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Q&A | February 27, 2014

Rene Denfeld: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Rene Denfeld



Describe your latest book. The Enchanted is a story narrated by a man on death row. The novel was inspired by my work as a death penalty... Continue »
  1. $18.19 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The Enchanted

    Rene Denfeld 9780062285508

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Amy Wachsmuth has commented on (15) products.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The Lies of Locke Lamora

Amy Wachsmuth, April 16, 2014

If I were to do a one word review for this book it would be: Badass.

Feel free to stop reading now, the rest of this review is basically fluff, but since I have a particular fondness for writing fluffy book reviews I will proceed.

Oh good, you decided to come along.

Synopsis:
Locke Lamora is the leader of a gang of thieves dubbed the Gentleman Bastards. This group of orphaned young men were educated and trained to become masterful thieves by a man called Father Chains. Chains was the Eyeless Priest of Perelandro, the thirteenth of the twelve gods, Lord of the Overlooked. Father Chains was not eyeless.

The city of Camorr was built upon the Elderglass ruins of an alien race, interlaced with canals infested with wolf sharks and other niceties from the Iron Sea. Duke Nicovante reigned over the nobility and lawful citizens, and Capa Vencarlo Barsavi reigned over the lawless. A Secret Peace existed between these two men, the nobility were to be left untouched and Capa Barsavi would be left to manage his gangs--which he did--ruthlessly.

Locke: “So I don’t have to…”

Father Chains: “Obey the Secret Peace? Be a good little pezon? Only for pretend, Locke. Only to keep the wolves from the door. Unless your eyes and ears have been stitched shut with rawhide these past two days, by now you must have realized that I intend you and Calo and Galdo and Sabetha to be nothing less,” Chains confided through a feral grin, “than a fucking ballista bolt right through the heart of Vencarlo’s precious Secret Peace.”


YES!

And this is just the beginning. The first hundred pages ticked by, the next hundred flew, the next three hundred had me up late at night with burning eyes. It found me yelling, “Just a minute!!” as I stole time from Hillsboro to get back to the sultry heat of Camorr. Then in a flash, it was over. I set my book down and said something brilliant like, “That. Was. Aweeesome.”

One Complaint: Alchemy exists in Camorr--and boy does it ever. It is applied to everything. There are alchemical lights, alchemical fruits, alchemical liquor, alchemical drugs, alchemical formaldehyde, alchemical make-up, alchemical toilet paper that removes all poo leaving a scent of roses behind. Just kidding on the last one, but it felt like that.

The rest--golden.

With GRRM like brutality, we lose several favorite characters and favorite villains. I always admire authors who can expend so much effort building characters only to kill them off. It would be like spending months building an incredible sand sculpture, then sending some toddlers to stomp all over it. Then instead of lamenting the lost effort, the artist then goes ahead creates something even better.

The plot gets so tense at times I would audibly sigh with relief when it was over. “Are you O.K.?” I heard more than once. In idle moments, or sometimes not so idle moments, my mind would wander back into the story to figure out where it would go next, or to guess at the fate of a imperiled character.

Backstory is given in small digestible chunks that is relevant to current action in the story. At first the sojourns into backstory was annoying and a little confusing, but either it got better or I got used to it and I started appreciating the context it brought to the story.

Best of all there are more books! Second best of all--this book stands on its own. It did not end in the middle of a story, nor did it, in the last hundred pages, invent a dozen new stories then end… Unlike some other authors I know. (Oh yes, I'm looking at you GRRM and Pat Rothfuss.)

Just kidding, love you guys--beards rule!
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Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too

Amy Wachsmuth, December 29, 2013

How This Book Works

Siblings Without Rivalry follows a set of parents in group sessions with the instructor/authors. At first, I thought it was a lazy way to write a book; after a short introduction the narrative reads like a dictation of parenting group sessions. It's not, of course, it's a thoughtful distillation of their experiences teaching sibling relationship sessions to many groups of parents. As I read, I found the parents' stories and conversations moving. The parents asked nearly every question that popped into my head, which was accompanied by a satisfying response. It was also comforting to read accounts of other parents making the same mistakes I have, and being just as clueless as I am about what to do.

The following is the outline and an example of the type of advice in that chapter.

Brothers and Sisters Past and Present
This chapter asks parents to record sibling conflicts, and sets expectations for what you can achieve as a parent.
Example: In response to one woman's statement about wanting her kids to be friends, the author replies with her own story, “‘Instead of worrying about the boys becoming friends,’ I explained, ‘I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they'd need for all their caring relationships.’” Brilliant.

Not Till the Bad Feelings Come Out
Listening to your child complain about the troll that is their sibling, and acknowledging their feelings, is a very healing process.
“Insisting on good feelings between siblings led to bad feelings. Acknowledging bad feeling between siblings led to good feelings.”
Other emotional skills are important such as, naming feelings, and reflecting back to the child what they are feeling so they know you understand, for example, “You seem to be feeling angry that Gabi took your stick horse without asking.”

