The traditional publishing model is broken indeed if a string of publishers rejected Martin Crosbie’s excellent first novel. I can’tThis was so good.
The traditional publishing model is broken indeed if a string of publishers rejected Martin Crosbie’s excellent first novel. I can’t imagine what made them turn it down. The plot is engaging from the beginning, filled with grabbers like high-school bullying and drunkenness and a strong statement about child abuse.
It’s traditional publishers’ loss, and Crosbie’s gain. He published the book himself and took it to number one on Amazon’s paid list for a whole day last spring.
Synposis My Temporary Life begins with the narrator, Malcolm Wilson, at age 13 in Kilmarnock, Scotland. He and his best friend, Gerald, spend their days trying to avoid being picked on by the tough kids and the teachers, while somehow being noticed by girls. Crosbie skillfully reveals Malcolm’s back-story in dialogue: his mother came from Canada, met his father, Alex, in Scotland, and about nine months later Malcolm came along. After a few years, Malcolm’s mother moved back to her home town, Vancouver. Malcolm stays with his father, a part-time construction worker, through the school year, and visits his mother and her temporary boyfriend for the summers. Malcolm is left feeling that everything is temporary: he’s only with his mother or his father temporarily. Even when he wishes that his life could be the way it used to be, when his family was united, he realizes that was a temporary situation, as well.
When Malcolm is 13, after a particularly humiliating episode of bullying, Malcolm’s father teaches him how to fight. The next fall, he begins his teen-age growth spurt and discovers his ability at track running. After that, the bullying of Malcom stops—but not so for his friend, Gerald. Nicknamed “Hardly” after he’s found drunk in school, Gerald is not only bullied by his classmates, he’s beaten regularly by both parents.
Malcolm moves to Canada after getting a scholarship to attend a private high school on Vancouver Island. Alex Wilson takes Gerald in to save him from his abusive life, until Gerald is old enough at 15 to join the Army.
At that point, the book jumps ahead about 20 years. Malcolm is now in his 30s, successful in his career as an accountant and a failure in romance. He meets Heather, a 20-something woman with the apparent confidence to dye her hair green and wear high boots even when they’re not in fashion or even in keeping with the weather (it’s set in Vancouver, where you need galoshes more than high boots). Heather draws Malcolm into her attempt to reunite with her 10-year-old daughter.
Style Crosbie’s style is exactly what publishers say they’re looking for: clear and so smooth you don’t even notice it. Without calling attention to his command of language, Crosbie brings you into Malcolm’s world and his heart.
His dialogue is nearly flawless. I can hear Alex’s brogue and Malcolm’s lilt.
His characterization is just as good. I can believe in characters like George and Rosie, and even Malcolm’s mother, because I feel like I’ve met people just like them before.
The only part that’s hard to believe is the way Malcolm won the scholarship. The whole episode seems too convenient. On the other hand, Crosbie, the author, was born in Scotland and moved to Canada when he was young, so maybe the episode is autobiographical. Still, it was the one weakness in the book.
Bottom line This is an excellent novel, and I’m looking forward to Crosbie’s next book — which he promises for the end of the year! I can’t wait.
I admit it, I am probably not the target audience that Terry Tyler had in mind when she wrote You Wish. I’m the wronIndependent book review: You Wish
I admit it, I am probably not the target audience that Terry Tyler had in mind when she wrote You Wish. I’m the wrong sex. But I still liked it.
You Wish could be categorized as “urban paranormal fantasy.” Set in the southern part of the UK and spanning a period from the 80s to 2010, You Wish is about Ruth, a woman who scrapes out a living as a psychic advisor at county fairs and other events, and some of the people she comes into contact with.
As a girl, Ruth finds a magical wishing stone: supposedly, if you touch it and make a wish, the wishes come true. Ruth is deeply conflicted: on one level, she laughs off such a possibility; on another, she’s afraid of the power of an object to grant wishes and keeps the stone hidden most of her life.
However, one day her young daughter sets up a little display at her parents’ psychic display at a local fair; for a charitable donation, anyone can make a wish on the stone. Three people wish on the stone. One, Petra, wishes she could fall in love like all her friends do; Sarah wishes she could lose weight to achieve her lifelong goal of wearing Size Zero clothes; and a childless couple wishes they could conceive a baby.
