Camille Griep’s Letters to Zell, A Brilliant, Fun, Gut-Wrenching Exploration of Relationships

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Not only can Camille Griep get into my head, (witness More Reflections on Letters to Zell and Not Being “That Kind of Guy”) but she seems to have lived several lifetimes to be able to write such a fun yet never frivolous deep dive into relationships. How does she make thoroughly entertaining, engaging, challenging and even page-turning exciting letters to the fairy-tale princess Rapunzel from her friends Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella? (See Goodreads for a summary of the plot.) I think maybe she has more than a little fairy magic herself. Of course, Zell, Bianca, Rory & CeCi aren’t as we imagined them, nor is Grimmland. I’m now thinking Ms. Griep’s words bewitched me because I’ve done things I’ve never done before. I wrote two posts prior to finishing the book. I rarely do multiple posts on the same book, but I have never posted before I’ve read the whole thing. I felt a little like a stalker blog. The first two posts aren’t reviews, but musings on topics inspired by the book, its characters, and their relationships. Oh, wait, this her debut novel as well. Definitely magic.

This book makes you reflect – a lot. You reflect on how truthful you are with yourself and others. It makes you realize that almost all of your actions are tainted by selfishness; as a pastor friend once told me “I’ve never met an unmixed motive.” It makes you reflect on the ethics of pursuing what seems right for you juxtaposed to the impact on others. It makes you think about unintended consequences and when helping hurts. Most of all, it shows the importance of genuinely listening. Not listening to make a point, or give advice or fix an issue. Rather, giving and receiving full-on, face-on listening. All of that reflection, however, is bundled in this delightful package of the challenges these women face and working through it via letters to their now distant friend Zell. So, while it sounds like work and possibly a bit dull, it’s really fun and more than a little exciting.  Now, not to give any spoilers, but there is gut-wrenching sadness as well. Picture a good Cecil B. DeMille Biblical extravaganza with a man tearing his garments in two, then sitting on the ground and pouring ashes over his tear-streaked head. Yup, I was that guy a couple of times while reading. All of which is to say this is a special book whose pages I waded in lightly thinking it was just a fun premise and who came out the ringer on the other side.

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Camille Griep, photo courtesy of author’s Facebook page

What do I love about Letters to Zell?

  • The characters: they all have their challenging side and their charms, but they all feel real. Their quirks add flavor. They genuinely care about one another but often, unknowingly, care a bit more about themselves. You could definitely hang with them and have a pint or two. The breadth of characters are many and the names could be confusing, but you grew to love (most of) them. For example, there are so many times I well up in righteous indignation on behalf of some character only to realize it’s all a bit more complicated. We all fall short of the glory of God yet all are image-bearers. There is plenty of wrong we each do and there are some (mileage varies with the person) that we get right.
  • The relationships: We delude ourselves, present our delusions to others and we don’t listen. Those three issues permeate almost every challenge these four women must overcome. Yet the work through it all (mostly).
  • The “dialog”: the encounters among the ladies is given from differing first person accounts based on the letter’s author. Often, we’ll read multiple back-to-back accounts of the same events from the princesses various perspectives. This could have dragged on. Instead, the pacing, wording and variations all kept this fresh.
  • The world: While this isn’t the most complicated world in fantasy fiction, it is exceptionally well executed and clever. Ms. Griep unveiles it through dialog and letters in due times and perfect measure.
  • The narrative arc: the storyline is brilliant. You begin thinking it’s about one thing and you land somewhere else. The story emerges so organically that you don’t realize how you got there.
  • Reflective entertainment: It’s a new genre. Seriously, few books that are this much fun have spurred this much reflection.

Of what am I less found?

