Review of Tethered by Ross Jeffery Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Tethered explores the fractured relationship of a father and son. Each story is told with unflinching and honest prose that is both hard hitting and heartrending. These stories delve into themes of toxic masculinity, love, hope, despair, domestic violence, sexuality, weakness and overcoming oppression. Tethered also asks the bigger question of ‘do we ever escape the harm our parents do to us; or do we go through life marred and influenced from our upbringing.

Review

In Tethered Ross has a produced a glorious memoir on the struggles and triumphs of fatherhood. Every story flows like a river connecting all the possible dramas and tragedies a father can suffer throughout their lifetime. As I turned the pages I smiled, cried, and laughed. The reason being is because some of the stories I was reading were reflections of my own memories with my father, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that my father took the time to make those memories and teach me some valuable life lessons.

I laughed as Ross wonderfully examined the shift in the father and son relationship. That moment were you realise that all the arguments and disagreements that you had with your dad over the years were lessons. That your dad was right all along. I couldn’t stop giggling because I am going through this phrase of my life right now. I found myself effortlessly falling into the simplicity of Ross’s writing in presenting this daunting and complex subject. Not for a moment did his writing feel forced. I felt as if I was viewing my own life. I was constantly thinking I have had this same conversation with my dad and had the same feelings. I couldn’t help but smile.

Don’t be fooled however that this collection is all feel good moments. This collection also showed the more sinister sides of fatherhood. Ross wasn’t afraid to search the dark corners that can be hidden behind closed doors. He was able to explore both the external and internal pain for both the child and the parent. One example of this being done through the eyes of the child. Is were Ross shows their father continuously missing important sporting events, and them having to endure the smiling faces of their friends parents, the excuses from their mother as to why their father is not showing up. In turn this causes them to not be able to handle the distress caused. To the other end of the spectrum were he discusses the father’s internal struggles of trying to be the best parent possible despite the odds being stacked against them. Ross displayed both sides of the argument to traumatising effect.

Some of the stories make for uncomfortable reading at times. Forcing you realise that some of your friends, or yourself have had these experiences, and you haven’t known how to handle the emotions presented. Therefore you have hidden away or reacted with rage. The stories as they progress make you feel as if you are dissecting every interaction you ever had with your parents and friends. At times this collection is a punch to the gut. Weirdly it feels good as you dive into the weirdness of your own life.

In this collection Ross asks the reader about the many faces of parenting. Drawing on every last drop of blood, sweat, and tears to make you reflect on all of life’s lessons. Whether you’re a parent or not. This collection will teach you something to take forward into tomorrow. Through every word in this deeply personal collection Ross takes the reader on an emotional journey. Be ready to be haunted once you leave. My only critic is in some stories I would of liked more depth. As unfortunately some stories lacked the emotional pull of the others.

It receives 4 stars. An impressive examination of what it truly means to be a parent. Highly recommended.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Singapore Killer Blog Tour- An Ash Carter Thriller Written by Murray Bailey. Review Written by Dan Stubbings

 

Today I am honoured to be part of the Singapore Killer Blog Tour. Thank you to Murray for asking me to take part.

Book Synopsis

A helicopter crash and burned bodies.
A faceless corpse.
A mysterious town.
It’s September 1953 and Carter is drawn into a dark case from which there seems no escape.
#WhoIsBlackJack

Review

Singapore Killer builds upon the elements we love from the previous installments of Ash Carter. The hardness, his eye for detail that enables him to view a crime scene differently from other people in his profession, and his get in my way and I will destroy you attitude. These aspects are intensified to levels that leave you reeling from chapter to chapter, as Murray gradually reveals a ton of secrets that won’t loosen their grip until you solve them all.

This book begins where every thriller should. By dropping the reader straight into the action. The opening chapters are like a hand grenade going off. All hell breaks loose. A helicopter has come down in the centre of dense jungle in mysterious circumstances. However all isn’t as it seems as it’s burned out carcass is investigated further things don’t add up. Two members of the crew are dead. One from a point blank range bullet to the head. Another passenger is missing leaving a set of handcuffs abandoned inside the cockpit. No record of who was on board can be traced. This situation soon brings in Ash Carter who is going through some personal issues himself. However he soon has to put them to the back of his mind, when this case quickly becomes something that could change everyone’s world as they know it forever.

As the story develops you find yourself as a reader being guided to clues, asked to make your own choices. I really enjoyed this because Murray’s writing is never predictable, and for somebody who reads alot of this genre its a joy. At no point during the narrative did I feel I knew how Ash or any of the characters were going to act. Plus when important decisions were made by characters I always felt that Murray could of taken the story in several directions, and it would still have produced a satisfying conclusion.

In Singapore Killer Murray moved away from the usual story-lines associated with this type of thriller, giving a fresh perspective to how these types of books can be written. Throughout the story I was never told how to respond to specific characters which allowed me to put together a complete picture of a character, and then Murray would blow it up in the next paragraph. This caused an intense feeling as a reader that you won’t in control during an already deeply complex narrative.

The evolution of both Ash and minor characters in the fifth chapter of this series is some of Murray’s finest writing to date. I can’t wait to sample more. The reason I was more involved in this new adventure than the previous books is because Murray deliberately places Ash in scenarios where he is unsettled. Where the right decision isn’t what it seems. As an avid reader of this genre I am finding myself been drawn away from the good guy who kicks everybody’s ass and leaves without a scratch on them. I prefer protagonists who have both darkness and light. I want characters to have both internal and external conflict. Murray wrote this beautifully in Singapore Killer with Ash. Throughout the entire narrative you witness him wrestling with both seen and unseen demons, and you never know what his next move will be.

My only criticism is that sometimes it can become over-descriptive which unintentionally causes the tension to decrease. This can be frustrating when you want Ash to maintain the head of stream that has been developed in spades. This is a small critic, and doesn’t take away the talent displayed by Murray in using a range of locations from both urban streets, to a dense humid jungle that makes your skin crawl as Ash goes deeper into his own horrors.

In conclusion this installment to the Ash Carter series is an experiment by the author to see how far he can push both Ash and his readers. This is a white knuckle ride into the very depths of what we see as the ultimate crime. I found myself needing both a break and not wanting it to let up. Ash Carter is back, and I hope he is around for along time to come. It is a wonderful mix of intriguing characters and action. Well done Murray. It receives 4 stars on the rip-roarer scale.

  About the Author

Murray Bailey Books HOME

I have always enjoyed writing and, as a child, I even managed to be published in both the Times Educational Supplement as well as my local paper the Lichfield Mercury. Unfortunately, this didn’t lead to publishers knocking on my door. After studying Physics at the University of Southampton followed by Applied Mathematics at Cambridge, I entered the very different world of Consumer Credit.

Although I edited Credit Risk International for a year, contributed and edited 3 textbooks and wrote two more, my passion has always been with fiction – in particular, thriller and crime writing. Surprisingly, I discovered there is quite a large overlap between credit risk and crime writing – not least, the amount of logic, problem solving and analysis that each requires.

