Indie Book Reviews (14)

This week, allonymbooks magical realist author Evie Woolmore reviews a light paranormal yarn, Restless Spirits by Kathy Bryson

Marilee Harper, jobless and locked in a complex relationship with her mother, is introduced to the somewhat mysterious and disconcertingly attractive John Smith, who is renovating an old hospital into a new bed and breakfast. Their unease around each other seems to infuse the atmosphere, which is increasingly unsettled by strange goings on, but Marilee and her mother move in and set about helping John with his project. But nothing is straightforward, for amid the romance is a sprinkling of mystery and the sparkling presence of Fair Folk, and what starts out as a journey of self-discovery becomes much more than that for Marilee.

I had the good fortune some years ago to spend a few months living in a small New England town, and anyone who has lived in a small town anywhere will instantly recognise the strong sense of community that pervades this book. Ms Bryson has peopled her novel with a large cast of well-defined characters whose interdependence and individuality form the nucleus of both a successful community and a fictional world. What sets this novel apart from other small-town romances is the paranormal twist, and with due reverence to Shakespeare, Ms Bryson has embraced the possibilities of fairies and the Otherworld. Indeed, it is just as well that Marilee has ‘a high threshold for the bizarre’ – although she revises that statement immediately to a low threshold, she has a curiosity for what motivates, ensnares and defines those around her, which I’m sure reflects the author’s own interests as a writer. This is a study of people, and there are many to keep us intrigued.

Marilee’s growth as a character is certainly key to our desire to keep reading. With my editorial hat on, I felt it could have done with a ruthless edit in the first half of the book: the pace is slowed by Marilee’s detailed self-reflection and self-analysis, and the sort of small town minutiae that are essential to local narratives don’t always translate as effectively to the fictional narrative where we need merely enough to delineate the boundaries of the story. In her gloom, Marilee also has a tendency to go round in circles at times, and though this is a good reflection of how her circumstances have trapped her, and how depressed I think she genuinely feels, it can at times have the effect of alienating the reader who relies on Marilee to drive the first person story-telling.

Nonetheless, this is a vividly drawn novel which will immediately enchant anyone who recognises themselves, their community or the twinkle in the eye of someone who is not quite what they seem!

*****

Evie Woolmore’s historical magical realist novels have a strong infusion of the paranormal, perfect for the Hallowe’en season! Find out more at her Amazon page or here on the allonymbooks blog.

 

In Admiration of…. Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder novels

In a timely addition to the series of occasional blogs about other crime writers, allonymbooks author EJ Knight ponders the crime novels by Lawrence Block from which the imminently released  film A Walk Among The Tombstones is drawn.

I’ve visited New York many, many times over the years and, much as my allonymbooks stablemate Evie Woolmore found Warsaw an inspiration for her novel Rising Up, so my slow wanderings around one of the world’s great cities inspired me in my writing. But unlike Evie, the majority of my visits to New York have not been by plane, car or train. They have been in the pedestrianised byways of my imagination, walking slowly, patiently, doggedly in the long shadow cast by Matt Scudder. For while the upcoming adaptation of Lawrence Block’s tenth Scudder novel is being widely praised already for Liam Neeson’s portrayal of Block’s complex ex-cop, for me the Scudder books feature another powerful and dominating character: New York City.

AWATTLNCities are notoriously as fickle as unfaithful lovers, as sparklingly delightful in summer sun as they can be menacing and unpredictable as the winter twilight encroaches. Yet New York is a faithful mistress to Scudder, much like Elaine, his ex-prostitute girlfriend. She knows him well, her constant presence a reassurance, even if he must share her from time to time with strangers. If man’s inhumanity to man continues to etch deeper marks in Scudder, if – despite all that he has seen and learned of the victims he helps – he still strives to take everything in his stride, it is not the city that will let him down, desert him, shock or betray him. Indeed, while Scudder rarely comments objectively on New York, Block’s characterisations of its inhabitants – racially and culturally diverse, corrupt and noble, timeless and rudely modern, drunk and sober – are New York as much as the basements of churches, the diners and bars, the streets of the Village and the hotel room on the 50s Scudder inhabits. Likewise, Scudder lives around the clock of the twenty-four hour city, as able to assume the respectable routines of the worker bees as he is to sit out the small, dark hours in bars where the truth glistens deep in a glass of honey-coloured bourbon. He is both constantly Scudder and compellingly desperate not to be him any more. And if New York is a city where one can be anyone one wishes to be, then Scudder’s strength is his silent empathy with the victims who surely wish this had not happened to them.

For Scudder is, it seems to me, in pursuit of the restoration of equilibrium. Nothing can alter the path taken by the wayward bullet that killed Estrellita Rivera. And if in solving the crimes he is not in pursuit of justice as such, then he is certainly watching both sides of the scales, minutely and patiently adjusting and arranging the weight of consequence that will restore some sense of balance to those destabilised by the crimes that happen to them. Over the course of the series of books, Scudder’s own scales are eventually quietly and minutely adjusted by those close to him: Elaine, TJ, Jim Faber. And if the ground beneath him creaks and stirs much as it does when the A Train rattles through columns of steel, then it soon settles again.

