Show Notes – Episode 1.12

Where All My Girls At?: BBE Chats James Barclay’s Dawnthief

Quick Links from this Episode:

  • Not a ton of things to follow up on for this episode, but one of them is James Barclay’s page on Fantastic Fiction. Fantastic Fiction is a family run database of fiction and fantasy book. They rather dubiously claim Barclay is the “most successful UK fantasy writer of his generation.”
  • If you’d like to learn more about Barclay or his books, be sure to check out his personal website.
Dawnthief, by James Barclay (2009 ed, first published 1999)

James Barclay’s fantasy adventure, Dawnthief, is the first pick for Books We Hate in April. Paige first encountered Dawnthief at Barnes & Noble her freshman year of college. Though the cover was less than inspiring, the summary convinced Paige to take the plunge…into hatred. Or at the very least, indifference. For some inexplicable reason, Paige kept this volume despite her dislike for more than ten years and, here we are.

James Barclay is a British fantasy (some would say high fantasy) author born in 1965. Like so many other authors, his desire to write books came at an early age, and took a while to come to fruition. While Barclay did some dabbling in engineering when he first entered university, it wasn’t long before he transitioned to the arts. Barclay has been in several different productions as an actor. However, Barclay is now also a successful author with twelve novels to his name. Dawnthief was his first, published in 1999, and centered around a mercenary group called the Raven. Barclay would go on to write two trilogies about the Raven, along with several others based in the same world.

Themes Discussed in the Episode

Dawnthief follows the exploits of the Raven, a group of elite mercenaries bound together by an unbreakable and rigid brotherly code. When a job starts going sideways the Raven is pulled inexorably into a titanic struggle to save the entire world of Balaia, complete with vengeful Wytch Lords and a spell of nuclear proportions.

  • First point of note that sets Dawnthief somewhat apart from other fantasy books is that Barclay is not afraid to kill off ‘main’ characters. Many stories don’t hold any true suspense because no matter the odds you are certain that the protagonist and company will survive even the darkest times or tightest spots. A caution to any would-be readers, don’t get too close to any characters in Dawnthief. As one reviewer put it, the book resembled a fantastical Magnificent Seven.
  • Barclay has created a weird blend of fantasy with sci-fi elements that doesn’t always seem to work. Similar to what we saw in The Green Empire, there is inter-dimensional travel and dying worlds, however, the magic practiced in Dawnthief is much more science-minded in nature.
  • There are definitely some balancing issues: the pacing is uneven, switching from interminably slow at times, to nonstop action at others. The big baddies of the book, the Wytch Lords, seem unconvincing as well. Supposedly the most powerful beings of ever, the actual process of destroying them seems anticlimactic
  • The main point of contention that comes up in our discussion is the conspicuous lack of female characters in this story. Despite a wide cast, there are only *two* female characters and they were either superfluous or unlikable. Selyn’s asides literally contribute nothing to the story, her only contribution is indirectly, through her death. Erienne, on the other hand, is simply not a convincing female character.
  • A note of praise: Jennifer thought Dawnthief had some great action scenes that did not lead her to automatically tune them out.

Our Final Thoughts

Once again, BBE’s co-hosts had slightly different opinions of a Book We Hate. After reading, Jennifer gave Dawnthief a solid 3.5 stars out of 5. She probably won’t go hunt down the next book in the series, and it is true Dawnthief has some problems, but overall she enjoyed the read.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.13 on The Ghosts of Williamsburg. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving a review and following BBE on social media. You can also support the podcast on Patreon and get access to our bonus Deep Dive episodes! (All links below). Until next time!

April Sneak Peek

As we enter another month of craziness and uncertainty, take solace in the fact that Big Book Energy will still be serving up episodes every Monday and sporadic blog posts because Jennifer has a hard time staying on her sh*t. Keep scrolling for a preview of what we are chatting about this month:

First up this month is James Barclay’s Dawnthief. Following the adventures of the Raven, an elite band of mercenaries. Will Jennifer hate this book as much as Paige?

Our first Thrift Store Finds pick of April will be taking us on a supernatural tour of Williamsburg, VA. Be prepared for some *spooky* photos in this week’s Show Notes!

