A Few Quick Questions With…B.C.R. Fegan

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a wonderful children’s book, Henry and the Hidden Treasure, and now the author of that book, B.C.R. Fegan is back on the blog for a few questions about the book and his writing in general.

I’m fascinated by the process of putting together a book like this — have you and Wen worked together before? Do you script it out, including the images, like a comic book writer?
Henry and the Hidden Treasure was the first book that Wen and I worked on together. She is an extremely talented illustrator which is what caught my eye in the beginning.

The actual process of working with an illustrator is fairly straightforward. Generally, the first step is to have a designer who can lay out the book with the required margins and provide the text at a size appropriate for the age group. This layout (or scamp) makes it easy for the illustrator to see how much room they have to play with, and where any negative space should be.

The next step is the brief itself. For Henry and the Hidden Treasure, a fair amount of direction was provided. This is only because when I write, I do it with the illustrations in mind. For children in this age group, the visual aspect of the story comes first and the narrative provides reinforcement to their imagination. This is why I needed scenes drawn in specific ways or from certain perspectives.

The way this is done is simply by scripting out each page with characters, events, actions taking place and anything else that reinforces what is going on in that scene. Other aspects include any colors (if they are important), lighting, perspectives, emotions or a certain ambience that I’m looking for. In addition to this, I provide overall direction that is important or that might be helpful to the illustrator. What is great though with talented artists, is they can take this direction and elevate it to a place even more impressive than the scenes visualized in the mind.

The third step is really the fine tuning. As the illustrations are completed and sent through, they are checked. Sometimes they are great the way they are – at other times, there might be some minor amendments.

The final step is receiving the files in a project format ready for the design stage.

As I mentioned it is fairly straightforward but by no means the only way of working with an illustrator. Wen and I work together really well and the process has always been quite smooth. I’m very lucky to know her.

Of all the ideas flitting around your head, what was it about this one that made you say, “this is the one.”
When I consider ideas for children’s books, I generally try to center my thoughts on exciting subjects or narratives. I want my books to be filled with imagination rather than lessons. So for Henry and the Hidden Treasure, the whole idea came about from considering hidden treasure – particularly as a child might perceive it. It was from this point that the story itself was crafted.

Once complete, I didn’t really pick up the manuscript and think that it was ‘the one’. I guess my approach might be a little different to other authors, but by centering my thoughts on something that children already find exciting, I’m fairly confident that the idea will naturally develop into a nice story.

I appreciated the subtlety of the moral/lesson to Henry and the Hidden Treasure — how’d you decide to convey it that way?
As I mentioned previously, the subject of hidden treasure was where the story began. I think this leant itself quite well to considering what real hidden treasure might be in the context of the family unit – particularly with siblings.

I wanted this to be a subtle theme rather than the driving force behind the book, mainly because I think imagination should take priority. Too many books start with the lesson, and often the narrative feels contrived.

In the writing of Henry and the Hidden Treasure, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
This is a difficult question. Henry and the Hidden Treasure actually came together fairly organically. I guess in a sense, writing it was quite easy. However, I remember something my father once said to me that I think applies to authors as well.

I remember as a child watching my father, a locksmith, unlock customer’s front doors very quickly – sometimes in just a few seconds. On the rare occasion, a minor objection would be made about the cost in relation to the time it took to open the lock. He explained to me later that what so many people fail to realize is that his ability to open the lock so quickly was because he had dedicated his life to perfecting his craft. What sat behind those few seconds, was decades of training, study, understanding the right tools and constant practice.

I enjoy writing, and have been reading and writing for as long as I can remember. Henry and the Hidden Treasure was definitely a pleasure to write and I certainly wouldn’t say any aspect of it was difficult. However I don’t want to leave the impression that this was just a lucky break. The difficulty for most authors I think lies in everything that came before!

What’s next for you? Are you sticking with the children’s books?
I actually have a long list of children’s books going through the stages of publishing. The next one should be out toward the end of the year. In addition to children’s books, I am in the process of writing Young Adult Fiction. I think the future will include children’s picture books, young adult fiction – and probably everything in between.
Thanks for your time, Mr. Fegan. Readers (especially those with younger kids) — go check out Henry and the Hidden Treasure.

