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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Review of Shallow Creek from Storgy Books Written by Dan Stubbings

Review

After being such an avid reader of Storgy magazine. I was intrigued to discover what the crew of devilish dark minds that run the publication had in store for us from their annual short story competition. I am pleased to say they haven’t disappointed. Enabling readers to face their fears and go into a world entirely of their own making. The Storgy team challenged us to drip our toes into their eerie playground of Shallow Creek. A town with a past many hadn’t survived all we were given through the generous invite of the mysterious Mallum Colt was a character, a location, and a special item that had to be involved at some stage throughout your story.

This blank canvas of options has allowed for unique and original tales to be born. With writers constructing their haunting babies along the way. Diving far into this imaginary town in search of its hidden treasures. This collection is a masterpiece and does the world of story and imagination proud. So strap yourselves in while Uncle Dan tells you all about it.

Sometimes when I open a collection of short stories, I find myself reading out of order. This is usually due to several different reasons it maybe because a certain writer is present, and I have read their previous works and want to see if they have expanded on an existing world or character, or it could be something as simple as a title of a particular story catches my eye. However, with Shallow Creek I found myself glued from the first page to the last.

The reason why this was the case with Shallow Creek is because I experienced something that hasn’t happened since I read Interview with a Vampire for the first time. Every story ignited a fire within me that forced me to absorb every word, dissect every paragraph, and begin my own investigation into every plot twist as if I were an expert detective sent to close an unsolvable crime.

The beauty about this anthology is that even though it keeps a steady pace maintaining your interest throughout. You don’t feel as though you are missing any important details or discarding themes that may become significant later on. Ross, Tomek, and Tony the editors have done an incredible job of assembling this intertwined narrative that exposes us to all corners of Shallow Creek from Devil’s Gorge to the asylum. Introducing readers to a cast of charismatic characters that you hope to never meet in a dark alley by the time you finish your fingers are bleeding with excitement.

What makes this collection stand out in the never-ending sea that is the horror and supernatural genre is the themes that have been highlighted within the context of this spooky old town.

One story I couldn’t stop reading was Behind These Eyes by Alice Noel. A haunting story told through the eyes of multiple characters that centres around the illness dementia. However not all is as it seems and the story takes on a sinister twist. Alice opened an insight into the loneliness and terrifying world of dementia in a way that I haven’t encountered. Weaving threads of deception that make you question whether you ever truly know a person? By the time I finished my hands were shaking.

Arrowhead by Daniel Carpenter was another that stuck with me long after I had finished reading. Its my favourite story within the collection. For me it just has everything mysterious characters, intrigue, and that sense of mystery that allows it to transcend several dimensions of the horror genre. Told through the eyes of a dead-beat Lenny. We are taken into a world of addiction and obsession that gets under your skin. As more of the narrative was revealed you closed your eyes. I adored how Dan was able to fully submerge me into the world he had created in his mind. It was that one story that when I finished I had to reread it straight away just to revel in its mastery. Bravo Dan Bravo.

I am not going to discuss every story in the collection as I would be here all night. There is however one final gruesome tale I want you all to know about. A story called Backwards by Adrian J Walker. A murder investigation with an ending I didn’t see coming at all. To say I was afraid by what Adrian produced wouldn’t even begin to cover it. I will say this though whatever you do don’t read this one in the dark. It reminded me of a demonic cross between Jack Reacher meets the Walking Dead.

This collection has all the aspects that makes me love this genre. From creepy murder mysteries to abandoned shacks in the middle of nowhere. It has something for every reader of the weird and wonderful delving deep into the masters of collective narrative from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice. Yet at the same time creating a fresh perspective on what is achievable within the unexplored depths of the dark.

It receives five stars. Congratulations to all the writers you have constructed something totally unique. I adore Shallow Creek and hope to experience countless visits.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 3 Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis-

Welcome to The Shadow Booth, the international journal of weird and eerie fiction.

Volume 3 is published as an ebook and a 200-page mass-market paperback.