*****

EJ Knight is the author of Broadway Murder of 1928, available for Kindle from all Amazon sites.

A review of AWATT will appear shortly on this blog. In the meantime, check out Cadell Blackstock’s consideration of the pluses and pitfalls of adapting Scudder to the screen.

Magical Realism Blog Hop 2014: Cadell Blackstock responds to Leigh Podgorski

bloghop button 2014 small

Leigh Podgorski wrote a really interesting blog for the Magic Realism Blog Hop yesterday, in which this quote caught my eye:

In today’s literary marketplace it seems at times that it is all about the label—though in truth, Magic Realism does not seem to entice anyone to pounce upon the BUY NOW button.”

Leigh had started her piece by sharing some different definitions of magical realism, and I liked Susan Napier’s suggestion that magical realist fiction “takes the supernatural for granted”. It sort of got me thinking about genre again, a topic which we argue about regularly at allonymbooks and which my stablemate Evie Woolmore has blogged about before: is magical realism the principle genre of the books she writes (and I dabble in), or is it just one of several?

In this incredibly crowded market for fiction, aren’t all writers looking for something that makes their work stand out? And yet, as Leigh implies, that’s thinking like a writer, not thinking like a reader. Readers – and I’m no different – look for the familiar, something they’re going to feel comfortable with, a bit like not sitting next to the panic-stricken guy on the plane. I was surfing through the top 100 Kindle books last week, looking for some holiday reading, and I was kind of mad at myself for drifting towards the familiar all the time. But unless your reading mindset is deliberately adventurous, and you want to be challenged all the time, you’re probably not the sort of reader who does press ‘Buy Now’ when you see a book is magical realist.

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverSo I’m thinking some more about this idea of taking the supernatural for granted. Is that like saying that in magical realist fiction, the supernatural is the least remarkable thing about the book? I know Evie’s approach is to normalise the supernatural stuff, to make it seem like it’s been there all along. Now by contrast, my lead character, Crash Cole, (let’s not pretend the guy’s a hero!) knows that what’s happening to him is anything but normal, but in all honesty I was more interested in writing innovatively about the lack of social and emotional boundaries we have now, and using the supernatural element (that Crash can hear everyone’s thoughts) as a way to show that. I was taking the supernatural for granted. But as a writer. I’m still not sure what readers think about that.

Leigh goes on to say “Still, a category is a category, or a label is a label, and it would matter to the loyal group of readers.” Which makes me wonder if readers are clinging on to the genre elements they can more easily relate to – the romance, the history – and they let the magical realism be the sprinkles on the cupcake. A kind of fancy add-on which doesn’t stand out as a flavour but makes the cake a bit more special. Would you buy a cupcake because it had yellow sprinkles rather than green ones? You might do if you were five (which is why kids are great audiences for magical realism), but as an adult you’re thinking “Is that red velvet under all that goo?”

I’m no further on in answering the question I set myself, but I’d like to thank Leigh for making me think about it. And actually, I kind of like the idea that we can take the supernatural for granted. It might make marketing my next book a bit easier too.

*****

Cadell Blackstock is the author of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, a contemporary satire on sex and celebrity (with a bit of supernatural thrown in, but don’t make a big deal out of it).

MAGIC REALISM BLOGHOP 2014
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Realism Blog Hop 2014: Evie Woolmore on the Six Senses

bloghop button 2014 small

For this year’s Magical Realism Blog Hop, organised again by author and reviewer Zoe Brooksallonymbooks author and magical realist novelist Evie Woolmore discusses the significance of the Six Senses in her writing.

One of the joys of blog-hopping, rather than just surfing, is the structured way in which new insights come to light. Not that I have a problem just rambling through the byways and back lanes of other people’s consciousness, you understand, but it is easy to get lost in the blogosphere if you have no general sense of direction (as I don’t), and a few signposts are always useful. Last year, through one thing and another and all because of Zoe Brooks’ first Magic Realism Blog Hop, I discovered the American magical realist writer Sarah Addison Allen.

“Crumbs!” I hear you cry, “how could you possibly have failed to discover her until then? Call yourself a magical realist writer?”

Well, yes, as it happens I do. But I stray towards the literary end in my own writing and reading and, as readers of Ms Allen’s lovely books will know, her writing falls equally into the category of romance as it does into magical realist. But once discovered, never forgotten, and I gobbled up her books as eagerly as the residents of Bascom gobble up Claire’s extraordinary cooking in Garden SpellsFor one of Ms Allen’s great talents as a writer – and indeed the common theme in all her books – is the power of the sensation of taste. Not the enjoyment of eating, but the sheer evocative glory, pleasure and mystery of taste and all the sensory delights that go with it.

