The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Carlos Ruiz Zafón takes a walk on the darker supernatural side in The Angel’s Game, his second installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Zafón’s Gothic tale is actually a prequel to his successful first book in the series, The Shadow of the Wind. If you haven’t read the first book, I highly recommend you do as it is still the best in the series in this writer’s opinion.

Still, The Angel’s Game is not to be missed as it returns the reader to Barcelona, Spain, this time in the 1920s, as well as the bookshop Sempere & Sons and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It also plunges the reader back into Zafón’s flamboyant style of storytelling with lots of dark and shadowy nights shrouded in mist.

The novel is the classic “make a deal with the devil” tale where the protagonist, David Martín, accepts an offer from a mysterious publisher to write a book that will present the world with a new religion. In doing so, Martín regains his health and earns an incredible amount of money. Soon, however, Martín discovers that he is not the first person to undertake this offer, and like his most recent predecessor, he fears he is losing his mind to the endeavor.

The Angel’s Game isn’t deeply theological or highly intellectual.  At its heart, it’s just great storytelling. Anyone remotely familiar with the Bible will recognize the references to the angel of light (one of the Adversary’s favorite ways to deceive mankind), the 6.66 pages a day our protagonist must write to achieve his goal (does that one even need explaining?), and the character Andreas Corelli (the name Old Nick chose to use for this sojourn among men) saying he’d been kicked out of his father’s house after a disagreement (which stands to reason when one challenges God for supremacy).

However, there are some questions that arose for me while reading. One of the thoughts on my mind was whether Zafón had written himself and/or his own wishes into the story. Is he speaking through Martín when the protagonist comments on how writers sell their soul for the dream of publication? Is Zafón, a writer of successful pulp fiction like Martín, consumed with the same desire his character is to write something he believes to be more worthy? And when a peripheral character tells Martín he has seen the angel brooch Andreas Corelli wears on Martín’s own lapel, is Zafón intimating that the demons writers struggle with come from within?

Another theme that Zafón floated was God as both good and evil, two halves of the same coin. I found this reinforced at the end of the book when Andreas Corelli, usually dressed in black, appears in white and offers Martín a blessing and a curse neatly packaged as one gift. But Zafón will have to forgive me if I feel no sympathy for the devil when he says, “…for once you will walk in my shoes and will feel what I feel.” Nor do I trouble myself believing the devil would ever admit he’s wrong such as Corelli did.

All this led to my second thought in which I speculated that Zafón was either a disgruntled former member of a particular belief system or he had written under the impression of said belief system. Or maybe he chucked religion all together and just created an intricately woven story sure to keep the reader up all night. Whatever the case me be, The Angel’s Game is a good story. The slightly far-fetched portions are barely noticeable when the book is taken as a whole, there is a slump in pacing near the end of the book, and the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as The Shadow of the Wind, but none of these factors are enough to keep me from pressing on with the series.

The Artist’s Corner – Author Cari Dubiel Stands Out in the Crowd

About a year and a half ago, I was invited to join an informal meeting for members of Sisters in Crime at a fellow writer’s home. Although I don’t write mysteries, the meetings were, and still are, extremely beneficial as we talked craft and industry across the genres. The feedback has been wonderful, and the friendships are invaluable.

I met author Cari Dubiel at these meetings, and right from the start I could tell she was an articulate, intelligent woman. Being a librarian, book lover, and writer definitely scored Cari high marks in my book, but since that first meeting, she and I have had the opportunity to discuss the joys and woes of the writing life in some detail. Imagine how pleased I was to find a kindred spirit who shared my passions and concerns. In fact, much of what Cari said precisely mirrored what I had been thinking and feeling and I realized she would be the perfect candidate for an Artist’s Corner interview.

