Top Ten Tuesday #37: Books You’ll Like if You Liked . . .

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

April 29: Top Ten Books You’ll Like if You Liked . . .

Andrew’s Picks:

  1. If you like the BBC series Sherlock . . . First, of course, would be to read the original Doyle stories, as they are simply fantastic and amazing. Agatha Christie is certainly another author to look in to, particularly her Poirot novels. I’d also suggest watching the old Sherlock Holmes TV show with Jeremy Brett, if you enjoy Doyle’s stories.
  2. If you liked the film The Prestige, by Christopher Nolan . . . Well, first, the novel on which the film was based: The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. Like the film, it’s absolutely fantastic and brilliant (and also quite different, which was one of the most enjoyable things for me). But then I’d also recommend The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, as it too has to do with rival magicians set in Victorian-esque England. I’ve heard Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is another good magician novel, but haven’t read it yet myself (been meaning to for a while…definitely hope to soon). And for Nolan films in general, I’d actually recommend S., by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst. The book itself is a mystery, and reminds me a bit of Nolan’s flair for puzzles/mysteries/the psychological thriller twists/etc. (such as Memento, Following, etc.)
  3. If you liked the films Shooter or Olympus has Fallen by Antoine Fuqua . . . I’d recommend anything by Vince Flynn. Particularly, Olympus Has Fallen shares many similarities with Flynn’s first Mitch Rapp novel, Transfer of Power (and on a side note, Fuqua was once attached to adapt Consent to Kill, another of Flynn’s novels). Or, really, if you enjoyed any espionage film I’d recommend Vince Flynn. There’s also the obvious Tom Clancy who needs to be mentioned if you enjoy espionage films.
  4. If you enjoyed the tv show Buffy the Vampire Slayer . . . I actually only recently got into Buffy (I know, horrible), but I’ve been a fan of the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, for a few years now. I can certainly see why Entertainment Weekly calls it “Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe”, and for any fan of Buffy or Angel, I’d wholeheartedly recommend The Dresden Files.

Caleb’s Picks:

  1. If you like the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson . . . it’s really hard to say, because I’ve never read a book that came near to being “like” Calvin and Hobbes. If  it exists, I’ve never seen it. But without a doubt Watterson’s work certainly has a spirit that’s all its own, and it’s difficult to point to a book that has a similar spirit. Though Snicket and Trenton Lee Stewart come to mind, possibly DiCamillo as well, the author I would actually recommend most to the Watterson fan would be Lewis Carroll. There’s a man with a very different style, but a rather similar imagination.
  2. If you like the ABC drama Once Upon a Time . . . you might like the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke. I don’t actually watch the show but I’m familiar with it, and Inkheart has a similar sort of story.
  3. If you like the Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender . . . Did I scare you, for a moment, when I said “Nickelodeon”? No, this is no Spongebob. The Avatar series (including its sequel, The Legend of Korra) is the best animated comedy drama I have ever seen. If you want a similar sort of adventure story packed with action and humor I would recommend Rick Riordan’s work; or, if you like something with a darker, more dramatic tone, and you go wild for the Asian culture, I recommend the Dragon Keeper series by Carole Wilkinson. Just look at the cover of Blood Brothers; that’s Aang!
  4. If you like the Kingdom Hearts video game series by Square Enix . . . I would recommend something like Faust, or Forster’s work, or for a lighter read, Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux. When I was younger I loved this series, and it’s done a lot to inspire me as a writer. It’s outgrown my old gaming systems by now, so these days I stick to reading the scripts.

Sunday Editorial: An Easter Musing

A big magic bunny that fills baskets with candy and toys, hiding eggs for the little kiddies to find . . . culture sure evolves in mysterious ways. It might have seemed fun when we were naive children with nothing better to do or think about, but nowadays, we’re pretty disillusioned to the whole charade, right? It’s just another holiday perfected by the American dream, a chance to capitalize on emotions, put a price on the priceless, and celebrate consumerism with a mass orgy glorified by a spiritual family label.

The magic’s gone.

