Lauren Scharhag is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry. She is the author of Under Julia, The Ice Dragon, The Winter Prince, West Side Girl & Other Poems, and the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Voice of Eve, Isacoustic, The American Journal of Poetry, and Gambling the Aisle. She lives in Kansas City, MO.
Be sure to check out her author blog for short stories, excerpts, reviews and other writings.
Where to find Lauren Scharhag online
Where to buy in print
The Sacred Heart: The Order of the Four Sons, Book IV
by Lauren Scharhag & Coyote Kishpaugh
(5.00 from 1 review)
The members of the Order are still in Corbenic’s capital, staying at Four Mothers as guests of Prince Leopold. Their ties to Corbenic have only deepened as new friendships and even romance have managed to blossom. Yet, the stakes have never been higher: as the terrible winter has dragged on, unrest has spread, stirring talk of rebellion.
The Winter Prince
by Lauren Scharhag
Sixteen-year-old Margaret Bentley, an Ozark country girl, journeys to the Summer Lands to save her father from an evil spell. There she meets all kinds of enchanted creatures and people including the Momme tribe, a sea witch, the Green Man, a mysterious magician, and eventually, the Summer Queen herself.
The Ice Dragon
by Lauren Scharhag
There's nothing Kenneth Vogel hates more than Christmas. Then he meets a dragon. Suddenly, Christmas doesn't seem so bad . . .
by Lauren Scharhag
(4.75 from 4 reviews)
A young boy growing up in Kansas City's West Side in the 1980s meets the mysterious creature known as La Tutayegua.
Our Miss Engel
by Lauren Scharhag
(4.75 from 4 reviews)
Published: June 30, 2013
In 1909, Clara Engel, a young school teacher gets a job at a Catholic girls' boarding school, only to find that her students are not what they seem.
Carcosa: The Order of the Four Sons, Book II
by Lauren Scharhag & Coyote Kishpaugh
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
The Order of the Four Sons, Book II follows the team -- JD, Murphy, Doug and Kate -- as they pursue Bathory across the face of a hostile world known as Carcosa. Director Clayton Grabowski and the Oracle find themselves mired in the political intrigues of the Order's leadership, while back on Earth, Bill forges an uneasy alliance with a government agent.
By Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag.
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Smashwords book reviews by Lauren Scharhag
The Howling Winds
on Aug. 09, 2013
The author put in the foreword that these pieces had been moldering in old notebooks for many years-- perhaps they should have stayed there. The poems are what I would expect from an angst-y, goth-y teenager who's read too much Poe and other 19th century poets. I know, because I was one of those teenagers, and have a sheaf of these sorts of poems in old notebooks too. Lots of "O!", lots of stilted, old-fashioned language, lots of silly rhymes. The phrase "cease to be" is uttered at least twice, which felt like a Keats rip-off to me.
The short stories might've been interesting, but they were just fragments, and not what I would consider full stories.
Nothing horrible here, nothing offensive. But not exactly a stellar example of the craft.
Don't Tell Anyone
on Sep. 20, 2013
One of the great virtues of e-books is being able to download volumes en masse so there's always something new to read on your device. Sometimes, you find a book on there and you have no idea where it came from. Don't Tell Anyone by Laurie Boris was just such a book-- an unexpected surprise one afternoon when I was out of fresh reading material.
It was also an unexpected pleasure. I read the entire book in one sitting. As I read, I would pause now and then, wracking my brains, trying to remember when I'd purchased it. Surely it must be a professionally published and edited work? It was so good-- such a good story, so well-written, so cleanly formatted. I must've bought it.
I finally went back through my emails and, to my delight, found that Ms. Boris is an indie author, which meant that I could post my review of this book on Blue House Review. And, of course, this is the great reward of reading indie authors-- confirming that quality work is out there. It's just a matter of finding it.
Don't Tell Anyone made me laugh out loud when I wasn't wincing in sympathy. As the description says, this book centers around the Tragers, a family living in New England. Estelle Trager is an almost stereotypical Jewish mother, with the fretting and the nagging and the Yiddish-- I don't mean that in a disparaging or derogatory way. As someone who grew up with my very Mexican grandmother, those stereotypes exist for a reason. Or maybe all fretting, nagging grandmothers are pretty much the same, whether they mutter in Yiddish or English, Spanglish or Swahili. Hence, I was laughing and wincing in sympathy-- sometimes both at the same time. Hearing Estelle badger her adult children from everything from the cost of eating out, to the proper method of reheating a dish of lasagna, to getting with the baby-makin'-- all were incidents I found totally realistic.