The story traces how events conspire to realize these wishes—and the horrifying, yet easily foreseeable effects on the characters’ lives.
What I liked Tyler skillfully weaves the separate stories of the characters together, even bringing some of them back together near the end. She also brings tells Ruth’s back-story well, showing how the young Ruth acquired the wishing stone and the emotional roller-coaster a school-age girl goes through. I have to admit, I’ve seldom had much patience for the drama of the average teenage girl in fiction, but Tyler really knows how to make her reader see through Ruth’s eyes. In a few chapters, Tyler also shows very believably exactly what Ruth is afraid of the stone’s power.
Another thing I really liked is the realism of the story. All the characters were three-dimensional; no one was just an evocation of Tyler’s favourite TV show characters. And the marginal lives of the modern psychics, pathetically selling paintings and psychic readings at fairs and conventions to supplement their social assistance cheques, skimping to raise two children while finding money for dope, shows me that Tyler is not only a skilled observer and reporter of life around her. She doesn’t buy the romantic line that psychics and marginal artists sell. She also shares (I think) my own understanding of “magic.”
Weaknesses There were very few things about this book to criticize. Sure, there were occasional typos and awkward sentences, but I defy you to find me any book without a few. (Stieg Larsson fans, give up now.)
There were some long information dumps, about the back-stories of Petra (the girl who wished to fall in love) and, to a lesser extent, Sarah. Tyler wrote several passages about Petra’s pursuit of her true love as if she were summing it up for a book report. Many critics have told me to “show, not tell” in my own writing, and for the most part, I think they’re right.
Summary Overall, however, this is an excellent story, skillfully told. Congratulations to Terry Tyler for proving, yet again, the independent authors are producing excellent books.
Slow, opaque and dull. This was presented as a ghost story, but James never presents anything the least bit spooky. It's mysterious - but only in theSlow, opaque and dull. This was presented as a ghost story, but James never presents anything the least bit spooky. It's mysterious - but only in the sense that I did not get his point.
I don't mind a ghost story that leaves the reader wondering whether there really was a ghost, or if it was just a manifestation of a character's mind, grief, mental illness or whatever. Or even a metaphor.
But James did not even succeed in raising my interest to that level. The title suggests building tension, but I felt no tension at all in this story....more
Zoe Saadia is clearly a very good writer. She has succeeded in a difficult task for a writer — I know, because it’s very similar to what I tried in myZoe Saadia is clearly a very good writer. She has succeeded in a difficult task for a writer — I know, because it’s very similar to what I tried in my own writing.
In At Road’s End, Zoe Saadia presents a historical story set in a time, place and culture that are, as far as I know, unique in fiction: the Anasazi cliff-dwellers of what’s now the south-western USA and northern Mexico. Without needing a prologue or foreword, Saadia brings the people, their environment, culture and even some of their history to life.
And most important, she tells a story that you just can’t put down.
The story centres on Tecpatl, an elite-trained warrior from the Azcapotzalco culture, who live, according to the story, on the shore of Lake Texcoco (site of the later Aztec capital). He is escorting a trading mission across the desert to a city of cliff dwellers, called Great Houses.
Readers quickly learn that Tecpatl’s mission is punishment for a mistake he made, the full nature of which is revealed where it has maximum impact in the novel.
On the way, the group encounters a village that’s been raided and pillaged. There’s only one survivor, a woman with a command for languages. She helps guide the trading partner and its warrior-escort to Great Houses, her origin.
Saadia skilfully presents the complexities that people in this situation faced: great differences in language, culture and assumptions. One of the main drivers of the dramatic tension in the story, in fact, is the main character’s frustration in understanding the speech as well as the behaviour of the Anasazi he encounters.
A well-woven story Presenting this complexity as an integral part of the plot requires great skill as a writer as well as a lot of research. Saadia has learned a great deal about the technology, economy, sociology and cultures of the people in her story, and all this adds to the realism. It’s actually entertaining to read about the characters’ attempts to navigate the chasms between them. Tecpatl’s most frequent refrain seems to be “I will never understand you.”
Equally believable are the relationships among all the characters. The social gap between Tecpatl, the elite warrior, and the merchants he’s escorting is even wider than the linguistic and cultural gap between Tecpatl and the Anasazi girl he rescues, Sakuna.