Photo Credit: EJP Photo via Compfight cc

I don’t have any kids, but I do have a family, and there are little ones. So I help hide a few green eggs in the bushes, some red and blue among the flowers, a few yellow ones up the trees where they’ll never be able to reach them, if they ever even look up and see them. Then I find a drink, kick back in a detached languor and watch the kids hunt, race past a few dozen well-hidden eggs to go for the one obvious one, laughing, excited, ignorant to the bleak mediocrity. It’s disgusting, really.

No, not the kids. Me.

Actually, not me, but that picture of soulless, jaded indifference. That supercilious attitude of “maturity.” The magic’s gone because we’ve ousted it. We’ve pushed it away. There’s no room for magic in the harsh realities of an adult’s world.

Well, actually, there is. Every now and then.

Seeing Easter with a Child’s Eyes

In my family we’ve made a tradition. We gathered all the plastic eggs we could get our hands on and after the adults hid them for the kids, I spent two hours following the little ones around on their epic quest of discovery. I’d give hints, or even riddles when I could think of them, and sometimes I’d step in front of a half-concealed egg and play innocent until a kid finally caught me and got behind me. When all the eggs were found, or at any rate nearly all, then the best part came: the kids hid the eggs, and the adults looked.

Photo Credit: partymonstrrrr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: partymonstrrrr via Compfight cc

See, it’s not about finding the eggs. It’s about finding and recovering the thrill of the game, the sparkling imagination of childhood that made mountains out of molehills and golden eggs out of plastic. It’s about rediscovering the fun, the excitement, the joy, the enchantment. It’s about creating memories, capturing a warm-fuzzy feeling that will stick with us all even when the kids have grown up and forgotten what egg hunts were like, just like I nearly did there.

Rediscovering the Wonder

Halloween, Christmas, Easter—they’re all the same. They’ve all been distorted, and we’ve lost sight of the enchantment. We’ve forgotten why holidays meant so much to us when we were kids. We’ve lost our sense of wonder. Comes with age, I suppose.

So we can sit around and gripe about how holidays are being corrupted by consumerism, or we can do something about it

We can teach, nay, show, the next generations that there’s still magic, that there’s still wonder and enchantment in the special moments. We can give them memories that are founded on a lot more than toys and candy. They’re waiting for us to prove to them that holidays aren’t just for children, and I think a lot of us could stand to remember that, too.

Maybe they won’t remember the egg hunt; maybe the memories will fade. They might forget what we did for them, but they’ll never forget how we made them feel.


Top Ten Tuesday #36: Bookish Things I’d Like to Own

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

April 15: Top Ten Bookish Things I’d Like to Own

Andrew’s Picks:

Geez, there’s so many things I could put on this list. Trying to narrow it down to a top 5, though:

  1. A Hidden Library. Or I mean honestly, any bookshelf-secret-passageway would be cool, but this hidden library in particular is just awesome.
  2. This.  I’ve always loved the idea of labels that say “Andrew’s Personal Library” or whathaveyou, but this is just 100 times better.
  3. Batman Bookshelf. And I mean, a bunch of cool/unique bookshelves would be nice, but I love this Batman symbol one.
  4. Awesome Bookends. I don’t have one specific answer here. For example, I would absolutely love to get the Sandman Absolute Editions, and then get these bookends to go along with those. Various “themes” I’d like: comic books (batman vs. superman, for example), Star Wars, LOTR, dragons, typewriters, awesome buildings…I mean the list just goes on and on, and I’d just love some awesome-looking bookends (yes, totally subjective).
  5.  Book-related clothes, posters, coffee mugs, statues/figurines, nick-nacks…again, the list goes on.

Caleb’s Picks:

  1. This. I’ll never live in a house with doors again if I have anything to say about it.
  2. Yes, please. Maybe not quite that elaborate, but you can bet my dream home will have a library with a room all its own.
  3. I need to start collecting these now. This is easily the first thing on my list that I will actually be able to buy, and you can bet it won’t be long. Available from Amazon or direct from Spineless Classics.
  4. One of these. They come at a price if you want to buy from The Little Library, but if you’re a DIY sort you could make one of these pretty easily for a lot less.
  5. Just five for every room in my house.