I have been writing as a hobby for more than 10 years and, after a lot of encouragement from my wife, finally focused on getting something published. My first book, I Dare You, is available as a paperback or Kindle version through Amazon and was followed up in 2017 by the sequel, Dare You Twice. My second work, Map of the Dead, allowed me to indulge my passion for Egyptology and will be followed up by Secrets of the Dead in 2018. Black Creek White Lies, based in Cornwall, is a stand alone written for my mother. The Ash Carter series was influenced by my father’s experiences in the Royal Military Police in 1950s Singapore. Singapore Girl is the second in the series and Singapore Boxer the third. Hopefully 2019 will see episode four.

Born in Greater Manchester, England, I have gradually moved south until I reached the beautiful Dorset coast where I now live with my wife and family. Having young children and an all-consuming passion such as writing doesn’t leave much free time, but when I do take a break I enjoy running and cycling, kayaking along the gorgeous River Stour and building sandcastles with my children. To find out more about the Ash Carter Series click on this link. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murray-Bailey/e/B01J811866?ref_=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000

Singapore Killer Blogtour v4

I received a copy of the book from the author to take part in the blog tour. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of This Ragged, Wastrel Thing Book One of the Sonaya Nights Trilogy By Tomas Marcantonio Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

After serving eleven years in The Heights for the murder of his childhood sweetheart, one-eared vagabond Daganae Kawasaki is finally free. But beneath the neon glare of a sprawling Sonaya, he soon discovers the backstreets are bursting with strange new shadows. Confronting plucky street orphans, bitter biker girls and down-and-out expats, Dag is swiftly embroiled in a fresh homicide case – and finds his murky past isn’t done with him yet.

This Ragged, Wastrel Thing is the first instalment of the Sonaya Nights trilogy; a new dystopian noir series set in the fictional city of Sonaya. Deep in The Rivers, through the winding web of neon alleys, we follow our troubled protagonist, Daganae Kawasaki, as he scours the streets to uncover the truth behind his eleven-year stint in The Heights. But will his search for answers in the dingy basement bars and seedy homework clubs finally distinguish friend from foe, right from wrong, or will he uncover more bitter untruths than ever before? Will he finally find freedom from the pain of his past or will new revelations ignite a lust for revenge? Discover a new voice in modern noir fiction and join Dag on his painful pursuit for salvation and sake.

Review

First of all this book is hard to put into a genre as it seems to have a mixture of everything, from government conspiracies to detailed world building that immerses you within its every detail. The world of Sonaya is a world of shadows, and bottomless pits containing the worst kind of human if you can call them that. Sonaya is a forgotten state of a futuristic rebellious Japan. A dark backwater of horrific crimes and even deeper corruption that runs rampant throughout its streets. Its the backdrop to Tomas’s story and as the narrative developed this world took on a mind of its own from the blood stained pavements of the Rivers, to the black-market drug fuelled dens of The Warren. Tomas made sure that the reader lived every element in beautifully descriptive detail. Sonaya feels as real as any city in our world. I enjoyed it so much that I paused at certain paragraphs to reread them simply so that I could see the picture being painted in my mind all over again. The way in which Tomas wrote Sonaya was like a nuclear warhead going off in your senses. It sent waves of electricity crackling over my skin causing goosebumps Sonaya is alive. You can’t get enough.

The story is told from the perspective of Daganae Kawasaki. A recently released convict who has served eleven years for the murder of his girlfriend. He’s released from The Heights. Sonaya’s most notorious prison and his crime is legendary. He wants to make up for lost time and that means one thing trouble. Before he was imprisoned he was a respected police officer and his girlfriend was a shoe in for major of Sonaya. However the night of her murder his memory is hazy. Clouded with regret and alcohol can it be trusted? Should he really of served eleven years for murder? Did he really kill her as he remembers or was there somebody’s else agenda at play. These are all questions he hopes to answer as they are all he’s thought about since the cell door closed eleven years ago. As he returns to his old haunts and reunites with shady old friends and a questionable gang of biker girl vigilantes.

He gets to work on rewriting his past. However as Daganae falls deeper into the clutches of Sonaya’s dark side he begins to discover an entirely different vision of events from the ones he remembers from several sources. Ones he can trust with his life, and others that are out to kill him at the first opportunity. Everyone in Sonaya seems to wear a mask or has a long buried secret that is beginning to surface, and Daganae always seems to be at the centre of them. The cast of characters that he encounters throughout this multi- layered story is a tapestry of deceit.

My favourite has to be Jiko. A fiery red haired biker chick who takes no shit from anyone. She knows the dark streets of Sonaya like the back of her hand. Her involvement with Daganae is complicated. Their paths crossing in another life for both of them. However as the story developed you couldn’t help but begin to fall for their father-daughter kind of relationship. Both have their vulnerabilities on show. Their relationship is a rare light in the darkness that is Sonaya.

This book is a beautiful mash up of grim noir and Japanese flare with the beating heart of motor-head vigilantes. Its the Sons of Anarchy meets Sin City. I for one cannot wait to see what Tomas has in store for us next. This is a highly polished debut and receives five stars.

Pre-Ordering The Book

Has my review grabbed your attention? If so then why don’t you pre-order now on the link below.

This Ragged, Wastrel Thing by Tomas Marcantonio: Available for pre-order now!

About the Author

TM 1

Tomas Marcantonio is a novelist and short story writer from Brighton, England. He graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Language and Film, and his fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, both online and in print. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English and writes whenever he can escape the classroom. You can follow him on Twitter @TJMarcantonio.

 
I received an advance proof copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t effect my views.

 

Review of Shadow Booth Volume 4 Short Story Collection by Various Authors Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

It’s as Peter begins to wade into the tarn that he spies the strange canvas structure at the edge of the trees. It looks like an abandoned Punch & Judy booth, he thinks, but dirty and tired, stained black with mould. Ignoring the water licking cold about his ankles, he squints to read the crimson scrawl on the plank propped against it. Enter the Shadow Booth, it says, and you will never be the same again.

The Shadow Booth is an international journal of weird and eerie fiction, publishing emerging and established writers of the strange. Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky hinterland between mainstream horror and literary fiction.

Volume 4 includes new weird and uncanny fiction by: Gary Budden, Jay Caselberg, Tim Cooke, James Everington, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Giselle Leeb, Polis Loizou, James Machin, Andrew McDonnell, Jane Roberts, Ashley Stokes, Anna Vaught, Charles Wilkinson and Marian Womack.

Review

My annual plunge into the darkness that is the Shadow Booth was a joy. Usually I would highlight certain stories for praise. Ones that stayed with me longer than others, or had a specific quality I enjoyed. Whether that was a character, setting, or a writing style I had previously not encountered. However with this volume every story contained specific qualities which grabbed my attention leading me into the shadows of dread that had been written with both excitement and fear.

The reason that this volume cast more shadows that I wanted to visit was because the writers of each story constructed a question into their texts. Some had simply one question, where others contained many but as a reader I was captivated. I wanted to discover every answer to every question. Whether that was an internal question about myself and how I understood the world. To external questions that asked you to investigate what is being presented to you in more detail to increase your understanding further.