The Driver (Audiobook) by Hart Hanson, Ari Fliakos

The DriverThe Driver

by Hart Hanson, Ari Fliakos (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs and 11 mins .
Penguin Audio, 2017

Read: August 10 – 14, 2017


Michael Skellig was a Special Forces Sergeant in the Army, who came out of the War on Terror with more than just scars and stories. He also came back with a burden to help Vets. So far, he’s gathered a small group of them around him in his limo company. It’s more than just a company, it’s a family — a place for them all to heal. These are the strangest, most tragic, yet funniest group of characters you’re likely to meet this year. You’ll be glad that Hanson introduced you to them as well as being a little angry that he does what he does to them.

Skellig is driving for a skating mogul/rap musician/all around lifestyle entrepreneur, Bismarck Avila, and he stumbles upon an attempt on Avila’s life and thwarts it — with no help at all from Avila’s bodyguards. Avila blackmails Skellig into driving for him regularly (no, really) which gets Skellig involved in Avila’s less-than-legal activities. All Skellig is trying to do is keep Avila alive — and maybe find out why people are trying to kill him.

But Avila’s criminal associates and rivals don’t understand that, they think Skellig is an accomplice, assistant, or just generally in cahoots with Avila. So they come looking for a pound of flesh from Skellig and his little found family, hoping that’ll result in them getting what Avila owes them. All it does is provoke Skellig.

Skellig isn’t your typical thriller figure — he’s got a couple of PhD’s — one in mathematics, a sense of duty and loyalty, a knack for categorizing people using Hippocrates’ four humors (hey, it beats Myers–Briggs Types — at least for entertainment value), and an odd sense of humor. I don’t know that Hanson’s setting this up as a series, but if he is, Skellig is going to be one of my favorite series’ leads soon.

Avila . . . I just don’t know what to say about him. He’s an interesting weasel of a character. There are times when you’d like Skellig to just walk away and let the police or some criminal or another take him out. Other times you feel sorry for the kid and hope someone protects him from himself and his dumb choices.

The plot moves quickly — not so much that you don’t get invested in characters, their hopes, dreams, phobias — and steadily. There’s a wit to the writing, as well as to the dialogue. Skellig’s right-hand-man is his former interpreter, an Afghan man, is wise, funny and wily — he’s also Skellig’s conscience pretty often. The two of them going back and forth is one of the highlights of the month for me. The writing is crisp, descriptive (sometimes you might feel overly so, as you read descriptions about the kinds of trauma visited upon bodies/body parts), and engaging. Really, for a debut, this is some outstanding work.

Ari Fliakos does a fantastic job — accents, voices, emotions, humor — he nails them all. Last year, I listened to his narration of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which was easily as good as this. But I didn’t recognize his voice — the only reason I know both books had the same reader is that’s what the Internet tells me — the performance he gives is so good. I’ve got to make a point of listening to more things with his name on them.

The Driver is perfect for fans of Shane Kuhn’s John Lago books (The Intern’s Handbook, Hostile Takeover) or Josh Bazell’s Peter Brown (Beat the Reaper) books — but a little less violent. Just as smart, just as witty, just as . . . not your typical thriller. This is probably the best thing that Hanson’s ever brought into the world, I hope this is the first in a long line of novels from him.

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4 Stars

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart

Miss Kopp's Midnight ConfessionsMiss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #3

eARC, 384 pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

Read: August 15 16, 2017


Without meaning to slight Girl Waits with Gun or Lady Cop makes Trouble, this is the best constructed novel in this series. There’s a unity of theme, stories that complement each other, and a level of (honest) introspection from the characters that we haven’t seen before. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed it nearly as much as I did the others. So it’s a little bit of a trade-off.

We are treated to three stories of young women, one sixteen year-old and two eighteen year-olds, who leave home for various reasons. They all want something more than they can have at home — meaning, a job, excitement, freedom, and maybe something more. One girl did everything right, but sill was arrested for waywardness. One was pretty foolish, and did some illegal things, but was really arrested for the foolish mistake. The third was Constance’s little sister, Fleurette. Constance went to bat for all three — interceding with the law (when applicable), with family (when she could), trying to give them the ability to live the life they wanted to — and each of them pressed Constance’s ability, job and standing as she did so.