Top Ten Tuesday #35: Most Unique Books We’ve Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

April 8: Top Ten Most Unique Books We’ve Read

Caleb’s Picks:

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – You just don’t see any other books like this. I’ve tried, believe me I’ve tried hard for reasons of my own, to find similar stories, but there just aren’t very many. In many ways, Shelley’s first (and perhaps greatest) literary achievement is simply exceptional.
  2. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes – I know, another one of the standards I often fall back on, but come on—it’s a standard for me because it’s that good. Cervantes’s magnum opus is arguably one of the best, certainly among the best known, and definitely one of the most original, novels of all time.
  3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman – Goldman has a . . . unique mind, that’s for sure, and his most famous work is a very unique reading experience.
  4. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck – Buck has a very unique style, beautiful in its simplicity, and in addition to that the subject matter—China in the early 20th century—is unusual. You just don’t see much fiction coming out of China in that era, and though Buck is American, she was raised in China and that was what she knew.
  5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket – There’s just something about it, and all of Snicket’s work, that stands out. He has an imagination that’s . . . frankly a little deranged, but on the whole quite amazing.

Andrew’s Picks:

  1. S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. This is without a doubt the most unique book I’ve read. I mean in so many ways it’s much more than just a book. You’ve got notes in margins, inserts, mysteries to solve…really, it’s just an incredibly fun read.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. This book certainly stands out to me as being unique–never have I read something where a setting is, well, personified, really, to such an extent. The Circus itself is magical, captivating, and awesome, and just how the entire novel is focused around that is what makes it so great (and unique).
  3. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. The writing style is definitely what makes this book unique.
  4. The Prestige, by Christopher Priest. I think the way this novel is structured and put together is incredibly unique (and amazing). There are two diaries read by grandchildren, who then have chapters of their own lives (current events) in the novel. It’s quite brilliant, really.  And such a fun read.
  5. Survivor, by Chuck Palahniuk. This was the first (and is, currently, the only) Palahniuk book I’ve read, and if I had to sum up the book and Palahniuk’s writing overall in one word, I think I’d choose “unique”.
  6. Honorable Mention: The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. I had to mention this because I just finished the book today and it’s one of the most unique (and most enjoyable) books that I’ve read, specifically due to the footnotes when in first-person. I loved it, personally.
  7. Honorable Mention 2: Calvin and Hobbes. Not strictly a single book, but rather the whole series of (comic) books, I simply had to mention it, as it is certainly, in my mind, a very unique comic (and unsurpassed in wit and humor).

Fantastic Depths: Now Available

Our latest collaboration–a fantasy anthology–is now available for order!


Fantastic Depths

(artwork by John Matz)

Buy it from:

An excerpt can be read on (click “Look Inside”); below is the blurb from the back of the book:

Fantastic Depths is the fourth collection of short fiction published by the Ambage, presenting nearly forty stories written within the fantasy genre by over twenty authors. It features writing from returning authors such as E.R. Alwardby, Nate Deisinger, Nicholas Farrell, W.R. Krueger, and Caleb Peiffer (author of The Second Death), as well as several other new and returning authors.

From dragons to bumblebees; from epic quests to normal lives forever altered by the spark of magic-the stories here explore the depths of ideas and the limitless possibilities of imagination to charm and enchant readers.

This was a fun one, and definitely my favorite so far–and it has nearly 100 more pages, nearly 10 more authors, and nearly 10 more stories than our last anthology, Constellations. We hope you will consider purchasing it!

-Ambage Hosts

Sunday Editorial: The Artist and the Scientist, and the Secret of Balancing Them

There are many sides to writing. It can’t be confined. Some call it an art; some call it a science. So which is it?

Writing requires creativity and vision. You’ll need open eyes to look at the world, to see what it looks like on the face of it, to see what it looks like underneath, and to see what it looks like inside of yourself. An artist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of stories to write, because all around them everything they see has a thousand aspects, and a million ideas inside it. You need to be able to look at things from all these different angles. Sometimes, writing requires some degree of omnipotence to keep an eye on all the thoughts coming together—and sometimes you just pull back and let them flow into place.