The writers did this in such a way that you felt as if you were being dragged down a deep dark hole kicking and screaming in protest but at the same time you wanted them to draw back the curtain and let you in. Horror troupes and supernatural troupes were simply the vehicles that they used to drive these messages home. However the reason this volume has stayed with me longer the other three, is because it went back to what I want from horror and the supernatural. It sent shivers down my spine, it made to sleep with the lights on, but most of all it made to think. I was terrified but I couldn’t stop reading. That’s what I need from these kind of stories I need to be afraid and be challenged.

Every story challenges your moral compass. The further the reader goes into the collection the more layers were revealed to them. It was almost as if they were a detective but instead of trying to solve clues to a murder it was them who were being examined. Throughout the stories this kept returning. Whether it was somebody questioning what they had witnessed because of drug use or a mother trying to come to terms with tragedy. The more the reader reads every story the more they will become invested in finding the answers but what I enjoyed most is that all these stories will give different messages to different people. Therefore you will always come back to learn more. This is a well edited collection of stories that carries with it a variety of important messages that everybody can sample and enjoy.

It receives 4 stars. A well executed read. I am happy to recommend. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

 

Guest Post: Extract from Remember Me By Amy McLellan

Today I am honoured to welcome debut novelist Amy McLellan to my blog. Amy has kindly agreed to allow me to publish the first three chapters of her incredible debut Remember Me for you all to enjoy. Thanks Amy read it now.

Chapter One

Everyone looks the same. That’s the problem with these TV series set in indeterminate olden times. The beards, the straggly hair and the dirty tunics mean it’s hard to tell one earnest plotter from the next. Even the rich ones – easily identifiable because their robes are trimmed with fur and they have morelines – look like they need a good wash. I share this observation and Joanna sighs dramatically. She hates me talking during her shows but I can’t help myself, particularly when it comes to plot holes. When you’ve actually read the books the series is based on, you become very proprietorial. As someone who’s in a book club and describes herself as an avid reader on Match.com, I’m surprised Joanna isn’t more understanding.

I pour myself another glass of wine and Joanna gives me the side-eye. I’m not supposed to drink but sometimes I must, just to feel part of the human race again. Besides, she’s drinking. She can be very insensitive sometimes.Another mud-smeared soldier walks in and whispers in a lady’s ear.

‘Who’s he?’

‘I thought you were reading.’

I raise my eyebrows at her but go back to my book and re-read a paragraph. It’s a froth of a love story and isn’t taking. I look back at the screen, waiting for dragons to appear, but it’s still soldier types whispering in darkened rooms. I can’t help myself.

‘Who’s that?’

‘Jesus, Sarah. Really?’

It’s not my fault if I can’t keep up with the television. I’m just trying to pay an interest but she gets so irritated, as if I’m butting into real-life conversations. I know she’d prefer it if I went upstairs and left her to watch her shows in peace but that’s not really fair on me, is it? I wonder which of them she’s got a crush on. The warrior? The earnest one? Maybe it’s the woman. It’s hard to tell with Joanna. She’s my sister but sometimes she’s a closed book.

I am just reaching for the last of the Rioja when there’s a crunch of feet on gravel and a shadow slides past the window. Joanna shakes her head with irritation. ‘What’s he doing here?’ she mutters. She blows out a heavy sigh as she extracts herself from the sofa. ‘I suppose I’ll get it, then?’ I shrug. We both know I can’t answer the door, particularly not the back door: that means it’s someone we know. I’m better with strangers but that’s not saying much. I’m not really a people person any more.

She huffs and puffs from the room and I seize my opportunity. Goodbye Westeros, hello Classic FM. Triumphant, I settle back onto the sofa, Debussy washing over me and the last of the Rioja in my glass. I lift my glass in a silent salute to the unexpected visitor. Snooze you lose, sis. But the triumph fades when she doesn’t return to chide and tut at me. I wonder what she’s up to. I strain to catch a voice. They must be whispering. Is it a date? Has she got a secret lover? I wonder if she’s been Internet dating again; she’d sworn off after the humiliation of the philandering pensioner. But she’s always so secretive. Is that why she lets me drink wine, so she can have her secret assignations behind my back? It’s not like I can tell anyone anyway.

I’m about to drain my glass when there’s a sudden crash and Joanna cries out. There’s the low rumble of a man’s voice and the scrape of chair legs against the floor. Then silence. I pause as I run through all the justifications to do nothing, imagining the embarrassment of walking in on my sister in the throes of passion with her mystery man. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve read a situation all wrong.

I stand up carefully and kick off my slippers so I can pad quietly across the carpet in my socks. The radio is still playing, and the bright jangle of the adverts provides cover as I inch open the creaking door and step, silent as a sleuth, into the hall. There, in the sudden bright light, with our gaudy coats hanging on pegs and that awful oil painting Joanna bought at the WI on the wall, my fears seem silly. I get a sudden urge to laugh as a memory bubbles to the surface: a television advert from our childhood, a grown man tiptoeing into the kitchen in his striped pyjamas to steal lemonade. Such an absurd image for my brain to hold on to when so much else has been lost.

I’m about to turn back and leave Joanna and her secret lover when she moans again. This time it’s followed by a violent crash, and she cries out, not in rapture but in fear.

I shove open the door, my temper up and as ready for a fight as I can be. I lose valuable moments surveying the horror before me. There’s broken glass on the floor, wreckage from some kind of violent struggle, and the loser, a woman in a yellow cardigan, is slumped and bound in a kitchen chair. My sister. There is blood oozing from a deep gash on her forehead and her skin is ghostly white, beaded with sweat. She looks at me with wide, terrified eyes and tries to speak but her mouth is gagged with a jay cloth. There’s a sudden footstep behind me and strong arms seize me. I scream but at once there’s an arm clamped round my neck, pressing against my windpipe. I claw uselessly at the arm as I’m propelled across the kitchen floor towards Joanna. I try to resist but he is so strong. Joanna’s eyes are wide with terror and she bucks in her chair, trying to get free.

The pressure on my throat tightens and my world compresses to a vital urgent fight for breath. My eyes swim with tears, my feet thrashing as I try to land a kick, while my hands scrabble desperately to try and loosen the relentless pressure on my neck. The panic starts to swell as it dawns on me that this pathetic scrabbling, this useless flailing, could be how I use my last moments on earth. I try to muster all my strength but the life force is leeching away from me. I am going to die. There’s a momentary release as he adjusts his position, grabbing my right wrist in a vicelike grip. I suck in a whisper of air just before he increases the pressure on my neck and with his other hand lifts my wrist so that my hand scrapes against Joanna’s cheek. My nails scratch her wet skin and her eyes meet mine. She’s trying to tell me something but her mouth is clagged with that awful rag and I can barely see now, through the tears and the darkness fogging the edges of my vision. Everything is distant, like I’m looking up at the world from the bottom of a lake. My whole being shrinks to a focal point, to an arm across my airway, to a crushed centimetre of cartilage and tissue, to a single breath. I see my death mirrored in Joanna’s horror-stricken, dilated pupils.