  • I love Bianca’s snarkiness as a whole, but the f-bomb became the f-dud through overuse (and she’s not even from London). Her salutation of “Important F**king Correspondence from Snow B. White …: got a little old.
  • The use of a lesbian relationship in Grimmland seems a bit forced and people’s reactions seem unrealistic given it appears to be the one and only public instance. The relationship itself, like the rest, unfolds organically.
  • Guys come off looking pretty bad as a whole. Just saying.
Amy McFadden

Amy McFadden, courtesy of amymcfadden.com

As is my wont, I went between the Audible version, narrated by Amy McFadden and the Kindle version. The voices of Bianca, Rory and CeCi will be indelibly imprinted on my mind with Ms. McFadden’s performances. I’m a fan of Ms. McFadden’s narration being introduced to her through The Paper Magician series. Indeed, it was the fact the she narrated Letters to Zell (and its cool cover) that brought my attention to the book.

This is the perfect book for a book club or friends or husband and wife. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll see yourself in the characters as well as others. Mostly, you’ll see the futility of long-term feuds, rush to judgment and especially trying to prove you’re right. All those cute little motivational pictures you see on Facebook are right; life is too short to hold a grudge even when you are immortal. As a Christian, I sometimes don’t agree with some of the conclusions or approaches, but all the major lessons on relationships are brilliant.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Read it. Have fun and learn a little about yourself, how you spin your story and how to live an authentic life. I am officially a Zell-head (Camille, feel free to copyright). I wait with bated breath for her forthcoming New Charity Blues, coming in 2016 (I guess I’ll have to breathe a little until then.) Good reading.

[Banner photos courtesy of Camille Griep’s Facebook page]

More Reflections on Letters to Zell and Not Being “That Kind of Guy”

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So, I’m not quite sure how Camille Griep got in my head, especially since I”ve not had the privilege of meeting her. [For a little background, see my previous post, Reflections on Letters to Zell and False Dichotomies] Alas, I seem to be somewhat characterized by Edmund, the husband of CeCi (Cinderella). Here’s a man so focused on not being the jerk guy who expects his wife to wait on him that he can’t listen to her about wanting to follow her passion for cooking.

“Cook dinner? Well, of course you can. But the great part is that you don’t have to. Remember when I told you you’d never have to wait on people again?” “Well, I just . . . See, I want to do something for us. For you.” And he held my face in his hands like he does sometimes and said, “Darling, toiling away in the kitchens is no longer your destiny. We rescued you from all that, remember.” “But it would be like a gift, Ed.” He stepped back. “I never want you to feel as if you owe something to me or that you serve me in some manner. I’m not that kind of guy. You know that, right?” “Of course, but I just—” “All you need to do is be your beautiful self. Besides, we couldn’t have everyone thinking I put you back in the kitchens, could we? Come now and see the gifts I’ve brought you.” (Camille Geip, Letters to Zell, pp. 29-30)

Great guy, right? He cares about CeCi. He also cares about how people perceive him and wants to ensure he’s not considered “that guy.” He so focused about being “right” that he can’t see past his nose and really listen. As I alluded to above, been there, done that and bought the T-Shirt. Of course, if you were to fully confront him, he would back-pedal, begin to listen and maybe even understand enough to support her cooking. But that’s the point – you have to break through the barrier. Opening up is hard enough to do without simultaneously breaking down walls. Stepping past our desire to appear right (and, sometimes, also, actually be right) is hard. Of course, marriage helps. One of its early lessons is that being “right” is a whole lot less important that you might have thought. (Lesson 2 is that “fixing things” may not always be your best, immediate “go to” option, but that’s another post.)

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Camille Griep

CeCi has difficulty opening up (let’s face it, she didn’t have the most open, warm home on the planet growing up) and every attempt to do so is unwittingly shut down by Edmund. So, how do we get past ourselves, be willing to be perceived by folks as the very thing we loathe and really listen? While most of what little progress I’ve made in this arena can be squarely laid at the feet of my patient wife, one main way to let go of our self-image is be reminded that we’re image-bearers of God. When we rest in the sure and certain knowledge of his love, realizing that he knows our foibles and sin better than we, and despite this loves us with an everlasting love, the importance of other people’s perceptions wane. Indeed, related to my previous post, when we push aside all else, including other people’s perceptions, to fiercely pursue our joy and happiness in Christ Jesus, our Pharisaical nature sloughs away. So, let them think I put you back in the kitchen. By God’s grace, I may arrive at the point where I’ll live with that vile perception to allow you to follow your passion. That, at least, is my hope and prayer.