And the romantic relationship that develops between Tecpatl and Sakuna is equally skillfully done. There’s nothing cloying or Hollywood about this relationship, nothing coy or phoney. These are two adults who are eventually attracted to each other despite their differences. While that sounds like a cliché, in Saadia’s hands (or under her fingertips, anyway) the developing relationship rings absolutely true.
For example, we learn that Sakuna is the daughter of a prominent and wealthy man in Great Houses. He marries her off to a man in an outlying village—the one that is sacked at the beginning of the story. While the marriage is not Sakuna’s choice, and she’s clearly not in love with her husband, she accepts the marriage. But that’s couched in the realism of the character and the author. After her rescue, Sakuna becomes much more assertive. It’s completely believable. She sides with her rescuer, eventually, and the way she comes around to his side of things is also realistic.
Her father is presented just as believably. In fact, I’m sure I’ve met him. He’s self-assured and arrogant to the point of endangering himself and his whole community.
I won’t belabour the typographical and minor grammatical errors. There were only a few, and they did not detract from the enjoyment of this story at all. One more good edit would have fixed them, I’m sure. (And I’m also sure that my book could have used one more good edit, as well.)
Saadia has woven together many threads: exposing this era of pre-Columbian North America; cultural gaps; the struggle to assert oneself; redemption and so much more, and (minor grammatical and typographical mistakes notwithstanding) without a flaw.
If you want a really good read that brings a really exotic time and place to full-colour life, pick up At Road’s End. ...more
With Enemy in Blue, Derek Blass does what indie authors should do: he ignores conventions and tells a touA tough story, a great read by a brave author
With Enemy in Blue, Derek Blass does what indie authors should do: he ignores conventions and tells a tough story the way it deserves to be told.
I don’t know why I’ve been reading so many cop stories lately. I’ve begun to notice that many of the authors seem to be trying to write an episode of their favourite cop TV show. They’re often formulaic and boring.
Enemy in Blue is anything but formulaic. It’s very cinematic in its set-up and description, but Blass does not worry about cop story conventions. I think that a creative writing teacher would tear it apart on the basis of its structure and some modern writing conventions that Blass defies. But he holds true to the only rule that matters: he tells a good story. I could not stop reading Enemy in Blue. Quick synopsis: the story centres around a digital video. It begins with a camera-man for a TV show called Police—obviously referencing Cops. The camera-man follows a SWAT team into a spurious raid on a family home and records a brutal, racially-motivated murder of an old man by the SWAT commander. Immediately, the corrupt cop begins chasing down the video, and two other cops try just as hard to keep it away from him and the corrupt, racist Chief of Police.
The second part of the book deals with the trial of the murderer. Again, Blass breaks rules by introducing new major characters quite late in the story. But he manages to make them real people. You don’t necessarily like them, but you will recognize them from your own life. Blass’s experience as a trial lawyer is evident in the detail from police and trial procedures. It never bogs down the story; instead, it adds believability. He’s not afraid to explode some myths about courtrooms perpetuated by TV shows. He’s also not afraid to hold a bright light to the racial divisions that still have such a huge effect on daily life for so many Americans.
There’s action, there’s romance, there’s details about guns for those interested in such things. In short, there’s a lot here to like.
Blass’s characterization of Max, the camera-man, and Cruz Marquez are very good. Sandra Guiterrez, the beautiful TV anchor, though, came off a little flat—it would have been good to get to know a little more about her, particularly her failings. She was just too good.
And the Chief of Police was just too bad. Again, more details about him would have rounded out the character and made him more believable. But Blass really deserves full marks for his villain, Sergeant Shaver. Blass made it easy for me to picture him, his bristly blond hair, his brutal musculature and his icy blue eyes. This is a truly memorable monster.
Editing I liked the book, but I thought as I was reading it that it really could have used one more edit. Yes, I know you can say that about any book, and sometimes I think that of my own. But there were sentences that seemed awkward, or long, or too short. Still, this did not detract from the story at all.
This is a story that Americans, especially, need to read. Yes, it’s fiction, but it comes from a real place. As mentioned, there’s lots of action for the reader who wants a fast-paced cop drama; but the real value lies in Blass’s brave examination of the racism that is not hidden, even in the modern USA.
