Lauren Scharhag is a writer of fiction, poetry and screenplays. Her work has appeared most recently in The SNReview, The Daily Novel, Infectus, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She is the recipient of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award for poetry and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. She lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband and three cats.
Be sure to check out her author blog for short stories, excerpts, reviews and other writings.
Where to find Lauren Scharhag online
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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
Miami law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or daycare. Halfway houses, hotels and homeless shelters will not accept them.
Which leaves them with only one place to go: under Julia.
by Lauren Scharhag
A young boy growing up in Kansas City's West Side in the 1980s meets the mysterious creature known as La Tutayegua.
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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.
- Natalie Tereshchenko - Lady In Waiting
on Aug. 30, 2013
In Natalie Tereshchenko, Elizabeth Audrey Mills presents us with a likable and engaging heroine-- Natalie is everything that we’d expect from a good protagonist and a good narrator. She’s observant, she’s intelligent, she’s compassionate—and above all, she’s just an ordinary person.
Despite her royal blood (she is the illegitimate daughter of Tsar Nicholas II's brother), Natalie is a servant to the princess Tatiana. The book covers the last days of the Romanovs, opening in March 1917 and ending just after their execution in 1918. Mills takes us from the grandeur of Alexander Palace, with its chandeliers and shining parquet floors to the suffocating squalor of Ipatiev House, where the deposed royal family and their few remaining servants suffer through scarcity and terror.
Mills tells the tale in refreshingly disciplined and precise prose. Presenting the tale from Natalie's point of view specifically was a very good decision. Some of it is sheer narrative, but Mills also throws in Natalie’s diary entries as a device. (Incidentally, as far as I can tell, Natalie is a fictional character—but the fact that this book sent me into research mode, I think, is a very good sign.) Natalie’s voice keeps the story very accessible, but, more importantly, she is in the unique position to give us both sides of the conflict. In every possible sense, she is an outsider, straddling two worlds. She is more educated than most servants, and somewhat sheltered, so the rest of the palace staff distrusts her. Yet her intimate knowledge of the royal family helps Natalie see them for actual people, with personalities and foibles. They are not mere figureheads, and they most certainly are not evil. But as a servant and a virtual orphan, Natalie also identifies with the plight of the common folk in a way that the royal family could never hope to.
Mills’ style fits both Natalie as a character and the story overall. A historical piece should be straightforward and linear—we all know where this is going to end up, so the question becomes, how are we getting there? Are we taking the scenic route?
In this case, the answer is yes and no. Mills gives us some lush historical details, like descriptions of palaces and villages. But then, there are the less appetizing aspects: bleak Russian winters, gunfire, wounded soldiers, piss, rotting meat.
Mills tells the story in present tense, which also serves the story well. It keeps the extraordinary events plausible—not just the grand historical drama (revolution, attempted escapes, a coup d’etat) but everything, from Natalie’s personal dramas to the rather fantastical appearance of Myriam, a spirit who appears, claiming to be Natalie’s guardian angel.
Incidentally, the Myriam subplot worked for me because it is told with the same matter-of-factness as a group of drunks stumbling into an alley to relieve themselves. Ditto the lovemaking scenes, or the scene where Natalie and a fellow servant girl take revenge on a Bolshevik soldier for rape. I felt it illustrates Russian culture so well—a culture that accepts the worldly and the otherworldly with equanimity. Natalie herself is not a particularly spiritual creature—she attended mass every day because the Tsarina insisted. Later, when Natalie finds herself hiding out in a convent, she doesn’t have some sort of religious epiphany but, instead, she feels rather ruefully like a fraud. She accepts the situation, just as she accepts Myriam’s guidance.
As Natalie and her fellow servants go about their daily lives, carrying out their duties, bickering, falling in love, and, ultimately, getting swept up into events greater than themselves, it reminds us that historical drama is really about people—just people, working, eating, talking, making friends, having sex, getting hurt, picking themselves up and dusting themselves off.
Nature and natural urges are a recurring theme: Natalie takes great joy in being out-of-doors (the closest Natalie ever has to religious moments). Even in the dead of winter, she goes outside to feed the birds. Invariably, in a time before indoor plumbing was widespread, and injury and disease run rampant, bodies and bodily functions are a recurring image as well. In the opening pages, in fact, the reader finds themselves plunged into a Sapphic interlude, which made me sit up and say, “Hello!” Hey, when you’re a lady-in-waiting, the dating pool is somewhat limited . . . er, until the Revolution comes and you find sexy wounded soldiers waiting to be tended on the royal doorstep.
The thing is, history and historical fiction is about people getting confronted with impossible decisions. Not just the tsar, but Natalie and people like her—one of the other servants has the option, towards the end, of leaving the royal family. If he had, his life would have been spared. He chose to stay with his masters, who were, after all, the only family he knew. I can’t help but wonder what decision I would have made in his shoes.
My only quibble with this book is the mention that Natalie is keeping her journals in the hopes that she will one day publish her memoirs—again with the writers writing about writers writing. Stop it, people. Seriously, why can’t Natalie just keep a diary for its own sake? But Natalie’s literary ambitions don’t really receive more than a passing mention, given that she has more pressing concerns, like survival.
Ultimately, this book is about self-discovery. From the beginning, when Natalie learns about her birthright, she struggles to find a way to reconcile it to the life she’s been living. I think she succeeded.
This book kept me engaged until the surprise ending. I won’t give it away, except to say it explains why you never heard of Natalie, the last Romanov. But Mills makes you wish that there was such a person, and that you’d heard of her sooner.
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.