Review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S Villoso Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

A queen of a divided land must unite her people, even if they hate her, even if it means stopping a ruin that she helped create. A debut epic fantasy from an exciting new voice.

“I murdered a man and made my husband leave the night before they crowned me.”

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-Yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair. Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

Review

Sometimes you discover a book that brings much needed freshness to a genre. Well that is exactly what K.S Villoso has produced with her incredible debut The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. This book contains most of the aspects of fantasy that I crave. Epic sword-fights, in depth world-building, morally grey characters, and secrets that can collapse the norms of society at any moment.

What makes this story stand out in my opinion is that Villoso isn’t afraid to slow down the pace of her narrative to allow us as readers to take a breath, and explore Queen Talyien her main protagonist from a range of different angles. Through these slower periods, we are given important information about her personality and history of her families deep ingrained beliefs. This helps the reader to form a clearer perspective of what truly drives Talyien to achieve her goal of trying to reunite her nation. As well as shed light on her complicated legacy from her father’s actions. The voice of Talyien shines through on every page from what excites her to her frustrations. Villoso dumps us in her head, and takes us on a journey that is full of bloodshed, and treachery. Yet at the same time is able to explore her vulnerabilities that make her so easily lead. I couldn’t get enough of her. You can’t help but want to hear her story.

I have to admit during the first few chapters I was worried the story was going to be to predictable. That it would follow the story arcs of many previous fantasies. I couldn’t have more wrong. There were elements that were familiar like betrayals, and family rivalries but they were done with twists that you didn’t see coming adding a new flavour that made you continue reading.

This story contains so many intriguing threads that you feel as if you are floating on an ocean unable to see your hands under the surface. The world is a submersion of the senses. It is as if Villoso has written a personal love letter to the Philippines. I adored this aspect of the book it was so refreshing for me as a reader to be able to explore a different culture, and environment I haven’t encountered previously in fantasy. I was swept aside by the new myths and creatures we were introduced to. They are so well written that you can almost reach out and touch them.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a highly accomplished first novel. That challenges the norms of fantasy, by incorporating a different blend of cultures, and ideas that enables it to stay true to the pillars of fantasy that the vast majority of readers have grown up with, but injects some added spice that leaves your brain stinging well after the event. At times I was shocked this was from a debut author as it was so well polished. I look forward to reading the next installment, as I can’t wait to jump back into this world. One thing I would like to see more of is exploration into side characters back stories as the cast of characters assembled truly held my attention throughout. It receives 4 stars.

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

Review of Witness X By S.E Moorhead Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb 

SOME CRIMES CAN’T BE SOLVED IN ONE LIFETIME.

THE PAST. Fourteen years ago, the police caught a notorious serial killer who abducted two victims during the month of February. He was safe behind bars. Wasn’t he?

THE PRESENT. But when another body is discovered, the race is on to catch the real killer before he abducts his second victim. Neuropsychologist Kyra Sullivan fights to use a new technology that accesses the minds of the witnesses.

THE FUTURE. Will Kyra discover the person behind the murders, and if so, at what cost? And how far will she go to ensure justice is served?

This is the story of how Kyra tries to save a past she cannot change and a future she cannot allow. A genre-bending thriller for readers who enjoy books by Clare North, Stephen King and John Marrs.

Review

I finished Witness X in a frenzy. I feel almost compelled to reread it just to enjoy the complexity of the plot all over again. Sarah has establish a world that is as smooth as a V8 engine. Every word specifically engineered to stir your imagination. I can’t put this book into a genre. It flows like water touching on many genres that it is impossible to contain. From deranged serial killers to high tech futuristic crime solving machines this book has something for everyone.

Don’t worry though this book isn’t another dystopian novel where the world burns. So if you’re looking for zombies, deadly viruses, or mazes full of creatures then I am sorry to disappoint you. However if you like soft sci fi concepts with some gruesome  murders then pull up a chair and find out why I couldn’t get enough of this sci-fi noir.

The book follows Kyra Sullivan a neuropsychologist who invents a  new cutting edge technology in 2035. This technology allows her to access people’s memories. To witness a scenario through their eyes. When we are introduced to her she is desperately trying to get the technology approved to be used in the criminal justice system. However she is being blocked at every turn. Plus to complex matters further the military are involved looking into ways the machine can be used for their own perverted agendas.

