The Flawed Ones by Jay Chirino

Jay has landed in a psychiatric ward.  Years of drinking and drug use bring him to this breaking point, but luckily not the end.  In fact, more than one voice on the ward reminds him that this is an opportunity.  He has potential.  He has love inside him, love that isn’t destroyed, that can enlist to rebuild what he broke down in other relationships.  He sees himself in others around him, in Devon’s smile he sees hope, in Callie’s cynicism he sees what he needs to overcome, in Bob, a faith that remains despite doubt, in Jerry, friendliness, and in Tara, innocence.  These characters are reflections of himself as well as whole in themselves.  In their company he’s able, finally, to tell his story, to share what it is he wants to accomplish, that for so long seemed impossible.  With their accompaniment, he beats the broken clock staring at him throughout the book – he gets to go home.  And now, we get to listen, too.  Whether or not we have gone through similar struggles, this read will give insight into the human condition, that which is common to us all.  With Jay’s empathy and candor, not to mention his poetic turns of phrase, I am inspired to mold beauty out of tragedy (180), watch sunsets, and never give up.  Thank you, Jay, for sharing.   author site

Swimmer Among the Stars by Kanishk Tharoor

A good author knows his place in a story, such as crouched and curious in an old lady’s apartment as she’s interviewed by linguists.  In the title story in this collection, the old lady is the last speaker of her language.  Never named, academics preserve it by recording her stories and songs, and becoming endeared to her along the way.  Some songs require multiple takes, as she changes the words to suit what she wants to say.  Unnamed, the language is not the point of the story; the point is our interest, along with the ethnographers’ and the ease-dropping little boy’s.  The point is the impact of this story, and others, on our lives, the way they make us want to find out not only how they turn out, but how we turn out because of them, how we can turn out our own stories.  Tharoor creates settings with his words.  The sea is evoked in “Astrolade” in the languid, rolling pace of the sentences.  “Icebreakers” is as crisp, spare and truncated as the frozen landscape in which the sailors can’t sail.  Tharoor captures the mood in New York surrounding 9-11 through the eyes of an escaped chef.  Who better to tell the tale than one who the one missed for his excellent cooking, for making sustenance not a necessity but a pleasure?  Let Tharoor serve you up a delicious tale or 13.  You won’t be sorry you spent time with tea drinkers and Alexander the the Great instead of actually doing something.    

Bender by Alexander Rigby

“One of the only assurances we have in this life is the past that is already gone” (295).  Alexander Rigby begins his third novel well in the past, in ancient Egypt, on a ship carrying a princess who lays eyes on a beautiful slave she has to know, regardless of their difference in class.  And with that pair, Rigby introduces a series of other affairs, all assured to fail, due to societal norms or competing mates or unstoppable missions.  But, the more doomed they are, the more we’re hooked on finding out how.  It’s a formula for suspense and drama across the ages.  In each story, the “R characters,” Rashida, in ancient Egypt, Renzen in Renaissance Florence, Reed in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, and Riley in Argentina in 2241, narrate in the first person their attraction to “C characters,” Chathis, Ciro, Claire, and Catherine.  Rigby captures the mood of each era through these characters’ jobs, dress, concerns and surroundings, as well as in their manner of speech.  What binds them all is love, that feeling that is both individual and universal, timeless and constrained by time.  But is love their only connection?  Rigby raises the question of repeated lives….  He sets us readers outside of time looking in, watching love’s initial flowering, its climax and its downfall, along the way enjoying characters’ take on art, culture and the soul.  Outside of time, reading, we are also in the now, that links past and future, that we don’t want to end.  “The present we are undertaking, its existence ever so fleeting, is the only other thing we will ever truly know” (295).  Brilliant conceit executed with finesse.  A time-travel classic.     author site  

Monsters I Have Known: A Story Collection by Jess Hartley

About Jess Hartley

about the book

“We are stuff/ as dreams are made of,” says Shakespeare in The Tempest.  Or perhaps, responds Jess Hartley, in this, her first collection of short stories, our dreams, our desires, shaped by experience, make us who we are.  Meet ghosts who come back to haunt those who haunted them in their living years, mothers facing real-life demons like poverty and hunger, victims-turned-villains seeking justice, and Wishes become nightmares.  Hartley saves the best for last, where she imagines the backstory to a familiar fairy tale: Rapunzel.  Told mostly from the perspective of the otherworldly characters, Hartley describes how monsters are made, even if they’re born that way.  She also clues us into the origin of each tale and her own history in helpful introductions to each story. Hartley leaves us with a question, posed by Jacob, Brother in the Crimson Order.