Just as the blackness closes in, the pressure on my throat is released and I fall to my knees, air rasping into my greedy lungs as tears stream down my face. I am alive. I put my head down, my forehead on the floor, and suck in lungfuls of air before raising my head fearfully to see who has done this to us. A tall man in a black hoody looms over me, the lower part of his face covered with one of those black fleeces that bikers wear. It’s imprinted with a realistic image of a skeleton’s jawbone, like an x-ray image of bones and teeth, adding to his menace. My insides feel like liquid; this man, I know, brings death to our house and I am the only one who can stop him. I grab a shard of broken glass, the only weapon to come to hand, and leap up to lunge at his face. But he’s quick, turning effortlessly to dodge my attack. I lunge again, my hand slick and warm with blood as the shard digs into my palm, and almost connect, dislodging the skull face mask. He laughs, a twisted hollow sound, as he swiftly grabs my wrist and turns my arm painfully behind my back. Every muscle and sinew screams, and my body buckles to try and release the pressure on my contorted arm. He jerks a knee into my gut, knocking the air from my body and I collapse to the floor.

He stands over Joanna now, a knife in his gloved hand. I know that knife: it’s the pink one Joanna ordered from the shopping channel to cut meat. I scrabble desperately across the floor to stop him but I’m too late: his hands are so quick and the knife is so sharp. Joanna makes a low surprised gasp as blood, her blood, drips from the knife, pooling darkly on the kitchen floor. He steps back as if to admire his handiwork and I rush forward to help her. There is so much blood. It pulses through my hands, the air thick with its coppery sweetness, as I desperately try to stem the flood and piece her back together. But hands grab me and pull me backwards, away from my dying sister.

My legs flail, trying to find purchase on the floor but he’s so strong that it takes just seconds to propel me out of the kitchen and into the hall. He pushes me towards the stairs and I stumble, a bloody handprint smearing the paintwork. Joanna will be mad with me, I think, but the thought is fleeting. His boot lands in the small of my back and my legs fold beneath me like a comedy drunk. My head bounces off the bottom stair onto the parquet of the hall. He laughs as my skull lights up with an explosion of pain, then all light and sound is extinguished and I fall into the deepest black.

Chapter Two

A hammer, or is it a drill, maybe a vice, ratcheting up the pain,screw by screw. I can’t identify the tool. I can’t see anything yet. There is just pain, blinding, deafening pain. It blocks out the world, like white noise. I wish it would stop. I force open a sticky eyelid, and feel my world tilt. Dizzy and nauseous, I close my eye again. The pain is so intense I can even hear it. Definitely a hammer, it’s like a pile-driver inside my skull. It even hurts to breathe; my throat burns with every inhalation.

I try to move and the pain flares white inside my head, down my spine. The noise has stopped and I open my eyes again and wait for the world to stop spinning. I am on the floor, my body twisted uncomfortably, one arm numb, my hips screaming in protest. I scrape my fingers against the floor. Wood, not carpet. I am on the hall floor by the bottom of the stairs. Did I fall downstairs? Does Joanna know, or has she already left for work? I roll onto my side, releasing the trapped arm, which flops rubbery and useless. What has happened, why am I on the floor? Why hasn’t Joanna come to help me Adrenalin flushes through me, a surge of icy dread floods my veins: have we had another fight? I moan, crumbling into myself with guilt. I know I’ll get the blame again.

I close my eyes and try to breathe through the pain and  nausea but the hammer blows start up again, echoing round my skull. I open my eyes, blinking against the light, but the noise is relentless. It’s not just inside my head, it’s outside. Outside. I am suddenly frozen with fear, my heart thundering in my chest. Outside. I remember now, I know why I’m on the floor, I know why everything hurts. Outside is thundering at the door. He’s back.

I push myself into a sitting position, a thunderous headache pounding behind my eyes, my breath burning in my throat. He’s here, pounding at the front door. I desperately crawl towards the kitchen. I have to find Joanna, she was hurt last night. This time it’s my turn to protect her.

There’s a phone on the kitchen wall, I swipe at the long twisty cord and pull down the handset. I need to call the police but my rubbery arm is hot and uncooperative as blood finds its way back to my hand. Hot tears burn my eyes as I fumble the numbers, and then I see Joanna. She’s lying on the floor in a dark puddle, her back to me.

Broken glass cuts my hands and knees as I pick my way across to her, a prayer whispering through my veins. Please, God, please let her be OK, please, God. The puddle is sticky under my knees and she is so very still. I touch her shoulder, then press my fingertips to her face. She is cold. I jab at the telephone again, and hear a dial tone, then a distant voice. I rasp into the handset. ‘Police. Hurry, please.’

The noise outside is louder now, the house under siege. I want to lift Joanna’s head off this sticky hard floor, where her blonde curls are stiffening in the dried blood, but it’s too heavy. My fingers connect with something cold and hard and I instinctively close my fingers around it; I won’t let him hurt us again. I press myself into her, willing my life force into her cold still body, and then the front door crashes open.

Footsteps crunch over broken glass. There are voices, men,  a woman too. I hold Joanna close, whimpering with fear. It’s selfish when she is already gone but I don’t want to die, I have barely lived.

‘In here.’ It’s a man’s voice.

I flinch, every sense heightened. Footsteps scuff over the parquet and my fingers tighten on the metal. I won’t let him hurt us again.

Someone gasps. ‘Oh my god.’ A voice I think I know. ‘Get him out of here.’ I don’t recognise this one. More footsteps, the crackle of a radio. ‘Sarah? It is Sarah, isn’t it?’ The voice is gentle. A woman. I lift my head from Joanna’s hair and squint up at the voice. It’s a woman in a police uniform. Oh, thank god.

‘Is there anyone else in the house, Sarah?’ I run my tongue over my cracked lips. ‘A man attacked us.’ It hurts to talk. ‘Last night.’ The woman turns and looks behind her. There’s another police officer, a man, shoulders like a battering ram. He nods, and leaves the kitchen. I can hear him opening and closing doors, his heavy tread on the stairs, the sound of him pulling back the difficult sliding door on Joanna’s wardrobe which you have to jerk and lift off the runners to open fully.

‘Clear,’ comes a voice.

I can hear sirens in the distance. More voices outside. My head pounds and the room swims, and I vomit on the floor by my feet, the retching sending shockwaves of pain through my body.

‘OK, Sarah, we’re going to get you some help,’ says the woman, lifting her radio to her mouth. She’s young, not a line on her face, even with no make-up. She’s blond, with her roots showing through, her figure hidden under her bulky uniform, a small tattoo of angel wings just visible on the inside of her wrist. Someone retrieves the phone handset, finishes the call for me: It’s OK, we got this.