Unfortunately for Kyra these complications aren’t the only difficulties she has to manage  in her daily life. The constant shadow of her sister’s graphic murder looms over her. Even though her killer was arrested fifteen years ago and found guilty. Kyra can’t shake the feeling that they may of got the wrong man. Furthermore she has become the guardian of her sister’s daughter Molly. An unruly teenager who causes her stress throughout the narrative as they both struggle to process their grief. Some of their scenes are my favourite in the book. The reason being is because they are both head strong, and push eachother’s buttons creating an incredible tension throughout when they come onto the page. Making you wonder who was going to snap first. However at the same time they deeply care about eachother’s wellbeing. Sarah handled their scenes with a delicate tenderness that made you powerless against not sympathising with both characters. Unfortunately for Kyra her complicated relationship with Molly is put on the backburner when her worst fears are realised. A scenario she hoped would never happen her sister’s killer David Lomax escaping from prison. Soon she is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind. As the bodies start to pile up time is of the essence. However when evidence surfaces that Lomax was nowhere near the latest murder site. Kyra’s doubts from the original investigation take on a whole new meaning.

Kyra is forced to face her fears returning to a job that almost destroyed her, a former lover in the shape of her superior Tom Morgan which causes no end of problems as she hasn’t forgiven herself about how their relationship ended. As well as confronting her feelings about her sister’s murder and how it impacted her entire family. We are shown both her inner and external strengths. As these situations hold many painful memories for her and yet she faces them head on. Her strength is truly put to the test when Lomax is recaptured and he says he will only talk to her. As their interactions unfold we are taken into a dark mind. A mind fixed on one thing revenge. Without Kyra realising she is soon drawn into the centre of a twisted game of cat and mouse, where she is the prey and the hunter is breathing down her neck. Could Lomax truly be innocence? Has he been rotting in a cell for fifteen years for crimes he didn’t commit? Or is there something deeper that Kyra is missing? Kyra is the only one who can make sure that justice is served.

This book never stopped asking questions. There were so many times where I thought I had it all figured out, and then Sarah would throw a curve-ball. Either by putting a clue on the bodies you won’t expecting, or something I wish was used more often in this type of genre. Which is adding a chapter from the killer’s perspective. This was a massive plus point for me as it let the reader experience his motivations, and feelings as he carried out these horrific crimes. Whether the chapter focuses on his stalking of the women to reveal their routines, or written when he carries out the kill itself. Sarah takes the reader into his warped mind as effortlessly as riding a bike. She writes her villains superbly. Even though he was pure evil. In his deranged mind there was a purpose to everything he did. I looked forward to his chapters the most the closer we got to the conclusion. The reason being was because of how Sarah wrote the chapters you could almost feel him unraveling as the net closed in.

My only criticism was the relationship between Tom and Kyra. Unfortunately for me I found myself becoming frustrated with their dynamic as the story continued. I don’t know if its because I have read some other relationships that followed similar patterns recently, but I would of preferred their past relationship to be toned down. They are well fleshed out characters and had more to offer to the story than their relationship allowed. I would of preferred a more supportive angle applied to the narrative instead of them butting heads over past mistakes. This is only personal opinion and the relationship is well written.

If you’re looking for hard sci-fi with complex futuristic technology, strange alien spacecrafts, or a crime thriller where Jack Reacher would be happy to take a leading role. Then this doesn’t hit the mark. However if you want some lighter futuristic concepts with a multi-layer murder investigation that results in a mashup that reminds me of Final Cut meets City of Bones. Then this is for you. Well Done Sarah. It receives four stars on the rip-roarer scale.

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

 

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 Juniper By Ross Jeffery Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

Juniper is the first book in Ross Jeffery’s proposed trilogy: a post-apocalyptic horror about an insane American town seemingly at the edge of reality. As Juniper suffers from scorching drought and medieval famine, the townsfolk are forced to rely on the ‘new cattle’ for food: monstrous interbred cats kept by the oppressed Janet Lehey.

But there’s a problem: Janet’s prized ginger tom, Bucky, has gone missing, flown the coop. As Janet and her deranged ex-con husband Klein intensify their search for the hulking mongrel, Betty Davis, an old woman clinging to survival on the outskirts of Juniper, discovers something large and ginger and lying half-dead by the side of the road.

She decides to take it home…

Juniper is surreal, dark, funny, and at times: excruciatingly grotesque. Buckle up for a wild ride through the dust-ridden roads of a tiny, half-forgotten American town.