Volume 3 contains stories by: Nick Adams, Judy Birkbeck, Raquel Castro, Armel Dagorn, Jill Hand, Richard V. Hirst, Verity Holloway, Tim Major, Annie Neugebauer, Robert Shearman, Gregory J. Wolos.

My Review

Tales from The Shadow Booth is a collection of short stories that I can’t wait to read every year. Volume 3 was no exception. Two hundred plus pages of eerie mind -bending tales that have a way of seeping underneath your skin, forcing you to consider every twist and fright long after you have turned the final page. As it says on the cover enter the Shadow Booth and you will never be the same again. I personally don’t think there could be a more accurate statement about how each volume changes you as a reader and a writer.

Dan Coxon has done an incredible job with the editing compiling a delicious blend of stories that leap off the page. They are so vivid that you feel as though you are watching a collection of movies, with each new tale adding something extra to the mix. What I enjoyed most about this dark tome was that it stayed true to the previous volumes yet at the same time added a new branch to the tree of horror and supernatural. Venturing into landscapes that explore a wide range of cultures and shed light on stories that include love, lost, violence, and the entire spectrum of humanity.

As with all collections there were stories that I enjoyed more than others. However, what I will say is that this volume makes you take your time as you sample each offering delivering a buffet of visionary delights that rival the best in the genre.

Some of my favourite stories from the volume were:

The Cherry Cactus of Corsica by Verity Holloway

It’s a story I have reread numerous times.  It’s a story of concern, experiments, and blood. It hooked me from the first paragraph. It centres around a young teacher who notices some odd behaviour being exhibited by a troubled pupil. As he digs deeper and tries to understand what could be causing it, we are drawn into a world of poisonous plants, strange professors, and beings that genuinely send a shiver down your spine. Verity has been able to create a story that taps deep into readers fears. Tales that used to keep you awake as a child. Yet present the reader with a different idea on some of the oldest beings in the arena that is horror.

I adored how she delicately pulled back the veil between our world and theirs. Making you hold your breath as every character trait and flaw was exposed in a frenzy of delicious prose that made me yearn for more. I didn’t want the story to end. I think she could early turn it into a full novel. If you read one story from this collection read this one, it will change how you view the world.

I Have a Secret by Raquel Castro

This is a hauntingly beautiful story of a boy’s changing relationship with his sick mother and neglectful father. That develops into a compelling yet worrying picture of how all family dynamics change over time. Enabling this narrative to be told from the child’s perspective adds a greater sense of vulnerability and naivety. That adheres to the theme of the volume of showing how we as humans are sometimes not aware of the damaging impact our actions have upon young minds. The supernatural element which runs parallel to the main thread within the story, only heightens the interest as you struggle to protect this child from what is about to happen next.

The School Project by Richard V Hirst-

This story gives you as a reader what you look for when you enter the supernatural and weird genre. What I mean when I say that is it makes the ordinary day to day things take on a sinister twist. The story opens with the author setting the scene an isolated school in a village that has a murky past is about to undergo an inspection from an outsider.  What appears to be your ordinary secondary school soon turns into something much darker. The story reminded me of a mashup between the Manchurian Candidate and Van Helsing. The dark undertones ripple out well beyond the narrative and make you question the origins of your own school days.

Cousin Grace by Jill Hand-

This piece of horror sinks it teeth into you as soon as you run your fingers across the first sentence, causing a sensory explosion within your mind. What appears at first to be unsolved family trauma takes on many faces, forcing the reader to doubt every word that is being fed to them. It is an expert example of how to write an unreliable narrator and opens the collection beautifully.

This volume builds on the legacy of the previous two issues. Pushing the boundaries on what the horror and supernatural community thinks belongs in their field and tastes. It receives four stars and I encourage any readers and writers of creepy disturbing stories to pick it up.