So, without further ado, allow me introduce you to genre-bending author Cari Dubiel.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a lifelong Ohio resident, married with two young children. I’m the Adult Learning and Information Services Manager at the Twinsburg Public Library in Twinsburg, Ohio. I’ve worked there for 11 years, though not always as a manager. Prior to TPL, I worked for a few other public libraries in Northeast Ohio, for a total of 20 years in libraries. I also speak and write in the library field, and I adjunct at Kent State University.

When did you develop your love of writing?

I was a very early reader – I don’t remember it, but my mom said that I could read fluently by the time I was three. She used to take me to her work, open a magazine, and watch all her friends’ jaws drop when I was able to read any sentence she pointed to. And, of course, I loved to read. So by the time I was in third grade, I wanted to write my own stories. My first story was called “Trapped in a Video Game,” and it was complete with illustrations of Mario and the Princess.

Did your position as a librarian play into your career as a writer?

Well, I don’t do any writing at work, and I’m not allowed to use my position to promote my books. But there is a natural correlation. A woman I worked with years ago introduced me to her husband, who was an avid mystery fan. He introduced me in turn to Casey Daniels, who got me involved in Sisters in Crime. So I guess I have Bob Burke to thank for my connections so far! I also regularly host authors at the library, and I read and review their books. And of course, we have a fantastic collection of craft books that I’ve cultivated. I think it’s the best in our consortium.

Have you ever worked as a freelance writer?

In library land, I’ve written for Library Journal, Booklist, and several professional blogs. Occasionally, I also take on freelance editing jobs, but I only take those that I am really passionate about, as I don’t have a lot of extra time! I’ve had a few short stories published online and in anthologies as well.

In what genre(s) do you enjoy writing?

I love to experiment with genre. I don’t like to feel boxed into one specific type of story. My writing is mainly focused on the characters and their arcs, but I also like to have a solidly structured plot to keep the reader guessing. I like pseudoscience – taking existing scientific concepts and playing with them, saying “what if?” I also like to have a mystery aspect to everything I write. It may not always be a “whodunit” – sometimes it’s a “whydunit.” And sometimes both.

Which genres do you enjoy reading?  Who are your favorite authors?

I pretty much read everything. I’ll go through phases when I’ll be in the mood for just one thing, and then I’ll switch gears to a totally different genre or type of book. Right now I’m in a sci-fi groove, particularly funny sci-fi. My other favorites are literary fiction, psychological thrillers, traditional and cozy mysteries, and nonfiction of all kinds. I tend to pick up whatever strikes my fancy – working in a library definitely enables my reading habit – but I always look forward to new books by Ernest Cline, Peter Swanson, Jennifer Weiner, Jonathan Tropper, Kate Racculia, and Ann Patchett. I love to support my writer friends as well – I’ll read and review everything they send me, or I’ll buy their books after pub date if I can’t get a review copy.

How have your favorite authors shaped your writing?

I think each one brings me a different strength. Tropper and Weiner have strong male and female voices, respectively, with smart, flawed protagonists. Patchett writes so beautifully and subtly, and Swanson writes highly readable killer thrillers. Cline is the master of sci-fi intrigue. I can’t wait for the Ready Player One movie. Kate Racculia is a fabulous literary writer, but she also has a strong focus on plot and character that really drives her fiction.

Tell me about your novel, How to Remember.

I often have intense, realistic, bizarre dreams. I also sleepwalk, so I wonder if there’s something weird going on in my unconscious mind. I woke up from one where I had lost exactly one year’s worth of memory, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. In the dream, my phone had been wiped, and I couldn’t find my computer, so there were no clues to what had happened. My protagonist, Dr. Miranda Underwood, starts off the novel in that situation. Through the course of the book, she has to find those clues and follow them to the answers she needs.

Miranda narrates from 2017; secondary protagonist Ben Baker narrates from 2016, helping to fill in the blanks. He encounters Miranda in her job at a company called MindTech, where she helps patients deal with past trauma by looking at their mental maps and providing them with targeted therapeutic solutions. Ben’s mother has died under mysterious circumstances, and he’s looking for answers of his own. The two narratives dovetail to show the reader what happened.

