Thursday, 1:17 PM by Michael Landweber

Thursday, 1:17 PMThursday, 1:17 PM

by Michael Landweber

Kindle Edition, 208 pg.
Coffeetown Press, 2016

Read: May 18 – 19, 2016

Towel Day is tomorrow, so it seems apropos to start with a couple of Douglas Adams lines that I’d imagine Duck quoted to himself, assuming he read the book: “This must be Thursday . . .I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” and “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” Now, if anyone could empathize with Arthur and Ford, it’s Duck.

(like I need an excuse to quote Adams, really, but I’ll take one)

And you never know, maybe he had read Adams, after all:

We’d read Fight Club in Mr. Lorenzo’s Anarchy in Modern American Fiction class . . . And Lord of the Rings in Ms. Tutwell’s Geography of Fictional Lands seminar, which somehow got me Social Studies credit. Damn, I went to a really questionable high school.

So, earlier today, I posted something from the publisher with the idea behind this one. Basically, Duck’s head is nowhere near where it should be as he walks the busy streets of D. C. and he steps out in front of a car that doesn’t hit him. Not because of lightning-fast reflexes of the driver, nor because of fantastic brakes, or because some hero pulled/pushed/tackled him out of the way. Nope, none of those — but because faster than you can say “Rod Serling,” time stopped.

Now our 17-year-old protagonist has to figure out: what happened (if he can); how to survive in this Frozen World (if he can); and most importantly — how can he get things moving again (if he can).

Simple enough premise, right? Yup. One that seems like you’ve probably read/seen it a few times (seems that way, but I can’t remember once) — but Landweber executes it like he’s the first. It feels fresh, new and innovative — while being an old stand-by, figure out how he pulled that off and I’ll probably end up talking about your book, too.

As we talked about a little while ago, there are very strict rules governing this reality and Duck figures them out pretty fast (at least fast enough to survive awhile).

Now seems like a good place to explain what people feel like in the frozen world. Skin feels like skin, hair like hair, lips like lips. It’s one of those things that is almost normal. When no one moves, you expect them to feel like molded plastic, like mannequins, limbs swiveling on set pivots without much range. A secondary possibility was that everyone would feel rubbery, like the well-preserved fetal pig [Duck’s friend] Grace dissected for me. Wrong on both counts.

The inert water hung down from the showerhead like strands of silk caressing his body. I touched one and it came away from its cohorts, wet and liquid on my fingertips.

And, yes, that sounds kind of creepy going around touching skin, hair, lips, some dude’s shower water — but don’t worry, that’s only because it is creepy. And Duck would be the first to admit that (probably while blushing). One reason I liked the paragraphs I quoted was because, yeah, molded plastic is exactly how I’d have figured it to feel.

Duck composing a “Guidebook” to how to live in this kind of reality ticks off a few boxes: lets us see his personality, lets him talk about his experimentation to discover the rules in a slightly more objective way than the rest of his narration, and lets him give the readers an info dump — several, actually — without it feeling like one. A very nice move there.

Landweber gives us a few details a little at a time about this reality, what Duck’s been going through in the days/weeks/months leading up to stepping in front of the car (like where that nickname comes from — a tale that’s both tragic and funny). As little as he’s been paying attention to the outside world, it might as well have stopped. So one of the things he does during this time is figure out what’s been going on with his friends — between family crisis and adolescent male hormones, he’s missed a lot. He just hopes that he can make up for this time.

For the most part, this book comes across as light entertainment — but there are (at least) two big dramatic stories at play here in addition to the fun and games. There’s death, the nature of love (and reality of lust, teenage style), growing up, friendship, hurting others . . . and Duck coming to grips with all of these, and coping with them isn’t done in a heavy-handed, or overly serious manner. On the whole, while you’re chuckling about something he’ll slide right into a consideration of one of the heavier themes. Over and over again, Landweber does this seamlessly so you barely notice it. No mean trick to pull off.

In addition to that, Duck deals with some pretty deep ethical questions (and doesn’t always come up with the right answer). His father, a philosopher, had posited that:

there is no good or evil without time. Empirically, he argued, man’s actions in themselves are not right or wrong. It is only the interaction of those deeds with the passage of time and the judgments of others that leads to morality. If you were to freeze time at the instant of the act, and never allow for there to be recriminations or regret or accusations or revenge, then the act itself becomes a meaningless one. No matter what that act is. Merely a moment detached from all other moments. A moment without consequence.