There is another part to our focus on being “right.” Often, we’re really focused on not being in the wrong rather than any positive quality. I remember in my youth being disappointed by girls and young women who went after or stayed with the “wrong” guy. I was a nice guy; I wouldn’t take them for granted like those guys did (right) or even be verbally abusive. Why did they always seem interested in the “bad” guys? Then one day, it (ever so slowly) dawned on me that avoiding being bad wasn’t an alluring quality. You cannot be defined by what you’re not (or don’t want to be). In this case, not being “like them” is maybe an entry point, but isn’t a positive reason to be with someone (unless we’re seriously settling and that’s a whole different set of problems). This is not just true of people, but also of churches, clubs and other organizations. It’s not enough to not be “those wooly headed liberals” or “those hard-hearted right-wingers” or whatever. What is it that you positively stand for? I keep coming back to this truth – it is the positive passion for Christ that holds us through “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” not the fact that we avoid some mistake the other church makes. Again, some of that “wrongness” avoidance may be minimal criteria, but not a sustaining raison d’être.

Who knew that a brilliant, albeit snarky, tale of fairy tales colliding with the modern world would have so many lessons?

Reflections on Letters to Zell and False Dichotomies

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I’ll wax rhapsodic in a later post about the glories of Camille Greip’s Letters to Zell. Suffice it to say that it’s a brilliant exploration of those caught in the trappings of a princess life and one who has chosen a different path. At this early point in the book, the princesses are equally hacked at and jealous of Zell (Rapunzel) for leaving the life of the court to work on a Unicorn preserve. As one princess wrote in her first letter to Zell: “All of this drama to manage a unicorn preserve? I thought that sort of rural charity work was only for indulgent royalty out West.” (Camille Griep, Letters to Zell, p.1).

On the one hand, the princesses fully feel the confines of the proverbial gilded cage, while on the other hand they feel a responsibility to their family, friends, and castle staff to measure up and fit in. There are the horns of a dilemma that has responsibility on one hand and selfish freedom on the other hand.

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Camille Griep

The princesses struggle with Zell’s independence and departure:

We’re princesses, damn it. Our job is to become queens. Our job is to wear pretty dresses and have even complexions and carry on inane conversations with other queens and wear crowns and capes and furs and ride sidesaddle and be demure at dinner. Our job is to love all of these things more than anything else. Our job is to churn out progeny and hand them over to nurser naids. Our job is to enjoy bread pudding when we really want chocolate mousse. Our job is to forget what we want and do what’s expected.

I don’t understand how you just quit that job, how you pulled on a set of riding breeches, tossed your circlets in a saddlebag, and rode off into the sunset.

– Camille Griep, Letters to Zell, p.30

Of course, Ms. Griep doesn’t leave it that simple, but if you were to summarize, that seems to be their core dilemma. Equally obvious is that the apparent answer is to be free, realize our true self and potential, and hang the rest. We are given that same advice professionally – pursue your passion. Do what you enjoy and you will succeed. While alluring, this answer has never fully satisfied me. I know how utterly selfish I can be. How willing I am to let others lose, or worse still, beat them, so that I can have my selfish desires. There must be some other way where we’re neither stifled by layer upon layer of convention and expectations weighing us down and just chucking it all by living the free bohemian life with no restraints on seeking our selfish desires.

Also, there are practical matters. My passion may be reading books and drinking coffee. I may pursue this (for awhile) but given that no one is going to pay me to do this, it may lead to a difficult success. I’m not saying sell out, I’m just saying you may want to do something you can love and develop a passion for even if it’s not your highest and most natural desire. It’s a bit complicated and it’s complicated for the princesses.

However, I think this is a false dichotomy put before us – fit in and remain within your (admittedly golden) handcuffs of expectations or live free and without restraint pursuing your heart’s desire. (Note – in no way am I claiming that the author would be led to the same conclusions.) I think instead that we are called to passionately pursue our joy in God, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is where our duty and responsibility are married to our heart’s desire. When we pursue that passion, held to obedience through our desire, then we more realistically adjudicate between mere conventions of the world, all of the pressures of friends, family and fitting in and true moral obligations. We measure and refine all of the pressures and pulls of our life against the crucible of whether they help us to pursue our passion for our joy in Christ. If they hinder it, chuck them to the side (the pressures, not the people). In other words, all pf this advice to selfishly pursue our heart’s desire is, I believe, spot on, as long as glorifying God and enjoying him forever is our desire. All other desires will leave us empty.