Review

Juniper is a book everyone needs to read. I couldn’t stop reading Juniper because of the unique voice Ross projects onto every page. Ross is like a spider weaving a complex web of perspectives that ask the reader to look beyond his writing to find the deeper meanings in this melting pot of text. The story centres around three main characters. Each one impacting upon one another in several ways throughout the narrative. Injecting interesting arcs that maintains the readers attention throughout. All three are well fleshed out meaning that you absorb their flaws and relate to their daily struggles.

These three characters are Betty an old woman who roams the outskirts of Juniper in search of roadkill for her pot. She is rumoured to be older than Juniper itself there from the very beginning. Children believe she is a witch. She was the most interesting character. Ross described her superbly drawing you into how she survives leaving a sense of mystery around what her role is in this dead end town. Janet is a beaten woman who can feel her life slipping away as she struggles against the violence of her deadbeat husband Klein. Klein is an ex con who delights in causing havoc throughout his marriage and neighbourhood lording his power over everyone forcing them to live in fear.

I lost myself in Juniper. A town that has been forgotten by the wider world left to rot in its own misfortune. A sun scorched wasteland where the worst of society go to die. The descriptions of Juniper are so vivid that it almost becomes a character all on its own. A ravenous monster of warped creation that the unfortunate cast of characters barely survive. As I continued to read I found myself picturing Juniper in all its glory, as if I was a lone traveller on a road to redemption with no end in sight. Even though the setting is influenced by the vastness of America and its forgotten communities. I couldn’t help but begin to draw parallels with the disengaged and desolate areas of the United Kingdom that have been cast aside in the current climate.

By using Juniper in this way Ross focuses our attention on several struggles that his characters face from domestic violence to homelessness. Through the characters Ross discusses a multitude of themes displaying many different abuses of power whether it is control over an individual or a community. Throughout the narrative Ross showed these abuses with a skill that allowed you to judge for yourself who truly was the hand of evil, and demonstrated the devastating impact these themes can have on a community. Ross brings these themes into the light wonderfully helping to remove the taboos. This was the main message for me from this book that we must discuss all elements of human capacity to generate conversations to change the downward spiral that we seem to be flying towards at unforgiving speed. What made Juniper different is that we are shown the situations from all perspectives from the abusers to the victims insight. Ross isn’t afraid to show the reader that his characters have many conflicting emotions that at first glance would make you believe they are doing the right thing. As this dark themed narrative progresses, Ross implodes our judgements on the disease that is humans in the western world asking us is this truly what we want future generations to inherit.

What Ross has been able to achieve in this novella is nothing short of remarkable. The character developments, multilayered meanings, and the sense of place that is created is breathtaking. A sense of place is an element of books that I need to hold my attention if I don’t engage with your setting you lose me and in Juniper the setting is breathless. For a debut book Ross has engaged my curiosity and this is only our first encounter with the dark beast that is Juniper. This book is Armageddon meets Salem’s Lot. A highly recommended read. I cannot wait to see what Ross writes next. Well done you receive 5*.

About the Author

rj 2

Ross Jeffery is a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Ross has been published in print with STORGY Books, Ellipsis Zine 6, The Bath Flash Fiction Festival 2019, Project 13 Dark and Shlock Magazine. His work has also appeared in various online journals such as STORGY Magazine, About Magazine TX, Elephants Never, 101 Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Soft Cartel and Idle Ink. Ross lives in Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie). You can follow him on Twitter here @Ross1982

I received a copy of Juniper in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Why not treat yourself to a copy by clicking on the link below

https://storyoriginapp.com/universalbooklinks/bf102188-40e1-11ea-a9d2-cf337a3bfa89

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.

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!

 

Review of Hopeful Monsters by Roger McKnight Written by Dan Stubbings

Why Not Pre-Order Now by Clicking This Link: https://storgy.com/2019/08/02/hopeful-monsters/

Book Synopsis

Hopeful Monsters: Profound Book of Short Stories Explores Humanity Through Lens of Minnesotans. Roger McKnight’s ‘Hopeful Monsters’ is a beautiful collection of short stories, reflecting on Minnesota people, that takes readers on a journey through pain, defeat, triumph and hope. Covering social issues including immigration, race and social injustice – McKnight showcases humanity through the periscope of one of the United States’ most unique groups of people.

