Lance Lee

Poet, Playwright, Novelist

Book covers
Book covers
The Tale of Brian and the House Painter Mervyn

The Tale of Brian and the House Painter Mervyn

Pub. April 15 2022

Review: IndieReader Starred Review, (4.5)

THE TALE OF BRIAN AND THE HOUSE PAINTER MERVYN, by Lance Lee with illustrations by Meilo So, is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn that manages to succeed on two levels: as a colorful and imaginative fantasy for children and a slyly hilarious treatise on art, government, and religion for adults.

There is a delicious moment in the first chapter of THE TALE OF BRIAN AND THE HOUSE PAINTER MERVYN that promises all the fun to come; Moab, overwhelmed by his son’s pain, declares “I will hire an Artist to paint your room with all the things you like just as they are”– my, those were fateful words– “and you can watch him work.” The line sings with character (the parent who longs to fix everything for his child), hubris (a rich man assuming his wealth can remedy any problem), and the sly humor of an invisible narrator winking at his reader (“my, those were fateful words”). The promise is fulfilled in Lance Lee’s surprisingly deep and delightfully laugh-out-loud prose, supplemented by the whimsical and color-saturated artwork of Meilo So.

We are introduced to Sandstone-by-the-Sea, a strange land of witches and sea dragons and haunted forests that exists right alongside a world of cars and iPhones, and to the enormous family of the richest man in town, Moab Jones, including the ailing Brian who must be kept from all excitement until the source of his illness is discovered. When Moab ventures out into Artists Lane to try to find one person who will paint Brian’s wall with images of the outside world, the “artistes” are outraged and offended; doesn’t Moab know that painting things realistically destroys inspiration? This witty poking at the nature of creative expression and the inflated and touchy egos of those who create is refreshing for any reader who’s struggled to understand why an abstract painting depicting a single cube of color is considered art.

THE TALE OF BRIAN AND THE HOUSE PAINTER MERVYN takes some outrageous twists and turns and brings the reader on quite the wild narrative ride, but it’s also deeply satisfying at the level of wordplay and not-so-subtle skewering of art, the law, religion, and small town politics. Lance Lee’s fertile imagination and Meilo So’s visual delights are perfectly matched in this “fable for children and their parents” and both will love it equally.; THE TALE OF BRIAN AND THE HOUSE PAINTER MERVYN is truly a family affair.

THE TALE OF BRIAN AND THE HOUSE PAINTER MERVYN, by Lance Lee with illustrations by Meilo So, is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn that manages to succeed on two levels: as a colorful and imaginative fantasy for children and a slyly hilarious treatise on art, government, and religion for adults.

Shari Simpson, Donovan's Literary ServicesIndieReader starred review logo (Rating: 4.5)

Publishers Weekly (Booklife) Review:

In Lee’s novella-length fable, set in a fantastical California village known as Sandstone-by-the-Sea, ailing young Brian becomes depressed when he’s confined to a sickbed in a boring white room. Eager to brighten his days, his family seeks out the town's only non-abstract painter, the reclusive Mervyn, to paint the scenery and landscapes the boy adores, and Mervyn’s paintings prove so “real as real” that, soon, the entire town is enraptured at “how much fresher Mervyn’s world was compared to the original.” As Brian recovers, he shows no interest in leaving his room. Instead, his father, Moab, builds him a little house inside the bedroom and turns the magical space into a tourist attraction, growing ever wealthier as people flock to gape at Mervyn’s handiwork.

Beyond the playful fanciful elements, Lee (Second Chances) imbues the tale with an engaging satiric flavor, with the whimsy and magic giving way to comic consideration of economic and infrastructure concerns in a village where the Wizards’ Council and a Witches’ Coven attend meetings with the local Chamber of Commerce. When local businesses begin to suffer, they come after Mervyn, who is attracting unwanted attention since he can, if in the mood, literally paint things into being. Before long, Brian vanishes, Mervyn is chased by a mob, and other complications mount, all gathering into a literal and figurative storm–and a tidy ending that restores order and leaves Brian with a little extra sense of wonder.

Meilo So’s art is arresting, with splashes of color over thick black linework, if a bit busy; their boldly expressionistic quality nicely echoes a comic vow made by the village’s non-magical artists in the story: ““Paint something like it is? Never!” Often small selections from an illustration appear in the text itself, offering a chance to contemplate the rich theme of what it means to live with art that’s “even better than real.”

Takeaway: A comic fable in which a painter stuns a magical village with works too good to be true.

Great for fans of: Etgar Keret, Mary Mackey.