Writing requires dimension and precision. You have to know what you’re writing about, and how; you need to understand the subject and how to effectively approach it and describe it. You need to know what you’re seeing and how to get it down on paper according to your vision, to use that vision to its fullest potential. You need to know how to produce an effect. A scientist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of subjects to categorize and monitor, because they could identify every tree and weed and bug and bird and spend the rest of their lives recording their lifecycles and the changes wrought in them by the seasons and the years.

The fact is, writing is both an art and a science. You’ll need balance—more than anything. You’ll need to know when to think and when to feel. You’ll need to understand when to let your tender, sentimental nature take over, and when to be cold and calculating. Give yourself over completely to the artist and you’ll end up with chaos—yield to the scientific side and you’ll end up with sterile, insipid chaff.

Basically, you have to be pretty schizophrenic. But it knew that, didn’t it, precious? Yesss . . . we knews it, precious, we did . . .

The Scientist

This is the part of you that was taught in schoolrooms to bleed literature dry of every nebulous interpretation of meaning that they can fabricate. This is the part that tends to function as a spellcheck while you’re writing, or critiques your plot, and probably it’s the one muttering, “This is crap, this is crap,” while you’re trying to write. If you’re experiencing writers’ block, you can count on it that the soulless, unfeeling scientist in you is to blame.

It can get be a hindrance at times, can’t it? Unfortunately, you still need it. Believe it or not, you do need a little logic and rationality when you’re writing, and the scientific part of you keeps that in check. By the traditional myth of brain lateralization, this would be the left brain; reason and critical thinking, all the technical and scientific aspects of the writing process.

The Artist

You know when you’ve come to that exciting part, and a little voice is going, “Oh boy! oh boy! oh boy!” while you’re writing? Yup, this is that voice. And when you’re killing a character or letting them find true love at last, the artist is inside you, crying. This is the one that’s putting the scientist’s stores of knowledge to good use, hitting on unlikely combinations and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the little genius in you, the one that flies into a frenzy and writes like mad when you finally break through that creative block. The artist is the one who appreciates the beauty in things.

Unlike the scientist, the artist isn’t taught. This part of you isn’t developed in the schoolroom, unless your mind is wandering from the lesson. Typically, this part is developed in the woods, or on a busy city street, or other places where you’re “alone,” that is, away from the distractions of your everyday life. The artist is an autodidact; it learns. Nobody can teach you to be an artist. Really, being an artist is something you’re born into. But I do believe that there’s an artist in all of us: it’s just developed sooner in some than others. If you can discover that part of yourself, open yourself to it, free the artist within and let them learn, let yourself dream, then you can learn any art you’re called to. Even if it’s not something traditionally viewed as an art—if you bring creativity into it, anthing can be an art.

How to Balance Them

If you’re up against writers’ block, a good way to get around it—and a good way, in general, to avoid it—is to stop thinking and start feeling; suppress the scientist, and let your artist free. Just write—let the scientist take over in revision.

At least, that’s what people say.

Me, I don’t believe in it. Sure, it works, but that’s not a solution—it’s avoiding the problem. It’s the easy way out, and for a lot of people, that’s great. So yeah, if you want the easy way out of it, there you go. More power to you. Off with you, go write something.

But you want to know the secret? I do have one up my sleeve here. I’ve already said that writing is both an art and a science; well, I can reduce it to just one word. Writing is a discipline.

 That’s right. Being a writer is like being a Jedi. Or, you know, a master of the martial arts. You have to be in touch with the techniques; but also with the spirit of the thing. But above all else, writing is about balance. Letting the two sides take turns at dominance isn’t balance. Balance isn’t fifty-fifty, it’s hundred-hundred. Give free reign to both sides, give them both power and control, and let them work together. This can only be achieved through practice, determination, and discipline.