While this is going on, Constance is making headlines across the nation — making her both a distraction to her friend the Sheriff, as well as a voice for social change. I know she regrets the former, and I’m not convinced she relishes the latter. If she had her druthers, I think Constance would prefer just to do her job and be left alone. But she is learning how to use her notoriety — or at least her relationship with members of The Press — to help her accomplish her goals.

Constance begins to come to terms with some very unfortunate realities of her life, and begins to grasp what the future may hold for her, both professionally and personally. In some way (I think), she thought she could keep the life she had and just add on her job on top of it. But between her fame, the time she spends away from the home, Fleurette’s aging and getting ready to leave the nest, and everything else going on around the sisters, that’s no longer possible. Her old life is gone, and the new one is too in flux for her to get a handle on it. Assuming that there are more Kopp Sister novels to come, watching Constance figure out what her life will be — and hopefully she gets a hand in shaping it — will be the key to the series as it progresses.

On the whole, this one didn’t work as well for me as the previous books did. But several of the individual elements I found compelling and wanted more of — I wish we got more of the story about Edna Heustis (I don’t need to know what happened over the rest of her life, I just want a clearer picture of the next few months) or her roommate. I’d have liked more interaction between Constance and her boss — we just didn’t get enough of them — and an honest conversation about the future would’ve been nice. I did think the ending of the Fleurette story was handled perfectly — I don’t think I’d change a thing about that whole storyline, really. Still, this novel was somehow less than the sum of its parts, for me — but I can easily see where I’ll be in the minority for thinking that. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, I just should’ve enjoyed it more.

Strong characters, some strong themes (ones you usually don’t see in Detective fiction), and a tumultuous time period (for several reasons) combine to deliver another satisfying entry in this series that’ll please existing fans and probably pick up a few more.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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3.5 Stars

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

The BlindsThe Blinds

by Adam Sternbergh

Hardcover, 382 pg.
Ecco, 2017

Read: August 17 – 19, 2017


I just finished this and am not sure how to talk about it. I don’t know what I can say without ruining things, so I’m just going to copy and paste from Sternbergh’s page:

Welcome to Caesura, Tx, aka The Blinds, a dusty town in the Texas Panhandle cut off from the outside world and populated entirely by former criminals and witnesses put in protective custody. The twist: None of these people know who they are, because all of them have had their memories of their pasts erased. All the better to give them a fresh start and a second chance. But one thing is clear to them: If they leave the Blinds, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

If I say one more thing about the plot/premise I’m afraid that I’ll ruin things for you. The book starts off with a whole lot of exposition, setting up the world (well, town, to be accurate) it takes place in — but Sternberg works that in well with the plot, so it doesn’t get bogged down with the exposition. Then once the dominoes are all set up, he knocks them down and you just sit back and watch.

But you don’t actually sit back — you lean forward in your seat and turn the pages quickly. At one point there are four or five conflicting plans at work, and it’s a footrace to see which will get accomplished first (and hopefully not get supplanted by another). At times it seems like any of them will end up working out — they’re all plausible.

It’s just so great. So compelling. Such a fun ride.

Yeah, the characters could be a bit more fully-developed, but that’s hard when part of their history, part of their personality — part of them — has been deleted. So, I’m not sure I can actually complain about that. We do get plenty about who the characters are in the here and now — definitely enough to get you invested in them.

In this driving plot, there’s some exploration of the nature of memory, of personality, of the nature of man, of evil. There’s some moments of triumph, of despair, heartbreak, and more than a couple of instances of “what??” You will learn a Russian phrase that will chill you to your bone and you will be ever so happy that Sternberg found gainful employment in journalism rather than turning to a life of crime.

On page 119, I wrote, “I’m either going to hate this ending or I’m going to be recommending this book for months.” And I didn’t hate it — Sternberg’s got another winner here. If his Shovel Ready wasn’t your thing, this is different enough that you should give it a shot. He’s got a strong voice, a twisted imagination and a knack for story telling — this book as secured him a place on my “auto-read” list.