Of course, this isn’t a new line of thinking on my part. From Augustine reminding us that “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” to Jonathan Edward’s “God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion” to C.S. Lewis: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” and John Piper after him, this line of thought has been expressed through the ages. Equally clear, is its origins are with God’s own word: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” – Psalm 37:4

Within the restraints of loving others as we love ourselves, we are to passionately pursue our pleasure, our joy, and our whole satisfaction in God and hang the consequences of convention, our society or the disapproval of others. Yes, listen to others wisdom, yes, make sure we aren’t simply being selfish, but once we are clear, go into afterburner mode and pursue pleasure in God. Don’t let all the misplaced guilt or pressures keep you from that pursuit.

Janelle True At Sola Coffee Cafe Presents A Lovely Evening of Music

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Janelle True

I spent a marvelous Friday evening at the ever delightful Sola Coffee Café with two of my sons listening to the dulcet tones of Janelle True. She opened up with a well-chosen Norah Jones classic “Don’t Know Why.”  It epitomizes the way she covers songs: while hinting at Norah Jones’s sound, the ebb and flow of rhythm and phrasing emphasis is all her own with an undercurrent of quiet power. As you listen to Ms. True sing, you hear her passion come through. Often her own songs are based on either an experience or her processing through the emotions from her experience. Whether it’s goodbye to her old life or recognizing the challenges of marching to a different drummer, the emotional intensity comes through. She is never afraid to wax a cappella or to pull back and let the quiet shine through. She brings to bear the right vocal tools at just the right time to express meaning and motion. She does all of this at Sola which, while lovely, is not a concert hall. Meals are being had, conversations are progressing and patrons are moving about. All relatively quietly and respectively, but it can still be a bit distracting.

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The evening was a treasure trove of her original songs from Swept Away and Painted Pianos as well as covering well-known morsels including multiple Norah Jones and Birdy songs with a couple new ones thrown in. Indeed, she even mashed up a little Norah Jones “Come Away With Me” and Birdy (Bob Ivers) “Skinny Love.”


Ms. True wandered between keyboard and guitar as she wandered between original contemporary Christian works, contemporary covers and some classics such as “Stand By Me,” “My Funny Valentine,” “L.O.V.E” and “Love Me Tender.” One of the reasons I love to hear standards sung (besides the fact that they’re great and, hence, standards) is that it allows me to see how artists handle well-known material as well as providing an opportunity of separating their singing ability from the material; you don’t love the singer merely because you love the song. Ms. True handles the standards in her own inimitable way while clearly honoring the original. Here’s a little taste of that (from another concert) with “My Funny Valentine:”


Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. If you have an opportunity to hear Janelle True live, take it. While her passion and power are communicated through her recorded work, it is more visceral live.

Writer's Nook @ Sola Cafe

Writer’s Nook @ Sola Cafe

I also had an opportunity to have a little Q&A with Ms. True, but that interview, my friends, is for another post :)  Just to appease you a bit, here’s “Lost at Sea” from Swept Away:

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Meshes Action and Comedy in All the Right Ways

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Courtesy of manfromuncle.com

Courtesy of manfromuncle.com

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. hits the right notes in so many places. It is a comedy/action film whose plot flows from the serious business of the Cold War and whose humor comes in the right measures at the right time; it doesn’t overwhelm the story. The tension between Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) seems genuine and is never fully abated. Gaby Teller (Alicia Vilkander) rides the line between utterly competent driver/mechanic and innocent young woman perfectly. While kept to a fairly small role, Elizabeth Debicki’s evil fascists bad-guy is silky smooth and as cold as she is beautiful. (Ms. Debicki’s plays a starkly different role in a brilliant short film, Gödel Incomplete, about which more here.) So the casting is dead on and melds well within the storyline. Other standouts are Hugh Grant as Waverley and Jared Harris as Sanders with a huge nod to Sylvester Groth as Uncle Rudi. Some complain that it does not have a great plot. It may be a well-trodden plot but for a Cold War movie, it plays out the dangers of the time well. In terms of the look of the film, the costuming, the set of the time period, and the interactions amongst the characters are all fabulous. Despite all of this goodness, it nears but doesn’t quite seem to reach the level of say Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation but certainly far surpasses something like Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Courtesy of Fandango.com