“Perhaps, then, the difference is not in the power,

but in the way with which it is wielded.

It matters little who makes the sword, in the end,

or in whose hand it rests –

what has import is how that sword is used,

to what end.

The blade, used for good, is Good; for evil, Evil.

And those who care only for the maker’s mark?”


Dog Eared: A Year’s Romp Through the Self-Publishing World by W. Nikola-Lisa

W. Nikola-Lisa has finally made a New Year’s Resolution: to clean his office, aka the lost-and-found. But the resolution is not the point; the point is the story of a year making order where there apparently is none. The point is the man who tells the story, whose office cleaning provides, as all experience does for a writer, a metaphor. He’s a creative type and a Gemini. He has multiple projects going at once and procrastinates, to boot. This is the story of how he sorts, sifts, climbs, stacks, presents, reads, writes, travels, promotes… in short, takes stock of his craft from top to bottom.
Read it like a manual or a memoir, or even an inspirational. This is not just a year’s romp through, but a lifetime’s worth of experience with the publishing industry, as writer, teacher, and eventually a publisher and bookseller himself. Nikola-Lisa offers funny anecdotes about giving up his safety deposit box as well as reading recommendations and instructions for setting up a vendor’s table. It’s as difficult to put a label on this book as it is to label the author himself. And lucky for us! The pleasure of this read is not in categorizing it but in listening to Nikola-Lisa sing. Again and again he comes back to this as a writer’s job: to enjoy the sound of words by singing them more than analyzing them.
There are those for whom a book takes on a life of its own, such that knowing about the author detracts from the power of the book. Not so in this case. Now that I know a bit about the man, I’m eager to read more of his books for beginning, primary, intermediate and adult readers. This glimpse into the process of creating not only content but the product of a book inspires me to take my reading, and writing, to the next level.  author site

True Grandeur: A Hollywood Tale by Cal R. Barnes

Maintaining a fever pitch of emotion throughout, debut novelist Cal R. Barnes invites us into the soul of a young and rising star.  Be prepared to be inspired.  Conrad Arlington, The Last True Artist, pursues the truth through art and love but is thwarted by the elusive Gracie Garrison.  Join him on Franklin Ave, in Los Angeles, as he writes screenplays and takes jaunts around Hollywood in his coupe.  His ideal, bohemian life takes a turn when Gracie auditions for his movie.  He’s mesmerized by her beauty and vulnerability.  They spend a fateful evening together and then… Gracie belongs more to the realm sought-after dreams than reality.  He hears gossip about her from friends but doesn’t believe it.  Perhaps the lies surrounding her are as much the truth as who she really is.  Perhaps her allure is that she can’t be possessed.  With her “don’t ask questions”, she represents the challenge of a lifetime to Arlington Family Pride, Conrad’s morals and his inquisitive mind.  The drama of this story is more in the exposition than in the action; parties that comprise most of the plot are extravagant background for Conrad’s equally robust inner turmoil.  Switching from third to first person narrating mid-way is a climactic moment.  Readers will want to write their own artistic journey after this tale.   author site

An Interview with Author Simon Thould

A privilege of my work as a book reviewer is to get acquainted with the authors of the books I read.  Here is Simon Thould about his first published novel, Dark Water.  Thank you for giving us the back story!  See my Dark Water review a few posts back.

1. How much of Dark Water is based on your own experience and on Southampton area?

I lived in a small cottage in The New Forest for six months in the 80’s and nearby Southampton for a number of years. I kept a horse for a while on the edge of the Forest and it is one of my favourite places in England. The scenery at any time of year is very atmospheric and dramatic and a great inspiration for me. I find it quite amazing to think that, once you get off the established trails, you could be walking where no one has set foot before. I therefore have a good knowledge of Southampton where I have worked and lived. I had army training at school for four years and got my Army Proficiency Certificates to be able to command a rifle platoon in case of a national emergency. Like Rafter, I am adept at map reading, weapons handling (rated as a ‘Marksman’) and being self-sufficient.