Roger McKnight’s debut collection depicts individuals hampered by hardship, self-doubt, and societal indifference, who thanks to circumstance or chance find glimmers of hope in life’s more inauspicious moments. Hopeful Monsters is a fictional reflection on Minnesota’s people that explores the state’s transformation from a homogeneous northern European ethnic enclave to a multi-national American state. Love, loss, and longing cross the globe from Somalia and Sweden to Maine and Minnesota as everyday folk struggle for self-realization. Idyllic lake sides and scorching city streets provide authentic backdrops for a collection that shines a flickering light on vital global social issues. Read and expect howling winds, both literal and figurative, directed your way by a writer of immense talent.

Review

Upon opening Hopeful Monsters Roger’s voice bursts off every page like a lightening bolt begging you to listen. His voice is a road map helping us peel away the hidden meanings behind his words. It felt almost at times as if he was giving me a social commentary on our current climate. Presenting stories that focused attention on several problems throughout the world that effect everyone in one form or another.

One story that struck this point home most was a story called September Mist. A story of two people who love each other deeply but because of race and other circumstances can never truly be together. Roger’s words seem effortless as he conveys the struggle these two face to be accepted within their respected communities before they can even begin to see a future together. A line that stood out for me on this theme was “Yes, some places black folks don’t go very often-not that we can’t-we just don’t” said by Eve. One of the two main voices in the story when encountering glances from a white gentleman in a restaurant. I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the segregation of blacks in the 1950s in the US and wonder whether Roger was trying to get the reader to realise that unfortunately some of these longheld prejudices have never truly left the modern world.

A story which I have read countless times was Rain Shadow. The story centres around a group of homeless people who tackle daily battles with each other as well as their own demons. Roger explores many different problems that impact upon the group from addiction to helping draw one another back from the brink. The reason I keep coming back to it is because of its rawness. Roger presents in sixteen pages, a hollowing account of what it truly means to be homeless when all you have is your own thoughts and a few friends to keep you sane. Nothing feels overexaggerated or put in simply for dramatic affect. The scary thing is he was only scratching the surface.

Addiction is a theme that Roger revisits numerous times using different characters throughout the collection to display his message. Roger paints the corrupt forms that addiction takes in a way that I haven’t encountered previously. He uses addiction as a hook to help show the depths that a person will go to get their fix regardless of the consequences. Whether it is relationship break down, loss of their job, or their kids being taken away. Yet he does it in a way that never comes across as judgemental showing the reader that even the best person can make the wrong decision.

This truth is displayed wonderfully in a story called Iago where our character goes to the pits of society in search of what he thinks is eternal bliss. I felt this was the most powerful story in the whole collection as it demonstrates the dark horror of drugs. Exposing the reader to the wide spreading effects addiction can have on a community in a sensitive and eye-opening verse that forces you to push the boundaries on what you think you know.

What I adored most about Hopeful Monsters was the fact that Roger highlighted the plight of several vulnerable groups within his stories. He wasn’t afraid to discuss sensitive topics such as suicide, homelessness, addiction, and mental health creating an array of intriguing characters and scenarios to give a voice to the forgotten in our society.

Every story seems to be centred around some key universal themes that help to create a narrative that explores the hidden corners of the mind and society. Begging the question how much has really changed? For me Hopeful Monsters is more than a short story collection. It is a memoir of how different life choices can set a person down a path that sometimes they cannot return from. I look forward to reading more of Roger as this collection was a work of art. It receives 5 stars. A must read.

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

About the Author

roger

Roger McKnight hails from Little Egypt, a traditional farming and coal-mining
region in downstate Illinois. He studied and taught English in Chicago, Sweden,
and Puerto Rico. Swedes showed Roger the value of human fairness and gender
equity, while Puerto Ricans displayed the dignity of their island culture before the
tragedy of Hurricane Maria and the US government’s shameful post-disaster
neglect of the island’s populace. Roger relocated to Minnesota and taught Swedish and Scandinavian Studies. He now lives in the North Star State.

 

 

 

Interview with Daniel James Author of The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas Conducted by Dan Stubbings

DS: After giving his incredible debut The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas five stars, making it one of my reads of the year so far. I am delighted to welcome Daniel James to my blog for an in depth interview about his work. Welcome Dan thanks so much for doing this.

DJ: My pleasure Dan thank you for having me.

DS: Let’s get started

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?