The book is available for pre-order at Inkshares: How To Remember

Are there any comparative titles?

The concepts are similar to the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the style is completely different from that film. With its focus on suburbia, the setting is reminiscent of Holly Brown’s This is Not Over or Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies. In that way, the book is strongly domestic suspense. There are strong themes of parenthood and exploration of the relationships between parents and children. However, it also has the science fiction component with a lot of nerdy appeal, which fans of Ready Player One and The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak would enjoy.

What has the editing process been like for you?

Not bad so far – I’ve had some reader input, as well as a professional critique from author Lori Rader-Day through the Hugh Holton Critique Program. That critique program spurred me to enter the Hugh Holton Award competition with the Midwest chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. I won that award in December 2017, so that was a great experience!

I’m looking forward to a professional edit, although I’m also nervous about it since I’ve never been through one before. I do edit for other people, so it will be strange to be on the other side of the screen.

Describe your journey to publication.

I’m hoping the answer to this will be a lot more complete in the future! Right now I’m campaigning for a publication deal. I need to sell at least 250 copies of my book as pre-orders for the deal to be funded. I’m lucky that this book has won an award, and it’s also been backed by two syndicates on Inkshares, which means that it’s been endorsed by many interested readers. But it’s still not a guarantee.

I have many friends who are in this business, who run the gamut from straight indie to hybrid to traditionally published, and there are so many setbacks and trials for all of them. Every person hits different roadblocks and trials along the way. Mine is no different, and it’s not done yet.

Why did you decide upon Inkshares?

I read The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein, which was a fabulous sci-fi story with great character development. As I usually do when I’ve read a book I like, I checked to see how it was published. The concept of books being published by reader interest was intriguing, and when I logged onto the platform, I was impressed by its sharp look and user appeal.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing, but now I regret nothing. I’ve met so many cool authors on the platform, who are smart, warm, and kind, and their books are astounding. I’m writing an article for IndiePicks magazine in March to highlight my favorites. I love “selling” books I love to library patrons.

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a business model that relies on user interest to develop a product. Most people will be familiar with it from platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. When a user sees an item they like, they pledge money towards it to help the product become a reality. On the Inkshares platform, it’s a little different: readers pre-order copies, so they don’t have to spend more than $10 for an e-book or $20 for a physical copy. If they want their name in the back of the book, they can spend $60, and they’ll also receive 3 copies of the book.

What challenges have you faced in your writing and with publication?

Honestly, my biggest challenge has been due to my own fault. I haven’t been able to choose a direction. And that comes from my deep love of reading everything. With my writing, I want to echo and amplify other authors, and it’s impossible to put everything I love into one book.

My friend Amanda Flower gave me the best advice, which finally helped me focus. She said to write what you love, what speaks to you. The rest of it is all business. It may not be the right market for the story at the time, but eventually, if it’s a good story, its time will come.

How can interested readers assist your efforts?

Pre-order at: How to Remember! If I make that 250 mark, readers are guaranteed a copy at publication. If pre-ordering isn’t possible, share the link freely. Inkshares does occasionally publish titles that they determine to have organic popularity, and that comes from liking, sharing, and clicking on the link.

I’ve also released a short story collection for free at “Lost Memories.” I’m posting these stories as I write them, so if you follow me on Inkshares, you’ll get alerts when I add the new content.

What is your marketing plan?

I’ve already done two giveaways, and I’m planning more. I find that even if readers can’t afford to purchase the book, they’re grateful if they win, and they’re more likely to follow me and keep up on my work. With each giveaway, I’m hoping to spread the love of books and reading, and I want to get to know my potential readers.

My awesome graphic artist is developing new covers for both How to Remember and “Lost Memories.” I also have another fabulous artist who is working on line drawings of the main characters. Prints of those will be released in a giveaway as well.

I’ve done some video content, too. The book trailer is on YouTube: How to Remember

You can follow my channel for more updates.

Where can one find you one the Internet?