There are footsteps in the room again now. The big policeman is back, surveying the room, before his eyes come to rest on me again. ‘Come on, Sarah,’ he says, his voice gentle and coaxing, his hands spread, as if approaching a cornered animal.
‘Put the knife down.’ The woman takes a step back. She hadn’t noticed the pink knife in my hand, still half hidden by Joanna’s hair. I pull the knife out from under Joanna’s hair and release it, noticing how the wide blade is crusted with black blood. Joanna’s blood. I retch again, but nothing comes up. ‘That’s it, good girl,’ says the man, talking to me as if I’m a small child.

The sirens have stopped. There are more footsteps now, more voices. People in uniforms, some of them police, some of them paramedics, stand in the doorway and look down at me and Joanna. Their faces are impassive but I know what they’re thinking: they think I killed my sister.

Chapter Three

We never use the dining room, not since James left home. It’s become a dumping ground: two suitcases in the corner, Joanna’s exercise bike gathering dust and a pile of clothes destined for the charity shop. James used to do his revision in here, books sprawled across the dining table, his laptop glowing blue late into the night. He marked this room as his territory: his compass scored his initials into the table top, cans of Fanta bleaching the wood white. After he left, Joanna and I had stared fondly at the damage, evidence that once this house was a home where we raised a child and how different it was from our own childhoods, when a broken glass or ink-stained skirt prompted slaps, pinches and the silent treatment. I am glad the years didn’t turn us into our mother, at least not in that respect. Perhaps it’s because we have both lost so much over the years that it’s hard to be upset over little things like scratches on a table. And besides, we never used the table: we are kitchen snackers and tray eaters, the radio and television our dining companions. Once James left home, Joanna gave up worthy family dinners, or maybe it was just my company she couldn’t stand?

It’s cold in here now. We probably haven’t had the radiators on since James finished his exams. Already there’s a bloom of damp under the windowsill. I remind myself to tell Joanna, and then reality rushes in like a sucker punch to the gut that leaves me gasping for air.

A hand touches my shoulder and I flinch. It’s another person in a white suit. They are all over the house, grounded astronauts, padding around, murmuring in corners.
‘You OK?’ says the white suit. It’s a woman with shortcropped black hair and elfin face. She looks about twelve. A child playing dress-up: today, Mummy, I shall be a forensic crime scene examiner.

I nod. It’s instinctive. Don’t make a fuss, Sarah, no one wants to know your dramas. Mother’s voice. But of course, I’m not OK. Nothing will ever be OK again. There’s an ambulance parked outside, ready to take Joanna away. No blue lights. They don’t need to rush to where she’s going. There are so many people outside. A lot of police, most of them just standing around. A large white tent has been erected by the front door. It looks like the preparations for a macabre garden party, with police tape for bunting.

I look away and hug myself. It’s so cold in here. I just want to go and lie in my bed with the duvet over my head and never wake up again. An image keeps replaying in mind, my sister’s blood, slick and hot, pulsing through my useless hands, and I think I may never sleep again.

‘Sarah. Is it Sarah?’ I realise the twelve-year-old is talking to me. I nod again but I can’t recall the question. She glances away, over my shoulder and she mouths something. Now, there’s someone else with me, another woman, with blond hair this time. Have I seen her before? I’m usually good at noticing little details but I can’t seem to focus. I can hear people tramping in and out, occasionally saying things I don’t understand or opening big black carry cases with a snap that makes me jump every time.

She starts talking to me but I can’t seem to concentrate on her words: the image of Joanna’s body, her blood on my hands, replays again and again.
‘Your full name?’
‘What? Oh, Sarah Wallis.’
The woman nods at me. ‘And you live here with your sister,
Joanna Bailey?’
I nod.
‘Does anyone else live here?’
‘James.’ Then I shake my head. ‘But he left last year.’
‘Who’s James?’

‘My nephew. Joanna’s son.’ My voice breaks, a hard ball blocks my throat. What will I tell James? He’s only twenty and this is the second parent to be killed. Hot tears burn my eyes. What can I say? ‘And it was just you and your sister in the house last night?’asks the policewoman again.

I nod. ‘But then the man came to the back door.’
‘What time was that?’
I try to think. Joanna was watching her show. And I was being a bloody cow about it. I always made life so difficult for her. I couldn’t even answer the door so she could watch her show in peace. It should have been me, my blood. And it swims before my eyes again, Joanna’s blood spilling through my fingers, my fumbling hands unable to hold her together or make it stop.

The policewoman is talking again. I raise my eyes to her face and try to concentrate. ‘Is that OK with you, Sarah? We’re going to get you checked out.’ I realise they want to take me somewhere. ‘What?’ I croak, my mouth dry, my throat closing as the familiar panic starts to swell.

‘We need you to see a doctor, to make sure you’re all right.’ A doctor. I know doctors, I can do doctors. I have spent so much time in hospitals they are almost a safe place for me. Almost. My body shivers violently with cold and what I suppose is shock. They let me get a coat and my handbag and then I’m shepherded out through the battered front door, blinking in the white light. The cold air tastes of wet grass and diesel fumes. Cars have churned up the gravel and there are deep tyre treads across our scrap of front lawn.

I shiver in the cold spring air. The ambulance has gone; where have they taken Joanna? But before I can ask, I am guided into the back of a police car which quickly pulls out onto the street. The trees are in bud and there’s a confetti of pink blossom on the grass in front of the church. The rush of colour takes me by surprise: it’s the first time I’ve left the house in six weeks.

About The Author

amc

Amy is a freelance journalist and copywriter. She lives in Shropshire with her husband, fellow author Adam Hamdy, three kids, a cat and a serious caffeine habit. Remember Me is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter. https://twitter.com/AmyMcLellan2

Why not pre-order on this link.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Remember-Me-Amy-McLellan/dp/1409185141/ref=sr_1_1?crid=Z9AWLNVDIX31&keywords=remember+me+amy+mclellan&qid=1569839624&s

Review of MageBane By Stephen Aryan Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

MAGIC IS THE ONLY WEAPON AGAINST THE GODS

A plague rages in the streets of Perizzi. Guardians rally to deal with riots while apothecarists struggle to find a cure. The cult of Akosh has been decimated but there are many survivors in the north hungry for revenge.

Elsewhere, new alliances are formed to combat a deity who feeds on pestilence and decay. Gods, Sorcerers and Battlemages must set aside the past to work together – or risk unleashing greater suffering than they can possibly imagine . .

Review

After devouring the first two books in the Age of Dread trilogy, Mage-Born and Mage-Fall. I couldn’t wait for the climax in MageBane. In my opinion Stephen Aryan is one of the most underrated writers working in the fantasy genre today. Throughout this entire trilogy Stephen’s storytelling has become effortless.

I can’t get enough of the characters. Its extremely difficult to tell you which characters I enjoyed most as they all have characteristics I either adore or detest about them with it being the final book in this trilogy. We have some returning favourites from the Age of Darkness Trilogy which is set in the same world.