Courtesy of Fandango.com

Daniel Pemberton‘s soundtrack is sublime. It meshes 60’s music from all over the world to Mr. Pemberton’s perfect background to the movie. The sounds are reminiscent of those times while providing a contemporary take. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Robert Flack better than on “Compared To What.”

Courtesy of cinemablend.com

Courtesy of cinemablend.com

For the full review: http://ppcorn.com/us/man-u-n-c-l-e-film-review/

Here’s the trailer from Comic-Con

Joss Stone’s ‘Water for Your Soul’ is a Magical Fusion of Fabulous Voice and Layered Sounds

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It has never been easy to peg Joss Stone to a particular genre. She seems to wander around R & B, Soul, Pop and Jazz most of the time, but she has her own voice and rhythm. She also has an inherent sense of whimsy that is sometimes reflected in her playfulness with handling a song, whether it manifests itself in lyrics or an adopted accent. I think that’s why so many of us love her singing; despite having a unique sound, she plays around with what she’s doing so that she brings something new to every project and every song. She definitely brought a new, but recognizable sound to Water for Your Soul. World Music is probably the best moniker for the type of music it represents with sounds reminiscent of AfroPop, Caribbean, Reggae, Spanish guitar and maybe a bit of Celtic. I think this quote from a Los Angeles Times interview nicely summarizes her attitude toward genres: ”My mum said the album is in the world music section on Amazon. I’m chuffed, because what do I know? I’m just making music, and I’m enjoying the sounds I get to hear from all the travel.” None of her whimsical nature or a view that genres aren’t important is indicative of how seriously she takes her music; she is all about music making.

Joss Stone

Joss Stone courtesy jossstone.com

Her mix of layered sounds, rhythms paced to meaning and that great soulful voice of Ms. Stone’s are the essence of the magic of this album. While I typically immerse myself in any album I review, I’ve probably listened to this one at least couple dozen times. Each stanza, every turn of phrase and lilt of guitar or punch of drum come together to give a complexity and nuance to the music that allows us to continually uncover more to the music.

For full review: http://ppcorn.com/us/joss-stone-water-soul-album-review/

A little preview with her new video “Stuck on You”

1byone’s Amplified HDTV 50-Mile Range Atenna – Can’t Stop the Signal

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I’ve tried a number of indoor antenna for my TV (a 32″ LG HDTV that has a fabulous, albeit small, picture). While I’ve been able to receive most channels in our area, I’ve never been able to get our public TV channel, UNC-TV, consistently from Cary. It’s in a different direction and further away than the Raleigh channels. I was on the edge of breaking down and getting a decent outdoor antenna (with a little motor to allow the antenna to be turned.) OK, I was on the edge of thinking seriously about getting more serious about an outdoor antenna.) My family and I don’t watch a lot of traditional TV (although one of my teens can do some serious binge watching on Netflix), but when I do, I typically watch PBS (queue Dos Equis man).

I came across 1byone’s 50-mile antenna. While Chapel Hill is within 50 miles, in fact, it’s slightly under 25 miles, no “25-mile” antenna could pick it up at my location (terrain, trees and just plain trouble). So, I was skeptical about its effectiveness, however, my laziness beat out my skepticism. (I really didn’t want to get up on the roof.) I gave the antenna a try. W00t W00t. I’m so glad I did. Not only did I get UNC-TV (all 4 flavors), but pretty much everything else as well. The big bonus: I don’t have to reposition for different channels – it picks them all up in one position.

