Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal - Book Cover
Source: Goodreads

Far Far Away

Tom McNeal

 
Pages: 384 | Audiobook: 10 hrs 58 min
Published June 11th 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published 2013)
 
A National Book Award Finalist
An Edgar Award Finalist
Audie Award Finalist
A California Book Award Gold Medal Winner

A dark, contemporary fairy tale in the tradition of Neil Gaiman.

It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings...

Veteran writer Tom McNeal has crafted a young adult novel at once grim(m) and hopeful, full of twists, and perfect for fans of contemporary fairy tales like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and Holly Black's Doll Bones.

Sources: Goodreads and Amazon

 

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Carol's Rating: ★★★★

This is not my standard genre but I must say, I was thoroughly captivated this book. Like a good Grimm's tale, there are children. Children at play. And a ghost. And a Baker. It is delightful. And then it isn't. It turns grim, of course! It is scary but not too scary. That's coming from me, an absolute lightweight when it comes to scary and dark.

I listened to the Audible version narrated by W. Morgan Sheppard, who delivers a fantastic performance. His voice is grandfatherly. It's light and fun then perfectly cautious, creating suspense yet, at the same time, a sense of safety.

I was completely taken aback by how entertaining I found this tale to be and was reminded that sometimes a good old, Grimm-type fairytale is just what's needed.

About the Author

Tom McNeal Author image
Source: Goodreads

Tom McNeal

Tom was born in Santa Ana, California. His father was a native Californian who raised oranges, and his mother grew up on a farm in northwest Nebraska, where Tom spent his childhood summers. After earning a BA and a teaching credential from UC Berkeley, Tom moved to Hay Springs, Nebraska, taught high school English, drove a school bus, substituted briefly in a one-room schoolhouse, and began work on the novel Goodnight, Nebraska. Tom holds an MA in creative writing from UC Irvine and was a Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.

His short stories have been widely anthologized, and "What Happened to Tully" was made into a film. He is the author, with his wife, Laura, of four critically-acclaimed young adult novels published by Knopf—Crooked, Crushed, The Decoding of Lana Morris, and Zipped, and the solo author of FAR FAR AWAY (a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature). His adult titles include Goodbye, Nebraska, winner of the California Book Award, and To Be Sung Underwater, published by Little Brown in 2012 and named one of the best books of the year by the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

He lives with his wife and two sons in Southern California.

Sources: Amazon and Nationalbook.org    

 

Book Trailer, Inspiration, Secret Passageways, and More

Book Trailer

Random House Kids | Published on Apr 17, 2013

Young adult veteran Tom McNeal (one half of the writing duo known as Laura & Tom McNeal) has crafted a novel at once warmhearted, compulsively readable, and altogether thrilling--and McNeal fans of their tautly told stories will not be disappointed.

Secret Passages

Q & A with Tom McNeal
By Kate Pavao | May 29, 2013

In an article in the New York Times, you (Tom McNeal) talked about having secret doors in your house – which seems a bit like a fairy tale. Do you think this has any influence on your work or your creative process?

That inclination for the secret passages must align in some way. I don’t exactly know why. I know the history of it. The house in which I was raised had walk-in closets with incomplete walls – the walls went up like 6 or 7 feet, but didn’t go to the ceiling. My brother, sister and I would climb over those walls all the time to get into the next room.

I always knew I wanted to build a house and I always knew when I built a house I wanted a secret passage in it. When Laura and I married we finally did that. I think it all goes back to the fun of not leaving your room to go into the hallway, but sneaking into your brother or sister’s room.

We’re building a house right now and the boys are finally going to get their own rooms – and just like the other house, this will have a not-so-secret passage. They will have bookshelves that roll away or swing out. That will lead to a ladder that leads to a trap door to the attic. They are very keen on this, of course. So now they are going to get the bug too.

Source: Publisher's Weekly

 

More Q & A with Tom McNeal

Source: Kidsreads.com

In FAR FAR AWAY, a boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson finds himself to be the outcast in a small town. Not only does he have double the same last name, he also claims to hear voices. But he can hear a voice --- the voice of Jacob Grimm, one half of the famous Brothers Grimm. With his help, Jeremy tries to save the family bookshop, survive an unsavory adventure and find his place in the world.

In this interview, Tom McNeal shares his inspiration for this unique ghost story, what he likes most about fairy tales and what he's working on next!