My personal favourite is the Sorcerer Balfruss. The reason being is because Stephen exposes us to more of Balfruss own insecurities challenging his ideology as he is forced to go against his once trusted friend Garvey, another sorcerer and his dispels who are causing havoc across the realm. As the story develops Stephen shows us both sides of Garvey. His motivations and why he has become disillusioned with his power. Plus he gives us an interesting perspective into Balfruss as he begins to re-evaluate his own position within a world that has changed from what he knows and values. This was one of the most intriguing aspects of the trilogy because both character arcs end with satisfying conclusions and showed that even the best of friends are sometimes faced with impossible choices.

What stood out in MageBane was that none of the arcs were shortchanged. The development of the rivalry between Munroe and Akosh is sublime. This toxic mixture of revenge is played out like an orchestra in harmony with both characters fighting their inner demons in a battle for survival. I simply couldn’t get over how well Stephen fleshed out this dual character arc that made it feel fresh and original. The final showdown between them is in my opinion one of the best scenes I have ever read. The tension and emotional intelligence that shone through in that moment left me in bits.

I was also continuously fascinated with the god Vargus and his budding relationship with Danolph. The warmth and curiosity that both characters showed to one another as they roamed the forgotten places of their world, allowed the reader to dive deep into both characters bringing a much needed tenderness to the narrative, enabling you to catch your breath but still be intrigued about the role they may play in what was to come.

I could go on forever about every character viewpoint as they all left an impression upon me as multiple threads were drawn to a close. However I can’t leave this review without giving a mention to the whirlwind that is Dox. A young orphan girl who ends up sticking to Munroe like glue. Her inclusion in this trilogy has been a joy. I couldn’t get enough of her humour which at times made my belly hurt as I laughed so hard. Her attitude is to die for. A delightful blend between fierce and vulnerability that means that Munroe gets away with nothing. I loved how Stephen developed the relationship between them. If you don’t cry during some of their interactions then simply you don’t have a heart. Dox forever I love her.

One of my favourite elements of this trilogy as it progressed was Stephen wasn’t afraid to destroy his world to capture a moment of sheer heartbreak for any of his main viewpoint characters. This is wonderfully illustrated in Magebane as he brings all the threads he has been setting up in the previous two books together to devastating affect. Taking us through a wave of emotions from the heartbreak of lost to the sweet taste of revenge. This trilogy has built upon the richness of the world that was first introduced to us in the Age Of Darkness, enabling readers to explore areas we were only given glimpses of in the previous books. Answering some long standing questions about much loved characters, as well as creating some equally fascinating new ones. I can’t recommend both series enough. MageBane was fitting end if it is to be the last time Stephen writes in this world. I will miss my friends but thank you Stephen for giving them to me. This trilogy is outstanding and to me you are one of the best writers working today. Thank you for the adventure I loved every moment.

I received a copy of the book from author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Review of Save Game by Joseph Sale Written By Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Levi Jensen is, by all accounts, a loser. He failed sixth-form, never got to university, and works at a no-future fast-food restaurant. The only thing he’s good at is gaming.

When his father starts dying of a new type of cancer, only treatable privately and at impossible expense, Levi’s one hope of saving him becomes the million-dollar cash-prize for winning the dark-fantasy video-game Fate of Ellaria.

But Levi isn’t the only one with motivations beyond money for winning. And the price of success in Fate of Ellaria might mean the destruction of what little he has left in the real world.

Save Game is a heart-breaking story of an underdog against all odds, as well as a love-letter to the beauty of video-games.

Inspired by the amazing and eclectic everyday people who inhabit the gaming world, and the pain of their real-world lives, Save Game aims to show the courage of those who feel they’ve got no place in reality.

Review

Save Game is the book Ready Player One should of been. Its a book that quite simply leaves you feeling alive with joyful glee. Save Game takes you back to them long summer days of being camped out in your bedroom not allowing even the smallest speck of light to creep through the curtains in case your mother saw you and demanded you got outside. I mean come on mam who wants fresh air when I am blowing people’s heads off. Seriously you had more chance of moving an elephant with your bare hands. You know the feeling I am talking about. I remember it well holding my breath with untold excitement to see if I had defeated the seemingly unbeatable foe.

Save Game gave me this emotion in spades wrapping me in a blanket of nostalgia that once I closed the book I felt as if I had lost an old friend. The reason I say that is because at no point did I feel as if I was reading a book. The sense of place that Joseph was able to create whenever you entered the next quest, made me believe I was a teenager once again locked in my bedroom racing along with Snake from Metal Gear Solid wanting to discover the next clue to accomplish the mission. The world that Joseph creates within this story is one of such complexity, and grandeur that as the words fell away from page to page I found myself smiling in a way that I haven’t in ages when reading a book. It almost felt like Joseph had conducted surgery on all the world’s gamers allowing him to construct an incredible mash up of all the elements that make games tick for us. Pulling influences from such classics as Crash Bandicoot and the greatest game of all time Metal Gear Solid and yes I will go to my grave defending this. As the world continued to unfold it was almost as if Joseph picked up a paintbrush and said this is what you need to know now go and explore. Due to the level of imagination used within the world. It kind of became a character itself. Helping to enhance the heartfelt moments of the story where our main protagonist Levi is faced with some decisions that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

The story is told from the perspective of Levi. A shy young man who doesn’t have much going for him to most people hes a loser. He never finished sixth form, never went to university, and is now working a dead end job. He is kind of a drifter who seems to have no purpose to his life. When his father is struck down by a cancer that seems to have no cure his life is turned upside down. However when he is offered the opportunity to utilise his gaming skills in a game that rewards him handsomely if he succeeds in defeating it Levi can’t pass it up.

What follows is a story about the lengths a person is willing to go to to save loved one. Every time Levi went back into the game I found myself willing him to succeed. You cant help but relate to him, and this is why I always find myself returning to Joseph’s work. Every character he writes makes you feel something for them. Whether it is in the moment, or later on in the narrative when he returns you to a scene you may of overlooked, and gives you all the emotions you were hoping for the first time around. I never finish a Joseph book without learning a new way of how to display an emotion to the reader and for me in Save Game he is marvellous at producing this. I loved the interactions between Levi and his father. How Joseph was able to give you insights into their complex relationship that displays love in so many different ways.

This book is an examination of the ties that bind the human condition. From love to trails of friendship, and the levels of desperation we can reach when faced with an impossible situation. This book has several layers that it is impossible to do them all justice within this review. You will just have to read for yourself to find out more. It receives 5 stars. A highly recommended read.

I received a free review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of In the Company of Strangers by Awais Khan Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

In the glittering world of Pakistan’s elite, all is not what it seems…

Mona has almost everything: money, friends, social status… everything except for freedom. Languishing in her golden cage, she craves a sense of belonging…

Desperate for emotional release, she turns to a friend who introduces her to a world of glitter, glamour, covert affairs and drugs. There she meets Ali, a physically and emotionally wounded man, years younger than her.

Heady with love, she begins a delicate game of deceit that spirals out of control and threatens to shatter the deceptive facade of conservatism erected by Lahori society, and potentially destroy everything that Mona has ever held dear.

