind her life of hunting and daily survival in impoverished District 12 when she entered her name into the Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, Prim. Harry Potter lived as a second class person under the Dursleys’ stairs until he was called to enter Hogwarts.  These heroes—Katniss and Harry—did not even know they were heroes until they were called into action and had to prove themselves. And even then, neither would have described themselves as heroic.

The call to adventure, to embark on the heroic journey, can take many forms in our own lives. Perhaps it is acceptance to a college away from home, a move to a foreign country, the military, a new job, a chance to record a YouTube video—or write a fantasy adventure novel. Whatever it is, it summons us out of our ordinary lives. In some cases, it doesn’t always look very heroic. Although Katniss faced death by offering herself in place of her sister Prim at the Reaping, it’s not necessary to face quite such a drastic outcome to be a hero. Maybe circumstances force a person to work at a young age, to forego higher education in order to help care for family. That can be a part of the hero’s journey, too. The hero is often the underdog, someone who succeeds against the odds.

So often, when opportunity comes, fear sets in. But, as Marianne Williamson wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Setting out on the journey, the hero often encounters a seasoned traveler who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Think of Cinna, Katniss’s stylist in The Hunger Games, Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope, or Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter.

I’m a high school teacher, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read students’ personal narratives of incredible hardship—and yet so often they’ve survived by latching on to someone who can guide them and be there for them. There are those, too, who find in themselves the inner strength to carry through. They are already on a hero’s journey.

Sometimes, wise women or wise men enter our lives at crucial times to mentor or guide us. In my book, Light Runner, the main character is a sixteen year-old girl who is guided on her own hero’s journey by an elderly neighbor who’s also a Tarot Card reader.

Although we find heroes on the pages of books, each of us is already the hero of our own story.

a Rafflecopter giveaway Summary of Light Runner:
Sixteen-year-old Dara Adengard would rather read graphic novels than do her homework and prefers the freedom of skateboarding to the restrictions of life with her military father. Stung by the recent death of her mother, Dara conceals her mom’s picture under a square of grip tape on her skateboard. But no matter how much Dara tries to keep a foothold on the past, she can’t ride away from her own destiny.
One evening, she discovers a silver and gold armlet with mysterious powers in the shadowy water of the swimming pool. Forged from an ancient meteorite metal, it possesses the power to heal or wound. When Dara holds it, it emits a light that seems to have been ignited by a star’s ray. Moments later, she is stunned to find that someone’s broken into her apartment, her father has vanished, and a dead body lies sprawled in the courtyard.
Evading the police, Dara escapes on a perilous quest for her father, begins to uncover her mother’s hidden past, and starts to realize the shocking truth about herself.

Light Runner by Philip Brown
Buy on Amazon
Published by Strange Fictions Press
232 pages

About Philip Brown:
Philip Brown, YA contemporary fantasy author, is motivated by the power of words to change lives. He teaches high school and is inspired by his students, many of whom struggle to overcome difficult social and personal issues. “The classroom,” he says, “is a place filled with brilliant and amazing stories.”
Before he began writing fiction, Philip wrote a couple of astrology books. Cosmic Trends was published by Llewellyn Worldwide in 2006 and was a finalist for the Coalition of Visionary Resources Award. His widely read AstroFutureTrends blog was turned into the book, On the Cusp: Astrological Reflections from the Threshold.
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Author Website

Check out my review for Light Runner!

REVIEW & Giveaway: Light Runner by Philip Brown

Light Runner
by Philip Brown
Strange Fiction Press
3.5/5 stars

Many thanks to Strange Fiction Press and Philip Brown for providing both review and giveaway copies of this book.

For being a book about a girl who finds a mystical healing bracelet, Light Runner turned out to be very down to earth and contemporary. I have to say, I really, really liked that. Philip Brown does a great job keeping the story grounded in our world and our reality. So much so that I could see something like this showing up on the news or in a Twitter feed.

The way Brown relates the story, interspersing Dara's memories of life before and skipping through months at a time by relaying only the information we need, gets across a sense of where Dara is, mentally and emotionally. I sensed her longing and nostalgia even while time blurred as she struggles to survive, one day at a time.

The story is well-told for the most part, with decent writing. There's an interesting mix of styles that lands Light Runner somewhere between light literary fiction and straight up YA which, if you were wondering, worked pretty well. There is some philosophical postulating, but it isn't heavily leaned on, and it's generally related in the personal musings of either our main character Dara or the antagonist Gunarik.