Much as a stalwart of the Women’s Institute annual baking competition might envy the crisp crust and succulent juicy filling of cherry pie made by the newcomer to the village, so I wished that I could have written a book like Garden Spells, purely because I don’t imagine anyone else would ever be able to capture that sense with quite the same immersive quality. It is not the joy of eating that Ms Allen celebrates, but the utter power of taste to captivate, motivate, engulf and endure.

And then, quite without warning, like a cherry stone stuck in my tooth, I realised that Ms Allen and I were not quite so far apart as I had first thought.

equilibriumWhen I first started writing magical realist fiction some years ago, I did so because it felt like the best ‘home’ for the sort of writing I wanted to do about matters of spirituality and the sixth sense. In fact, in the blog I wrote for last year’s Blog Hop, I observed that I chose magical realism because of that very deliberate juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the believable and the challenging. I wrote that “[t]he magical realist aspects in my novels do not exist in parallel to our world, they are right here in it. They are discoveries like electro-magnetism and radiation in the nineteenth century and the Higgs-Boson particle in the twenty-first, they are part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.

The five senses are a perfect example of that very juxtaposition. Medical science has helped us understand the way those senses function biologically, and yet it is powerless to rationalise why we can feel the presence of others with our eyes shut or why I hear the name of a person just before they phone me. I wanted to explore each of the five senses individually in my novels, but with ever-present reference to the sixth sense, the one that I feel connects the implicit power of those five senses together, the one that ‘makes sense’ of the information they offer that is beyond the merely cognitive, the one that plunges us into the less charted spaces of memory, emotion, insight.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

 

I didn’t want to make an explicit claim for ESP or a certain school of parapscyhology – though I never stop hoping that scientists and sceptics will be more patient and admit that in all science there is still so much we don’t know and understand – but I did want to say that nothing is never as simple as it looks, and to propose a loosening of our intellectual corsets in favour not merely of imagination but possibility. I don’t expect readers to go away from reading my books with a revised view of the world, merely a more heightened awareness of their own world, a greater attention to detail. And what Sarah Addison Allen does so precisely and so perfectly in books like Garden Spells is to focus on every tiny detail of the sensation of taste. That she does so in different ways in her books shows how much there is to express and explore in that one sense alone, how taste does not exist without smell or sight or that sensory awareness that does not yet have a universally accepted label.

In my first three novels, I have chosen to write about three different senses. Equilibrium is about sight, about what we see, Continue reading

Get in the mood for the Magic Realism Blog Hop with a free magical realist novel!

bloghop button 2014 small

This year’s Magic Realism Blog Hop is just a couple of days away, so why not get ready by downloading a free copy of magical realist author Evie Woolmore’s haunting and evocative novel Rising Up? Today is the last day of the Kindle special offer to buy it for 0 pounds and 0 pence! Discover just one of the many ways in which magical realism infuses historical fiction.

Cover Design for Rising Up by Evie Woolmore

LIMITED SPECIAL OFFER! Download Evie Woolmore’s Rising Up for free today and tomorrow!

smaller_ru

“A highly enjoyable novel, a blend of historical and contemporary fiction with a dash of spiritualism and magic realism” ~ Spiritual Wisdom Magazine

“One of the best books [on the Holocaust] I have ever read” ~ Katharina Gerlach

“Simple and beautiful, haunting and poignant” ~ Leigh Podgorski

To coincide with the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2014, download Evie Woolmore‘s haunting novel of the Warsaw Ghetto for free from Amazon , for two days only – 3rd and 4th August.

Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela’s search for the truth about her own family doom them both?

Find out why the Historical Novel Society’s reviewer recommends Evie Woolmore’s magical realist novels “to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences”

Find out more about Evie on her webpage, read an opening extract, or find out about what influenced Evie to write Rising Up.

COMING SOON! Download Evie Woolmore’s “Rising Up” for free for two days only!

smaller_ru

“One of the best books [on the Holocaust] I have ever read” ~ Katharina Gerlach

“Simple and beautiful, haunting and poignant” ~ Leigh Podgorski

Tom Macindeor is an itinerant English teacher, spending the summer in Warsaw in the hope of finding out the truth about his grandfather, a Polish resistance fighter. But when he hears the voice of Ela, a young woman trapped in the Jewish Ghetto of 1942, a window opens not just on his past but the future of the ghetto and all those who live in it. Should he share what he knows of their fate, or will Ela’s search for the truth about her own family doom them both?

Evie Woolmore‘s  haunting novel of the Warsaw Ghetto is downloadable for free from all Amazon sites on 3rd and 4th August 2014. Find out why the Historical Novel Society’s reviewer recommends Evie Woolmore’s magical realist novels “to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences”

Find out more about Evie on her webpage, read an opening extract, or find out about what influenced Evie to write Rising Up.