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

 

Review of A Wasteland of My God’s Own Making By Bradley P Beaulieu Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Djaga Akoyo left the grasslands of her homeland long ago and rose to prominence in Sharakhai’s fighting pits as the famed Lion of Kundhun. What Djaga revealed to no one, however, is the terrible secret that drove her to leave Kundhun in the first place. That secret is brought back to the fore when her sister tribeswoman, Afua, comes to Sharakhai unannounced and threatens to reveal her shameful past, a thing that would upend the life Djaga has worked so hard to build for herself.

Djaga and Afua’s pasts are linked. Afua tells her that with one final bout in the killing pits, both their demons will be excised. But Djaga has more to worry about than Afua’s demons, or even her own. She has Nadín as well, a woman she hopes to share a life with once she’s left the pits for good. But how can she start a new life with Nadín when the terrible acts she committed in her homeland still haunt her?

Djaga must decide once and for all whether she’ll face them, but in doing so she may lose the one she loves.

My Review

After being engrossed by the imagery and vastness of the Song of Shattered Sands series. I couldn’t wait to digest the latest offering a novella focused entirely upon Ceda’s mysterious pit fighter trainer Djaga. A character I have been fascinated with since first reading Twelve Kings. The reason being is because Bradley only gives the reader limited information on who she is and why she is important to Ceda. Shrouding her in mystery and intrigue which you can’t help but want to explore. This novella helped answer some of my nagging questions about her background whilst at the same time create an interesting character development that I hope is explored in further stories.

What I enjoy most about this novella is that it plunges you straight into the action, opening up with Djaga seeing the love of her life Nadin seriously injured in a hospital bed that forces her to make a choice. This sets in motion a chain of events that spans decades. Exploring present day as well as flashbacks from her early childhood where we learn about her fractured relationship with her cousin Afua and discover that Djaga has her own dark secret.  We are given hints of this secret throughout that drives the story forward making you hungry to discover why she ended up never returning to the pits.

This novella has all the elements that make Bradley’s works a must read for any fantasy fan or aspiring fantasy writer. The action beats like a well- tuned guitar slick, clean, gut wrenching, and makes you feel as if you are the one fighting. Throwing every thrust, kick, and punch as you hope for survival.  I think one of the beauties of Bradley’s writing is that it makes you detach from your own world for a few hours. Taking  you into a sizzling sprawling desert that you can’t see an escape from but at the same time don’t want to leave.

This novella is an enthralling entry into the Song of Shattered Sands Universe. Giving us more information on the desert tribes and settlements away from Sharakhai. Which is a refreshing change from the City of Kings. I loved how we got to see a time before Ceda. Enabling me to explore characters that have helped shape Ceda but maintain a uniqueness that makes you as a reader get lost in their stories.  Bradley delivers a banquet of ideas in this glimpse of what I feel could be a much wider arc. Introducing new gods and mythology that I hope he will be able to drip feed into the six books. As I really enjoyed the cost associated with this secret, and what it could mean to Ceda in the long run. The threads in this universe are mind-blowing. If you haven’t read these books yet, please do. 5 out of 5 stars. Magnificent.

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

 

 

 

 

Review of In the Vanishers Palace by Aliette De Bodard Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb:

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land… 

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Review

After discovering Aliette’s The Tea Master and the Detective this year I have been on a one man mission to read as much of her work as possible. So I was absolutely thrilled to receive a early review copy of her new novella In the Vanishers Palace. A dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an interesting twist the beast is a shape-shifting female dragon one of the last of its kind. I couldn’t wait to dive into this fast moving narrative.

When Yen is sold to one the last remaining dragons in her world Vu Con. She expects the worse, unexpectedly however she is tasked with tutoring Vu’s two unruly children, as time passes Yen finds herself developing feelings she never expected for Vu as more of Vu’s personality is revealed to her these feelings deepen. I adored how Aliette developed the relationship between Yen and Vu Con. Showing that even though Vu is a dragon she still struggles with secrets, and a longing to be accepted in her world. As the story unfolds Vu becomes almost human in our eyes making us wonder what truly is a monster? You cant help but begin to root for Yen’s and Vu’s relationship as you become engrossed in this charming tale these scenes come to life like a movie reel inside your head.  You can imagine every second of their interactions. My words simply cant do them justice. Please pick up the book, and appreciate them for yourself they are stunning bravo Aliette. 