Some aspects of the plot felt a little convenient or illogical, but on the whole, it's an interesting story, and Dara -tough and determined- is totally believable and easy to relate to. She has a satisfactory development from uncertain, irresponsible teen to competent and -in a way- wise. I really liked where Brown leaves her at the end of this story -wise enough to understand what's next, but still at heart a teenage girl with a renewed appreciation of home and family. She learns a lot about herself and gains a lot of confidence, but I really felt like she learned wisdom along with it.

The villain in Gunarik is a little harder to pin down, which, again, fit really well with the story. There are many aspects of his character, the conflict Dara finds herself caught in, and the bracelet itself that are left intentionally unexplained or unexplored. There is enough information given for the reader's satisfaction as far as Dara's story, but there are definitely things left open for a sequel. It seemed appropriate that the origins of the conflict -like the bracelet itself- have an aura of the unexplained about it. We learn what drives Gunarik, a good mix of villain bitterness and genuine emotional damage, but the history of a lot of the fallout Dara deals with is hidden behind a shroud.

There was one big thing about the story I didn't like and that was the portrayal of the police. Understanding that Dara is evading the police because they consider her a person of interest in a homicide, it makes sense that she isn't going to be filled with confidence at their ability to help or their desire to believe her unbelievable tale. This would have been fine, but this unfavorable light is carried past Dara's perspective and into an observation throughout the book, with any number of encounters with individual police characters, who are depicted as being fairly callous and treating people's grief or shock as just another day at the office, and finally with the reveal that one of the character's back stories was greatly affected by an abusive cop. All together, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I'd recommend this for ages 14+, just because there is violence, mentions of sexual abuse, and a scene where someone does try to take advantage of Dara, though nothing actually happens.

Light Runner ends abruptly (again, sequel material) but leaves us with an interesting kind of question as to the purpose of the bracelet. I'll be interested, down the road, to learn what the answer was, but at the same time, leaving this question for us at the end fit really well with the tone of the book. This is one of the elements that lends to a more literary feel for the whole story. It gives us a sense of ambiguity, without withholding the information we really, really want. Instead of feeding us questions about the possibly supernatural origins or purpose of the bracelet, Brown instead centers the story around the fact that Dara is a teenage girl, alone, uncertain, and searching desperately for her father. We are so caught up in Dara's personal stakes that we don't necessarily care about whether the bracelet has a higher purpose -we just accept that the bracelet is. For me, the way Brown managed to pull off this sleight of hand was one of the most interesting aspects of the story.

So there's my review. Now, who's ready for a chance to win a copy of Light Runner?

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Don't miss Philip Brown's guest post Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story

Monday, March 21, 2016

ARC REVIEW: Once Upon A Dream by Liz Braswel (A Twisted Tale #2)

Once Upon A Dream
Liz Braswell
A Twisted Tale, #2
Young Adult
Disney Book Group
Release Date: April 5th 2016
4/5 stars

I'd like to thank NetGalley and Disney Book Group for giving me access to an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.

If you haven't heard about the Twisted Tale series, here's the low down. Disney and author Liz Braswell are taking the stories of classic Disney films and giving them a twist. (You can check out my review for the first book, A Whole New World, in which Liz Braswell shows us what might have happened if Jafar had gotten hold of the Genie's lamp at the Cave of Wonders.)

I LOVE THIS IDEA. Being a fan of fairy tale retellings, Disney, and 'what ifs', it's no wonder. But I've been burned by Disney retellings before (Fairest of All) and, while A Whole New World was fun, it did fall a little short of the mark for me, getting only 3 stars. Add to that the...interesting take on Sleeping Beauty we saw in Maleficent and, yeah, I was a little wary when I started Once Upon A Dream.

This retelling is fantastic.

I didn't realize it at first, because the beginning of the book -specifically Aurora's situation- threw me off guard. While I liked Maleficent as a story, I did not like it as a branch off or the 'true' story of Disney's Sleeping Beauty and I honestly thought this was going to be much, much worse. After about 50 pages of banging my head against a wall, the twist came (setting up the entire novel, might I add) and all was saved. So, if you don't like this in the beginning, believe me when I say just KEEP READING.

What really made this story for me was how Braswell essentially took every story flaw and every pointed remark anyone has probably ever made about Sleeping Beauty and its characters and turned it into story fuel. Like, why on earth would the King and Queen think it would be a good idea to send their child to live with fairies for sixteen years?