Up next is Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John. Once upon a time, Jennifer decided to give this bestseller a try. She was…unimpressed. Tune in to see if Paige thinks the same, although if you know anything about Paige, the answer is probably obvious.

Many moons ago, we promised you another ancient astronaut book, and the moment has finally come. A favorite source for Ancient Aliens, Erich von Danken’s Chariots of the Gods promises to be just as fascinating as our Lost Realms episode.

For our bonus episode this month, we will be finishing up Tolkien’s trilogy with The Return of the King. A teaser of this episode will be available everywhere podcasts live, but full episodes are available for our Patreon supporters.

And that is a wrap for our April Sneak Peek! Follow the links below to find us on social media or to support the podcast on Patreon. Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Episode 1.10

Paige is a Ray of Sunshine: Talking Murder and Massacre in In the Lake of the Woods

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Here’s the Britannica page on Tim O’Brien. You really know you’ve made it as an author when you get your own encyclopedia page!
  • Amazing NPR interview with O’Brien on the twentieth anniversary of the release of The Things They Carried, this really gives insight into O’Brien’s goals for his work and his motivations.
  • Another interview with O’Brien, reveals the deep emotional trauma that is still with him today.
  • Here’s a link to Confederates in the Attic on Amazon. Jennifer would recommend this one again and again.
  • For more info on the massacre at My Lai, see the following: Britannica entry, a retrospective piece from NPR, a 50th anniversary article from Smithsonian magazine. Obviously, this is just scratching the surface, entire books have been written about this massacre. If you want more extensive sources, we recommend searching in Google scholar, or on the Library of Congress website – an excellent place to find primary source material on the massacre and subsequent investigation.
  • Click here for a satellite view of Lake of the Woods, bridging Minnesota and Canada. As you can tell, it is extremely large, filled with islands and small waterways, and would undoubtedly be treacherous for someone who did not know where they were going.
  • The BBC has a fascinating article on the ouroboros, a common symbol found in the ancient world, most notably ancient Egypt and Greece. The ouroboros was also an important symbol in the Renaissance study of alchemy.
In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien (1994)

One look at the cover of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods and you know this is not going to be a fun ride. Could anything be more menacing than black waters lit only by the red light of a dying moon? It is as sinister and enigmatic as the work itself. This was a choice for our Books We Hate theme, but what exactly did Jennifer hate so much? Well, as assigned reading in a high school English class, the book didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. The constant bouncing between different times and places didn’t endear it to her, either. But what really caused Jennifer’s distaste was the ending: ambiguous and unresolved. You can’t be sure what really happened, and the lack of any concrete answers caused a teenage Jennifer to toss the book aside with frustration.

Tim O’Brien is a widely-celebrated, award-winning author, perhaps most known for his collection of short stories about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried and another Vietnam tale, Going After Cacciato. O’Brien is writing from experience, having served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. His wartime experience manifests in In the Lake of the Woods as well: the main character, John Wade, suffers a crippling political defeat after his participation in the massacre of My Lai is surfaced by his opponent. O’Brien has been roundly praised for his ability to convey the emotional journey of the soldier as they navigate the horror that is war – from joy and camaraderie, to rage and terror. His abilities in this regard are undoubtedly why he was awarded the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing in 2013 and has served as an endowed chair in creative writing at Texas State University.

I carry the memories of the ghosts of a place called Vietnam β€” the people of Vietnam, my fellow soldiers…More importantly, I carry the weight of responsibility, and a sense of abiding guilt.

Tim O’Brien, from an interview with NPR (linked above).

Once you actually dive in, this is essentially a murder mystery/thriller – Jennifer is actually convinced it would make a great movie. Not one she would go to, though, too much suspense. What makes this book distinct from a Sue Grafton, for example, is that the reader is placed inside the head of the potential killer, watching as his sanity crumbles in around him.