The blending of Vietnamese myths within the narrative only further heightens the enjoyment as you read on with ravish. It may only be 145 pages in length but Aliette has been able to craft a wide spanning world that ensnares the senses, enabling her to expose both light and dark details of this dystopian world with a sensitivity that is quite simply astonishing. I loved the description of Vu Con’s lair as it grew within my mind every detail building on the last, becoming so vivid I felt as though I could almost reach out and touch it.  This book is a must read for writers wanting to learn how to write LGBT characters in a sensitive, and unpatronising way that gives real weight to the characters, and pushes the narrative forward. 

It receives 5 stars as Aliette’s writing continues to leave me wanting more. All I can say is buy it you won’t regret it.

I received a copy from the author for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

 

Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 2 Edited By Dan Coxon Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

The booth juts at an angle from the sand, the canvas taut beneath the weight of the drifting dunes. Janet almost passes it by. But it’s the sign that snags her attention. Painted in rust-red onto three pieces of driftwood, the sun-bleached planks lashed together with lengths of twisted blond twine, it looks surprisingly fresh. Enter the Shadow Booth, it says, and you will never be the same again.
The Shadow Booth, a journal of weird and eerie fiction, returns for Volume 2! 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 2 contains new stories by: 

Chikodili Emelumadu
Dan Grace
Kirsty Logan
Johnny Mains
Ralph Robert Moore
Mark Morris
Gareth E. Rees
Giovanna Repetto
George Sandison
Anna Vaught
Aliya Whiteley

Enter the Shadow Booth, and you will never be the same again…
Review

This collection of dark and eerie tales from several contemporary and diverse writers is a readers dream. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. Every story has its own uniqueness that draws you in and forces you to keep reading with each one seeming to build upon the last.

Three stories from the collection that stood out for me were:

We Are the Disease by Gareth Rees. An eerie tale set abroad a ship trapped in the Arctic ice. As more crew members become effected by their isolation they begin to see and witness strange creatures and behaviours. Throughout the story Gareth had me on the edge of my seat making me wonder is this real, or is it the crew giving into their basic fears, which is making them create these sightings. Throughout the entire story your never quite sure what is the disease? Gareth’s voice and writing style is simply gripping. I could almost feel my fingers burning as I turned pages racing to finish.

The next was My Father’s Face by Giovanna Repetto. A tale about a man who has lost his memory and how he fights to get it back. As the story unfolds however we begin to question is this person trustworthy, and what are they hiding. It moves at a neck-breaking speed and makes you question everything you thought you knew about family. It was my favourite story in the collection. The voice is so unique. I want to read more by this author I loved it.

The final story was Feasting;Fasting by Anna Vaught. A story featuring elements of tradition horror and supernatural. A strange house, an unusual family, and a small village with a story to tell at no point does Anna give away who they are, what they are, and why they are there. She allows you as a reader to draw your own conclusions, and decide for yourself who these people are, and what their story is. It is a totally different take on the haunted house narrative.

This book has something for everyone. Unique writing styles, cultures, and author voices that make it stand out from the crowd. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the weird and wonderful. The three stories I selected are only glimpse of what awaits. Go and check it out. It gets four stars. It is a highly polished read.

I received a copy from the publisher for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

Guest Post by Louise Dean Award Winning Author and Creator of Kritikme.com Posted by Daniel Stubbings

Offering advice on how to write and  information on her 90 day course read on:

The Five ‘fs’ that make great novels

As a writer I am known for my frank and darkly comic novels and have been writing for twenty years, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve undertaken to examine my own process as part of the ‘apprenticeship’ I offer to novelists in my creative writing course at Kritikme.com. I took a close look at the mechanics of storytelling in classic literary novels and discovered that all longer form stories are tragedies and underpinning them are five elements that date back to Aristotle’s own study of the tragedy in his ‘Poetics.’ I have dubbed these the Five F’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating to would-be writers the pre-fabrication of plot or rigorous and lengthy plotting. When it comes to ‘plot’ I’d rather you did not. Tools for plotting, spreadsheets and charts become an alternative to writing. You think you’re ‘writing’, but you’re not writing.