1. What inspired you to write FAR FAR AWAY?

I’d fallen into reading about the Grimm Brothers, and the circumstances of their story was fascinating to me --- Jacob and Wilhelm united throughout their lives, working together, Jacob living with Wilhelm even after Wilhelm became a husband and father, the awful death of Jacob’s young nephew (and namesake). Jacob outlived his younger brother and was the more somber and rigid of the two. The more I read about him, the more curmudgeonly yet sympathetic he seemed, and I began to think of him as the right conduit for the story. And so, before very long, Jacob Grimm became my ghost, and FAR FAR AWAY became his story.

2. What kind of research did you do on fairy tales, since you bring so much of Jacob Grimm's life into the story?

I read a lot of biographical and critical material about the Grimm Brothers and their tales. I took notes, marked up the tales and could’ve kept at it even longer, but, you know, sooner or later you have to start writing. The most famous Grimm scholars are Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar. She’s a professor of Germanic Languages at Harvard and her ANNOTATED BROTHERS GRIMM provides all sorts of really interesting context and biographical references in the margins of each of the tales.  Tatar's writing is also beautifully lucid and engaging.  I'd think that anyone at all interested in the Grimms would have a lot of fun with that book.

3. What is your favorite aspect of fairy tales?

I like the way fairy tales let you peer into your darkest fears (dark forests, wicked stepmothers) or fondest dreams (complete a quest, win the princess). In FAR FAR AWAY, there are twin quests.  Jacob is trying to figure out The Thing Undone and Jeremy is trying to find his place in the real world.  Though their aims are different, as the book evolves, their paths converge. What allows Jacob finally to escape the Zwischenraum --- his mentorship and affection for Jeremy --- is also what allows Jeremy to move forward in the world with a fuller idea of who he is.

4. Which fairy tale story is your favorite? Do you have a favorite fairy tale storyteller?

I think I answer this differently every time I’m asked. This time I’ll say, “Rapunzel,” because it’s not only strange and romantic and evocative, but also because the first Grimm version was basically R-rated, and then the brothers cleaned it up. This funny evolution comes up in the book, by the way.

I was attracted more to the Grimms’ collection because of the darkness in so many of their tales.  And, too, because of their rough justice. In the end of a Grimm tale, goodness and generosity is generously rewarded and cruelty is cruelly punished. Very satisfying.

5. In FAR FAR AWAY, fairy tales and reality seem to blur for Jeremy Johnson Johnson: he does hear Jacob Grimm's voice, but it's not certain if there is magic in the prince cakes. Do you believe there's a certain amount of blur in real life, too?

Oh, sure. I think one reason I've always liked a good ghost story is because I don't find it completely impossible that spirits can linger. And this is probably because my own mother told me some stories about telepathic visits from the dead that she didn't believe were fictional. So you can see how it could begin to take root.

6. Jacob Grimm tries to pull Jeremy towards his studies and Ginger tries to pull him toward fun throughout the story. Which direction would you try to pull Jeremy? Which way do you usually turn towards in your life?

Toward the end of the book, Jeremy promises that he will study hard in Jacob’s absence. Jacob responds, Study, yes, but also enjoy. Of course the complement of this is, Enjoy, yes, but also study. Even for me as an adult, I find the balance between the two a difficult thing

7. What you like readers to take away after reading this book?

In the last years of their lives, Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm undertook the compilation of an authoritative German dictionary, a massive project that they could not complete. The last word that Jacob worked on before his death was frucht, or fruit, which, as Jacob points out in the book, derives from the Latin fructus: to enjoy.

8. What should readers expect to see from you next? Are you working on anything right now?

At the moment I’m working on an adult book told from the p.o.v. of a caretaker of an avocado grove.  With any luck, it will be less boring than that sounds. As for another YA book, I’d love to do something more with a ghost, and have a couple of things in mind.

Book Club Chat with the Author

VLCPhotoProductions
Streamed live on May 20, 2013Published on Apr 26, 2009

In this fun conversation with Tom McNeal, he jovially answers question from book club members and gives a glimpse into his personal and writing lives. The sound quality is a bit lacking but the interview is well worth the listen.