Duck’s got more than enough of these detached moments, moments without consequences, to deal with. And watching him deal with these ideas and try to be moral (frequently) is a really nice touch that I don’t think I expected from the premise.

It’s told in a light tone — and never gets spooky or too tense, but that doesn’t stop what Duck is dealing with from being serious — and dealt with seriously (much of the time). Landweber balances that pretty well most of the time — while keeping Duck as believable as possible in this situation. It is a compelling read, a fun read, and a moving read. Breezy enough to keep the YA crowd engaged, and thoughtful enough to make it worthwhile.

You really want to go get your hands on this one, readers, you’ll enjoy it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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4 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…Michael Landweber


For our third post on this Blog Tour stop, the author of Thursday, 1:17 PM, Michael Landweber was gracious enough to A some of my Q’s. As is typical, I kept it short and sweet, because this dude is busy and he doesn’t need to take up too much time with lil’ ol’ me. There are two questions here about the book we’re focusing on, and then we move on to more general questions. Hope you enjoy.

Michael LandweberMichael Landweber lives and writes in Washington, DC. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Barrelhouse and American Literary Review. He is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review and a contributor to Washington Independent Review of Books. Michael has a soft spot for movies about talking animals and does not believe he would survive the zombie apocalypse. His first novel We was published in 2013.

There are so many questions that I’d like to ask about some of the details of this book, but I’m going to have to settle for something about the process: did you have the rules for the Frozen World set up before beginning the book, or was that something you felt out along the way?
The rules were pretty simple and set from the beginning. Nothing moved unless it was affected by Duck. He would be the only force in the universe capable of changing anything. Otherwise, everything remained in exactly the state it was in when the world froze. Simple, right? Making up the rules was easy; following them was hard. There were many times while I writing when I would decide to do something and realize it didn’t fit in with this world. For example, in an early draft, I thought about shooting someone with a gun. But in order to fire, a gun required more than just Duck power. Similarly, I found myself realizing that he couldn’t cook anything; he could only eat food that was edible at the time the world froze. He couldn’t start a car, but he could ride a bike. So it was never a question of changing the rules. It was a constant struggle forcing myself to not cheat. Hopefully, I policed myself reasonably well. One of the reasons that I had Duck write a guidebook was because it was a great way to share everything about the frozen world I had spent so much time figuring out. That’s why you’ve got multiple pages about how to flush a toilet (and of course because I find details like that amusing).
How hard was it to get into the headspace of an almost 18 year-old (even one of above-average intelligence/thoughtfulness)? Once there — was it as much fun as it seemed?
It is always a challenge to get into a new character’s head. Or maybe the challenge is getting out of your own head. With a teenager, I did have the advantage that I was once 17 years old. However, it is true that when you become an adult, you forgot how desperate everything feels at that age. As adults, we learn to repress some emotions. It’s a survival skill. So, to write Duck, I tried to remember what it felt like when every emotion was on the surface and raw. I think that immediacy is what we lose as adults. Once I got in that mindset, it was fun to write Duck. Anytime I started to think that Duck shouldn’t be doing something, I usually put it in the book, figuring if I thought it was a bad idea then a teenager probably wouldn’t.
What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
There are so many books and TV shows that I enjoy. I’d love to have written any of them. Of course, the flip side of that is that if I had written them, then I wouldn’t get to experience them the same way. I do surprise myself sometimes when I’m writing, but that’s not the same as the visceral thrill that you can get from watching or reading someone else’s work when the unexpected hits you with a perfectly timed twist. That said, there are two very different works that I wish I could have written. First, The Martian by Andy Weir. I would love to have written something that was so meticulously researched and incredibly readable at the same time. You get to the end of the book thoroughly entertained while somehow convincing yourself that you could now survive on Mars if you had to. Second would be Breaking Bad. The entire series. I admire how strictly it stuck to its vision from the beginning. The writers didn’t seem to care how popular it got. They weren’t trying to make anyone happy. It was unflinching to the very end.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading or watching, but could never write?
I could never write a good mystery. I don’t watch or read a lot of them, but I do enjoy them when they are well done. As a reader, I never know who committed the crime. Ever. I’ll always think that it is someone who was innocent. I admire the writers who are able to put that puzzle together and keep me guessing to the last piece. But as a writer, my mysteries would probably be more like a pre-schooler’s giant floor puzzle with only four pieces and no irregular edges.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
There was one reader review posted on a website about my first novel that stuck with me. He said that after reading it he had to bleach his brain and encouraged everyone to keep the book away from children. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe that was one of my good reviews. Seriously though, there are always going to be readers who don’t like certain things I write. So far, it hasn’t changed what I decide to write next.

Guest Post: 5 Books about Time by Michael Landweber


I’m a little obsessed about the concept of time in my writing. My first book, We, was about a man who travels back in time only to get stuck as a parasite inside the head of his seven-year-old self. In my latest novel, time stops completely, except for one 17-year-old kid. I suppose the recurring theme is that we have no control over time, even when it gets a little bit wonky. In honor of my obsession, I have created a list of five time-related books (or more precisely that have the word “time” in the title) that I’ve enjoyed over the years.

1) The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
The one that started it all. The original time travel story. Without it, there never would have been Timecop. Seriously though, it is a little hard to imagine that we’d have more than a century of time travel related books, movies, TV shows, etc. if Wells hadn’t had the idea that a time machine was the way to travel to different eras. Of course, unlike most modern time travel fiction, which focuses on the ways that traveling through time can change the present, purposefully or not, Wells had his protagonist travel into the far future where he encountered a parable about class and society. Still, the guy coined the phrase “time machine.” That’s pretty cool.

2) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
We don’t need no stinking time machine. In L’Engle’s classic children’s book series, the characters travel through space by “wrinkling time” by means of the tesseract. Most writers now call it a wormhole. No vehicle required. That freed a lot of writers to just zap characters from place to place without tricking out a Delorean. The book also is about how children can save the world without the help of the adults around them, particularly parents. Hello, Harry Potter!

3) A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
OK, this one has the least to do with manipulating time though it is a story about how past family narratives can help soothe present pain. A young woman in Tokyo considers suicide, but researching the stories of her feminist Buddhist nun great-grandmother and her disgraced WWII pilot great-uncle lead her to some surprising revelations about herself.

4) Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
Amis uses a unique device to write about the horrors of the Holocaust. The narrator is a consciousness inside the head of a former Nazi who is now living a new life in America. But the story is told in reverse chronological order. Time in the book literally runs backward, so we start with the war criminal as an old man and travel unavoidably to his horrific past. It is an unusual and difficult book that allows the reader a new window into understanding the inconceivable cruelty that people are capable of.

5) Time Bandits
OK, I’m totally cheating here. Time Bandits is a movie. But it also happens to be my favorite movie. And it is about traveling through time. So there. One of Terry Gilliam’s earliest films, this one follows a young boy who falls in with a group of dwarfs who previously worked for the Supreme Being until they stole the Big Guy’s map of time holes and decided to use it to steal from the rich throughout history. That only begins to describe how gloriously messed up this movie is.

Thursday, 1:17 PM Book Tour

Thursday, 1:17 PMTime stopped. You didn’t. Now what?

Duck is 17. He will never be 18.

Tomorrow is his birthday. It will never be tomorrow.

Time stopped at 1:17 p.m. on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in Washington, DC. Duck is the only person moving in a world where all other living beings have been frozen into statues in an endless diorama. Duck was already in limbo, having lost his mother to cancer and his father to mental illness.

Now, faced with the unimaginable, he approaches his dilemma with the eye of an anthropologist and the heart of a teenager trying to do the right thing under the strangest of circumstances. Ultimately, he realizes that while he doesn’t understand the boundaries between friendship and love, that uncertain territory may be the key to restarting the world.

Trade Paperback – Available now
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
ISBN13: 9781603813570
208 pages

Coming up: We’ve got a Guest Post from Michael Landweber, a Q & A with him, too — and finally, my $.02 about the book. Come back and check these posts out (the links will work when the posts go up) — or just go get the book. Whatever.

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

CalamityCalamity

by Brandon Sanderson
Series: The Reckoners, #3

Hardcover, 417 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2016

Read: March 30 – April 2, 2016

There was more connectivity between city-states in the Fractured States than I’d once assumed. Perhaps the Epics could have survived without any kind of infrastructure, but they tended to want subjects to rule. What good was it to be an all-powerful force of destruction and fury if you didn’t have peasants to murder now and then? Unfortunately peasants had to eat, or they’d go and die before you got a chance to murder them.

That meant building up some kind of structure in your city, finding some kind of product you could trade. Cities that could produce a surplus of food could trade for power cells, weapons or luxuries. I found that satisfying. When they’d first appeared, the Epics had wantonly destroyed anything and everything, ruining the national infrastructure. Now they were forced to bring it all back, becoming administrators.

Life was so unfair. You couldn’t both destroy everything around you and live like a king.

I really enjoyed Steelheart, the first novel in this trilogy — and Firefight was a lot of fun, if not as good — it wasn’t anything serious, weighty, or bogged-down with teenage drama. Just a fun story about super-powered individuals ruling over a post-apocalyptic dystopia and the non-super-powered rebels trying to take them down. So, how’d Brandon Sanderson wrap things up? In a very mixed bag — an ending that was honest, consistent, and fitting for the series, but one I really didn’t care for.

Which is going to take some explanation.

David’s voice is as friendly, upbeat, and nerdy in the way that charmed me in the beginning. Even weighted down with added burdens and losses, he’s hung onto his core personality. His metaphors are as painful as ever — his ability to get his teammates to go along with the biggest of hare-brained schemes is intact and still astounding.

I wanted answers. They were probably here somewhere. Maybe I’d find them behind that group of robotic war drones that were extending their gun arms from behind the freezers in front of me.

Oh.

But he isn’t the same kid we met on the streets of Newcago — he’s lost his drive for revenge, it’s evolved into something else (and/or been revealed or better understood to be something else). He’s not out for blood, not out for simply overthrowing the Epics. He still wants to stop them, to restore rule to non-Epics and free them from the tyranny they’re under. But it’s because of wrong and right, for deeper reasons, purer motives.

He’s not the only one who’s changed and grown — Megan, the love of his life and former foe, has greater understanding of herself and her powers, she’s gaining more and more control of both. Part of it is self-acceptance, part of it is David’s faith in her. Either way, she’s a more entertaining character — and a less threatening force (at least as far as The Reckoners are concerned).

Thanks to their travel and experience, David and the others have a better understanding of how the world works (see the above quotation for a hint) — and some of the Epics have had to make adjustments, if for no other reason to keep their subjects alive and working. From a surprising source, we learn how the Reckoners tech works — as do they — and it’s pretty odd (and interesting). Not only that — the source of Calamity, the source of the Epics’ powers is revealed. You really can’t ask for more than that.

Well, actually you can — one of the other things that comes out of the growth and development of David (and the rest) over the series, and especially over this book, are some underlying themes that come out. They’ve been there since the beginning if you knew how to look, but here, Sanderson makes them explicit. I really appreciated them as they surfaced — I’m not sure that a lot of the YA crowd that this is targeted for would as much as I did, but many would. The last scene is pretty heartwarming, really — something I wouldn’t have expected at pretty much any point in the series (and has nothing to do with romance, for the record).

So why am I lukewarm about this? While the execution was consistent, the tone was right on-pitch and Sanderson didn’t cheat anywhere along the way to the series conclusion, I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the explanation given for the source of the powers. I didn’t like the way the last half of the book played out (mostly everything after the last battle with the Prof, really — so less than half, but the groundwork was laid at about the 50% mark). Sanderson told the story he wanted to, in a way that made sense to the rest of the series, and he never copped out or went for high drama over being true to his story. So I can’t judge it too harshly. I just didn’t care for the way it played out. Which pretty much just means that Sanderson wrote the ending he wanted and not the one I wanted. Sure, I think it’s tacky, but you can add that to the very long list of things that he didn’t ask me.

I wasn’t wowed, wasn’t thrilled with things in the end. But I really can’t complain about any of it. Fans of — or at least readers of — the series should check out the conclusion, just to get the closure it brings. Hopefully, you’ll get more out of it than I did.

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3 Stars

United States of Books – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie, Ellen Forney (Illustrator)

Author: Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews

Entertainment Weekly says about their Washington state pick– “Alexie grapples with serious issues through the not-always-serious voice of a 14-year-old caught between his life on the reservation and his entry into an all-white high school.”