DJ: I’m an author and journalist from Newcastle upon Tyne. I live by the sea with four cats and a collection of empty bourbon bottles. My first novel, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas, was published at the end of 2018, but I have been writing seriously since I was a teenager. Becoming a published author has always been my dream. I ended up studying literature at university and went on to become a journalist on the basis that it would help refine my writing and bring me into contact with lots of different people and the stories of their lives. It did exactly that – and what began as a day job turned into a decade-long career. I was nominated for several awards, including UK Young News Writer of the Year and worked as a freelance journalist in London and overseas. I spent a few years as an investigative journalist and gained no shortage of enemies for asking difficult questions and trying to discover the truth. By the end, I was mainly working on arts and culture, having finally been allowed to gravitate towards my own interests, and got the chance to write more experimental, creative non-fiction-style interviews and features about musicians, writers and artists. Despite the relative success of my career in the media, I still consider myself to have been an ‘accidental journalist’, as my heart and mind were always set on one day becoming a published author and writing my own books.

DS: Where did the idea for Ezra Maas first develop? How did you know it was the correct idea to choose for your first novel?

DJ: It began with a phone call in the dead of night. That was my introduction to Ezra Maas. I can’t be sure of much that happened after that, but I know that’s where it started. Everything else – how I would tell Maas’s story and how I came to realise my own place in the narrative – came together very quickly after that. I knew straight away that I didn’t want to write a traditional biography – it had to be experimental, a combination of fact and fiction, drawing on different genres, different sources and different media. Walking the streets of Newcastle late at night, in the hours after the phone call, the novel presented itself in my mind, almost fully formed, as if it already existed somewhere out there in the dark, and my task was simply to bring it into this world. It was a strange experience in many ways, like a kind of possession. When Beckett was writing his trilogy of prose novels in the late 40s, he described the experience as ‘the siege in the room’ and that’s exactly how I felt. The novel was being transmitted to me – channelled through me perhaps – and I had to commit it to the page and in doing so, make it real. That’s how I knew it was the one – the idea that would become my first novel. Never before or since, had I been so excited to start writing and so driven and committed to write every day until the work was done. Even now that the book has been published, I still open it sometimes and that electricity is still there.

DS: What do you think makes a perfect novel and why?

DJ: I think everyone’s perfect novel is different. Books have this incredible ability to be both universal and deeply personal. When you read a novel and you disappear into that world, it’s ‘your’ experience, just you and the world of the book. It’s spiritual. And yet, the same book can be read by thousands, perhaps millions, of people, each connecting with the text in their own unique way. Stories provide an escape from reality, but the truths they contain also help us see the world with fresh eyes and new clarity. Books don’t take us away from the real world, they help us reconnect with it by blocking out the noise. Fiction is a doorway to the truth.

DS: You have poured a lot of yourself into the narrative, so my question is where does Dan James end and Ezra Maas begin?

DJ: You could say the book is as much my autobiography as it is Ezra’s biography. It’s definitely an authentic snap-shot of my life while I was writing the book from 2011 to 2018 – or at least, as I’ve been described, ‘permanently hungover, flirting with danger, disappearing and reappearing at will’. At the same time, I feel like the more I talk about myself, the more I write about myself, the less I reveal. This is something I learned from Ezra and reference in the novel:

“Maas didn’t have to hide his secrets, he casually scattered them on the ground for all to see and watched the trees grow up around him. For in a forest of signs nothing could be seen clearly at all.”

DS: What kind of writer would you say you are and why?

DJ: A good one, I hope.

DS: What topics would you like to write about in the future and why?

DJ: Everything. All of the ideas I have in my head and all of the ideas I’ve yet to have. I wish I had more time to write all of the stories I’ve dreamed up over the years, but I’m going to have to prioritise those particular narratives – like The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas – that demand to be told. By the end, I hope to have written novels in many different genres and styles and to have created a body of work that continues to be read and enjoyed long after I’m gone. Ultimately, I just want to continue writing books that I would love to read. I did exactly that with Ezra Maas and that will remain my guiding principle when choosing which novels I’m going to write over the next few years and beyond.

DS: You use several different methods to get your message across. From interviews to journal entries. What made you decide to use these techniques to such wonderful effect?

DJI remember a story about the Irish writer Flann O’Brien’s manuscript for The Third Policeman being lost to the wind after the boot of his car opened and it blew out, almost as if the story was too much for the page. I always thought of the truth about Ezra Maas in the same terms. Ezra Maas, as a subject, was too big to be contained by a single genre or format. When you’ve got a subject as complex and multi-faceted as Ezra Maas, a traditional biography was never going to cut it. Others tried going down that road and failed. I had to create something as experimental and unorthodox as Maas’s own body of work.