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)

In this episode, Paige breaks down the three parts of In the Lake of the Woods. There is the main narrative, driven by John Wade as he struggles to piece together what happened to his missing wife, Kathy. The next two parts are interspersed throughout John’s narrative and provide interesting counterpoints to his perspective. The first are hypothetical situations that could have happened to explain Kathy’s disappearance. Spoiler, none of them are particularly uplifting. The last part is comprised of the notes an unknown figure has been making about the case. BBE hypothesized that this was perhaps the work of an investigative journalist following the John Wade story. The interviews with relatives, law enforcement officials, facts about the area, and research into John Wade’s past would certainly suggest this. O’Brien expertly weaves these pieces together, crafting the perfect unreliable narrator in John Wade, and forcing the reader to constantly reconsider what they believe the truth to be. This style may not have suited high school Jennifer, but O’Brien is certainly effective at blurring the lines of reality, encouraging us to question the existence of abstract, objective “truth”.

It turns out that Paige didn’t hate this book. Honestly, after talking about it again, Jennifer isn’t so sure that she hates this book, as much as she found the experience of reading it to be distasteful. This is not a book for the faint of heart. It is uncomfortable, as any deep dive into the uglier sides of human nature should be. Paige didn’t enjoy it, but she gave it a BBE signature three stars out of five – meaning we probably won’t read it again, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.11. If you are enjoying the podcast to far, please consider giving us a review and following us on social media. Be sure to check out our Patreon for extra BBE content, including bonus episode (All links below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Episode 1.9

The World is Ending and Everything is a Cult – BBE Does Chicken Soup for the Soul

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Here is the article written by Harvard University’s Asaf Bitton on social distancing.
  • Turns out Paige should not drink that rum she’s had for ten years. While liquor doesn’t grow bacteria because ethanol is poisonous to everybody, it does change flavor and could make you sick in other ways. This Bustle article is not only informative and breaks down how long each kind of alcohol can last once opened, it has endeared itself to Jennifer forever for referring to whiskey as “smokey regret juice.” Enjoy.
  • The Christian kids series about the family that does archaeology together is called The Cooper Kids Adventure Series, and was written by Frank E. Peretti. The Goodreads link for the series is here.
  • If you want to learn all things Chicken Soup, visit their website here. They have pretty extensive About pages.
  • It turns out that the Goodwill where we bought these did NOT have the full run of Chicken Soup books. Not even close. For the horrifyingly long list, check out this Wikipedia page.
  • As far as we can tell, The Esteem Group – co-founded by Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff – no longer exists.
  • OWN posted a video of Maya Angelou herself reading “Phenomenal Woman.”
  • The sage of our times, Will Smith, has some great things to say about love and happiness.
  • Visit the official site for Women’s History Month.

Notes from the Episode:

Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul (1996)

This week BBE takes on the classic Chicken Soup series. This is just one of two Chicken Soup episodes we are serving up this month in the hopes of staving off quarantine-induced boredom. When BBE visited the thrift store what seems like years ago now, they were delighted to find that Goodwill appeared to have the entire run of Chicken Soup books. If you grew up in the nineties, chances are you had a copy or two floating around your house. As one BBE friend mentioned, his mother was fond of putting one in the bathroom for guests to peruse. Perhaps better reading material than the shampoo bottles. Maybe. If you are not a sentimental person, these books can be a tough sell. Originally put together by a pair of motivational speakers, the whole point of every Chicken Soup book seemed to be to pull as many unwilling (or willing, I don’t know what your emotional state is) tears from your eyes as possible as you blubber into some tissues in the best way. This is why people watch videos of people overcoming cancer or dogs being reunited with their military owners after months away: the emotional tidal wave is cathartic and reminds us cynical emotional Scrooges that good things exist in the world.

Chicken Soup for the Soul was first published in 1993 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Over the course of their speaking careers, they came across numerous inspiring stories that they used in their talks. Eventually they decided to compile the best of these stories to share them with those who may never see them speak. Chicken Soup for the Soul became incredibly popular, sold millions of copies, and a new hit series was born. The company has now astonishingly published more than 250 books. Somehow. There’s options for NASCAR fans and golfers, entrepreneurs and “golden” souls. Whatever that means. Today, the company has been sold to Bill Rouhana, Amy Newmark, and Robert Jacobs. It has, shall we say, expanded extensively beyond the original book. Chicken Soup trades on the stock market, sells pet food, and has started a YouTube TV show. That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, though. It did not take very long after the original 1993 release, for Chicken Soup to move on to women’s souls.