 You’re just a writer. I am too, and I may not be a master, but I believe this: To become a master of my art, I have to become something higher than human, something that transcends the everyday. I have to become an artist, a free-thinker; I have to dare to look at the world in ways no one else will, ways they’ll tell me aren’t there. Sometimes, I have to look like a lunatic. But inside, I have to be a monk: I have to find a way to work with both my mind and heart.

What do you think? Am I a genius, a philosopher, an artist—or a lunatic?

Top Ten Tuesday #34: “Gateway” Books and Authors in My Reading Journey

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

April 1: Top Ten “Gateway” Books and Authors in My Reading Journey

Andrew’s Picks:

I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but certainly the first three are authors who were incredibly inspiring to me and my reading journey–it’s because of them that I read so much now. There have also been more authors who are great, well, “milestones” in my reading journey (i.e. authors that have made a huge impact), such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Erin Morgenstern, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, etc., but I’m not sure I would consider them exactly “Gateway” authors, which is what I tried to stick to here. The first three were the gateway to my reading a lot in general. The second three were large milestones that opened ways to even more reading.

  1. Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer. This was really the series that started my serious reading journey. I had read a lot as a kid, but when I was a little older I didn’t start reading much until I read these books.
  2. Agatha Christie. Same as above. I started with Artemis Fowl and breezed through the five that were out at the time, and then I discovered Agatha Christie (it may have been a year or two later, now that I think about it). I again tried to read as many as I could, and did manage to read a good handful.
  3. Vince Flynn. It was after Colfer and Christie when I started looking for more books to read (to put it more accurately would be to say I needed to find more books). I came across Vince Flynn and he’s really the one that finally made me into the read-52-books-a-year reader, as I loved his novels, then started buying more and more thrillers until I slowly branched out into other genres.
  4. Jim Butcher. This is when I started to branch out more, and when I started to really love fantasy (granted, I had always loved fantasy, because of Artemis Fowl and The Hobbit, etc., but for a long time after Christie/Flynn I was on a sort of thriller craze).
  5. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. If I remember right, this was one of the first YA novels I read (after which I would read The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and finally Harry Potter for the first time in 2012). Even if this wasn’t the first, it’s certainly an incredibly memorable one. And not only did it get me interested in YA, but also just more different books in general. This was the first illustrated book I had read in a long time, and I loved it. It was a mix of fantasy and real life, and I loved it. This book certainly opened the door to many others.
  6. Jeph Loeb and Matt Fraction. I enjoyed The Walking Dead vol.1, but it wasn’t until I read Hawkeye vol.1 and even moreso when I read Batman: Hush, by Jeph Loeb, that I started wanting to read more and more graphic novels as soon as possible. Now I’m incredibly excited to get my hands on more, and further branch out in that department, too.

Caleb’s Picks:

I really love the idea of this week’s list, because it asks how books have changed and shaped their lives, not only affecting what they read, but who they are – and for me, that includes what I write.

  1. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Most parents read their kids fairy tales – my father read me Calvin and Hobbes. These were the “books” I was making up dialogue for since before I could read, and when I did learn to read this was probably the first thing I exercised my newfound powers on.
  2. Beverly Cleary (especially her The Mouse and the Motorcycle). When it comes to chapter books, this was the first I read. I fought against learning to read as hard as Calvin fought against learning anything, but as soon as a family friend gave me The Mouse and the Motorcycle as a gift and I had to read it just to be polite, I was hooked for life.
  3. Trixie Belden series created by Julie Campbell Tatham. Even after I could read my mother used to read these books to me – that, and watching Matlock incessantly with a six-year-old, is one of those things for which my writing career has my mother to thank.
  4. Agatha Christie. What more do I need to say? I was already interested in mystery thanks to Belden and Matlock and Doyle, and this was already a few years past my dream of growing up to be a detective, but Christie is the one who made me love mystery.
  5. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote’s cultural legacy began to influence me since long before I actually read the book, which while not quite what I expected impressed me profoundly.
  6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Being a young novelist myself, Mary’s story (published at 19!) really inspired me, and Frankenstein continues to be a fascinating favorite.