I also wanted readers to be able to investigate his life and death alongside me, to read through the letters, interviews, official records, newspaper clippings, emails, phone transcripts, and try to separate fact from fiction. By including authentic archival material in the book, the sections between chapters feel almost like a live ‘case file’ through which readers can play detective themselves before returning to the main narrative. You’ve then got the chapters from the Maas biography itself, covering 1950 to the present day, alternating with my hardboiled-style investigation in 2011-12, as I travelled around Europe and the US, searching for the truth about Maas’s disappearance. Finally, you have the work of my editor and the 500+ footnotes. Like the man himself, the book has many layers and many different faces.

DS: Which author would you compare your writing style to? Which authors have influenced your writing career?

DJ: I don’t really compare myself to anyone. You begin to establish your own voice and your own style, every time you write, even if you’re not aware that it’s happening. The journey to being published is about discovering that voice and acknowledging – sometimes only after your novel is out there in print – that you have a style that is yours and yours alone. You don’t necessarily get to choose your style, as much as you might aspire to write like your literary heroes – it develops naturally the more you write and the more you read. There are writers whose work I love and admire, who have definitely influenced my work, but they’re all very different, and my writing style is nothing like theirs, at least on the surface. Their influence goes much deeper, to the level of ideas. You’ve got to find your own voice and your own style just as they found theirs. I wouldn’t compare myself with my favourite writers or to anyone else. Comparisons are for readers and critics to make and I’m always interested to read different perspectives on my work. I’ve been very lucky to have had some excellent reviews from very knowledgeable readers and they’ve all had their own unique insight into the book and on my style as a writer.

In terms of my favourite writers, it’s a very long and eclectic list that I’m adding to all the time. Samuel Beckett. Raymond Chandler. Paul Auster. Thomas Pynchon. Jorge Luis Borges. James Joyce. Philip Pullman. Ross MacDonald. James Lee Burke. Cormac McCarthy. George Orwell. Philip K. Dick. Bob Dylan. Patricia Highsmith. Virginia Woolf. Kurt Vonnegut. Elena Ferrante. Joan Didion. Hunter S Thompson. Leonard Cohen. Wes Anderson. Bryan Talbot. William Burroughs. Alasdair Gray. William Hjortsberg. Marc Behm. Ted Chiang. Flann O’Brien. Stanislaw Lem. Michael Connelly. Franz Kafka. Clarice Lispector. Charles Bukowski. James M Cain. Joel and Ethan Coen. Alain Robbe-Grillet. Martin McDonagh. Edgar Allan Poe. William Goldman. Aimee Mann. David Lynch. And many, many others.

DS: How do you create your characters? 

DJ: They come from real life, from history, from the world, from the people around me, from my own mind, everywhere. I draw a lot on personal experience, but I also try to be open and receptive to the stories taking place around me. There are potential characters everywhere.

DS: What’s next for Daniel James?

DJ: Tangier maybe, during the Interzone years. Or maybe a return to Los Angeles or Paris. I have unfinished business in both cities. Tokyo would be somewhere entirely new. I don’t know where I’ll go next. All I know is that one day soon, I’ll disappear. Sometime later, I’ll be found watching the world from a cafe or a bar, with a cold drink on the table and a notebook in my hands, looking out for the next story.

I’m working on a new novel now. I’ve actually got four separate books, all at different stages, underway simultaneously (which is madness obviously) and more planned after that. I’ve had an idea for a collection of short stories too. The ideas never stop. It’s just a case of deciding the order I’m going to write them all and that’s more of an intuitive process, like divining for water. You can’t force it, but when you know, you know. It’s like being struck by lightning. You can’t miss it.

This interview was carried out by email. Thanks so much to Dan for giving up his time and producing some spellbinding answers.

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Interview With Susie Williamson Author of Epic Fantasy Return of The Mantra Interview Conducted by Dan Stubbings

Today I am pleased to welcome the incredibly talented Susie Williamson. Author of Return of The Mantra, one of favourite books of 2018 to my blog for another female author spotlight interview.

DS: Welcome Susie. Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview

SW: No problem Dan. Thank you for having me.

DS: Lets begin I am dying to find out more. 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?