Publishers Weekly (Booklife) Publishers Weekly (Booklife) logo

Midwest Book Review

An Engaging Story

Kids ages 6-9 years old will find The Tale of Bryan and House Painter Mervyn the fine story of a wealthy son of the richest man in Sandstone-by-the-Sea, whose fine life is stymied by a mysterious illness that confines him to bed.

Bryan, used to an active life, is completely bored. The solution? Hire a painter to add color and excitement into the mix.

As Bryan interacts with house painter Mervyn's unique ability to literally create new visionary worlds, he becomes involved with witches, wizards, devils, and a force that leads Bryan to not want to leave his room after all, after he's mended.

Is Mervyn providing magic or evil? The lawyers can't decide, but it becomes clear that "...the Village of Sandstone-by-the-Sea was out to get Mervyn."

Lance Lee crafts an engaging story filled with unexpected twists and turns, embellished with engaging drawings by Meilo So which are peppered throughout to add visual excitement to the changing story.

The fable is indeed as its subtitle promises ("for children and their parents") because it evolves a somewhat complicated series of encounters that follows how Bryan not only recovers, but is positively influenced by Mervyn's unusual ways.

As father Moab Jones and the villagers come to better understand Mervyn's unique artistry and its underlying influence, young readers and read-aloud parents receive a magical story that embraces rainbows, angst, secrets, and a special form of transformation that paints a very different picture.

The underlying influences and impacts of Mervyn and Bryan's evolving relationship ideally require parental participation in order to be fully discussed and understood, but the result is an engaging story that educates and entertains on many different levels, recommended both for kids past the picture book stage and read-aloud parents who look for complex, involving tales.

Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review Donovan's Literary Services

Reedsy Review

Must Read!

Lance Lee's The Tale of Brian and the House Painter Mervyn is bright with colour and imagination!

This fable for children and their parents introduces us to a young boy faced with an unknown illness and trapped in his plain, white room. Nothing to do. Nothing to see. No games. Just boredom. That is until his father finds a painter to help change it all - but will the painter, who doesn't much like company and only paints when he feels like it, be able to ease Brian's lonely existence? What happens if this newly created world is so attractive he never wants to leave? Will they never see Brian again?

This book is a fantastic bedtime read with your kids or for kids reading independently (6-9 age range). It is a warm, imaginative and well-told story about the lengths parents will go to when their children are hurt and lonely, the ability of art to bring happiness and beauty, and the importance of using gifts wisely (lest things might go wildly out of control).

I loved the poetic flow of the narrative, which made this book an absolute joy to read aloud. The descriptions of Sandstone-by-the-Sea and its residents were very entertaining. In particular, the traditional seaside life of fishing boats and tourists mixed with eccentric architecture and witches and wizards running art studios and coffee shops! But, of course, who doesn't love a crazy witch making fantastical art with her bubbling brews, a wizard-run restaurant that serves spellbinding fare, and paintings by Mervyn that are more real than real? And I must say that I am a bit envious that I don't have a harpist who sings me my news in the morning! All this, combined with Meilo So's fluid ink and watercolour illustrations, brings Sandstone-by-the-Sea and all of its colourful characters to life. It is a must-read for the art lovers and dreamers in your family.

I want to thank Reedsy and the author /publishers for providing me with the proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.

MJ Campbell, Reedsy Reviews

Kirkus Review

A young boy meets a mysterious painter with wondrous abilities in Lee’s novel.

A wonderfully imaginative, playful, and layered tale.

Brian Jones is the son of the wealthiest man in the small village of Sandstone-by-the-Sea. His father, Moab, and mother, Melissa, and his 12 other siblings fill the house of “Goodly Home on the edge of the Sea Cliffs.” Brian becomes ill with a mysterious disease that the local doctor can’t cure. On the fourth floor of the Goodly Home, Brian’s life drains of all excitement. Desperate to cure his son, Moab seeks out an artist to fill Brian’s white room “with all the things [he] like[s] just as they are” so that he may begin to get better. When Moab finds Mervyn—an angry, muttering artist with an unusual talent for painting things realistically—he hires him to paint the walls of his son’s tower.

Mervyn works for a week and produces such a lifelike display of the outside world that Brian’s family is in awe. Before long, people in the village of Sandstone-by-the-Sea become desperate for a piece of Mervyn’s magic, and when the villagers begin to turn against him, he does something quite unexpected. Lee’s marvelous imagination engagingly contrasts a portrayal of a rich family with the villagers’ simple desire for access to the same magic that the family receives. Despite the lack of variety in sentence length, Lee’s prose effectively propels the narrative to an explosive climax in which he subtly notes how unusual it is for people to chase something outside of the social norm. So’s illustrations are both vibrant and abstract, and they assist in painting a detailed portrait of both the village and the characters. Together, So and Lee create a topsy-turvy story of a genius ahead of his time.