Inkshares: Cari Dubiel

Goodreads: Author Cari Dubiel

Website: www.caridubiel.com

Facebook: Cari Dubiel Author

Twitter: @caridubiel

Instagram: @cb1281

Email Newsletter: Sign Up

Thanks for reading!

After the War by Alice Adams

After the War by Alice Adams is one of those rare books that defy the bad sequel status.  Ms. Adams seamlessly returns to the town of Pinehill and its colorful residents, all the gossip and speculation clashing with reality, fantasies fueled by emotional inner dialog, secret affairs of which everyone is aware, conversations attributed to no one in particular such as one would overhear at social functions, and she serves it up deliciously as if the reader is a neighbor with privileged insight into everyone’s private and public lives.

Ms. Adams addresses a new round of social and political issues through the different characters’ points of view, often having them use words deemed unacceptable in today’s society if not during the era in which the story takes place.  By doing so, she challenges her readers to reflect upon private thoughts and experiences, examine one’s upbringing and prejudices, and form an opinion.

As always, Ms. Adams’s prose is excellent, and she brilliantly breaks the rules of writing when she upsets the delicate balance of life in Pinehill with the unexpected death of a major character one third of the way into the story, draws the most peripheral of characters onto center stage, and begins or picks up storylines late in the novel only to conclude them with a satisfying ending.

After the War is masterful storytelling from a gifted writer gone too soon.

Let Them Eat Cake

The last recipe I’d like to share with you from our Hanukkah celebration is one that always popped up in church cookbooks.  Unfortunately, those old cookbooks are disappearing and no one seems to produce them anymore.  I held on to this recipe and tweaked it a little by using raw sugar in place of white and dark brown sugar instead of light brown.  The changes make for an even richer cake that still receives lots of praise.  Not to mention I love pulling out this old recipe to share with people who’ve never tasted it.

I made this cake to share at my writers group.  Even though a few ladies took two pieces, there was plenty left for my boys.  And then it was game on.  They ate it for breakfast with coffee, as a midday snack, and again after dinner.  I had to battle them to get a piece myself.  The only thing to do was make another which worked out for me as I needed one more blog post this week.

This easy, delicious cake would be great on Christmas morning while opening gifts or to have on hand for when friends stop by during the holidays.  The ‘everything mixed in one bowl’ batter and topping along with ingredients one almost always has on hand makes you look like a culinary genius when the guests taste that first bite.

Old-fashioned Oatmeal Cake

1 ¼ c boiling water

1 c oats

1 stick butter, unsalted

1 c sugar (I use raw)

1 c packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 ½ c flour

½ t salt

1 t baking soda

1 ½ t cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Pour the boiling water over the oats and allow them to stand for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the oats are cool.  Using a handheld mixer, cream the butter, both sugars, eggs, and vanilla.  Add the oats and mix thoroughly.  Sift the flour, salt, soda, and cinnamon.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and blend well.  Pour the batter into a 9 x 13 inch pan that has been greased or sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes.  A knife inserted in the center should come out clean.

Five minutes before the oatmeal cake comes out, prepare the topping mixture.

Topping:

½ c dark brown sugar

½ stick of unsalted butter, softened

¼ heavy whipping cream (can substitute whole milk)

1 c chopped pecans or walnuts

½ c flaked coconut

½ t vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and spread carefully over the hot cake so as not to tear the surface.  Work with small dollops of topping.  Heat from the cake will melt the butter and sugar as you spread.

Enjoy!

Eat, Drink, and Wear Stretchy Pants

There’s nothing quite like a well-seasoned turkey coming to golden-brown perfection in my roaster to bring tears to my eyes.  The smell alone reminds me of my Grandmother Smith, God bless her, clomping around her kitchen (she was not the most graceful) tending to the Thanksgiving turkey and many side dishes in preparation for dinner.