Just go read the thing, I’m going to stop before I ruin something.

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4 1/2 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany – 8/19/17

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Shaun Hume, dreamnoiseblog, Alice @ Arctic Books and thrillersuspense for following the blog this week.

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

SkyfarerSkyfarer

by Joseph Brassey
Series: Drifting Lands, #1

eARC, 352 pg.
Angry Robot Books, 2017

Read: August 11 – 14, 2017


I’ve read a few interesting mergers of SF and Fantasy this year — some that were just that, interesting, some that were good — a couple that were more than good. Thankfully, Brassey’s Skyfarer was in that latter camp. Even in those early chapters where I was still trying to figure out the world, remember which name lined up with what character, and get a handle on the plot, I had a sense that this was going to be one of those books I talked about very positively — and very often. That sense just only got stronger as the book went on.

I feel like could go on for pages about this book — but won’t let myself (so I can avoid the wrath of Angry Robot and you can actually get something out of reading it yourself — which you have to go do as soon as it comes out).

So you’ve got this group called the Eternal Order — a group committed to death, destruction, power, and plunder. When it comes to numbers, they can’t stand up to the civilizations around them, at least when they ally themselves against the Order. But when they (rarely, it seems) can come in with a quick strike against one people they can wreak much havoc. Which is exactly what they do here — they come in and demand that the rulers of Port Providence hand over the Axiom Diamond, or they will wipe them out — and it’s clear that Lord Azrael, the commander, isn’t being hyperbolic. The royal family responds with armed resistance, which has some measure of success, but is primarily fighting losing battles.

Into the midst of this looming genocide comes a wayward spacecraft, the Elysium. The Elysium is a small carrier with more weapons than one should expect (we’re initially told this, anyway). The crew has just welcomed an apprentice mage, fresh from the academy, to complete her studies with her mentor/professor. Aimee de Laurent has been pushing herself for years to excel, to be the best — if there’s a sacrifice to be made for her studies, she’s made it. All leading up to this day, where her professor, Harkon Bright has taken her as an apprentice on his exploration ship to complete her education. She joins a crew that’s been together for years and is eager to find her place within them.

When the Elysium arrives in the middle of this, it doesn’t take anything approaching calculus for them to figure out what this particular crew is going to do. There’s The Eternal Order on one side, civilians and the remnants of the military on the other. There’s a ravaged civilization on one side and the ravagers on the other. There’s a group trying to prevent The Eternal Order from getting something they want and there’s, well, The Eternal Order. So our band of adventurers tell the remnants of the royal family that they’ll hunt down the Axiom and protect it.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea for a story — but man, it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason everyone and their brother has tried this — it’s a good story. Especially when it’s told well. And, I’m here to tell you that Joseph Brassey tells it really well. Not just because of his hybridization of SF and Fantasy, but because he can take a story that everyone’s taken a shot at and make it seem fresh, he can deliver the excitement, he can deliver the emotion. There is some horrible stuff depicted — either in the present or in flashbacks; there’s some pretty tragic stuff; and yet this is a fun read — the pacing, the tone, everything makes this feel like the adventure films and books that I grew up on. You want to read it — not just to find out what’s going to happen next, but because it’s written in such a way that you just want to be reading the book, like a having a glass of iced tea on a summer’s day.

The characters could uniformly use a little more fleshing out — which isn’t a weakness in the writing. Brassey pretty much points at the places where the reader will more details (especially when it comes to Aimee and Harkon), making us want more than he’s giving us. What we’re given, though, is enough to make you root for or against them, hope that they survive (or are subjected to painful and humiliating defeat), or simply enjoy the camaraderie. The good news is, that there’s more to learn about everyone — about their past and their present — and how those shape their future.

You’ve got magic — various schools of magic, too, each with its own understanding of what magic is and how it can be used; you’ve got swords and lasers (and similar kinds of weapons); you’ve got space ships running of magic (not just hyperspace drives that act like magic); objects and persons of prophecy; beings and intelligences that aren’t explicable — tell me why you wouldn’t want to read this? Especially when you throw in epic sword fights, magic duels, and spacecraft action all written by someone who writes like a seasoned pro. Sign me up for the sequel!