While the story is occasionally told from Estelle's point of view, the other person we spend the most time with is Liza Trager. Liza is the hub character, a point of connection for everyone else in the story: Estelle's daughter-in-law, Adam's wife, Charles' ex-lover and Cara Miller's BFF. Adam and Charles, it should be noted, are the brothers Trager. Liza was with Charles first, in their college days. But Charles is gay and she moved on to Adam. The dynamics between Liza, Adam and Charles is a major thread throughout the story as it relates to how they deal with Estelle's illness. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could've devolved quickly into soapy melodrama, but Boris infuses the situation with just the right touch of subtlety and humor.
Liza is as unlike Estelle as it's possible to be-- West Coast vs. East Coast, Old Age vs. New Age, Baby Boomer vs. Millennial. Estelle is Frank Sinatra, AquaNet and Wonder Bread. She did not go to college but got married young, had her children young. Her marriage to the late Mr. Trager was not satisfying, but she stuck it out with him because that's what women did in those days. Liza is Talking Heads, all-organic, crunchy granola, green tea and no makeup. At age thirty-two or -three, she seems, in some ways, much younger, more naive than Estelle must have been at that age, getting dressed up for drunken costume party shenanigans like she's still a kid. In other ways, Estelle seems like the younger of the two, in that way that elders in need of care have a tendency to regress. Liza went to college as a matter of course, and now, in her thirties, she has returned to school to pursue a career change-- because what Millennial puts up with work that's not satisfying? Also, she and Adam aren't ready for kids at the beginning of the book, though circumstances cause them to reexamine their stance.
The main concern of this tale, you see, is how the family as a whole comes together, falls apart, and then comes back together to deal with Estelle's failing health. She has breast cancer, which killed both her mother and her grandmother before her. Estelle found a lump in her breast five years ago, but both terror and resignation caused her to keep mum on the subject. The family finds out when she lands in the emergency room, presumably because she collapsed, and has a nasty case of pneumonia in the bargain.
So begins Liza and Adam's ordeal to care for an ailing parent. I say it is chiefly Liza and Adam's problem, as they are the ones that have Estelle live with them when she is released from her first stint in the hospital, and then she moves in permanently when she is no longer able to care for herself. Charles, to his credit, is an everlasting and nurturing presence.
Boris explores how dealing with Estelle, as dealing with any such hardship, brings out both the best and the worst in these characters. Adam's temper becomes explosive-- he is understandably enraged that his mother kept her illness a secret for so long, that she lied to them. He gets upset when she refuses to care for herself. (Ask any caregiver-- there is nothing more infuriating than trying to care for someone who will not care for themselves.) Estelle doesn't want to quit smoking, she doesn't want to undergo treatment, and she won't allow her doctors to share her medical information with the family. Adam takes his temper out on Liza and Charles, driving them together, then he gets angry when he feels like they're ganging up on him.
Liza, meanwhile, is doing everything she can to be a dutiful daughter-in-law, to care for someone who has no one else. Charles, who retains his privacy and distance, visits regularly, and is generally always calm and cheerful. He is a natural charmer-- everyone who meets him instantly likes him. And he has extensive experience dealing with divas of a certain age, as he is a producer of some sort for a View-esque TV show, which largely entails him keeping said divas happy and preventing cat fights from breaking out. At a glance, it would seem that Charles is the one Trager who manages to hang on to his equilibrium throughout the book. Yet, he seems to wrestle quietly with his own demons-- mainly doubt and insecurity. His personal life is in a deadlock-- his married lover is a closeted politician. More importantly, he seems to be looking rather wistfully at Liza. If he ever had a straight relationship, he would have wanted it to be with her. Did he make a mistake in rejecting her all those years ago?
Despite their varied responses, Adam, Liza and Charles are all forced to confront their own frailties, their own mortality. Adam and Liza try to get pregnant. Charles pushes for commitment from his lover. Trying to juggle their own lives with Estelle's demanding needs and overbearing personality takes its toll. Old rivalries come to the fore, and we find that jealousy between the brothers is not limited to their feelings on Liza. There is a long-standing grudge where Mother's affections are concerned (it does seem that Estelle favors Charles).
Perhaps the greatest burden, however, is placed on Liza when Estelle asks her, from the very beginning, to kill her before her illness gets too bad.
At first, Liza thinks it's just the medication talking. But as Estelle repeatedly and emphatically repeats her request, Liza finds herself seriously considering it.
This book manages to wrestle with weighty subjects with wonderful aplomb. We ask ourselves, what would we do in Liza's shoes? In Estelle's? It's easy to dismiss Adam as being a bit of a jerk, but when your mother is dying and won't talk to you about it, how good of a mood do you think you'd be in?