I mentioned in another post (When Maturity Strikes) that our son, Joshua, earned his first  turkey at his first job.  My husband received a turkey from work for our Thanksgiving dinner, so Joshua willingly saved his for Hanukkah.  He quizzed me on my intended preparation including seasonings and made me promise him that it would turn out juicy.  Based on the way we ravaged the poor bird, I believe I achieved success.  Here’s the kicker:  I don’t have a single picture of this culinary masterpiece.

My recipe is classic, simple, and tasty.  I know deep frying, brine baths, and flavor injections are popular, but I chose to keep it teenager-friendly.  It was, after all, his turkey.

Joshua’s Thanksgiving Turkey

1 proudly earned turkey, approximately 23 pounds

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into eight pieces

½ stick unsalted butter, softened

½ T parsley

½ T rubbed sage

½ T rosemary

½ T thyme

½ T sea salt

½ T black pepper

Paprika

2 lemons

3 – 6 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 cans chicken broth

I started with a fully defrosted turkey that I rinsed, trimmed, and patted dry.  You will not need the giblets, neck, liver, gizzard, or heart for this recipe.  I worked with the turkey breast side up in my roaster.

Mix all the seasonings except the paprika.  Dip the cold pats of butter into the seasoning mixture on both sides and gently shoved beneath the skin of the turkey.  Use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat enough to place the butter.  Two pats on each side of the breast for a total of four, and two beside each of the legs also totaling four.  You will not use all of the seasonings for this.

Rub the surface of the turkey with the softened butter.  Sprinkle the surface, taking care to get the legs and wings, with the remaining seasoning mixture.  Sprinkle lightly with paprika.  Cut the ends off the lemons and quarter them lengthwise.  Place all eight sections of lemon and the peeled garlic cloves in the cavity of the turkey.

Tuck the wing tips beneath the turkey so they don’t burn.  Add two cans of chicken broth to the roaster.  Do not pour them over the turkey, or the seasonings will be rinsed off.

How to Roast is a good guideline to follow, however, keep in mind there are slight differences between cooking in a roaster versus an oven.  My advice is to stay with your turkey if it’s your first time and also because you’ll want to baste it throughout the cooking process.  Once your turkey is cooked to golden-brown perfection, allow it to sit for ten minutes before serving and carving.

Enjoy!

**If you don’t have a half tablespoon measure, the equivalent is 1 1/2 teaspoons.

Oy Olé!

As we continue our Hanukkah celebration, I have to laugh because yet again the Gibson Household is experiencing What I Like About Being American.  By that I mean we enjoyed another, non-traditional yet delicious meal.  We love to include the best a culture has to offer, namely their food.

Mexican Family Skillet was invented a few days before I was due to grocery shop, and I needed to extend a pound of ground beef to feed and satisfy two hungry men as well as myself.  A little scrounging through my pantry shelves and spice cupboards, and a new dish was invented.

I don’t doubt that it’s a much Americanized version of Mexican cuisine, but the blending of cultures through food produces peace in a way that is often overlooked.  While it may sound too common to be served for a holiday, it still draws my family together over dinner, and that’s what really counts.

Mexican Family Skillet

1 lb. ground beef

6 green onions, the white and a small portion of the green, diced –OR– 1 small sweet onion, diced

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can corn, drained and rinsed

1 can petit diced tomatoes, DO NOT DRAIN

1 T chili powder

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t onion powder

¼ t crushed red pepper flakes

¼ t oregano

½ t paprika

1 ½ t ground cumin

1 t sea salt

1 t black pepper

1 – 8 oz. block of cheddar, shredded

Sour cream, guacamole, chopped avocado, optional

Cook the ground beef in a skillet with the onions until the meat is no longer pink.  Drain the mixture thoroughly and return to the skillet.  Add the black beans, corn, and tomatoes with their juice.  Stir to mix.  Add the spices, stir, and heat through.

Serve the meat and vegetable mixture in tortillas.  Top with cheddar cheese.  Sour cream, guacamole, or chopped avocado is optional.

Enjoy!

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