Running with Chaos is a great title - but it doesn't really apply to this book. Elicia Clegg sets up a gripping novel, but does not follow through. SheRunning with Chaos is a great title - but it doesn't really apply to this book. Elicia Clegg sets up a gripping novel, but does not follow through. She has created a group of very intriguing characters, and a compelling situation involving child abuse. Who could put it down? In the end, however, she just doesn't deliver.
The novel follows three interesting people and hints at a larger, shadowy power. The novel does not explain the nature of the powers the unusual people have, their true relationship, or even what their goals are.
The book is also filled with punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors. It really needed several levels of editing: mechanical as well as story editing. Unfortunately the author seems to reject that possibility.
Clegg has some good ideas, but she missed her opportunity in this novel. ...more
Often, you can tell on the first page whether a writer knows what he or she is doing. There’s a flow, a grace to the way these writers construct theirOften, you can tell on the first page whether a writer knows what he or she is doing. There’s a flow, a grace to the way these writers construct their sentences that makes reading a joy.
Ben Wretlind is one of those writers, although his story is anything but joyful. Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, fits into the “magic realism” category, although I did not know that when I started reading the book.
The story begins with Maggie at age six, living in a trailer on the edge of the desert, somewhere in the US, in fear of dust storms and her drunken, abusive mother. The only light in her life comes from her Grandma, who protects her from her mother’s worst and advises the young girl to listen to the voices in the wind. When Grandma dies, Maggie is literally on her own.
Maggie learns quickly to stay out of her mother’s way, not to engage with her mother’s boyfriends and how to “clean up her messes.” That’s the central theme of the novel.
This novel is one of those where you can take the possibly magical elements and view them as only symbolism, and as a childish or psychologically damaged mind’s interpretation of strange events. For example, there’s the old school bus on the edge of the desert, just outside the trailer park. It’s irresistible forbidden adventure to children, whose parents tell them not to go inside for their own good. Of course, the kids can’t resist it. It represents forbidden adventure, the dangerous wild beyond the fences, the untameable forces of nature that erode anything made by humans.
And it’s also a portal to the unknown and to the underworld. You can take it literally or as just the way that Maggie sees it. Beyond the bus is the desert. It periodically sends dust storms that smash through windows and clean up messes.
As I said, this is not a joyful book. Maggie is abused by her mother and others, she’s raped by her mother’s boyfriend, her boyfriend disappears, presumably murdered, her dog is butchered and she takes a series of abusive boyfriends, herself.
On the surface, it’s a story of a girl in a very hard life, learning how to cope with pain and terror — how to “clean up her mess.” And she also learns how to integrate the unknown terrors of the world beyond the abandoned . Maggie learns also to listen to the wind, finally. And within the wind and the dust storms, she discovers … well, I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say that within the storms, she finds the agents of just retribution and the strength to clean up her mess and take control of her own life.
And yet, you can also read this as the warped interpretation of a woman forced through years of abuse to do … again, I don’t want to spoil it.
There’s a lot to like in this book. It reminds me of Palahniuk in his darker moments. Wretlind is not afraid to put his readers and his characters through horrible situations, and to describe them clearly, without pretense and without squeamishness. But if you’re squeamish, you might have trouble in some parts.
Wretlind writes with that fluid, clear, spare style that the big publishing houses all say they demand (and then publish crap that does not adhere to it). So, even though the situation was horrible, Wretlind tells the story very, very well.
While this is well written and interesting, I felt a little ripped off because it's just two quite short stories. I was hoping for a little more to reWhile this is well written and interesting, I felt a little ripped off because it's just two quite short stories. I was hoping for a little more to read....more
This is a strange review for me. I did not really enjoy reading Red Mojo Mam while I was engrossed in the middle of it, but after I finished it, the mThis is a strange review for me. I did not really enjoy reading Red Mojo Mam while I was engrossed in the middle of it, but after I finished it, the more I thought about it, the more I came to like it.
Kathy Lynn Hall has a gift for bringing characters to life. I could actually hear some of their voices as I read the dialogue (yes, my medications are up to date!), and I swear I've seen some of the residents of the trailer park before. Hall knows how to capture real people's dialogue without seeming condescending.