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Not to say there’s a particular show of particular interest coming near (some) Christmas :)

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or two with Endeavor (OK maybe there’s so more)

Not only does this little technical gem work well, but it was dead easy to install. Basically, plug in the amplifier. attach the cable to said amplifier and TV, and place the antenna on a window with included sticky-patches (technical term) or in my case, put it on the mantel strategically kept in place by a wooden box. It’s nice when a product works as advertised right out the box with no fuss. That’s 1byone’s antenna. Picture and sound are great. My Yamaha RX-V375 streams the lovely Dolby digital sound with nary a hiss and the picture has all of its little pixels in their place.

So for you cable cutters that use the internet, Netflix, Amazon Prime and have been pining for an HDTV streaming solution without have a big aerial on the house, you might want to give this one a shot. The 25-mile version is $17 and the 50-mile version is $37. As Mr. Universe said, “You can’t stop the signal, Mal”

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation – Serious Fun

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Simon Pegg in a ghillie suit in the middle of a field. OK, stop right there and take that in.

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Simon Pegg

In some ways, that image epitomizes the newest addition to the Mission Impossible franchise, Rogue Nation. It has the most embedded humor woven throughout the film of any of the MI movies while maintaining the action, mystery and surprises which are its hallmark.  This ties with Mission Impossible III for my favorite in the series (Philip Seymour Hoffman was just a fabulous bad guy). What makes this one so good? For starters, it contains the consistently solid full-on performance of Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg’s humor, Rebecca Ferguson’s capable British counter-point whose allegiance isn’t fully made clear until the latter part of the film and well-honed execution by all throughout the film. An example of this is the requisite chase scene. You know it will have one. You know it will be fast. You know it won’t lead to any real resolutions. So how does it keep from being mundane? It has a beautifully choreographed and photographed motorcycle chase in a crowded, chaotic city and a tortuous mountain road. It also has a few humorous spots. So while chase scenes are old-news this one didn’t feel well-worn. This movie fires on all cylinders.

For full review: http://ppcorn.com/us/mission-impossible-rogue-nation-movie-review

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Stevie Holland’s Beautiful Tone and Storyteller’s Voice Showcased on Life Goes On Album

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Stevie Holland’s recent release, Life Goes On (June 30th) is her first return to a studio album after her one-woman Off-Broadway show, Love, Linda: The Life Of Mrs. Cole Porter. We’re glad she jumped back into the studio, hitting standards like “Skylark”, songs from what I’ll call The Small American Songbook, little gems from musicals or other pop standards that are less known or remembered like “Not While I’m Around” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd and “Tea for Two” (with additional lyrics by Stevie Holland and Joe Mooney) from No, No, Nanette, as well as originals of her own. There are a couple of things you notice immediately upon listening to Ms. Holland: her storyteller’s rhythm and her beautiful tone. It’s as if you’re listening to a Cate Blanchett voiceover that morphs into this silky jazz voice that hits tones that pierce your heart. While Ms. Holland isn’t always technically perfect, her voice wavers a couple times on the album, she has beautiful phrasing, a Broadway singer’s enunciation, and a tone that is rarely achieved.

[Full disclosure: I received a copy of this CD for the purposes of review]

[Picture Credits to Jeremy Nelson (banner) and Tom LeGoff – courtesy StevieHolland.com]

For full review: http://ppcorn.com/us/stevie-holland-life-goes-album-review/

Stevie Holland

Stevie Holland

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells – A Confluence of Clever Ideas and Spot-On Writing

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Fluency focuses on the premise that our interaction with alien species is all about communication and those who have a sympathetic ear to language have a sympathetic ear to the heart and mind of those who are utterly “other.” This leads us to a naturally-gifted linguists as our protagonist; not typical of most SciFi and not boring, even if it sounds that way. Who better to have first contact than someone trained in the first contact of other human people-groups with previously unmapped languages? It is an ingenious premise that’s well executed by Jennifer Wells (it’s a little hard to believe this is Ms. Wells’ debut novel) and leads to some luscious tension between the military commander running the show from the command ship, the Providence. Theoretically, Jane Holloway, the linguist/scientist, takes command once onboard the alien vessel, Speroancora. However, things don’t go as expected and the resident alien communicates exclusively with Jane Holloway and only within her mind. Due to this intimate communiqué provided by the alien (Ei’Brai), on top of an already jaded military mindset, the commander doesn’t know if the alien has taken over Jane Holloway’s mind, is simply misleading her or is telling the truth. The “don’t go as expected” part goes south quickly. As you might expect (although a number of reviewers don’t seem to, about which more later), the others and especially the commander, are more than a little suspicious that Ei’Brai is the source of their woes. This leads to bad decisions and the fun begins.

