Review: The Dyerville Tales by M. P. Kozlowsky

It's been a while since I've reviewed a book here, and even then it was mostly older, established stories as part of my Wednesday's Inspiring Books series. But when something deserves to be shared, it deserves to be shared, and I've just finished a book that definitely warrants some praise.

I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of M. P. Kozlowsky's THE DYERVILLE TALES a couple of weeks ago. It sounded like an intriguing book and, what with its publication coming up (April 22, to be exact) I bumped it to the top of my admittedly large To Read pile.

I'm glad I did. It's a pretty special book.

(Thanks to Jordan Brown, by the way, the book's editor, for hookiug me up with a copy)


First - the blurb:

Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and his father in a fire when he was young, but beyond that, his life hasn't been much of a fairy tale. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was remanded to a group home, where he spun fantastical stories, dreaming of the possibility that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. But it's been a long time since the fire, a long time since Vince has told himself a story worth believing in.

That's when a letter arrives, telling Vince his grandfather has passed away. Vince cannot explain it, but he's convinced that if his father is somehow still alive, he'll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for his grandfather's small hometown of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather's journal. The journal tells a story that could not possibly be true, a story of his grandfather's young life involving witches, giants, magical books, and evil spirits. But as Vince reads on and gets closer to Dyerville, fact and fiction begin to intertwine, and Vince finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather's than he ever could have known.

M. P. Kozlowsky, the author of Juniper Berry, has crafted a powerfully imaginative novel of the spaces in life where fantasy and reality intersect, a touching story of the things we give up to recover the things we've lost.

It's a lot to live up to, but Kozlowsky's a beautiful, thoughtful writer, and he seems up to the task. THE DYERVILLE TALES works by following Vince (that's young Vince) as he travels to find the truth about his family, stopping along the way to read the stories from his grandfather's book. Real-life adventure (with all the dangers and heartbreak that comes with it) are matched by Vince's suspicion that the stories have more to them than meets the eye. It's a clever, gripping way of telling one complete story - towards the end I was racing through the pages, eager - but still guessing - to see what would happen, in both worlds, and in the special place where they meet.

This story's real strength, though, is in its willingness to embrace the darkness at the heart of the adventure. There are some honestly terrifying characters, and some scenes that might even shock adult readers. That's a good thing - adventures aren't all sleeping under the stars and the simple matter of a week's walk; they're hunger and thirst and cold, and being trapped for months and months against your will in a cave. Vince has to learn this before he can find any sort of peace, and Kozlowsky's not afraid to tackle the problems that come from being a child all alone in the world. His witches are evil and his monsters and monstrous.

The ending - which I'm not going to spoil, of course - might confuse some people, but I can't think of a better way to leave these stories. The DYERVILLE TALES is a book of friendship, magic, love, danger, loss, darkness, and - in the end - hope and belief in one person's ability to take control of their life. It's an old fashioned fairy tale that's had its clockwork dusted and a few modern tricks thrown in. Will it be everyone's cup of tea? Perhaps not - the language is complicated at times and some of the nuances might annoy readers who want to know for sure what things mean. Ultimately, though, reading THE DYERVILLE TALES has made me want to read Kozlowsky's other novel, JUNIPER BERRY - and I can't think of higher praise than that.

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Three Years Later (And All That Jazz) - Why Writers Should Dare To Dream

Life's funny, sometimes. Time, doubly so. Three years seems like such a long time, but then you think back to where you were and you can't believe it seems so fresh and new. Then you think about all that's happened in those years and your brain starts to make small popping noises because those two things don't seem like they can both be true.

Three years ago today (March 11) was the Tohoku earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and sub-subsequent (if that's how it works) Fukushima nuclear meltdown(s). I was there at the time (Japan, I mean - not Fukushima) and helped in what small ways I could, and patched up my roof as best I could, and tried to get on. I moved to the U.S. later that year and got married, and I'm still here, three years later.

Pretty sure that's how you fix a roof. Almost certainly. Maybe.

The Japan Times has some striking photos of Tohoku three years after it was hit - see here.

Three years. Really? Gosh. It's a good amount of time to measure my life in, I think. Enough time to get into trouble but not enough time to get too comfortable.It's strange to look back at my life then and think - huh, he didn't know that Eren would work out. It was just a story he was writing - a dream, I guess - when he had time in-between teaching and exploring Japan and trying to plan a wedding in a country he barely knew. But, Eren was important enough that quite a lot of nights were spent typing away and trying to ignore the fact the ground was shaking (not because of earthquakes, mind - my house was right next to the bullet train tracks, and old, and made of wood, and tended to wobble a bit).

The time poured into Eren back then is what makes Eren possible now. My publisher sent over illustration proofs yesterday (illustrations! Of Eren! Wah!), and we're talking about covers, and release dates, and they're using words like 'marketing' and it's all very real. I couldn't have known this was all coming but I wrote the words anyway, and I'm thankful I had the time and the opportunity.

If you're a writer and all you have is a dream, then don't lose sight of how amazing that is - because you're a writer and you have a dream. That's magic. Hold onto it and if things seem like a waste of time, if it feels like you're fooling yourself that your book could ever make it, remember that every other writer felt that way, feels that way, and will feel that way.

We can be a dour bunch at times.

Japan will always be a huge part of who I am and I have every intention of returning when I can. For now, I send them thoughts from afar and will probably eat sushi today, because that sounds like a good thing to do.

In other news:

I joined the Fearless Fifteeners! Yes, I know, Eren comes out in '14, so I'm not really a Fifteener (I'm not really fearless either, let's be honest) but it's a group for debut writers, and it's filled with rather snazzy folk. Go check them out and read all about the wonderful new worlds people are making. You can see my little bit here and even learn what I'm afraid of (Hint: It tends to be wet).

More Eren news to come, soon - I promise.