Discussion Questions

Source: Novel Gobblers Book Club

  1. Have you read other books by this author?
  2. Did this book remind you of any other books you've read?
  3. What do you think of the book cover? Does it represent the book well?
  4. Was the story what you expected it to be? Were you pleased or disappointed?
  5. If you listened to the audiobook, did you enjoy the narrator? Why or why not?
  6. Was the plot predictable? What were some of your predictions and were they correct?
  7. What did you find unique about this story?
  8. Were the characters believable and lovable?
  9. Were there any moments in the book surprised you? Did you feel suspense? Did the story hold your attention?
  10. Who were your favorite secondary characters?
  11. What did you like or dislike about this book?
  12. Is there a moral to this story?
  13. What do you imagine Prince Cakes taste like?
  14.  Do you have any favorite quotes from the book?
  15. Will you look to read other books by this author?

Happy Reading!

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff
The City of Thieves David Benioff Cover
Source: Goodreads

City of Thieves

David Benioff 

 
Pages: 258 / Audio: 8 Hrs 34 mins
Published May 15th 2008 by Viking Adult (first published 2008)
 
From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

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Carol's Rating: ★★★★★

"Calm yourself, my morbid little Israelite. I won't let the bad men get you."

There was nothing about this book that I couldn't love; the main characters, the plot, the pace, the writing -- it was all fantastic. I was hooked from the first sentence. I think what stands out most to me is the writing. The words flow effortlessly. They are smooth and descriptive. I was not reading so much as I was mentally seeing the story play out like a movie. I could see, hear, and feel the emotions, events, environment, and the characters. David Benioff is an amazing writer and storyteller. This is a book I could read over and over and enjoy it more each time. 

About the Author

David_Benioff_Author
Source: Goodreads

David Benioff

David Benioff (born David Friedman but changed his name to take his mother's maiden name) was born and raised in New York City and attended Dartmouth College and the University of California at Irvine. His father, Stephen Friedman, is a former chairman of Goldman Sachs and current Chairman of the United States President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. 

Before the publication of his first novel The 25th Hour, Benioff worked as a club bouncer and high school English teacher, until his adaptation of The 25th Hour into a feature film directed by Spike Lee led to a new new career as a screenwriter, including the screenplays for "The Kite Runner". 

Stories from his critically acclaimed collection When the Nines Roll Over appeared in Best New American Voices and The Best Nonrequired American Reading. His latest novel is City of Thieves. He is also a co-creater of the award winning HBO series, "Game of Thrones". He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Amanda Peet, and daughter.   Source: Bookbrowse.com

Revealing Interviews

City of Thieves was my first exposure to David Benioff. I don't follow Game of Thrones -- I know, I know. Oh, the shame! However, after reading City of Thieves and loving it as much as I did, I was fascinated with this author and had to learn more about him. Below are some wonderful interviews discussing his books, his writing process, fears, other authors, X-Men, Game of Thrones, and more.  Such a genuine, talented man.

David Benioff on Writing:
Game of Thrones, City of Thieves & Telling Lies for Grown Ups

Published on Jul 8, 2013

In this interview with Rich Fahle of Bibliostar.TV, writer, screenwriter, and Producer David Benioff explains how the Game of Thrones books helped him rediscover his fantasy roots, his love of the New York filmmakers of his 1970s youth, the story behind his own successful novels, and the challenges of adapting beloved stories for the big screen.

 
Writers' Confessions

Published on Jul 18, 2010

David Benioff discusses screenwriting and other aspects of the writing process. Shot during the 2008 International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

 
A Conversation with David Benioff

Source: Penguin Random House

Q. City of Thieves begs the question: Did all this really happen to your grandfather?

No. My grandfather was born on a farm in Delaware. He became a furrier and died in Allentown, Pennsylvania. My grandmother (unlike the non-cooking grandmother in the book) made the best chopped chicken liver in the state. Neither one, as far as I know, ever visited Russia.

Q. David notes, “Truth might be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editor.” (p. 4) How much “editing” did you do?

See answer to number one. A whole lot.

Q. How much additional research did you do to write this novel?

I had a wonderful teacher once, the novelist Ann Patchett. I asked her about the research she did for The Magician’s Assistant, and she told me to choose the single best book on the given subject and study it obsessively. Writers are always tempted to track down dozens of books to help give our make-believe stories that tang of authenticity, but often the problem with too much research is a writing style that seems too researched, dry and musty, and eager for a history teacher’s gold star of approval.