Jennifer Foehner Wells

Jennifer Foehner Wells

While there is one coherent story, there are a number of side trails that enrich our knowledge of Jane Holloway: why she relates to her crew, her love interest (yes, that too), her commander and Ei’Brai she does. These memory-walks Jane takes enrich the story (and clarify her motives) without throwing off its pacing.

What do I love about Fluency?

  • Its brilliant premise that first contact is all about communication and understanding
  • Our growing understanding of Jane Holloway, Ei’Brai, and the crew.
  • No one is perfect and nothing is easy.
  • Dialog and pacing are spot-on while descriptions of the vessels, characters, and remembered worlds are good without ever bogging down the story, and the relationship between Ei’Brai and Jane is particularly well developed.
  • The Gubernaviti/Qua’dux relationship is smart; it provides a balance of power but needs a backup plan (not really a spoiler since you have to read it to get it).
  • Stephan Martiniére‘s rock-a-lockin’ book cover.

What did I find intriguing?

  • So often, where you start is where you end (Walsh can’t get past his military training and natural skepticism)
  • Ei’Brai seems to epitomize much of current political thinking – it’s all political correctness until it’s time to move toward something you want, then the ends justify the means ‘cause you “know” you’re oh so right.

Of what was I less fond?

  • I’m not quite sure I buy the Coelusha Limax/Nepatrox story of surviving because of moral compunction on the aliens’ part to not needlessly kill.
  • Commander Walsh, but hey, I’m not supposed to like him. Also, he’s a bit of a stereotype.
  • The narrative movement towards troubled times seemed a bit rushed, especially for the actions of Ei’Brai and Walsh. While the smoothest and most carefully constructed arguments would not have had things going smoothly, both seemed to rush to judgment sooner than was reasonable.
Susanna Burney

Susanna Burney

As I often do, I went between the Kindle and Audible version of the story. Susanna Burney beautifully narrates the book. Not only was she a natural for Jane Holloway, but she handled all characters with aplomb. She had great vocal pacing, good enunciation, and clear demarcation amongst the characters. Her portrayal of Ei’Brai as formal and oddly paced was perfect for the alien.

I commend the book for your reading pleasure.

***Spoiler Alert – spoilers below ****

I want to comment on a theme I’ve noticed of some reviewers who didn’t care for the book. Essentially their complaint was that the crew were immature, daft, or both because of how poorly they assessed the situation and didn’t follow Jane. Now, as I indicated above, the pacing was a bit quick moving toward conflict, but not in a heavy-handed way. Most of the reviewers who made this point struck me as judging Walsh and crew as if they had Jane’s full knowledge and should have known better. The crew clearly had to make their decisions based on external behavior and past experience. It seemed more than reasonable that they would worry that Jane Holloway was taken over by the alien. Given Walsh’s background and his lack of willingness to listen, I just don’t see it being obvious that he would view her as safe to trust. In fact, while Ei’Brai wasn’t taking over her, he was misleading her and more intimately inculcated in her thinking than she knew.

Now some may say that it’s an even worse over-reaction on the part of the crew because of the technological advantage of the alien. If he had ill intent, he could kill the crew. Since he didn’t kill the crew, he was safe and, by extension, so was Jane. However, despite that advantage, he was stranded and his ship was in trouble. So, he still had the motivation to manipulate them or pose a danger. Also, Walsh isn’t the type to roll over and give up. So their reaction was reasonable and it was only Jane’s inside knowledge, empathetic gifts as a listener and natural disposition that saved the day. In other words, I don’t buy this criticism.

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