Book Review: Fisher’s Autism Trilogy

This is a review of the YA fantasy book: Fisher’s Autism Trilogy: Through Fisher’s Eyes, Dark Spectrum & A Problem With the Moon by Paul Nelson.

Every so often I come across a book I wish I could somehow send through time to a younger version of me. (Are you listening, Ninth Doctor?) This is one of those books. It’s not simply that it’s a fun read, it’s because the tween years were some of the darkest days of my life. Stories like this, full of funny, kind-spirited characters who are different from other people and suffer through some difficult times while remaining true to themselves, are the things that kept me hanging on when everything around me seemed full of ugliness and uncertainty.This is the kind of book you can snuggle up with and feel loved.

As the title suggests, this is a trilogy compiled into one book. The first story, Through Fisher’s Eyes, is told by a nonverbal autistic boy named Fisher. It’s an intimate narrative told in a style that lovingly mimics the cadence of an autistic speaker. Through a series of literary snapshots, Fisher reveals his world to us, and the story unfolds.

Fisher, wise beyond his years, is brave and resilient. He tells his story with an honesty that is sometimes poignant—and sometimes hilarious!

In the following excerpt, Fisher tells what he sees when he goes shopping with his dad on Saturdays:

The people we see do not seem to be as happy as we are. They look like they are sad, and in a hurry. They all look down at their phones and do not talk to each other. They seem to want only to buy things. My dad and I just like being together.

While the story starts deeply rooted in reality, it grows into a fantasy where “special ed. kids” like Fisher and his friends have special abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis. Soon, Fisher finds himself involved in an age old battle between the forces of good and evil. There are twists on old ideas and magical characters that are more than they seem. In the first book, we meet Fisher and his friends–a cast of diverse, lovable characters–and some not-so-lovable ones, like Jonah, an autistic boy who has chosen to follow the dark tribe.

The next two books increase the scope with a third person point of view that allows us to learn more about the troubled Jonah, Fisher’s friends–old and new, and explore a bigger magical world. The stories contain lots of magic and action while continuing to promote the idealism and kindhearted values of the first book.

Recommended for ages 12 to 18 or any adult who is interested in autism or just loves a good fantasy story.

Five stars!

My Fiction is My Truth

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Therapists often recommend journaling to people dealing with mental illness and trauma. I’ve never liked journaling. Maybe it’s because I get too self-conscious or because even my old wounds often feel too raw to record in some blunt, dry fashion. Instead, I write fiction. I’ve dealt with my trauma through fiction from a young age. I’ve learned to cover my experiences with layers of grit, imagination, and distance to create weird pearls that I hope others will enjoy. This is how I process pain, both personal and existential; this is how I grieve, scream, cry—this is even how I plead for justice or beg forgiveness.

Right now, someone reading this who has read my books is cocking his head like a confused beagle. “Um…your books are romances about kinky people getting it on and fantasies about people with horns. Some are comedies. How, exactly, are you dealing with anything writing stuff like that?”

While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask.

I change people, places, and things—but the emotions and some of the basic building blocks have my soulprints all over them. While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask. I guess it’s like Oscar Wilde said, “Man is less himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

So, while I’ve never lived in a pre-industrialized dystopian empire like Elarhe in Lover, Destroyer, he and I both know what it’s like to be an outcast, to mourn a murdered friend, to be homeless, and to yearn for things that seem beyond your grasp. While I’ve never destroyed an entire kingdom like Kite, his shame and insecurity resonates with me because it’s how I felt when the relative who sexually abused me died when I was sixteen. I didn’t feel as relieved as I did ashamed—like I had somehow killed him with my quiet, clumsy rage.

I wrote the last pages of the silly romantic comedy, His Dungeon Discovery, with tears streaming down my face because a situation reminded me of the death of my beloved emotional support cat, Sand, after his long battle with kidney failure and heart disease. The situation in the book is actually quite different from my real life tragedy, but the feelings are similar.

In Zen Alpha, a contemporary gay romcom, Bradley’s mother is a narcissist who belittles and gaslights him. My own mother was a toxic narcissist who committed murder by proxy, killing pets to frighten and control her children. Bradley’s mom doesn’t seem quite as evil in comparison, but Zen Alpha is intended to be a heartwarming story, and it was more fun to write about a self-absorbed old belle than it was to write about dead animals.

Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.

Speaking of child abuse and mentally ill parents, it isn’t a coincidence Petal, the heroine of The Inquisitor’s Gift, feels coerced by her abusive stepfather to live a life to which she’s not suited. I imagine most children who grew up in homes with abuse, addiction, and mental illness know what it’s like to keep secrets and to wrestle with becoming the person they want to be rather than the person the secrets shaped.

Dealing with trauma through writing fiction isn’t some technique I created. J.R.R. Tolkien dealt with his service in World War I, and fears inspired by World War II, by writing about hobbits and magical lands. Rod Serling’s WWII traumas helped give us The Twilight Zone. I believe so many fiction writers through the centuries have been plagued by depression and anxiety, not because they’re writers, but because they write in order process their feelings. That’s one of the main reasons I write. It’s also why I read. Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.

So, if you’re a writer, don’t be afraid if your prose is cathartic. I would worry more if it weren’t. And if you’re a reader, thank you for allowing writers like me to don our masks and reveal to you our truest selves.

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Book Review: “His Boy: A Gay Romantic Comedy”

When I downloaded His Boy: A Gay Romantic Comedy by Dean Cole into my Kindle, I thought it would be a cute  comedic romance. Its narrator is quite hilarious, and there is a romance, but His Boy is so much more than a simple love story—it’s the tumultuous journey of a young man’s search for success, self-empowerment, and happiness. The key phrase that spawned the title is not what my dirty little mind expected; it comes from a place I think many people will find powerful and relatable.

Twenty-five year old Charlie tells us his story in his own words. Warning: if you read this book in public, be prepared to laugh out loud at some of this guy’s observations and antics. He’s a bit on the prissy side, humorously vain, and always strives to look his best. (From his designer threads to his intimate wax job.) He has been the kept man of a wealthy cheater since he was twenty-two and is used to a posh lifestyle. He wants to break free of his faithless boyfriend once and for all, but that’s easier said than done when one is afraid of being homeless. It’s even harder when said boyfriend is a controlling, manipulative hypocrite.

In his quest for freedom, Charlie leaves the big city for a humble English village. He encounters a rugged, scruffy, instantly likable bookstore owner named Nathan. If you don’t fall in love with this character, something is seriously wrong with you, and I hope our paths never cross.

In the quaint village, Charlie meets a cavalcade of interesting locals, some endearing, some I wanted to throttle. All of the supporting characters, from Charlie’s beauty shop bestie and her gay dog, to an absolutely horrid director, are well drawn. I felt like I’ve met some of these people before in real life.

Readers who aren’t writers probably don’t realize how difficult it is to craft detailed descriptions in first person point of view—where the main character tells his own story. Cole makes this difficult task seem effortless. Readers who aren’t writers might not appreciate this feat, but they’ll definitely appreciate the vivid images Cole paints with words. The places and people Charlie encounters can be imagined clearly—and those images are often delightfully funny. The way Cole describes Charlie’s fur babies shows he has spent a considerable amount of time observing cats, and like the rest of the imagery, it’s spot on.

I’m giving His Boy five out of five stars. If you’re looking for a truly entertaining story about the struggles of gay man told in a style that will push all of your emotional buttons, you must read His Boy: A Gay Romantic Comedy.

 

Book Review: Gash of the Titans

Gash of the Titans, by Clara J Douglass, is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. Set in a future where global warming and nuclear war have transformed the Earth into a wasteland, this  novel follows the adventures of Donthiki (also known as Dawn) a human woman with a strange genetic mutation—a fanged vagina. This is not, as its playful title and hilarious tagline might suggest, campy erotica. This a well-written saga reminiscent of old-school science fiction and adventure books. It takes itself seriously, and its epic style and careful, realistic details whisk the reader into a Jungian cave splashed with campfire light where mythic stories not only entertain us, but reveal much about our past and current reality.