It’s the click of my heels

The bend of my hair

The palm of my hand

The need of my care

Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman”

In the episode, Jennifer and Paige focused on just a handful of stories from Chicken Soup, because to do otherwise would have taken many more hours than it already did. Overall, though, here are some of BBE’s thoughts:

  • This book is interesting because it presents a very distinct and very traditional interpretation of womanhood: woman as mother, as wife, as caregiver. The overwhelming majority of stories revolved around women volunteering in hospitals, taking care of their kids as a single mom after escaping an abusive relationship, or finding love.
  • Very rarely, some stories included women that overcame discrimination through sheer determination or force of will, such as Jean Harper, who became United’s first female airline pilot in the 1970s.
  • It is really annoying that the fictional and non-fiction stories are mixed in together. It makes you, as a reader, doubt every word you are reading as no narrator is deemed to be trustworthy.
  • This book was very clearly written in a different time and for a different generation. Not only were many of the stories started with the phrase, “Back in [insert year between 1920 and 1950 here]”, they dealt with issues and views that seem…unfamiliar to us today.
  • Fun things like sexism and toxic masculinity in the stories are as unsurprising as they are disappointing. What is perhaps most disappointing is when these are not pointed out, but are instead wrapped up as a baggage-free sentimental story.
  • For the most part BBE had a hard time finding things to relate to in these stories. Jennifer in particular, after reading the entirety of the book could not identify with hardly any of them. Which poses an interesting question of what does womanhood or femininity mean to you? Does it fit these traditional female roles? Is it something else entirely?

At the end of the episode, Jennifer challenged herself to come up with her own story to add to the book, but struggled to think of anything meaningful. What would chicken soup for women look like today? Post third wave or even fourth wave feminism? Post #MeToo movement? In retrospect, Jennifer hopes that the stories contained in an updated version would offer a great deal more variety than what she found in Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul. Certainly stories that involved those “traditional” roles still have a place, because those roles of motherhood or wife or caregiver are still important to us and offer incredible value to ourselves and others. But hopefully, those stories would also contain more overcoming of social obstacles, of trailblazing, of being extraordinarily brilliant, of turning the torch previous generations of women have handed us into a blazing star so bright no problem can withstand it. The stories of inspiring women who did just that are a joy to uncover, now, during Women’s History Month, and every other day of the year.

This is not to say that all of us living ordinary lives, not being female astronauts or Olympians, etc., are somehow failing at being awesome. That isn’t true at all. You don’t need to be actual Superwoman to represent that blazing star. We can all embody that power in our everyday lives, through every step we take to support those around us.

Go on, have the audacity.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.10. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, please consider giving us a review and following us on social media. Be sure to check out our Patreon for bonus BBE content, including bonus episodes (All links below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Episode 1.3

Visions of Enlightenment: Mysterious Manuscripts, Macchu Picchu, and Machine Guns

For our second Thrift Store Find, Paige chose James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy. Served up in our local Goodwill’s New Age section, and with a name like The Celestine Prophecy, you can guess that this pick is going in a similar direction to our first Thrift Store Find. However, contrary to what Jennifer had originally thought, this is, in fact, a work of fiction. Perhaps this is better than a mystical self-help book? Perhaps not? We’ll get to that at the end of the post. Either way, Redfield is simply using a fictional story as a vehicle for plugging his nine step program to achieving enlightenment, although what kind of enlightenment he means is not necessarily the woo-woo mumbo jumbo you may be expecting.