2. Describe your writing process: do you write at certain times of day or for certain lengths of time? Do you write in chronological order or as scenes come to you?

My writing process starts when an idea comes to me about a subject I am interested in and my mind goes, ‘What if?’ It can be just something seen or heard and a story starts to develop almost unconsciously. I then find pictures of actual people ( famous or not – the US actor Dylan McDermott ‘is’ Rafter. I sent his agent in LA details to see if he would like to make a movie but no reply to date. Not sure if I sent it to the right place!)) that look like who my characters are. Then I write extensive ‘character charts’ for the main people and do deep research into every aspect of them and the location, situations, etc. Once I have and know my characters, I plan the beginning of the plot following the theme/s I want, chapter one in a few lines, the whole story to be about 80,000 words in chapters of 1,000 words or so. When at that stage, I will write in the mornings, 1,000 words a day, put down notes for the next chapter to write the next day and so on, as the story largely tells itself. I find that as I know my characters so well, I put them in situations and just watch and listen, then write it down. I am a great fan of Elmore Leonard and try to follow his ’10 rules of writing’ which produces stories of the type I like to read.

3. I became endeared to Rafter very quickly. How did his character develop?

Rafter came into being from the main character in the first full-length novel I wrote waaay back, and grew from my third story to be the Rafter in Dark Water. I wanted to show how difficult it is for ex-servicemen to adapt to civilian life after many years as a soldier without much in the way of support. It is a subject largely ignored by the Government here which annoys me and I hoped that my character would, in Dark Water, show how hard it is to lose the, ‘battlemind’, mentality. I did copious research into these problems which I tried to work into Rafter’s behaviour. His saving of Lonely is a kind of parallel to his own life and the dog becomes a reflection of Rafter himself – a lost soul in need of saving. I guess that I am drawn to the ‘man who walks alone’ type of personality as an introvert myself and very happy with my own company. In some ways, Rafter is the man I’d like to be.

4. Did you do much research into human trafficking or the Hell’s Angels?

As I mention above, I do extensive research before writing starts and there were, unfortunately, many newspaper articles about trafficking and drugs in the Southampton area that I gleaned from online investigation. Likewise with the Hell’s Angels, although they seem to have been a part of society for a long time and in recent years, in the UK anyway, their reputation has been improving. They recently helped arrange, and provided transport for, a special ‘Prom’ night party’ for a young girl who was afraid to go to the real one due to previous extensive bullying at school.

Simon was born in Somerset, England, where he went to public school and played rugby and cricket with more enthusiasm than he studied. He later managed to qualify as a chartered surveyor and practised for over twenty years in both public and private sectors in London and the south of England. Simon completed two Creative Writing night school courses and a Writers’ Bureau correspondence course in his spare time. He also worked as a restaurant and bar manager in Hampshire before moving with his two black cats to a mountain farmhouse in Andalusia, southern Spain for a year and a half. There he wrote his first novel.

He moved back to the UK and worked as a resident housekeeper and groom in Kent and wrote a second novel.

Then he relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, USA for several years and worked in warehouse stock control, sold insurance and then artwork in a downtown gallery. Returning to the UK once more, he worked as a postman and in several retail positions and wrote a third unpublished novel.

Simon moved to the island of Gozo in 2014 and wrote, ‘DarkWater’, a thriller introducing Alex Rafter. After a lifetime of rejections from publishers and agents with only minor success with magazine articles, Simon made a final push to try and get published. He sent the synopsis and three chapters to more than fifty UK agents before being lucky enough to be taken on by David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency in London. ‘Dark Water’ is being published in August 2017.

Simon’s passions, other than writing, are reading hard-boiled, noir novels, watching classic movies, travel and following National Hunt horse racing. He has been married twice and has a daughter, Lucy. He currently lives in Almunecar on the Andalusian coast and has just completed the first draft of a second, ‘Alex Rafter’ novel.