‘Now listen carefully; except in emergencies, when you are trying to manufacture a quick trick and make some easy money, you don’t really need a plot….’ Katherine Ann Porter.

The story of a novel is propelled by a major moral crisis. The idea for a great novel can best be phrased in a paradox. Try noting one down one today. It’s easy; the rub between two opposing ideas will give you the spark of a novel. Dying man learns to live. That was mine for my first novel Becoming Strangers which won a couple of prizes The Betty Trask and Le Prince Maurice and found itself on the Dublin International Literary and the Man Booker longlist too. So, put the kettle and grab a pen and write your paradox down on the back of an envelope.

As they won’t be happy until they’ve done one, I ask my Kritikme.com writers to prepare a plot and then I suggest they throw it away.

I don’t think I could bring myself to the white page every day if I knew for sure what would happen next. As I explain to my writers at the very outset, and no doubt they find it either rash or reprehensible – prepare yourself for something like a love affair. As you may know, these are finest when brief and intense. Stephen King recommends a season, or ninety days, as the perfect timing for an affair of the heart, which a novel most certainly is. He’s right. You need to change your ways and hunker down.

The structure of a novel is important, but it’s not as important as creating work that’s driven by the main character’s compulsion to avoid facing what he or she must face to grow and become a hero or heroine. So the structure must be relegated to the creation of material, ruthlessly. That’s the gambit, that’s the game changer.

‘The structure of a piece is often something that happens quite late. Normally you can only decide what to do with what you’ve got when you can see what it is that’s there.’ Hanif Kureishi

It’s the secret to novel success, but it’s terribly hard to stop yourself biting the nails of your writing hand, which is where the routine, rigour and group mentality come into their own. You’re being encouraged held to account and a word count.

Once your material has started to take life, the structure can be applied to it, helping you make sense of what you. It is only at the back end that we draw upon the Kritikme Five F’s tragedy which unfold sequentially in a longer story:

  1. Flaw. The situation which accommodates his or her fatal flaw or moral problem shows signs of no longer being tenable….it is shifting.
  2. False hope. Your hero or heroine’s remedy seems to succeed … but fails terribly causing them serious damage or a reversal of fortune.
  3. Flight. He or she runs from the situation and gets insight into their flaw, recognising their failing.
  4. Fury. In deep, he or she rages against the hell around them.
  5. Facing it. They emerge from the fight with deep acceptance of their mortal condition and reconciliation with their true universal nature, either in life or death.

A novel lives and dies on whether your hero or heroine lives or dies. The Five F’s will see them – and you – through and despatch us at the front door of a home truth; that our welcome on this earth is one which begs each us to be able to take leave with decency.

Anyone who would like to write a book can write a novel, so long as they read books. What’s more you can write a novel and hold down a day job. You should write it in ninety days without fussing over plot, and apply the Five F’s when your material is in your hands. Another old chestnut I’d like to roast is that this is a lonely, solo, undertaking requiring a dusty garret with a sulking cat. On the contrary, it’s good to write alone, but it’s better to write alone in great company and we can thank advances in technology for the virtual companionship afforded by a community like Kritikme for making that possible.

‘My novel took up the sweetest part of my mind and the rarest part of my imagination; it was like being in love and better. All day long when I was busy … I had my unfinished novel personified almost as a secret companion and accomplice following me like a shadow wherever I went, whatever I did.’ Muriel Spark.

Louise Dean is an award-winning author published by Penguin and Simon & Schuster and nominated for The Dublin International Literary Award, The Guardian First Book Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. She is the founder of Kritikme.com, an online creative writing course which teaches people how to write a novel in ninety days. You can get a 10% discount on this course by using the code MYNOVEL10 at the check-out.

Thank you to Book Publicist for getting me involved.km