Saying goodbye to the grey days of January, I thought it fitting to shine a light on some bright spots from 2015. Writing, as many of us know, is an organic thing that grows with time and practice. It also helps enormously to get lost in the work of others from time to time. Among the blogging, tweeting, blip ad campaigning and working on the all too important WIP, it was a joy to check in with others and hear what they had to say. From 2015, my reviews:
A LIFE IN TECHNOCOLOR
Reviewed February 4, 2015
HAREM BOY’S SAGA III: DEBAUCHERY by Young is an exotic, honest and incredibly frank retell of a young man’s journey into self awareness. From 1960s Malaysia, to England, Monaco, Greece and then Japan, Young morphs from wild child teen to thoughtful young adult by way of mentors, lovers and set pieces that are as much a part of the landscape as the characters themselves. This is not a work of fiction: it is the author’s life and he examines it with surgical precision. Young’s appreciation for history and philosophy is clear as he draws on examples from antiquity to reflect on love lost and regained and the impacts that accompany each experience. Reader’s questions are answered throughout the book by means of correspondence between the author and a behavioural scientist in 2012, lending additional commentary from the boy now well into the second half of his life. At 648 pages, Harem has it all: romance, separation, disappointments and tremendous joy. Young as triptych moves between worlds ancient and modern, pop and pedantic, cautionary and rewarding. Caveat to the reader: prepare to binge read.
5* KUDOS FOR DIANA HARRISON’S ALWAYS & FOREVER
Reviewed December 23, 2014
Diana Harrison weighs in mightily on the question “what happens when we die?” with Always & Forever, a modern tragedy redemption tale. Set in contemporary England, Always & Forever teen mom Callie has a new life to look forward to with baby Ollie and first love Jon. But this life is not to be. Regaining consciousness in the boot of a speeding car, she is a body, cold, her skin, chafing against the black plastic she is wrapped in mashed against the inhospitable nub weave of automotive upholstery. Creepy, charming, evocative and enraging, Harrison’s text takes us on Callie’s harrowing journey from hospital morgue to funeral to startling revelations that those left behind might not be up for the challenges ahead. The reader can only hope for better things. As a murder victim, unacknowledged and unavenged, she must bring her killer to justice; as a mother and lover, she must find peace for the child and the man she holds dear. Crisp prose marked by insightful and sometimes humorous segues give Always & Forever a vital, human quality that keeps the reader on point and on the hook. Kudos to Diana Harrison for a deft and sensitive treatment of a harrowing “what if?”
5* PRAISE FOR RACHAEL STAPLETON AND THE TEMPLE OF INDRA’S JEWEL
Reviewed December 23, 2014
Rachael Stapleton’s Temple of Indra’s Jewel crackles with a vitality I’ve not seen since E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Centred on the adventures/misadventures of Sophia Marcil, a sexy librarian who divides her days between spirited time travels and harrowing investigations into “murders most foul”, Stapleton’s heroine is engaging, funny, and unapologetic in her pursuits. If she isn’t having sex, Marcil dreams about it. As a modern day woman in love with a hunky Irishman, or an 18th century princess of Monaco pursued by suitors either odious or dreamy, Marcil has a great time and so does this reader. Rarely have I come across a writer less self-conscious than Stapleton who’s breezy, in your face style tells it like it is. It’s not all fun and games. Indra has a dark side with abusive villains that have no compunction about pushing people off cliffs or depriving them of their eyes. This is the first in a series. Can’t wait to see what Sophia and Stapleton get up to in the next installment.
THE CURSE OF THE PURPLE DELHI SAPPHIRE BY RACHAEL STAPLETON
Advance review February 2015
The second instalment in Rachael Stapleton’s sprawling Temple of Indra Series, The Curse of the Purple Delhi Sapphire finds time-travelling erstwhile librarian Sophia Marcil celebrating her engagement to hunky Cullen O’Kelley. Trouble is, her engagement ring contains a centre stone that’s all too familiar—a purple sapphire from a suite of cursed jewels. Once on her finger, the ring takes her from Ireland to Toronto to England and back again. At various times occupying the body of a child, a malevolent teen and a heinous villain, who continues to track her and the jewel from the first book, Sophia is forced to think and act on her feet, with a little romance in between. Colorful and layered, Curse co opts an astonishing cast with shifting time frames and multiple points of view. The villain, nasty as ever, makes a dramatic entrance, spilling blood and driving this reader to wonder if the wretch will finally get what’s coming to him. But first, I had to figure out who he was masquerading as in the present. Plenty of twists, a sprinkle of humor and a whodunit with a surprising ending, Curse reminds me of great old story-telling, but with a fresh and vital voice. Hello again, Miss Stapleton.
VEILED SECRETS BY JOSIE MONTANO & ARCHIE FUSILLO
Reviewed December 28, 2014
Snobby teen Lia and regular bloke Nick have one thing in common: an Italian heritage that takes them from comfortable homes in Australia to a quaint hillside village outside Rome. Traveling with elderly grandparents and surrounded by a bevy of noisy, kind hearted relatives, it is apparent that there is more to the landscape than pasta and piazza’s. Lia and Nick–about as related as tigers and giraffes–are bound by history, whispers, and a mysterious wooden box secreted under an ancient altar. But how real is this bond? And what will they do with it once confirmed? A collaborative effort, Veiled Secrets gives authors Josie Montano and Archie Fusillo a platform from which to impart stories culled from their shared Australian-Italian heritage. This is done seamlessly while maintaining clearly defined boundaries between the protagonists’ points of view. A charming fish out of water tale accessible to all ages.
A GREAT READ FOR YOUNG PRETEENS
Reviewed April 11, 2015
For young teens, RISE OF THE ELOHIM, SPIRIT OF IRIS took this aged reader back to sunny days under the backyard apple tree with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. At a steady 243 pages, the reader becomes a witness on the Isle of Iris, part of the Mares Realm that makes up Oceania, an archipelago of united islands, each on its own unique for language, customs and species. With the shadow of The Dark Ones, an ancient threat marked by malevolent Tyrants committed to destroying Oceania ever present, the future is entrusted to The Guardians, great watchers tasked with training subsequent generations of protectors. Under the tutelage of Master Mako, young Zach, an Algean delivered into his care, faces an onerous task: The Dark Ones are returning and he may be the only one who can stop them. But the road to becoming Elohim—a Shining One preordained by prophecy—is not a given. A coming of age story reminiscent of tribal folklore, a young man must endure physical, spiritual and emotional trials in order to claim his birthright and make the world right. The first in the series RISE OF THE ELOHIM CHRONICLES, author Rochford’s style is crisp, clear and easily understood. Illustrated.
AN AMERICAN CLASSIC
Reviewed September 19, 2015
Happy, happy, happy goes the melding of two souls. Whether in song or dreams, the lust for life carried in the “bony rib cages” of the young wails out like a shiny muscle car thrown in reverse in 1970s Cleveland. How awesome is that? Pretty awesome if you were there. If you weren’t, here’s your chance. IN THE CONTEXT OF LOVE, written by American author Linda Sienkiewicz takes readers of every generation on a poignant ride through heroine Angelica’s pimply coming of age to the stark revelation in her later life that something got missed along the way. Part family drama, part quest journey, but always deeply introspective, CONTEXT examines the human condition: Who we are? Where we come from? And, most saliently: How much of that really matters? Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters: From virulent intolerance to tacit acceptance, and, finally, a fractured peace, CONTEXT will make you love the grit, sweat, and graffiti that covers its industrial landscape, perhaps all the more, for the promise Sienkiewicz makes on the last page.
AT LAST, A FEMALE PROTAGONIST WHO ROLLS ON HER OWN
Reviewed September 18, 2015
AVELYNN by Marissa Campbell is already an auspicious debut thanks to kudos from New York Times best seller Susannah Kearsley. Not only does it feature high stakes heroics set against insurmountable odds in 9th Century Saxon England, but it takes the uncommon approach of setting the female protagonist down amidst a wild band of Viking marauders that she conquers, not just through sex, but through visceral, physical chutzpah with a broad sword. Travelling the length and breadth of the land in search of justice, Avelynn is made real because she gets dirty, bleeds, suffers failures and fights back. She is not the stuff of Marvel Comics people, but a real flesh and blood woman of the kind not seen lately in fiction or on HBO. A pagan priestess, she relies on spells and potions to assist her in her quest, but there are no dragons, merlins or otherwise supernatural beings to get her out of a jam. It’s all her in a rich tapestry of details that set this readers sense’s alight: I could smell the fires at night. For those who like a good fight, check out AVELYNN.
A FITTING HOMAGE TO A TIMELESS CHARACTER
Reviewed January 17, 2016
Picture a man of means, self-made, industrious and a leader of men. He appears well-read, appreciates the finer things life has to offer, and fearlessly faces down his enemies in a battle at the ballot box to democratically win and hold his constituency’s top position. He is not a business tycoon, nor is he a marrying man of models. Rather, he is author David K. Bryant’s Captain Flint, brought to life on the pages of TREAD CAREFULLY ON THE SEA, an incredibly rich and vivid adventure novel for all ages.
Anyone familiar with 19th century gentleman writer Robert Louis Stevenson will recognize his words in David Bryant’s own. That’s because Bryant’s prequel to Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND picks up seamlessly where the Scotsman left off:
“Nothing unnerves sailors more than knowing that there is something they don’t know. It’s probably to do with the vicissitudes of the sea. When you are constantly threatened by your environment you are scared of it. You may love the life at sea and the freedom it brings, along with the camaraderie that comes from living in the small enclosed world of a ship. You may be fascinated by the things you don’t know, like the nature of the creatures who live below the waves and when the next storm will blow. You may even love the dangers but you are frightened, too, especially when you’re calling brings with it the frequent experience of seeing comrades die.”
— Tread Carefully On The Sea (p. 300). Solstice Shadows. Kindle Edition.
Elegant, fluid writing dotted with generous bon mots of merry making courtesy of “not ready for Disney” characters Pew and Long John Silver kept me glued to pages that painted pictures of “…Jamaican orchids, blue lignum vitae, red poinciana, yellow hibiscus and orange heliconia, all set before six large star-shaped fern leaves” and all for comely lass Jessica on the day of her 21st birthday. Alas, it is not to be as the governor’s daughter is kidnapped by Flint and crew in an effort to prove again, that he, and only he, is fit to rule the waves.
It is to Captain Flint that I kept returning. He is fascinating, on the one hand demanding that I side with him, on the other recognizing that I cannot because, by his own deeds, he deserves his fate.
For readers who love a character that takes control, look no further than the pages of TREAD CAREFULLY ON THE SEA, remembering to take in the hibiscus even as the sheets snap against a fraught wind on a roiling sea.
EVEN THE STRONGEST HEART NEEDS AND ASSIST
Reviewed September 18, 2015
STONE COTTAGE by Maighread MacKay is a seminal read for anyone who has loved and lost and struggles to move on, not just in this life but in the next. When Annie wakes to find herself alone in her cottage save for a sleeping child upstairs that does not wake, and a faithful dog that never needs feeding, she is left with one, and only one, concern: the whereabouts of her husband Will. Decades later, a contemporary woman will ask the same thing, but in a different context. The search is the universal in all our lives; what we look for, why we look and what we ultimately do with results of our finds is a core focus in MacKay’s work and bears closer examination on a second read. That the author weaves two parallel plots in different historical frames seamlessly is a joy for this reader, as I am as committed to history (what comes before) as I am to the now and what shall come later. MacKay’s devotion to detail –how the cottage looked in its heyday, and how it looks as it reemerges through restoration—is not just a clever metaphor, but a thrill. If you like vivid imagery, visceral introspection, and satisfying conclusions, STONE COTTAGE is for you.
Thanks for the words, guys! Keep at it!!!