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Angry Robot Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin

Let it BleedLet it Bleed

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus,, #7

Hardcover, 287 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 1996

Read: August 9 – 10, 2017

He stood there shivering after the warmth of the pub and his car. He was a few yards from where the boys had jumped. The area was cordoned off with metal barriers, anchored by sandbags. Two yellow metal lamps marked off the danger area. Someone had climbed over the barriers and laid a small wreath next to the broken rail, weighing it down with a rock so it wouldn’t be blown away. He looked up at the nearest of the two vast supports, red lights blinking at its summit as a warning to aircraft. He didn’t really feel very much, except a bit lonely and sorry for himself. The Forth was down there, as judgmental as Pilate. It was funny the things that could kill you: water, a ship’s hull, steel pellets from a plastic case. It was funny that some people actually chose to die.

“I could never do it,” Rebus said out loud. “I couldn’t kill myself.”

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t thought of it. It was funny the things you thought about some nights. It was all so funny, he felt a lump forming in his throat. It’s only the drink, he thought. It’s the drink makes me maudlin. It’s only the drink.

Yeah, right.

Before we get to this moment of self-deception (or self-mockery, it could go either way with his sense of humor), we’re treated to what’s quite possibly the most action-packed few pages in the series thus far — more happens in the first 6 pages of this novel than can happen in chapters of Rebus novels. Two suspected kidnappers are leading the police on a high-speed chase, and no one’s relishing it more than Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale. No one’s hating it more than Inspector John Rebus. Things go really bad from there, but not in the way that anyone expects (least of all the reader, as jaded as we might be from too many crime novels).

While the police are still trying to sort out what exactly happened there, a man walks into a (poorly attended) public meeting with a Councilman and shoots himself in front of the Councilman. Once Rebus visits the widow, something starts bugging him. There’s just something wrong with that suicide (more than just what has to be wrong to lead to a suicide). Rebus starts asking some questions. Before he realizes it, he’s investigating two incidents of suicide connected to two Councilmen.

And then pressure comes down on Rebus to stop. Which works about as well as you’d think. He’s “encouraged” to take a few days of leave, which he uses to dive in without restraints to get his answers. This series as dabbled in political intrigue, power brokering and the like before, Let it Bleed takes it up a notch. What can happen to Rebus if he falters — or what can happen to him if he makes all the right people happy — shows that he’s in a whole other league now.

And then after all the action at the beginning of the novel, Rankin gives us an incredibly talky ending. And it works. Not many novels about police officers or detectives end with as much dialogue, as many meetings, as this does, but it’s entirely satisfying. No one’ll be sitting there for the last couple of chapters just wishing for a car chase, a gun fight, or anything like that. Rebus being smarter, wilier, and unwilling to bend is what makes this ending not only inevitable, but just what the reader needs.

There are a lot of criminals in this novel, but most of them aren’t your typical mystery novel “bad guys.” They’re guys who take advantage of the system, manipulate the system, and then try to protect their assets (that last one is the most problematic). There are textbook villains — and not all of them pay for it — but with Rebus around, you know that some justice will be meted out.

Our favorites are back — so is Patience — Rebus’ daughter’s back in Edinburgh, on her own now. Siobhan Clarke, Farmer Watson, Gill Templer, and Brian Holmes all are involved. Clarke is the most interesting, yet again, her determinism and ability to stay (pretty much) in line with her superiors while helping Rebus make her a fun character to spend time with. She’s more involved in these cases than she has been in the past — and it’s good to see Rebus having someone allied with him. Thankfully, she’s a good police officer, too. Because, honestly, Rebus is a horrible police detective. He’s just too much of a lone wolf, too intuitive, not the kind of detective you want building a case for you. With Templer, Farmer and Clarke around, at least he’s got some good, capable help.

A gripping, tense, intriguing, and frequently funny, novel. Let it Bleed is just a great book. This series has been growing on me, little by little for seven books now, that’s pretty clear. Let it Bleed is above and beyond the best of the bunch, and I am looking forward to what’s coming up.

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4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge