Interview: Stephen Whitfield, Author Omari and the People

WhitfieldOmariAndThePeopleEveryone, please welcome Stephen Whitfield to the blog today! He’s here to chat about other great historical fiction novels, difficult jobs in comparison to writing, and more! I’ve quite enjoyed Whitfield’s novel, Omari and the People. A big thank you to Jess at The Audio Book Worm for setting up this book tour. Swing by the tour page to catch more interview, reviews, guest posts, and giveaways (including audiobook giveaways!).

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

I believe modern fantasy reflects the culture which produces it. What entertains us says a lot about the best and worst of who we are, through fantastic tales of violence and magic, romance and natural beauty.

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

I have re-read the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian three times, and I intend to read them again. The man has a lot to say and he says it marvelously.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

I’d like for the mundane details in life to only be used in my writing where there is meaning for them, without causing unnecessary offense. Gratuitous vulgarity can spoil a story.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

Once I worked as a temp paralegal in Manhattan and I was so good at it the firm offered me a permanent job as an accountant. The problem was, I had no experience as an accountant, but the money was so good I could not turn it down. Lasted a week. I know something about writing, so writing compares favorably.

Which ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

The Odyssey by Homer. Seems like it is a great, smart story.

In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

I enjoy the outcome of promotion more than the act itself. I like to see sales and even more, thoughtful reviews which come as a result of a successful campaign. I am not a big fan of social media but I’m told it is an essential part of advertising.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

Leo Tolstoy, Patrick O’Brian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Phillip K. Dick, Malcolm X, Dorothy Day. (Is that five?) They would order Fish and Loaves.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

War and Peace

You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

I would invite the men of Com Platoon, 2nd Battalion, Second Marines,circa 1982. I would imagine there would be a great deal of tasty libations involved.

StephenWhitfieldAuthorAbout Stephen Whitfield

Chicago-born Stephen Whitfield began writing as a Marine Corps print journalist. His writing has appeared in military publications, as well as the Kansas City Star and the Jersey Journal. He holds degrees from from Loyola University Chicago, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Indiana University. His various adventures have taken him to such places as London, Paris, Trondheim, Johannesburg, Beirut, most of The Virgin Islands and the wilder neighborhoods of Chicago.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~Facebook

WhitfieldOmariAndThePeopleSynopsis of Omari and the People

In a squalid ancient city on the edge of a desert (based in part on the African Sahara’s Empty Quarter) a weary, thrill-seeking thief named Omari sets his home afire to start anew and to cover his many crimes. When the entire city is unintentionally destroyed by the flames, the cornered thief tells the displaced people a lie about a better place which only he can lead them to, across the desert. With the help of an aged, mysterious woman who knows a better place actually does exist, they set out. The desperate people must come together to fight their way through bandits, storms, epidemics, and more. As a result of Omari’s involvement with Saba, a fiercely independent woman who is out to break him in the pay of a merchant whom he has offended, his ability  to lead – his very life – is jeopardized.

Audible        Amazon

Omari and the People by Stephen Whitfield

WhitfieldOmariAndThePeopleWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Curt Simmons

Publisher: ShirleyCastle Press (2016)

Length: 11 hours 17 minutes

Author’s Page

Omari is a talented thief, but he’s not so smart when it comes to women. He has riches, a beautiful wife, and a big house. Yet his wife becomes angry with him and heads off to the city guard to tell of his many crimes. In an attempt to erase evidence of his wrongdoings, he sets fire to his house. Unfortunately, the flames don’t stop there and the entire city is lost. Now Omari, feeling quite bad about this, tells the people a lie about a wonderful land beyond the desert sands. There the adventure begins as a discordant group of people must either come together to succeed or will fall apart under the numerous assaults they suffer.

This is a beautiful, captivating story. In very little time, I was caught up in the tale. Omari is a flawed young man with a good heart. He grew up thieving, having no one to take care of him. Yet, he also goes out of his way to see that the homeless old woman, Umal, has regular food and wine. Once he accidentally burns the city down, he knows he can’t stay with Sumosi’s group of people, for Sumosi and many of his guards would love to beat Omari to death. Yet he can’t survive in the desert on his own. Partly out of hope, partly out of desperation, he concocts a story about a far off land, rich in food and water. Others wish to leave and so they band together behind Omari.

One of my favorite things about this story is that the women were just as varied, useful, and flawed as the men. Saba is great with a bow. Jasmina was the best dance instructor in the city before it burned. Umal is a unique character who perhaps has special powers, or perhaps is just very good at reading people and lucky in circumstance. Sofia, mother of two young sons (Haroun and Zolani), teaches this newly formed caravan how to make flatbread. The men are just as interesting. Bin Aswad, a cloth merchant with two daughters, has his pride and when his pride is injured, he can’t let it go. Umbaric used to be the captain of the guards. As such, he knows about Omari’s previous life. It was great to see how Omari eventually won Umbaric over. There’s plenty more characters, and each one brings some facet to this caravan story.

As Omari’s caravan searches for this fabled land, they have to endure much. The first difficulty is in procuring camels, then in learning how to load, ride, and care for the camels. Desert storms, swarms of flies, pestilence, severe dehydration, and raiders are all things the caravan will have to learn to deal with. I appreciate that the author didn’t keep everything all roses; he threw in some thorns and not every character comes out of this story intact.

As a side note, there were oryx, which I have a fondness for. It was great to read about the first oryx hunt by these once-city dwellers. It reminded me of my first time seeing oryx in the New Mexico desert, chasing them in a Jeep. I, like some of those hunters, was not too smart in that moment.

The ending was very satisfying. Omari has changed little by little throughout the story. Other characters have also grown through their experiences. Umal eventually reveals a little more about her nature, though much is left to the reader to guess. I recommend this excellent story be paired with a strong mint tea.

I received this audiobook at no cost from the author (via The Audio Book Worm) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Curt Simmons does an excellent job with this story. He had a light Arabic accent, perhaps Egyptian, for the entire book. I love it when narrators go out of their way to do this as it makes such a difference in how much I become submerged in the story. He had a great young man’s voice for Omari. He also did a great job with the female voices. Umal sounds like an old woman, Sofia sounds like a worried mother, Saba sounds like a determined young lady. I especially liked his half-joking, sometimes sly voice for Umbaric. 

What I Liked: Everything!; that’s a great book cover; excellent narration; the characters grow throughout the story; folks make mistakes; cranky camels; oryx; the importance of food, dance, and song; a beautiful ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing  – this is a solid story.  

What Others Think:

Book for Thought

Jenn Faughnan

The Audio Book Worm

Guest Post: Using Fiction to Interest Young Readers in Non-Fiction by Henry Herz

Hello everyone, please welcome Henry Herz to the blog today. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Henry in the past as well as enjoying his clever children’s rhyming book Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes. One of his other books, When You Give an Imp a Penny, was beautifully illustrated and mischievously fun! Today, we’re celebrating the release of his latest children’s book, Little Red Cuttlefish. Without further ado, enjoy the guest post!

Using Fiction to Interest Young Readers in Non-Fiction by Henry Herz

I think it’s fair to say that parents want their kids to develop both the right-brain creativity stoked by reading fiction, AND the left-brain analytical capacity encouraged from reading non-fiction. Both help round out young minds. Both improve school grades and SAT scores. Both are useful life skills.

Sadly, many young readers view only fiction as fun reading; looking down their cute noses at “boring” non-fiction. This makes fiction the chocolate pudding of the literary banquet table. History, math, and science are relegated to the role of lima beans, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Boy are they steamed!

Now, I love fiction. After all, I write fiction picture books – like the fractured fairy tale, Little Red Cuttlefish recently released by Pelican Publishing. And I moderate fantasy literature panels at San Diego Comic-Con. That said, I’ve also been long fascinated by history, math, and science.

HerzLittleRedCuttlefish

So, how do we get kids to use both sides of their brains and eat their literary vegetables? Well, as a parent, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve resorted to melting cheese on vegetables so my co-author sons eat what’s good for them. And why not use the same technique with my writing?

Little Red Cuttlefish is a good example of this approach. The story is an aquatic retelling of the classic fairy tale. In the original, Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed whole by the wolf – not a very savory outcome (for the girl, anyway). In Little Red Cuttlefish, the plucky cephalopod protagonist uses her wits and natural defense mechanisms to thwart a hungry tiger shark.

Aside from a more positive message (they were called the Brothers Grimm, after all), the aquatic version is intended to spark young readers’ interest in learning about sea creatures, zoology, and science in general. Toward that end, the story showcases the superhero-like abilities of cuttlefish, and an author’s note serves up fascinating facts about cuttlefish and tiger sharks, an excerpt of which is below.

Cuttlefish aren’t fish at all. They are members of a class of animals that includes squids, octopuses, and nautiluses. They have a porous shell inside their bodies, called a cuttlebone, which is used to control their buoyancy.

Male cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles. Female cuttlefish have only six arms and two tentacles. The arms and tentacles have suckers for grabbing prey. And if that isn’t strange enough, their blood is greenish blue.

Cuttlefish have an amazing ability to quickly change the color, pattern, and texture of their skin. Cuttlefish can use this camouflage to sneak up on their prey, which consists mostly of crabs and fish.

The cuttlefish’s ability to quickly change color also helps it avoid being hunted by sharks, dolphins, seals, and other predators. If camouflage doesn’t work and it is spotted by a predator, a cuttlefish can squirt out a cloud of brown ink to help it hide.

LittleRedCuttlefish

Now, what kid wouldn’t want the superpowers of changing color, squirting ink, and multiple sucker-covered arms? As if by magic, fiction can point young minds in the direction of non-fiction. “Why, yes, I WILL have some broccoli now.”

 

Places to Stalk Henry

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Pelican Publishing Company and Little Red Cuttlefish

Little Red Cuttlefish by Henry Herz, Josh Herz, & Harrison Herz

HerzLittleRedCuttlefishWhere I Got It: Review copy

Illustrator: Kate Gotfredson

Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company (2016)

Length: 32 pages

Author’s Page

This is an aquatic retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale. Little Red, a cuttlefish, is set to deliver crabcakes to Grandma. Little Red looks forward to sharing krill cakes with her. She makes it there safely and that’s when the tiger shark shows up! The shark sniffs for her as she plays hide and seek. Little Red has to use her natural abilities, her smarts, and gumption to outwit the tiger shark.

There’s one page where Red has obviously changed colors (to gold like her mom) but no mention of the cuttlefish’s ability to change color is mentioned in the text. For small children this might be the only confusing part, but it also provides a chance for the reader and the kid to chat about the natural abilities of cuttlefish. This particular ability is mentioned in the Author’s Note at the back of the book, along with other factoids about cuttlefish. I like that info on the tiger shark is also included at the end of the book. The authors also provide links to additional resources on sea life in this section. The whole package is a great little introduction to sea life for small kids.

Illustrations: Brilliant colors worthy of a living coral reef are used. I like how the angle changes too throughout the story, sometimes looking side on and sometimes from above, like a scuba diver. The facial expressions on the characters are great, like when the tiger shark bumps his face into the coral. A variety of sea life is illustrated in this book: sea cucumber, shrimp, octopus, tiger shark, and staghorn coral.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

What I Liked: A fun story; a variety of sea life; showing off the cuttlefish abilities; additional sea life facts in the Author’s Note; some links for more info; great illustrations.

What I Disliked: None – a fun book for little kids!

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

BrownGoldenSonWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds

Publisher: Recorded Books (2015)

Length: 19 hours 2 minutes

Series: Book 2 Red Rising

Author’s Page

Note: You really need to read Book 1, Red Rising, to understand this book.

This book picks up several months (a year?) after the end of Red Rising. It’s a space battle! Well, it’s a training space battle for the Academy. Darrow and his crew finish out the contest well enough, but then Darrow is publicly humiliated. Darrow is on the brink of losing it all and he must make some daring moves to maintain what he has worked so hard to achieve. Yet with his boldness comes new challenges and new enemies.

I thoughts the story couldn’t get any better when I finished Book 1, but I was wrong. Golden Son has impressed me more than Red Rising did. I became attached to several of the characters in Book 1 and that held true for Book 2. Darrow remains a complex character, discovering new parts to himself as he continues his ruse as a Gold. The layers of lies start to weigh on him and some of his closest friends notice his moodiness. There were so many times where I wasn’t sure whether Darrow should open up to a friend or not – can any of them be trusted with his deepest secret? Argh! It was nail biting!

There were moments where I was cheering the book on, doing a little fist pump when no one could see me doing so. Then there were times that my eyes misted up a bit. There are several intense moments in this book. Tactus. Mustang. Quinn. Darrow’s mom. Even though this book wrung emotions from me I wasn’t sure I had before, when I finished it, I wanted to go reread the first 2 books again.

While Book 1 took place all on Mars, Book 2 spreads out a bit and we get to see more of this terraformed solar system. Book 1 taught us the basics of this hierarchical society, but Golden Son shows us people from these other castes and what they are capable of. Darrow certainly has his hands full with the Sons of Ares and trying to upturn this caste system.

And why don’t we chat about the Sons of Ares. I, like Darrow, was expecting them to be all on the same page. Unfortunately for Darrow, that was not so. This added another dimension to the plot and made one more dangerous pitfall for Darrow to avoid. Though I did guess who Ares was early on, it was still a great reveal scene.

Next to Darrow, Sevro is my favorite character. He acts crude and rude all the time, but he has these shinning moments where he sets the bar high for what true friendship is. To my surprise, I became a bit attached to Victra. Perhaps it was her unashamedly flirtatious manner. Ragnar was an excellent new addition to Darrow’s circle of friends. The characters all around are just very well done. I love that the author doesn’t hold back from placing female characters in every job a male character traditionally holds in so much of SFF literature. The swordswoman Ajah is terrifying. The Sovereign is wickedly smart but also too proud of that fact.

The ending is super intense and I am so glad I have Book 3 lined up and ready to go. Golden Son does end on a cliffhanger and if I had read this book a year ago before Book 3 was out, this might have bothered me. Books 1 & 2 have set the bar high for Book 3 – I have every expectation it will live up to it!

The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds continues to do this series justice. I love that he shows a little of Darrow’s Red heritage in his accent when he thinks of home, yet maintains his cultured Gold accent throughout the novel. His voice for Ragnar is very well done, considering limitations on human vocal cords. Surprisingly, Reynolds does a very good sexy vixen for Victra. 

What I Liked: The series continues to impress!; we get to see more of the the settled solar system; the witty scene between Darrow and the Sovereign; this book brings out the emotions but also packs a lot of action as well; very intense ending!

What I Disliked: Nothing – truly an excellent read!

What Others Think:

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The Book Smugglers

Cuddlebuggery

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Scott Sigler

TeenReads

Kushiel’s Mercy Read Along – The Schedule

Streak being calm & snuggly.

Streak being calm & snuggly.

The Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey (of which Kushiel’s Mercy is Book 3 of the second trilogy) is one of my all time favorite series. After dealing with some medical stuff, I’ve returned to continue the read along! Below is the schedule.

Here is the current schedule:

Oct.  9th Week 1: Chpts. 1-10 (Hosted by Dab of Darkness)
Oct. 16th Week 2: Chpts. 11-22 (Hosted by Tethyan Books)
Oct. 23rd Week 3: Chpts. 23-35 (Hosted by Emma Wolf)
Oct. 30th Week 4: Chpts. 36-49 (Hosted by Emma Wolf)
Nov. 6th Week 5: Chpts. 50-62 (Hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog)
Nov. 13th Week 6: Chpts. 63-75 (Hosted by Tethyan Books)
Nov. 20th Week 7: Chpts. 76-END (Hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow)

And here is the current list of participators:
Allie at Tethyan Books
Lynn at Lynn’s Book Blog
Emily at Emma Wolf
Susan (me) at Dab of Darkness
Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow

As always, folks are welcome to jump in and join us. You don’t have to be a host or a blogger. You can always choose the easy route and tackle the weekly discussion in the comments of the hosting blog. We also have a Goodreads Group started for SF/F Read Alongs in general, and there is a specific folder for this read along. You are welcome to follow the fun there as well. If you want to be on the weekly email, just leave me a comment or shoot me an email with KUSHIEL’S MERCY in the subject (nrlymrtl@gmail.com).

Dune by Frank Herbert

HerbertDuneWhere I Got It: Own it

Narrators: Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, Ilyana Kadushin

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (2007)

Length: 21 hours 8 minutes

Series: Book 1 Dune, Book 12 Dune Saga

Author’s Page

Set in a sweeping science fiction universe, the human empire is vast and complicated. Spice, from the planet Arrakis (aka Dune) powers it all, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in not so subtle ways. For years, the Harkonnen family has managed Dune for the Emperor, but now the Emperor has handed control of that planet over to House Atreides. Of course, the Harkonnens will do whatever they can to take down the Atreides. Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica will have to learn how to survive the most harshest zones of this desert planet in order to survive the Harkonnen.

I have read this book so many times over the years and each time I take something new from it. I was originally fascinated by the book because of the desert planet, which holds such great significance for the plot. Having spent most of my life in one desert or another, I really appreciated that Herbert built real desert life into the scenery. It’s not all sandy dunes, dry heat, and wind. Plus there’s giant sandworms and who doesn’t love giant worms of any kind?

This book is full of cool SF tech as well. There’s the small transport ships for collecting the Spice in the desert, the enormous space going vessels, personal protective shields, assassin’s tricks and tools, the specialized desert suits that reclaim and recycle the body’s water, and plenty more. If you’ve only seen the various movies/mini-series based on the book, then you are missing out.

The characters are also fascinating. While some are drawn simply, they still have motives and are useful to the plot. The main characters are layered, complex, have faults and foibles. Duke Leto, Paul’s father, comes across as a capable ruler who is worthy of respect. He is sure in his priorities and his code of honor. Jessica, Leto’s concubine and most trusted companion, is Bene Gesserit trained. Yes, she does scheme but her reasons are solidly good. Still, she miscalculates and makes mistakes. Paul starts off as a smart but somewhat sheltered boy. His story arc tosses him into a world of danger, literally, and there are so many ways he could have ended up dead. Gurney Halleck, Paul’s troubadour warrior trainer, is also a favorite. He has some of the roughest humor but also pushes Paul the hardest.

For a book that has staunchly remained in the SF genre, there is a mystical side to the story. The Bene Gesserit is a long-standing sisterhood that has spread it’s seeds of religion throughout the human universe. Most are trained from birth in mental abilities as well as history, languages, and martial arts. They also have the Voice, which allows them to compel most people to simple actions. The Bene Gesserit use the Spice to peek into the future (a talent called prescience) and thereby have kept humanity from being snuffed out by this disaster or that (or it’s own stupidity). Yet there is a place they can’t look, a place that terrifies them. Paul will play a role in helping them discover what is hidden there. Since this mystical element to the story can’t be nailed down by science, it has fascinated me the over the years.

There is so much to love about this book. The desert people,  the Fremen, have their own well-formed culture, shaped by the environment of Dune. Indeed, Dune itself is like a character in the story because it’s nature has such a strong influence on the story. The little touches of various languages throughout the story are also appreciated. I find it immensely sensible that House Atreides would have it’s own battle language, making it that much more difficult for their enemies to figure out what they are doing during a fight.

If you haven’t given this book a read yet, I highly recommend it. There is plenty to be discovered and enjoyed in this classic SF novel.

The Narration: The narration on this book is a little odd. There are chunks where multiple narrators are giving voice to the characters and then chunks where it is only Simon Vance narrating all the characters. I wonder if a trimmed radio theater version was recorded and then the publisher went back later and had Vance fill in all the in between spaces for an unabridged version. Vance’s performance is really good and the multi-cast parts are really good, but I found myself not liking switching between the two. I would get used to a character sounding a certain way and then have to get used to Vance’s performance of the same character, and then switching back and forth throughout – it was an unnecessary annoyance. Still, I love this book enough to tolerate it and for the most part, I still enjoyed the narration. 

What I Liked: The desert planet Dune and how it shapes the human existence; all the SF tech; so many assassins!; the worms of Arrakis; Paul’s story arc; the use of languages; the mystery of the Bene Gesserit; a worthy classic.

What I Disliked: The narration is odd – switching between a multi-cast performance and a single narrator, and back and forth for the entire book was a little annoying.

What Others Think:

Conceptual Fiction

Only the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

World’s Strongest Librarian

Best Fantasy Books

SF Reviews

Fantasy Book Review