Perils of Comparisons
Even if you don't actively compare your kids to one another, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” The water is murky, for example praising one child within earshot of the other can feel like a put down to the other child.
Another insightful example: when a mother praised one of her child's improvement in math, the other gloated about her even better grade. The mother could have responded by saying, “There's no report card contest going on here… …I want to sit down with each of you individually to…” Then follow through giving each child your full attention and focusing your discuss on that child’s individual progress.

Equal is Less
Personally, I have railed against trying to be fair, and right from the start didn't tolerate, “She has more!” and “I want one too!!” However, just because I didn't tolerate it, didn't stop either child from feeling slighted if I didn't provide duplicates of everything. Now I have some new tools for working with this. I have added, “Everybody gets what she needs. I'm not worried about what anybody else has, if you need more, you can have more,” to my parenting mantras. Or I might say, “Eat what you have first, then if you need more there is plenty here for whomever needs it.” I still don't count and measure, and the girls are more relaxed knowing their needs will be met.
This chapter was also important for answering the, “You love Gabi more!” accusation. Instead of angry rebuttals, I now reply by telling Danielle all the things I love about her, and how much she means to me. I don't mention Gabi at all. She glows. She hasn't said that since I read this book.

Siblings in Roles
How often has, “This is Danielle, my little artist, and this is my monkey climber girl, Gabi” rolled off my tongue? It's so easy to cast kids in roles. I always thought I was praising a strength, but in reality I'm limiting my kids' potential. By labeling Danielle “The Artist”, she thinks that art is the only thing she's good out and resists branching out. Also, it could also limit Gabi's interest in art. Or worse, what if by some freak of talent, Gabi becomes a better artist than Danielle? Then Gabi will have taken Danielle's identity as “The Artist”. I've re-trained myself to introduce them as my daughter, Danielle, and my daughter, Gabrielle. That's it. They get to decide who, and what they are. I also have to guard against other people labeling them; I try to always say, “Yep, she likes to climb, but can do so many other amazing things too, like, color, make funny faces, tell a funny joke… She told me this one the other day…

Out of their earshot, I love to compare and contrast my kids' abilities and personalities. It helps me get a handle on them as individuals.

When Kids Fight
The first piece of advice is to do nothing. Weird, but what a relief! If it escalates, in my house it usually does, then the best thing to do is describe what you see without passing any kind of judgement. Kids are notoriously self centered, making it difficult to understand a sibling's intentions or point of view. Add to that the heat of conflict… Kaboom!
A parent can come into a dispute, hear and reflect each side in a way that both kids can understand, and them let them work out a solution.
Example:
Me: “Wow you guys sound upset.”
Danielle: “Gabi has my favorite necklace, and she's going to break it!”
Me: “You're worried that Gabi will break your necklace. It is really pretty, Gabi must really like it.”
Danielle: *calmer* “Yeah, but it's mine. And she's going to break it.”
Gabi: “No, it's actually MINE!” (It is not, of course, but Danielle has programmed this one into her stock phrases cache.)
Me: “Gabi, that necklace belongs to Danielle. She's worried that it might get broken.”
Gabi: “I want to wear it!”
Me: “Danielle, what can we do here?”
Danielle: “That one is my favorite, but she can wear this other one.”
Gabi: “Thank you, sis-ter.”
This actually happened. REALLY.
When I come in and describe what I see, show respect for Danielle's property rights, she might unlock her position and shift into finding a solution that Gabi will be happy with too. Gabi is a bit little to understand the nuances of what went on, but I also try to coach her by giving her things to say and ways of asking that doesn't trigger Danielle's volatile temperament. It is no small feat, and takes a lot of self-control on my part, because something is usually cooking on the stove, or the phone is ringing, but as I'm teaching them, I'm also learning how to focus and respectfully interact with them.

Making Peace With the Past
One woman spoke of how she was continually compared to her sister in an unfavorable light, and how it still affected her to this day. Through these sessions, she began to realize that these comparisons probably caused some suffering for her sister too, and she decided to call her.
“Then she told me how sorry she was for the pain she must have caused me, and how much it meant to her that I had called, and that if I hadn't, we might have gone to our graves without ever knowing each other. Then I started to cry.”
I endeavor not only to avoid this sort of mistake in raising my girls, I also want them to know what potential they have in each other for a lifelong companion. No one will understand or know the essence of you like a sibling. No one else will witness the trials and triumphs of your formative years from a first hand perspective, one that can actually enhance your understanding of those times. Even your future spouse or children won't be able to know you in that level of unspoken understanding. It's why I psshaaw, whenever my husband tells me how lucky he got to have me… All the people I grew up with know that he is my good luck.

There's nothing I can do to make Gabi and Danielle become friends, nor would I try, but I can avoid deepening the rift between them, and I can give them the building materials they need to bridge the gap between them when they are ready.

I have hope.
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The River Why by David James Duncan
The River Why

Amy Wachsmuth, December 13, 2013

The story that was a river.

This story begins in the pool of stagnant water of Gus’s life as a boy growing up in Portland, Oregon. He is a prodigal fisher-kid, born to a pair as compatible as Lord Byron and Calamity Jane. The only points on which the three of them converge is the water and the fish that sway within, and their affection for Gus's little brother, Bill Bob. Bill Bob wants nothing to do with water, but swims in metaphysical waters like one born with gills.