I'm not terribly picky about the animated film, because it's something I've grown up with. It's a classic. But I love that Braswell took the challenge to infuse this story with good character development and bring us a princess finding her way from damsel in distress to competent young woman.

Unlike A Whole New World, which presented the twist at nearly the beginning of the Aladdin story, Once Upon A Dream doesn't begin until the moment Prince Phillip kisses his princess awake. That's when the princess doesn't wake up. I think I preferred the twist toward the end, because it is able to build off the source material we're familiar with and this story felt much more natural than its predecessor.

Braswell tackles Aurora's personality with zeal; she doesn't give the princess a face lift or try to mock up an existing personality that could have been hiding somewhere in the film. She instead takes the idea that Aurora has literally done nothing with her life and gives us a princess who suffers from lethargy, who is just beginning to realize she doesn't know much about anything, and is possibly even struggling depression. Braswell doesn't jump right in giving Aurora all of these struggles; it's a slow development on the princess as she tries to learn who she is and what the world is really like outside of her sheltered upbringing. 
This take on Aurora's character is not the only thing going for this book, but is certainly the driving factor of my joy in it. Braswell masterfully bridged the gap between yesterday's 'damsel in distress' and today's 'empowered woman', without missing a beat of teen angst on the princess's journey to find herself.

Beside Aurora, Maleficent's character was equally satisfying. Braswell manages to shine a light of humanity toward the Mistress of All Evil while still keeping her completely true to the original film and all her, well, evil glory. Here's a stamp of Villain Approval, Liz Braswell, for showing us you can craft a true villain whom we can sympathize without giving them some misunderstood back story.

Phillip's character irked me a bit initially, just because he acts a little too much like a modern teenager, especially his vocabulary, and that doesn't jive with the Phillip I remember. He did grow on me through the book, so I gave him a pass.

The world building inserted elements like references to the Catholic church and King Arthur legends that landed it squarely in a European setting. I have not yet reached a verdict about this addition.
On the one hand, alluding to such familiar things helps to ground it closer to our reality. Sleeping Beauty did originate in Europe, so it makes sense to treat it as some extension of Europe.
On the other hand... I always picture fairy tales taking place in a very specific world. (There's a reason the show Once Upon A Time refers to the 'fairy tale world' broadly as the Enchanted Forest.) Placing these seeds of reality -like morning and afternoon prayers and using garlic to ward off demons- took this out of the magical world I was familiar with and slammed it down somewhere between the Enchanted Forest and reality.
So these allusions were both kind of cool and kind of jarring at the same time. There aren't very many instances, so it's not a make or break kind of detail.

The plot is intriguing and captivating. For reasons I won't spoil, the entire story is centralized on and interwoven with Aurora's character development, which will deepen the layers of any story. While Braswell's Aladdin retelling left me a little underwhelmed, she expounds on so many unanswered, unchallenged, or unexplained elements in the Sleeping Beauty tale that she not only made this retelling compelling and interesting interesting, but within its pages she actually convinced me it was a story that needed to be told.

My one true disappointment lies with the 'happily ever after' of this story, the quote/unquote epilogue. (Don't worry -the ending is good. It's solid, satisfying, and exactly what the tale needs.)
I am a sucker for the romantic side of fairy tales. Love At First Sight, True Love's Kiss, Love Conquers All. Braswell messes with each one of these fairy tale staples; for the most part, it was fun watching these ideals squirm under realistic scrutiny, but it was really the closing lines of the book that got under my skin, because it stepped a little too far out of the fairy tale box for my liking. I mentioned before that Braswell masterfully bridges the gap between 'damsel in distress' and 'empowered woman', but I think in the last pages she pushed too much on the empowerment side and left the fairy tale soul of the story short.

This bit sounds harsh, I know, but keep in mind that despite this ending disappointment, the book still scored 4/5 stars and gets high-praise for a fantastically done retelling.

I could say a lot more about Once Upon A Dream, but I've probably said more than enough. Suffice to say, Braswell works a magical spin on Sleeping Beauty that works and satisfies. It's definitely worth reading.

Bonus: Lana Del Rey's chilling cover of Once Upon a Dream from the Maleficent soundtrack makes the perfect listening music for this book, not only for its obvious correlation to Sleeping Beauty, but because its foreboding and creepy sound make a great pairing for the overall plot.

What's your favorite Sleeping Beauty story?