The main character, Red, is appealing on many levels. Another gift Hall shows is an ability to handle a steamy sex scene. (Excuse me while I have a drink of water.)
What didn't I like? Well, Red is a little too strong, sometimes. Much of it is bravado, which is completely believable. But things fall into place for her a little too well. While I like mysteries that answer all the questions, I generally don't like stories that tie up too neatly at the end. Life, as I have found it, is messy.
Not that Hall's characters' lives are neat and ordered - far from it! And now that I think about it, Hall did expound on her main character's inner turmoil. I just think that she should have thought more about it. Without giving too much away for you readers, I guess I would have preferred that Red make a different decision at the end.
But that's saying too much. I cannot fault Hall for not writing the story the way I would have. And she didn't write it for me, either. I get the feeling this book is written for a female audience. Men, there's a lot for us to take from this, some real insight into that most baffling of questions, "how do women think?" And yes, that shower scene.
Congrats, Kathy Lynn Hall, you've changed my mind. No, I am not stubborn. Am not!...more
Scott Morgan is a writer’s writer, but more importantly, he’s a reader’s writer.
Someone who obviously has talent and has honed his skills. Short StackScott Morgan is a writer’s writer, but more importantly, he’s a reader’s writer.
Someone who obviously has talent and has honed his skills. Short Stack is a collection of poems, vignettes and short stories by turns funny, touching and always thought-provoking. “One True Cat” kept both me and my wife laughing for far too short a time—because we got to the end of the poem. Morgan obviously has had t least one cat in his life, and he sure knows what they’re about.
“Food and Hats,” the longest piece in the collection, had my laughing, nodding, saying “yeah!” and generally reacting far too strongly for my fellow bus-riders. Not many books evoke those kinds of reactions. Throughout, Morgan displays a power with language and a writing style that I can only sum up as smooth.
Flawless. There are no errors. Never once did I halt over a grammatical or punctuation or usage error, not once did I cringe at a cliché or even an awkward phrase, never did I think “that was a useless and embarrassing metaphor.” And when I read independent writers, I do that a lot.
But Morgan’s talent goes far beyond following the rules of English grammar. Reading a Scott Morgan story is effortless, sometimes as enjoyable as floating on a raft down a lazy river, sometimes as exhilarating as a roller coaster.
Most important, in fact essential with short fiction, is that all the stories are true — not factual, but each one reveals one undeniable truth. When you read it, you have to acknowledge, yeah, you knew that, about people, your town, yourself, even though you probably never wanted to admit it.
The only criticism I have, or can imagine about Scott Morgan’s writing is that there’s not enough of it available. Besides this slim collection of short pieces, Morgan has one other book, a guide to writing called Character Development from the Inside Out, plus of course his outstanding blog, WriteHook: Write for the Jugular. Come on, Scott. I am getting impatient for a novel with your name on it. ...more
A solid, fun, logical and thoroughly satisfying follow-up to Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula.
This sequel does what sequels should, but so few acA solid, fun, logical and thoroughly satisfying follow-up to Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula.
This sequel does what sequels should, but so few actually deliver: explore the characters, reveal more of their history and personality, and delve into the situation. We learn more about the nature of Cassidy's relationships with boys, her parents and her friends, and more about her mysterious powers. Cassidy gets to test her own limits, physical and emotional. And her relationship with Emery gets deeper and more complex, too.
I know, I'm not the target audience for this book, but I had a lot of fun reading it. Elise Stokes is a professional, creative, talented novelist who writes books I can't stop reading....more
Convoluted, opaque language, lack of focus. I cannot understand why this is a classic novel, why it was ever published or how Conrad ever got anythingConvoluted, opaque language, lack of focus. I cannot understand why this is a classic novel, why it was ever published or how Conrad ever got anything published. He certainly would not have succeeded today.
Others, including Coppola, made a lot out of this book, but I did not see it in there....more
Riveting, scary, deservedly part of the classics. However, while I understand the motives, I don't like the anglo-chauvinistic motivation of the authoRiveting, scary, deservedly part of the classics. However, while I understand the motives, I don't like the anglo-chauvinistic motivation of the author or the story. Shakespeare conveniently glosses over the fact that King Macbeth ruled Scotland for 14 years....more