A wonderfully imaginative, playful, and layered tale.

Kirkus Reviews

Readers' Favorite Reviews:

Jessica Barbosa, 5 stars

Brian is the son of the richest man in Sandstone-by-the-Sea but he is stricken with a mysterious illness and not even his brothers, sisters, and friends are allowed to visit him. After Brian’s mysterious disease was diagnosed, he spent most of his time in a bare white room, on a bare white bed, unable to play or even read. It all changed one day when his father hired Mervyn who paints a whole, new wonderful world. What adventures will these beautiful paintings bring Brian? Find out in The Tale Of Brian And The House Painter Mervyn, a fable for children and their parents by Lance Lee and illustrated by Meilo So.

The Tale Of Brian And The House Painter Mervyn is a fantastical story that starts with a sick and sad little boy named Brian. Through his meeting with growling, grumpy Mervyn, Brian is taken on an amazing adventure through the world of art, both literally and figuratively. Lance Lee paints vivid scenes that are as colorful and mesmerizing as the art that accompanies the story. Mervyn is standoffish, unlikeable, but he paints the most beautiful scenery and his art comes to life, bringing joy and awe to those who see it. Meilo So brings life to the story in the same way Mervyn does. The colorful art accompanies the fantastical fable and together they create a magical vision of the book. But of course, such great powers have consequences and the story delves deeper into the effect this has on the people and the community. Along the way, people learn the consequences of their actions and greed and I think their regret and redemption were the best parts of the plot! This story successfully kept my attention right to the very end and, overall, I found this to be an exceptional book. Great work!

5 Star review logo
Jessica Barbosa, Readers’ Favorite

Carolina Restrepo, 5 stars

The Tale of Brian and the House Painter Mervyn is an extremely imaginative tale accompanied by illustrations that bring the Sandstone-by-the-Sea world to life. Lance Lee comes up with an original story about family, villages, and community. It reminds the reader how things are unappreciated until they are gone. Out of a family of 14, Brian is confined to his room with a strange illness. His life now consists of white walls, bedsheets, a ceiling, and walls, which leads to his despair and terrifying boredom. His worried family manages to find a solution to Brian’s boredom. Mervyn, the exotic and magical painter, becomes a pivotal figure in Brian's and the village’s story. A great read for all ages!

I absolutely loved this story from the second I began to read it. While Brian is in his room missing the sounds of birds, the way the wind feels on his skin, the way Brian needs the sounds that nature makes daily woke me up to how much we take for granted. They are the simplest of things; we are so used to our surroundings that we don’t appreciate them as they should. I don’t know what I would do without hearing the birds and the wind. Can I please move to Sandstone-by-the-Sea? The illustrations are incredibly unique yet perfect for the book; they have the perfect relationship. There is an astounding variety of characters that in turn reflect different walks of life. I only wished it was longer so I could live in that world for a couple of hours. Meilo So’s illustrations were an incredible plus to the story. I recommend The Tale of Brian and the House Painter Mervyn by Lance Lee to everyone; there are many things to take away from this reading.

5 Star review logo
Carolina Restrepo, Readers’ Favorite

Miche Arendse, 4 stars

The Tale Of Brian And The House Painter Mervyn by Lance Lee takes place in the oddly eccentric yet traditional village of Sandstone-by-the-Sea in the home of Brian, a little boy with an unknown disease. Brian falls ill and the doctor advises that he should stay in bed and avoid all excitement. This is a difficult task for any person but especially for a young adventurous boy. In his drab room, Brian begins to yearn for the outside world and the adventure waiting there but is stuck in his room that is white, white, white. Brian’s father, upon seeing how sad he is, decides to find a painter to fill Brian’s room with the scenes he wishes to see. Everyone turns Moab away until he meets a peculiar painter who turns the entire village of Sandstone-by-the-sea upside down.

Lance Lee does an excellent job of writing a fun and peculiar children’s book in The Tale Of Brian And The House Painter Mervyn. The book is filled with a variety of weird and wacky characters that are sure to entertain and hold the attention of any child. The story itself is so intriguing as it moved quite quickly through various events in the book, from Brian getting sick to his family realizing he needs a change of scenery to hiring Mervyn, and finally the drama that ensues from Mervyn's paintings. I think this fast pace and the eccentric storyline is definitely a plus with a children’s book as you don’t want something too long-winded. Overall, this was an enjoyable book and I can definitely see any child loving this story.

Miche Arendse, Readers’ Favorite