Review

When I first read the blurb of In the Company of Strangers. I was concerned that it would be predictable. Playing into the hands of what I have come to expect from modern day thrillers which is a part of the world gripped on the path to corruption. However I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions. This book in my opinion is a reflection of the turmoil within in our world.

Awais has written a narrative where every character regardless of their role in any scene you must pay attention to everything they say and do. The reason for this is because what could appear to be a throwaway piece of dialogue or meaningless action could in fact turn out to be a major plot point.

The layers of deception Awais weaves is outstanding plunging the reader into a world that is shrouded in mystery and harrowing imagery that leaves you breathless. He doesn’t shy away from exposing the truth around the Lahori society within Pakistan from the double standards, lack of empathy, and indulgence that occurs throughout the novel. Exposing us to a world of the rich that seems shut off from the rest of the country. One of the most important scenes that stayed with me as I continued reading this spellbinding tale was after a terrorist attack takes place killing hundreds of people. The main protagonist’s Mona elitist friends turn down the volume on the television and proceed to drink and dance as they see it as to depressing. I couldn’t help reflect that this was a major theme for Awais. Helping to show how separate the rich are in their views from the rest of their country.

The tapestry of voices Awais creates in this story of glamour, forbidden fruits, and a chaotic love that could end up tearing down everything the Lahori society values most is mind-blowing. Every character is placed in situations where they have internal struggles. Moments where they have to go against the status they have developed for themselves. This is shown best by Mona because even though she craves freedom and the thrills of her newfound love. She is constantly fighting against the ideals of the society in which she lives. A society in which for the most part relegate women into a place of discipline and having to project an image of calmness and strength. Mona’s sense of wanting to belong to both these polarised worlds has devastating consequences that ripple across the entire narrative. Infecting each character like a poison that ends in a domino affect  impacting upon all of them and how they execute their chosen paths.

Awais In the Company of Strangers has flipped story ideas on their head. Giving the reader a story that is filled with colour and a setting that is so atmospheric that you can’t help but taste, feel, hear, smell, and see everything you read. I could go on forever about this novel. It is a triumph in how to expose your readers to a part of a world that is unknown to them and make them feel part of it. Well done Awais you receive 5 stars. A cracking debut novel.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

About the Author

AK

Awais Khan was born in Lahore, Pakistan. ‘In the Company of Strangers’ is his first novel published by the Book Guild and Simon & Schuster. He is a graduate of The University of Western Ontario and Durham University. He studied Creative Writing at Faber Academy. His work has appeared in The Aleph Review, The Missing Slate, MODE, Daily Times and The News International. He has appeared for Interviews on Voice of America, Samaa TV, City42, Maverix Media and PTV Home. He is represented by Annette Crossland (A for Authors Agency Ltd, London).

In his free time, he likes to read all types of fiction, especially historical fiction and psychological thrillers. He is hard at work on his forthcoming novels.

Review of Penny Black (Ben Bracken Series) By Robert Parker written by Dan Stubbings

Today I am honoured to be hosting, and finishing the blog tour for Penny Black by Rob Parker. Thanks to Hannah Groves from Endeavour Media for inviting me.

The Penny Black Blog Tour Banner

Book Synopsis

I’m dead, for all intents and purposes. Nobody knows I’m alive…

Ben Bracken is on the run for his life. Keeping a low profile from the agencies seeking to silence him, he finds refuge in the quiet town of Horning. Working in a boat yard and lodging with an older couple, Eric and Dot, Ben uses this time to plan. He needs to escape, and realising his only chance will reveal his whereabouts to some unsavoury characters, he plans every detail. Little does he know, even that won’t be enough…

Just before he walks away, murder strikes the quiet town. Ben cannot leave until he is sure that he has not brought any further trouble to the townsfolk. Will he be able to exact revenge? One thing is certain, there is a lot more going on in the town of Horning than meets the eye…

The Penny Black is action packed from beginning to end, keeping you guessing right the way through.

Review

Sometimes as a reader you can get lost in words. Clues become to easy to figure out and you find yourself wondering when is the next great read going to come along. Don’t get me wrong you enjoy the books helping you to unwind and discover great characters. However you are able to put them down and return later. However when you do find that book that keeps you up until dawn, and makes you so late for work that you scream at every red light its so worth it. It makes you remember why you love reading.

This is the feeling I had whilst I was reading Penny Black by Rob Parker. The moment I turned the first page I knew all my plans were cancelled. This book will make you forget to eat, sleep, and disconnect all your devices because trust me you won’t want to be interrupted. I am a huge fan of the Ben Bracken series they are must buy for me when they come out. Penny Black has elevated this series to an entirely new level. The growth of Bracken’s character and personality has enabled Rob to write several chapters of intrigue that creates a story that is fresh and new for the crime genre.

The book opens with Bracken retreating for a life in the country as he tries desperately to escape his old life. He has a new identity, working as a mechanic fixing boats on a shipyard, living with old age pensioners in their old ram-shackled boathouse, drinking beers in the local when he finishes his shift. As he tries to bury the demons of old and find solace in his new life. Unfortunately for Bracken however he is about to be drawn into a dark world that will rock his new found home to the core.

I particularly enjoyed how Rob used the setting to create a sense of atmosphere within his narrative. A backdrop shrouded in shadows that almost takes on a mind of its own. Always lurking in the background as Bracken searches its every corner treading carefully to see what he can unearth. Automatically it makes you question what is occurring behind the smiles and sense of community that the locals are trying to project. Immediately Bracken is suspicious and soon finds himself embroiled in a strange undercurrent of darkness that has been hidden in plain sight. What he thought was safe and predictable soon becomes something else. From sinister teenage gangs terrorising the neighbourhood, drugs, and a brutal murder that isn’t what it seems. Bracken is launched back into his old life with unexpected twists and encountering some faces he thought he would never see again. Everyone is a suspect with secrets to hide. Forcing Bracken to look deep inside himself to find the answers he needs.

The reason I feel this novel has given new insight into Bracken’s character that makes you want to stick by him even more is because Rob strips away the tough ex agent stereotype, and dives straight into his vulnerabilities. Some of my favourite moments within Penny Black are when Bracken is reflecting on his life choices, his regrets, and his plans for the future. Rob has given Bracken a license to be afraid, to want to move away from his troubled past and create a new life for himself. An aspect of the story that I kept returning to was the relationship between Bracken and Eric. One of the old age pensioners Bracken is staying with. Eric kind of becomes the father Bracken never had. Rob writes this relationship with a subtlety and tenderness that pulls on your heart strings, with both men hiding secrets from one another. Yet as the story progresses they come to rely on each other in times of struggle. This enables Rob to show the reader their flaws and makes for an interesting subplot as the plot develops.