Synopsis:

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Review:

I was intrigued with this book once I learned that this story was based on the author’s own experience. I was not aware of the coarse language in the book until I began reading it; which in my opinion makes this read inappropriate for younger readers. However, that said, I did appreciate that even though this teenager saw a lot of heartache and injustice, including racism and death, there is a lot of laughs throughout the story.

I like the narration of the book, hence the title. That was different than the typical read. Gave it a different feel from a story being told. Even with the racial divide in the story that the boy dealt with, I think this story is very relatable to other young adults out there (tragedy in life, being bullied, and the instability that life can bring with its ever-changing twists that life tends to do to all of us. All in all, a good book and a quick read that I would definitely recommend to everyone to read.

* Disclaimer: language may be coarse for some readers*

(Updated) The Sabbath by Arthur Nsenga & Shaunakay Francis

So, hey, this is being released today! Be sure to check it out at your retailer of choice! Help these guys make a splash (if you’re so inclined). The authors of this book have offered to give copies of the ebook to readers of this here blog! Email me at hc-dot-newton at gmail-dot-com with your preferred format and I’ll hook you up.

The SabbathThe Sabbath

by Arthur Nsenga & Shaunakay Francis

Kindle Edition, 189 pg.
Say La V Publishing, 2016

Read: January 15 – 18, 2016

So after a night of over-drinking, Lana and her “It’s Complicated”, Cory, go back to her place to sleep it off. But before they get to the door, they witness a meteorological event that defies (almost) all explanation, terrifying the two. Between the alcohol and the emotional drain, it’s not surprising that they’re exhausted enough to oversleep.

But for a day? That seems a bit much.

It turns out that everyone — and not figuratively “everyone,” but everyone — slept through the same day. So it quickly became known as “The Sabbath” — the day everyone rested. When they woke, no one was quite the same. No one could die — period. A bullet to the head would give you a killer headache, for a long time — but you’d heal. Eventually, like a slow-motion Wolverine. The downside was that you felt pain/sickness much more acutely. Not the best trade-off, but it was something.

While the world slept, many people disappeared (numbers weren’t given, but it was significant), including Cory’s mom. No one had an explanation for that, but many suspected the Government was behind it. Same for the problems with drinking water and food supplies.

Essentially, the world they woke up to was very different than the one they got drunk in. Almost an instant dystopia.

The action picks up a year later, the rich have sealed themselves up safe-and-sound (at least safer and sounder) in the inner cities, the not-rich are outside scavenging for food and drink. Cory and Lana have developed skills they’d never thought they need, as well as suspicions and fears they’d never have suspected they’d have. All of which helps them when they come into contact with a group fighting to find out what happened during The Sabbath — to the missing people, the new immortals, and the food and water. Not all of the answers will be satisfactory, but they just might help foment a revolutionary movement.

This is a YA(-ish) novel, but thankfully there’s no more than a couple of hints at a love triangle. The relationship that develops between these two has enough trouble on its own without adding more people — it felt real, if a bit overwrought — much more real than most YA triangles.

I could tell for a while that this was leading up to a sequel (if not more than one), but I wasn’t ready for the kind of sequel that the last few paragraphs seemed to indicate. There’s a lot of promise to it.

These two can tell a story, I’ll give them that — I enjoyed it and was invested in Cory, Lana and Cory’s sister, Isabel. I didn’t connect with the characters we met in the second half of the book, but I think I could’ve with a little more time. Still, the elements are there, a good story with characters you can root for. The prose itself could be more effective, it could be tighter. There are just too many grammatical problems for my comfort. For me, this was like watching a Class A baseball game — there’ll be more errors, bad throws, missed catches and bad at-bats than there will be at an MLB game, but it’s still professional baseball. It’s still enjoyable. This book may have had more than its share of technical flaws, but the heart, effort and storytelling that went into it is enough to make up for them.

This’ll scratch your Divergent itch while telling a very different story. Go pick it up when you have time.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from Shaunakay Francis in exchange for a review. Hopefully, the authors didn’t mind too much what I said (I really do like watching the local Class A team), and will think of me when the sequel’s about to come out.

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3 Stars