Here is another point where I could relate so well to this book. Five years ago, at the age of twenty-eight, my husband went into renal failure and had to go on dialysis. I understand what it means to become a caregiver at an untimely age (if there is such a thing as a timely age). Like Liza, I was a working adult and pursuing a degree. Boris captures it all: the exhaustion, the desperation, the feeling of disconnectedness, the mood swings. One minute, you're buoyed at the kindness of others; the next, you're a crumpled heap of depression because you can't figure out dinner. Everything takes on this surreal quality, as if your life has been suspended. Your state of being becomes this constant state of vigilance and emergency-- is your loved one eating the right thing? Are they eating at all? Are they losing weight? Are they comfortable? Are they breathing? Are they running a fever? Oh, God, they're running a fever. Better rush them to the ER.
It's hard to imagine unless you've been there, but Boris paints a painfully vivid portrait of these circumstances. I felt like all these characters were real people, people I might know. She brings such sensitivity and compassion to them. She doesn't judge them or their decisions. I loved that.
I particularly enjoyed Cara, Adam and Liza's neighbor, who is a home care nurse. Cara is a wonderful source of support for the Tragers, particularly Liza and Estelle. As with the rest of the caregiver situation, Boris perfectly nailed the importance that such healthcare providers have on the lives of their patients, as well as the lives of their patients' families. Cara brings that matter-of-factness that healthcare workers develop in working with the chronically and/or terminally ill. For example, Cara knows that one of her patients has a hypodermic needle with a lethal dose of morphine squirreled away in his house. She knows where it is, and is prepared to use it if it ever becomes necessary. She procures marijuana for Estelle for pain and nausea.
When you work in a world that straddles the line between life and death, morals and legality become negligible. Again, there is that sense that normal life has been suspended. All the rules you thought you knew simply don't apply anymore.
I don't have enough applause for this book, which, for me, touches a subject so close to home. I know others may find the subject of cancer and end-of-life care too tough. But for those of us who have already survived it, I'd say it's just right.
on Oct. 16, 2013
Alyson Kent's debut novel, Collide is, very much like its heroine: brash, funny, flawed and, for the most part, entertaining.
When we meet Jane Alexander, she’s in the midst of some pretty major personal drama for your average, small-town white girl. Her best friend, Maria, has just returned after a mysterious disappearance with no memory of what happened. Jane herself is in hot water for some not-so-minor transgression she has recently committed. Her sentence: having to shuttle her younger brothers around and calling to check in constantly so her mother knows where she is at all times.
Kent doesn’t tell us right away what exactly Jane has done, though we understand that it is somehow connected to Maria’s disappearance.
And then there’s a certain tall, dark and handsome foreign exchange student named Akira that Jane finds alternately suspicious and sexy.
In setting and tone, Collide does exactly what urban fantasy should do. Here we have the world we know: friends, school, sports, after-school jobs. Then, living right alongside these things, is an entire universe filled with magic and fantastic creatures, some familiar (vampires, zombies); others, less so (tengu, oni). I like how everyday life seems to be the dominant reality in this story. No matter how much weird shit goes on, you know Jane’s going to go back to class eventually. She’ll go to prom. She’ll graduate. It’s all so very normal. But it’s that very normality that serves to underscore the real horrors presented in this book-- heavy issues like sexual violence and missing children, or even milder ones like feeling your BFF pull away from you.
Kent strikes a nice balance between seriousness and humor—there is, after all, an organization named GOOPS involved (that would be the Guardians of our Paranormal Society). Jane, as the narrator, is witty and incisive. The lighter tone lends itself nicely to Jane being an average kid, concerned about her SATs and getting into a good college (not to mention, scoring a serious stash on Halloween).
Then there’s Jane herself. I loved Jane. I loved her when she was fierce, I loved her when she was foolhardy, I loved her when she was flying off the handle. I even, God help me, loved her when she was being an abusive psycho. Her behavior would not have been tolerable for five seconds in a male character. Yes, I know that’s a double standard. But it’s hard not to be grateful when a tough chick with a take-no-prisoners approach appears in fiction, okay?
If only it were that simple. Because seriously-- Jane? Is a PSYCHO. The book’s strongest point is also one of its weakest. I kept thinking, this girl needs some intensive anger management therapy. Stat. I realize that young people may have some impulse control issues, but damn. Her default setting is violence. Underclassman tries to talk shit in the parking lot? Jane almost breaks her arm. Guy sneaks up behind her on the street? She decks him with her book bag. It’s like, simmer down there, honey. Have a Xanax or something. I suppose that's why the title of the book is "collide"-- Jane's fists collide with stuff with astonishing regularity. Even Akira observes that she should've been expelled a long time ago for her behavior. Again, if she were a boy, she would've been. The shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach works for Clint Eastwood movies. Not much else.