The story follows Dawn from a small, scared girl living in a coop in a gender-segregated tenement just outside of Feenix in the kingdom of Eplunum, to a self-possessed woman who accepts her bizarre mutation and learns how to draw strength from it. Dawn’s resilience and courage are contagious, and the self-confidence she discovers becomes the catalyst for a revolution. In her world, men and women live separately—women in cages in squalid conditions, and men in cities who seem to occupy their time with leisure and Roman circus-like games. The men use the women for slave labor, forcing them to work the fields and raise animals to supply the men with food. The men also use them for fornication and breeding, taking male babies to be raised as men in the cities while leaving girls to learn the servile life of the women in the slums.

This book is for adults, and is both erotic and violent. The polyamorous sexual relationships of the women with each other contrast sharply with the sexual brutality visited on them by the men. The theme that women are the people who bring life into the world, nurture and grow things, is highlighted by their tender lovemaking. They use sex to heal and comfort each other and to strengthen bonds of friendship within the impoverished, close-knit community.

The men in this future weaponize sex. They use it to control, to dominate. One of the main villains, an utterly vile sadist named Boaz, prefers men sexually, but enjoys dominating and torturing women. Although he has some sort of tryst with a male guard, he doesn’t seem cable of anything approaching a loving relationship. He, like the other men in Eplunum, are too concerned with dominating and humiliating everything around them to care about things like nurturing or cooperation—two things the women understand innately.

Although how, exactly, the genders became divided isn’t addressed, I didn’t find it difficult to imagine something like this happening. Throughout history, women have been treated as less than, as subhuman, as sexual objects, and property. It’s actually much easier to envision such a future than one where humanity has solved all of its religious and economic differences (Star Trek) or many worlds where a large number of the inhabitants seem to be humans (Star Wars.)

Douglass is a master of both action and sex. The fight scenes are impressive and easy to visualize—the consensual sex scenes are electrifying. The book boasts several surprising twists, some “oh, no!” moments, and enough bloody battle sequences to make George R. R. Martin proud.

All in all, this is a beautifully told revenge-tale. It should be cathartic for anyone who has suffered at the hands of men or feels sickened by the misogyny being normalized by the Trump administration. It is, however, gory and brutal, and some readers might find the violence triggering.

I’m giving Gash of the Titans five out of five stars. If you’re looking for an exciting dystopian adventure with a strong female lead, add Gash of the Titans to your to-be-read list today.

Represent!: Autism Awareness

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Welcome to the first installment of Represent!—a blog feature that introduces readers to books that highlight good causes, celebrate diverse characters, or simply make the world a better place. In honor of World Autism Awareness Week (April 1-7), let’s take a look at some indie books featuring autistic characters.

  • YA

Through Fisher’s Eyes: An Autism Adventure, is a magical YA fantasy by Paul Nelson. This is the first book of Fisher’s Autism Trilogy, and introduces us to Fisher, a seventeen-year-old boy with autism. Although Fisher doesn’t speak, the story is told from his point of view, allowing the reader to experience Fisher’s world as he does. In writing Through Fisher’s Eyes, author Paul Nelson says he drew from his experiences as the father of his autistic son, Michael.

  • Paranormal

This is also a great time to check out Nelson’s paranormal time-travel novel, Burning Bridges along the Susquehanna. The book, written for adults, follows the adventures of a teen girl, Lilly, and her autistic little brother. It features ethnically diverse characters.

  • M/M Romance

What We Want, is a charming contemporary gay romance by Eliott Griffen, a non-binary author with Asperger”s Syndrome. As one of the characters in What We Want is also an Aspie, this is an #ownvoices book. (It also features a pet cat named Meow!)

My detailed reviews of these books are coming soon! In the meantime, treat yourself to one or all of them. Happy reading!

New Features are Coming!

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I’m adding a few new features to this blog! Mixed in with my usual musings and news about writing and my books, you will soon find blog posts with these special markers:

  • Book Reviews—I’m going to start posting reviews of books that I think readers will enjoy. In the coming months, I’ll post reviews of books featuring characters with unique abilities and LGBTQ+ characters. The books will include an exciting mix of genres—romance, YA, fantasy, dystopian, BDSM, and more!
  • Represent!—I’ll highlight a book I have already read or plan to read soon. I’ll select these books to draw attention to important causes and subjects.
  • Prism—I’ll interview authors, take a closer look at their lives and writing practices, and explore their books.
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