The more Bracken investigates the worse the secrets become. Turning the village into a battleground, that has you on the edge of your seat to see which of your favourite characters will be left standing when all is said and done. As each secret is revealed you’re left reeling as Rob makes think you have discovered the answer only to add another twist and fool you once again. This is a testament to Rob’s story- telling ability because even though I have read all of the previous Bracken books at no point did I feel I was missing any major backstory. The story was seamless transporting you into Bracken’s mindset, and environment without missing a beat. Rob gives us emotions in spades throughout Penny Black exposing a tenderness to Bracken that has many scars but wants to heal. I’ve heard some people say that Bracken is challenging Reacher. Well for me in Penny Black Reacher’s is relegated into second place. Bravo, it’s a home run its like James Bond meets The Godfather I bloody loved it. It receives 5 stars.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

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Interview with Roger McKnight Conducted by Dan Stubbings

Today I am delighted to be interviewing Roger McKnight. Author of Hopeful Monsters a wonderful collection of short stories recently published by Storgy Books.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Roger I really appreciate it.

DS: For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer would you mind telling us a little about yourself, and how you first got into writing?

RM: I was born and raised in downstate Illinois. I worked as a teacher in Chicago, Sweden, and Puerto Rico before coming to Minnesota for grad school. I now reside in Minnesota.  I’ve always been a writer, though first as a student of journalism (whose courses I didn’t much like but learned from) and then on scholarly research projects.  I’ve always written fiction.  In recent years I’ve worked with a bit more determination at getting my fiction published. Composing stories was my dream even in childhood.

DS: Addiction and Obsession are two key themes throughout the collection. What made you decide on these themes and how did you shape your stories around them?

RM: I consider addiction, if by that is meant drug or alcohol abuse, to be a key theme only in “Rain Shadow” and “Iago.” What interested me most in those stories was not the substance abuse per se, but the mind-set that led the characters Raul and Nick down that path.

Obsession as a theme occurs during the stories, in my opinion, only in the sense that the world has been experiencing troubled times ever since Vietnam.  Most of us, as I see life around me, are eager, if not desperate, to find answers to those troubles, both world-wide and personal. In some cases, as in “Forgetting She Forgot”, they search insistently for answers to life dilemmas (resulting, in this story, from a disaster such as Desert Storm) that aren’t wholly of their own making.  If the present-day search for answers can be described as an obsession, then we’re all probably obsessed to one degree or another. Being troubled by what’s facing us is what flesh is heir to.

By the same token, one can empathize with the anxiety experienced by Jake and Al in “Basic Skills,” even though they keep their feelings under wraps below the surface.

DS: You have lived in both Europe and the US? What are the differences in cultures that interest you? Which have helped inform your writing?

RM: I’ve lived in Scandinavia and the US.  Differences do exist, no doubt about it, but they are hard to put a finger on in brief. In general, one feels more respect for human dignity in Scandinavia, on both the personal and governmental levels.

I tried to write that attitude into “Out the Window,” in which the Swedish employees and the Swedish government have every seeming reason to toss the hospital patients out in the cold, especially the ones who came to Sweden from other countries, and some Swedish employees would not be against doing so.  Yet society chose to keep, house, and protect the helpless.  In that story, Laila has a lot to teach Ewen.

As for Hopeful Monsters as a whole, reviewers tend to remark that the stories all hold out some hope in the end. That softening influence comes from my experience of Scandinavian life and culture, an attitude that’s not wholly missing in Minnesota and will be needed greatly as the state becomes increasingly multi-cultural.

DS: I adored how you drew history into your stories, to reflect how turbulent the world has been over the years. How much research did you do for each story?

RM: For some stories, much research was needed. With tales like “Iago,” “Out the Window,” “Down the River,” and “Sixteen,” I read a lot and talked with people who were there and experienced it.

For example, what happens/happened in a crack house; what was the history of institutions for the developmentally challenged in Sweden; how could the Civil War Era’s Old Slave House have existed in a free state like Illinois and why would Abraham Lincoln have visited there and dined with the illegal slave owner while blacks were held captive in the rooms above them; what was it like fleeing Somalia and coming to the US (I got that straight from a 15-year-old boy in Minnesota).

For other stories, I used my own memories from living in the US and Sweden as events happened, including hearing detailed descriptions of washing diapers by hand, as in “Speed Clean” (though I had to read up on Speed Clean washing machines, even if my own mother owned one).  Fact and fiction blend together and suggest the truth.  Research and lived experience worked in unison.

DS: Where there any moments when you were writing the stories that you thought I am maybe going to far? If so in which stories and why?

RM: In the expository sections of the stories I never made any authorial claims to the truth or any favouritism. I made a conscious effort to address vital issues without taking an authorial stance. Some of my characters do take definite stances, but throughout the stories I worked at maintaining a sense of ambiguity about the status of their attitudes.

In “Victoria” Sylvia agrees to do what she can to help Tori, but she isn’t sure if it’s the right thing to do.  She ends the story wondering if ‘good’ is always the same as ‘right’.  In “Loving Sören” Karen and Josh have definite opinions on sensitive issues, but they are willing to reserve final judgment on them while trying to figure out if they truly understand Kierkegaard or not.  “Yesterday’s Storms” brings up the debate between creationism and scientific proof.  That debate is never settled in the story; the issue ends in ambiguity. Ex: Gerome first argues for an expanding universe, but he ends up describing a closed universe.  It’s not clear what he, an astronomer who’s expected to know, does believe in, except the beauty and mystery of what’s out there.

No, I never went too far. I made an honest effort to address important issues without being polemic.

DS: Would you mind talking a small about your writing style please? As I find it extremely unique. I am curious to learn how it developed and where it first came from?

RM: I can try out some comments on my writing style, but I’m not sure exactly what to say. First of all, I didn’t know it’s unique.  If it is, that’s surely because I think in an unlikely combination of academic circumspection and straight-to-the point southern Illinois rural dialect mixed in with some Minnesota neologisms (a contrast I vaguely touched on in “Speed Clean”).

Also, I read lots of Scandinavian literature, in which understatement and chariness of comment are common.  There’s kind of an iceberg effect in much Scandinavian lit, in which as much is left unsaid under the surface as appears above it. What one critic called “the art of the half-told tale.”  I hope my stories tell more than half, however. I try to be somewhat subtle.

DS: Who would you say were your writing influences growing up? Which writers would you encourage everyone to read and why?

RM: Steinbeck.  Hemingway.  Edwin Arlington Robinson.  Winesburg, Ohio.  Spoon River Anthology.  T. S. Eliot. Thoreau.

People should read: the Swedish novelist and dramatist Hjalmar Söderberg (1879-1941). 

Try his novel Doctor Glas.  It’s about a medical doctor, who goes about committing the perfect crime.  And his collection of stories called in English simply Short Stories.  You might have to get them through a library or very good bookstore.

For a perfectly structured drama, I suggest Miss Julie by the Swedish dramatist August Strindberg (1849-1912).  Study how the drama’s skilfully put together.

DS: Finally what is next for Roger McKnight?

RM: Another collection of short stories.  Maybe a novel.  I’m fishing around.

Thanks to Roger and Storgy Books for allowing me to do this interview. The interview was carried out over email. Thanks Roger for your insight answers to my questions.

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You can buy the book now! On the link below:

HOPEFUL MONSTERS: Paperback & Ebook available now!