SW: Growing up in a village in West Yorkshire, some of my favourite childhood memories are the Saturday morning ritual of visiting the local library, and returning home with a stack of books to devour. Stories are a gift, and I started writing them as soon as I could write, mostly pages and pages of adventures that never seemed to have an ending. For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to write a book. Life took many tangents, until I finally found the inspiration, and space, to get serious. I returned from four years living in Africa and settled in Exeter. While taking walks around the river Exe, I mulled over characters and scenes, and soon my door was covered with scribbled on post-it notes. The plan was developing, the characters taking shape, and 300 words a day around various shift work saw the first draft make progress. After several drafts I began to believe I might one day have a book I wrote nestled on my bookshelf. I still live in Exeter with my partner Kate, and my writing partner, Mia the cat. And with Return of the Mantra nestled on my bookshelf, I’m working towards seeing my second book sitting next to the first.

DS: Please can you tell us a little about your writing routine if you have one?

SW: I allocate writing days. I have a tendency to analyse, overthink, and get distracted, so writing on days filled with work or too many chores doesn’t work well. Writing days involve get up, get dressed, and turn the computer on by 8am at the latest. Aside from a midday walk, I’ll stay there until 5ish. I don’t have a problem with self-motivation, and find that just making a start, writing something, anything, gets the creative juices flowing. In the early days I found these stints more difficult to maintain, and disciplined myself by writing to a word count. 300 words at the very beginning, turned into 500 words and then 1000 words. When I hit 2000 words I stopped counting. Then, when I started editing with the mantra, every word must count, I realised that progress involved reducing the word count. Ultimately we all have to find our groove for what works for us, but make a start, write something. You can’t edit a blank page!

DS: You’re quite the globetrotter. How much has your travels impacted upon your writing?

SW: Living in Africa from 1999 to 2003 greatly influenced my debut novel. From the extraordinary sights and sounds of Khartoum to South African township life, the colours of the social and geographical landscapes inspired the world building in my novel. Living and teaching among local African communities, with drumming, prayer and ritualistic chanting the norm, magical realism didn’t feel too big of a stretch. Together with extraordinary African wildlife, the concept of the book, complete with its magic system, was born. Writing Return of the Mantra became a refuge to revisit Africa and relive cherished memories. When I read extracts now, I’m reminded of life in the rural South African township; the smell of bonfires, and cowhide soaking in big barrels of water, then being dragged out to dry in the sun ready for making drums. The seemingly magical rituals of the Sangoma, and the tight bonds between members of the community as they lived with the reality of poverty and violence. I’m reminded of the lush green landscapes and incredible wildlife, and the efforts to preserve it. And then there was the contrasting Sudan, with its arid landscapes, rolling haboobs and much needed rainy seasons. I’m reminded of the old woman roasting coffee beans over hot coals in the market, of the stern Sudanese soldiers upholding curfew, and a gift I received from a Sudanese friend – a matchbox with a big emerald green beetle inside. He told me a story that day, about a game he used to play as a boy, tying string to the legs of these beetles and flying them like kites. This childhood tale is just one example of how I used realism to add depth to the characters and environment in this land of contrasts

DS: What do you think makes a perfect fantasy novel and why?

SW: Primarily, as with any novel, I look for character driven storylines. Beyond that, imaginative settings with a plausible magic system. I look for protagonists that I can root for from the first, someone I can relate to and empathise with. I look for settings that spark my imagination, plot lines and character back stories with depth, and fantastical elements that make sense, that are explained, that have logic. I look for diversity among the characters, written with sensitivity and free from stereotypes, stories that are inclusive and represent our diverse societies. I think the genre of fantasy in particular gives us great opportunities to reflect this diversity.

DS: Your main protagonist Suni is a teenager. Yet you make her endure some brutal experiences. What made you decide to write these scenes for such a young girl, and what do you feel this brings to Return of the Mantra?

SW: I aim to write with representation of diversity in mind, to attempt to reflect society. For me, this is more than looking at gender, race, etc…, but more broadly, including life experiences. In writing my debut, I thought back on my life and the lives of women and girls I’ve known, both in Africa and here in the UK. In the UK I spent five years working in a women’s refuge, supporting women and children fleeing domestic violence and abuse, as well as prostitution. Domestic violence and abuse was discussed at length with students in the Sudan, and this, as well as sexual oppression and violence was sadly prevalent in the South African township. In writing a female protagonist, as well as a number of female secondary characters, I wanted to see women and girls represented, to include real life experiences, to not shy away from the suffering experienced in real life but to also include messages of empowerment. Some of these experiences are more common than many would like to believe, are uncomfortable subjects that are often, conveniently, brushed under the carpet, meaning those who experience them are ignored. Readers look for characters they can empathise with. I wanted to include characters that people I’ve known might be able to relate to.