Unfortunately, my will was not strong enough for me to follow Ann’s advice. I did end up reading dozens

 
Words & Wine: David Benioff - City of Thieves

Published on Apr 26, 2009

David Benioff joins Warren for another evening of Words & Wine where they measure the importance of talent, place a friendly wager, and stress the importance of bowel movements.

 

The City of Thieves David Benioff Cover

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Discussion Questions

Source: Penguin Random House

  • David wants to hear about his grandfather’s experiences firsthand. Why is it important for us to cultivate and preserve our oral histories? Do you have a relative or friend whose story you believe should be captured for posterity?
  • Lev’s father is taken—and almost certainly killed—by the NKVD, yet Lev himself stays behind to defend Leningrad. How do you think he reconciled his patriotism to his love for his father?
  • In the midst of a major historical moment, Lev is preoccupied with thoughts of food and sex. What does this tell us about experiencing history as it unfolds?
  • From the cannibals in the market to the sex slaves in the farmhouse, there are numerous illustrations of the way in which war robs us of our humanity. In your opinion, what was the most poignant example of this and why?
  • Kolya tells Lev that the government should “put the famous on the front lines” (p. 67) rather than use them as the spokespeople for patriotic propaganda. Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of any contemporary instances of this practice?
  • Aside from the sly pride that Lev notices, are there any other clues that give Kolya away as the true author of The Courtyard Hound?
  • Do you think Markov’s denouncer should have remained silent about the partisan’s presence? Did either of them deserve to die?
  • Even moments before Lev pulls his knife on the Sturmbannführer, he thinks: “I had wanted him dead since I’d heard Zoya’s story. . . . [But] I didn’t believe I was capable of murdering him” (p. 228). Do you think everyone—given the right motivation—is capable of killing another human being? Could you?
  • Lev takes an instinctive dislike to Kolya yet comes to consider him his best friend. What was the turning point in their relationship?
  • Lev says that Vika “was no man’s idea of a pinup girl,” (p.149) but he is instantly infatuated. Would he have been drawn to her had they met in different—safer—circumstances?

Happy Reading!

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

 

War-of-Art Audio Cover Steven Pressfield
Source: Audible.com

The War of Art

Steven Pressfield

Pages: 168 / Audio: 2 Hrs 56 mins
Published July 13th 2011 by Recorded Books (first published 2002)
 
Winning the Creative Battle
 
Internationally best-selling author of Last of the Amazons, Gates of Fire and Tides of War, Steven Pressfield delivers a guide to inspire and support those who struggle to express their creativity. Pressfield believes that “resistance” is the greatest enemy, and he offers many unique and helpful ways to overcome it.
 
 

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Carol's Rating: ★★★★★

Perfection.

This book was recommended to me by my friend, writer Mo Parisian, whose first novel, What We Know Now, will be released on Amazon November 25, 2017.  Yes, a shameless plug, yet I don't care because I am so excited about it! Back to the War of Art - Mo succinctly described this book as "Perfection".  I completely agree!

It's short and powerful. It's life-changing. No matter who you are, you'll feel the author is speaking directly to YOU. We all have talents and creative abilities and yet we minimize them, deny them, procrastinate, sabotage, and make ourselves miserable -- why??? Steven Pressfield frankly and humorously addresses these issues and exposes all of our excuses. He can. He's waded through the muck and come out clean on the other side.

I listened to the audio book, which was fantastic. I've also ordered the hardcopy so I can reference it often. It's always a good time to read and re-read this one. What are you waiting for?

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About the Author

steve-pressfield-author
Source: stevenpressfield.com

Steven Pressfield

 

Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Last of the Amazons, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign, Killing Rommel, The Profession, The Lion's Gate, The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do the Work, The Warrior Ethos, The Authentic Swing, An American Jew, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, and The Knowledge.

His debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was adapted for screen. A film of the same title was released in 2000, directed by Robert Redford and starring Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron.

His father was in the Navy, and he was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. Since graduating from Duke University in 1965, he has been a U.S. Marine, an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout, attendant in a mental hospital and screenwriter. 

His struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art, Turning Pro, The Authentic Swing, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t, and The Knowledge.

There's a recurring character in his books, named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like Pressfield's conception of art and the artist:

"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."

 
Source: Amazon.com
 
Happy Reading!

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