Meanwhile, Jane’s anxieties manifest in migraine headaches and the rather unnerving habit of tearing at her cuticles until they bleed. For me, these traits were a bit of a misstep—mainly because Kent brings up Jane’s migraines earlier on in the book and then never mentions them again. As for Jane picking at her own fingers, is there some rule of the genre that requires the heroine to have a bizarre nervous tic? I swear, I have read several books recently where the female protagonists compulsively twine their hair, bite their lips, or other weird, borderline self-harming behavior. What is that about? Does this have something to do with the fact that Kristen Stewart is frequently described as twitchy?
Anyway. When Maria disappeared, Jane was wracked with guilt. When Maria comes back changed, Jane gets to feel guilt and worry. Then, as if that weren’t enough, there is the secret that Jane carries with her—the secret that has to do with why she got in trouble. There are plenty of reasons for Jane to be anxious, acting out, and sexually repressed, but it's so extreme, you’d think someone would notice and get her to a shrink.
I’m willing to forgive Jane her shortcomings for a lot of reasons. I found her love for her small town endearing. Kent clearly shares Jane’s fondness for the Blue Ridge Mountains, and as someone who’s had the pleasure of visiting Asheville, I can’t say I blame ‘em.
Even more endearing is Jane’s relationship with Maria. For me, this is the real heart of the book. Not the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Jane and Akira. Jane and Maria. High school girls who’ve been friends for life—you know the kind I mean. Girls like this are each other’s first love, and no boy could ever get in the way of that. In the end, I absolutely loved that Jane was Maria’s savior. Sisters helping each other out, knamean?
My only gripe there is that Maria as a character is not terribly well developed. The rest of the cast overall is pretty thin-- Jane's family consists of a mom, a mostly absentee father, and a pair of obnoxious twin brothers. Jane's father never makes an actual appearance. He is frequently away on business, and sometimes has breakfast with the family via Skype. This might've worked if he'd served an actual function. Why not just make Jane's mom a single mom? It's one of the trickier aspects of dealing with young people in fiction-- unless their relationship with their parents is the focus of the story, their familial interactions tend to feel very perfunctory. This is why so many YA/children's literature heroes are orphans—the kids must be left to fend for themselves or it loses all dramatic tension.
Akira, for being the love interest, is also fairly two-dimensional. He fulfills the YA paranormal fantasy requirements: older, handsome, supernatural and overly protective. I’m not enamored with his love/hate relationship with Jane. (Just because that has become a staple of the genre doesn’t mean I have to like it). Given his heritage, his “raven” hair, the school’s mascot being a raven and Jane’s fondness for Edgar Allan Poe, manga fans and gamers will probably spot the tengu a mile off. I’m sure they’ll also appreciate the Akira film reference. I say kudos to Kent for using comparatively unusual mythological critters. Despite my Jane love, I’m not entirely clear what Akira finds so attractive about her—she’s not particularly mature or sophisticated. But then, he seems to enjoy his gig as a high school basketball player, so maybe I’m overestimating his maturity level?
Don’t get me wrong. I think that Kent has a lot of raw talent, a real flare for writing-- Jane's voice was so clear, so self-assured, I felt most of the time as if she were sitting right next to me, telling me about her experiences. However, I saw a lot of rookie, first-time author mistakes. I feel obligated to report the egregious grammatical errors. Kent way overuses italics, capitals and quotation marks. Her descriptions are repetitive. Characters call each other by name in dialogue, which never fails to drive me up the wall. (It’s particularly annoying how Akira calls Jane “Alexander” throughout the beginning of the book.)
Kent does attempt to give the characters distinct voices, with mixed results. For example, Mr. Baker, the owner of the bookstore where Jane works, is well-traveled, wealthy and eccentric. Therefore, he has what Jane describes as an overly formal way of speaking. Working in academia and spending way too much time around literary types, I know what actual prolixity sounds like, (I may even, quite possibly, be guilty of it myself) so it didn’t quite work for me. But then, I'm not a teenager and I appreciate the effort all the same.
The pacing is a bit rough. The first half of the book moves along at a nice clip, then things kind of fall apart in the third act. There's a scene that felt more like the natural climax of the book, but then it just kind of lagged on and on before a second, decidedly less exciting climax. The action was hard to follow, and I thought that perhaps Kent had just exhausted herself before we hit resolution.
There is plenty of room here to write a series. I would be interested to read more to not only spend time with Jane, but to see the progression of Kent’s writing. I think she’s on her way to being really fabulous.