DS: The relationship between Wanda and Suni are some of my favourite scenes in Return of the Mantra. They are written so beautifully. How much of the relationship did you have to plan out before you wrote it down, and how much grew organically as you went deeper into your fantasy world?

SW: In South Africa, I met a number of young children who were sadly orphaned. In a way, Wanda’s character came to represent these children. Although Wanda is not the main character in Return of the Mantra, his character was one I came to know first. He’s an orphan, yet I wanted his story to be positive; I wanted him to find people he would look upon as family. Suni’s role in caring for Wanda was established in the planning stages. From the first, this relationship was central to the overall storyline. As the story developed, their relationship strengthened, as well as their own roles developing independent of each other.

DS: Please can you tell us about your journey to being published and what made you decide to go with Stairwell Books?

SW: After a number of drafts, painstakingly combing through edits, striving to make the story as good as it could be, I began to realise that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Then came the doubts. Am I good enough? Can I write? Should I get a proper job? After scouring through a writer’s magazine I came across the writer and editor, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, offering a professional critiquing service. I dared to hit send, offering up my beloved manuscript for some objective feedback. I found this support invaluable and would definitely recommend writers to get their work critiqued professionally before sending it out. Then, with a tightened manuscript ready, I searched the Writers and Artists Handbook and came up with a list of potential publishers. The rejections came thick and fast, until I began researching companies more thoroughly and narrowing down the list of publishers. Looking into Stairwell Books, I came across a U-tube clip of Rose Drew. As well as writing and publishing, among other things, she is also a performance poet. Seeing her perform one of her poems in the clip, listening to the content, it struck me that she might like my book. And she did. Seeing Return of the Mantra with the others titles of Stairwell Books feels right. Among their selection they look for work that offers good representation and diversity, and stories that make you think.

DS: Return of the Mantra is book one of a planned trilogy is that correct? If so, what can we except in the next two books, and when are they scheduled for release?

SW: Yes, so far it’s a trilogy, but never say never to more… In books 2 and 3 expect new worlds and cultures, and storylines exploring how lands are connected. In book 2 I’m excited to see the development of Wanda’s character, in particular the impact of his past. Written as a split first person narrative, the story is predominantly told through Suni and Wanda’s differing perspectives. As for release dates, with life as in stories, the unexpected happens, and due to a recent illness there has been a delay in the writing. But progress is being made and book 2 is safely in the editing process, so I will keep you posted.

DS: Which author would you compare your writing style to? Which authors have influenced your writing career?

SW: I have a collection of Ursula Le Guin’s works which I’ve read and reread countless times. One of my favourites is the Tombs of Atuan from the Earthsea Quartet. The young priestess, Tenar, is born into servitude to the Nameless Ones, destined to live out her days in a dark underground world. When she first meets the wizard, Ged, she thinks he’s a thief. But instead of leaving him to die as she’s supposed to do, she begins to consider the world outside, and dares to question everything she’s been brought up believing. The truth turns her world upside down, forcing her to realise how she was controlled. The fact that she stepped outside, leaving everything familiar to venture into the unknown, is something that stuck with me. She was a heroine, not for brandishing swords and fighting wars, but for her strength in reclaiming her identity. Female characters that break stereotypes, unconventional heroines and heroes, are certainly motivators for my own writing.

DS: You tackle some complex themes in Return of The Mantra. Which ones were the most difficult to write, which were the easiest and why?

SW: The art of fiction is writing believable stories, characters and worlds, and fantasy is no exception. Writing scenes which portray the physical and sexual oppression of young women were the easiest in terms of believability, since I have significant work experience in this area. At the same time, they were the hardest scenes to write, since, like all character writing, they involved getting into character, seeing the experience through their perspective. This was an uncomfortable process.

DS: LGBT relationships feature heavily within the story which I adored. Why did you feel it was important to include this topic in your work?

SW: Readers look for characters they can empathise with. As a gay woman, I am no exception. LGBT people exist in all walks of life, therefore if a story with a cast of characters is to be representative of society, LGBT cannot be ignored. Over time I hope to see more LGBT in stories, in such a way that it isn’t defined as LGBT but rather as mainstream. This goes for all aspects of diversity. In the end, the more people who write, hopefully the more diversity we’ll see.

This interview was done over email. Thanks again to Susie for agreeing to do it, giving some amazing answers.

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