Gus's family is in a state of perpetual conflict, particularly with regards to the method by which fish should be taken from the water. The battle of worms vs. flies rages on a daily basis, revealing a deep disconnect between his parents.

After graduation without honors, Gus's river leaps the log jam, and glides post-haste to a cabin on Oregon's fictitious Tamawanis river. Isolated, he spends all his time following his Ideal Schedule: Sleeping, fishing, eating, drinking and sleeping again. Instead finding utter happiness, one such as myself would expect, he sinks and spins as though he's caught in the eddy of a waterfall. His philosophical minded friend, Titus, offers him hand and pulls him free.

Free flowing again the story meanders through remembrances of his childhood, through ancient forests that fell victim to refir madness, through Sherar’s falls fished by the Native American, Tomas Bigeater, who remembers his spirit, and by other Native Americans who cannot. A branch of the river flows through the city of Portland and dies, while the main story flows on. The river is rife with riffles of laughter, between pools of deep clarity, and eddies of beauty, and murky stretches of disorientation.

Sometimes the river passes through the physical into the metaphysical, to return luminous. It is alive with spirited trout, minnows of greatness and longing, ugly yet delectable nymphs, and worms wrapped in mud like Twinkies. This story-river makes fun of itself, gives and gets, despairs and hopes. It bubbles from it's spring wondering at its purpose, finds its spirit, all the while asking, “Why?”

David James Duncan has written a beautiful river that I will float, fish, skinny dip, and refresh my spirit in again, and again, and again.
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Amy Wachsmuth, December 6, 2013

With my usual dubious feeling towards all things revered I cracked the cover. After reading the opening page, all my doubts vaporized, and soon afterwards so did our planet--in the story...

Arthur Dent is a normal English Joe, who fancies a cup of tea in the morning and a pint in the afternoon. He is dragged away from his house, which is about to be bulldozed to make room for a highway interchange, by his friend, Ford Prefect.

Ford is a galactic hitchhiking alien who's been stranded on Earth for the last fifteen years, while doing research for the title book, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Ford could care less about Arthur's house, as he's just intercepted a signal from a Vogon Constructor Ship, which he knows are tasked with destroying planets to clear a routes for new hyper-spatial expressways. Progress, you know. He's brought Arthur to the pub in attempt to tank him up to ease the inherent discomfort of riding in a matter transference beam.

Ford and Arthur stowaway on the Vogon ship, and therein begins the adventure in which they learn the origins of our planet, for whom it was created, and why. Along the way we meet the two headed, AWOL, galactic president/hippie, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillium, who is the other remaining earthling, and a manically depressed robot named Marvin.

And then there's The Guide, with a cover stating, "DON'T PANIC", and subjects illuminating readers on nearly infinite topics, including the necessity for hitchhikers to possess a clean towel at all times.


The author, Douglas Adams, takes gorgeous colors from physics, math, social parallels, humor, and pure originality, and swirls them in a bucket of flippant genius; then he crunches up a spaceship and dips it in. Shaking it out, and hung on the line to dry is this book.

The product is slightly psychedelic, loaded with wildly imaginative ideas that swirl before our mind's eyes before shifting into something else fascinating and original. For example, the guide informs us that the “..beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.” Or the improbable inventor of the golden Infinite Improbability generator, “which could generate the infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship across the mind-paralyzing distances between the farthest stars” without all that “tedious mucking about in hyperspace”, who was a student rather than a self-exalted physicist. He ended up being lynched by an angry mob of physicists who just can't stand a smart ass.

With all these potential story threads flying around, there's me wondering what to make of it, and hoping he'll go in deep with one or two of my favorites. Then the book ends when the characters decide it's time for lunch.

Just like that.

Huh? Wha? You mean this isn't going to go on until every original idea is put in a mortar and ground into dust by a pestle wielding author? You want me to think about these things, and make what I will of them? How weird. How lovely. How trippy. Wheee!

I’m in! Just let me go pack my towel.
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Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander by Phil Robertson
Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander

Amy Wachsmuth, October 26, 2013

This book covers the life of Phil Robertson, A.K.A., The Duck Commander/Redneck Extraordinaire. There are several strong themes throughout this book. The value of hard work, love of kin-folk, following your passions, Jesus, and of course--the joy of blowing the heads off ducks.

I don’t agree with all of Phil’s political views, and I think that a woman who isn't a good cook--"like me--can still be a good wife--like I hope I am. Nevertheless, I’m envious of this man and his faith. I'm envious that he knew himself well enough to know that a career as a professional football player wouldn't make him happy, happy, happy. That he had the faith in himself to convince his wife, who was caring for his brood of sons, that he should give up his comfortable teaching job to move into the swamp and fish for a living. Had he made the practical decisions, like we are all conditioned to make from early childhood, he might have been too distracted or "busy" to follow his passion to his calling.

Now he’s a legend and has provided a legacy that employs many of the Robertson Clan today--doing something that they love: making duck calls, saving sinners, and blowing the heads off ducks.
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