James Redfield, c/o goodreads

Redfield grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama area, and attended school at Auburn University. While in school he studied several eastern schools of thought, such as Taoism, while earning a degree in sociology. He later got a Master’s degree in counseling, which kick-started a fifteen-year long career in counseling. Though working with abused adolescents was undoubtedly a fulfilling career for Redfield, he explains in his personal bio on his website (link below) that he felt increasingly drawn to write about, “interactive psychology, Eastern and Western philosophies, science, futurism, ecology, and history.” He actually published The Celestine Prophecy himself, through Satori Publishing in 1992. By 2005, the book had over twenty million copies sold and was available in thirty-four different languages, a kind of success that most self-publishers can only dream of. This was only the first of many subsequent successful books, wherein Redfield reveals further ‘steps’ in his program. The Celestine Prophecy is described by Redfield as being a parable,

Paige walks listeners through the nine steps as presented within the story about a man (who is never named, although they call him John in the movie adaptation – let’s call him ‘John’ from now on), who embarks on a wild Peruvian adventure after becoming dissatisfied with his life and learning of a mysterious manuscript discovered in Peru, one that points to a path to achieve enlightenment. While the Catholic Church is trying to suppress knowledge of this manuscript emerging, as it rather understandably represents a threat to their own spiritual teachings, some brave souls that ‘John’ meets serendipitously along the way are not going to let an ancient institution or a few gun fights stand in their way. Yes, I said gun fights, as there are a disproportionate number of gun fights in this story, likening it to a Jason Bourne or a James Bond movie. Did anyone else notice that those two have the same initials? Anyway, “John” is helped by various people who reveal subsequent insights necessary for spiritual awakening to him.

This beautiful photo of Macchu Picchu, where ‘John’ has a spiritual experience, is byΒ rhett sorensenΒ onΒ Unsplash

Redfield fluctuates between preaching an ascension gospel and providing advice that you would expect to find in a therapy session, undoubtedly stemming from his background in counseling. Things like releasing emotional or spiritual burdens, marketed in the story as forgetting your past, are common fare in the therapist’s office. Further, Redfield discusses how to recognize toxic people and behaviors at length, though not in so many words. Instead, this is billed as ‘transference,’ and ‘John’ learns there are four different types of behaviors that are designed to gain energy (or attention) from other people: the interrogator, the intimidator, aloof, and the ‘poor me’. This section was perhaps the most practically applicable portion of Redfield’s work as we all know people who match these behaviors, or perhaps even recognize these behaviors in ourselves from time to time. It is part of being an emotionally well-adjusted being to learn how to avoid these detrimental habits, and if necessary, cut out people in our life who embody them.

It seems that while the story itself, and definitely the movie by all accounts, comes across as kooky, some of the basic ideas within it are much more relevant to your daily life than you might expect. We are almost 100% certain that Redfield does not actually believe that we are going to turn into beams of light like some sort of apocalyptic Rapture – he says as much in his bio. Rather, The Celestine Prophecy can be taken as an exaggerated how-to guide to achieving greater mental clarity and peace. Perhaps Redfield felt that a fictional tale would be more palatable to the average reader than an esoteric nonfiction text. However, for us, placing his ideas in this context makes them more difficult to take seriously. Clearly though, his books’ incredible popularity indicates that they speak to a lot of people, including the former owner of Paige’s copy, who wrote extensively in the margins of certain chapters. While Paige is definitely not recommending The Celestine Prophecy to anyone any time soon, this doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t add value to your life.

We foresee these links being useful:

  • Here’s the IMDB page on the movie adaptation of The Celestine Prophecy. Apparently it is available to watch if you have Amazon Prime! But with a rating of 23 from Metacritic, be warned…
  • Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe (the whole current Stargate saga) is now available on Hulu and through Amazon Prime. If you have either of these subscription services and you haven’t checked out Stargate yet, what is your excuse really?
  • There are literal tons of fun links to learn more about Stargate, but here are a few: Gate World is a complete guide to the Stargate universe and also has a page for the upcoming and mysterious Stargate Origins spin-off, the Stargate Wiki is – as you can imagine – the place to be for any scrap of Stargate info you might have a question about, and finally don’t miss the new Stargate Command YouTube channel where you can catch cast interviews, classic clips, original YouTube shows, and much more! Really, Jennifer could talk about Stargate all day, so if you want, you can hit us up on social media or comment below.
  • Check out Celestine Vision to see other books Redfield has published, of which there are many, and upcoming Redfield events.
  • Redfield also provides an in-depth bio on the above website, which is pretty revealing.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.4. Follow us on social media if that is your thing, and be sure to check out our Patreon for extra BBE content!