Indie Book Reviews (13): British Indie Authors (4)

This week, Evie Woolmore reviews a vampire YA novel by a young British indie author.

Runaway Girl by Elaine White (at Amazon sites including Amazon UK)

I’d be the first person to admit that I don’t read much vampire or gothic fiction; my last dip into the genre was Ann Radcliffe’s classic late eighteenth century gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho almost twenty years ago, and I haven’t even seen the box set of Buffy. Nonetheless, maybe being new to this kind of fiction allows me to see it with fresh eyes, and appreciate this book as a novel in its own right, a proper story rather than seeking originality in the genre.

There’s certainly a lot of freshness about Ms White’s book, and it has a fast-paced opening with plenty of characters making an early appearance. Certainly it takes a certain flair and energy to keep several inter-connected storylines moving along, and the opening premise of a search for a figure of great significance is always going to get things off to a swift start. The reader is quickly drawn in, not merely by the compelling experiences of the characters we meet but by the comfortably engaging worlds that Ms White paints for us.

What is obvious, even to the relative vampire novice that I am, is that the fracturing of Amelia’s soul is a clever idea both in story terms and in reaching out beyond the vampire genre to readers with an interest in magical realism and spirituality. Magic aside, it’s an interesting way to explore the tensions in all our personalities and there are certainly enough tensions in this book to keep the reader thoroughly engaged.

It says as much about my reading background as it does this novel that at times I felt there was just a bit too much going on, but that is the style of fantasy fiction born of imaginative and complex worlds and if it didn’t suit me as a reader then that is, as I say, as much a comment on me. Probably if I’d had more experience of this fiction, I would have got everything straight in my head, because I would have gone into reading it with more refined expectations of what I wanted to read in this sort of novel.

Certainly, Elaine White is an imaginative writer who has crafted a very readable book, and it’s clear that without limit to that imagination, she has much more to offer her readers.

****

You can find out more about Elaine and her writing at her website. You can find out more about Evie Woolmore and her magical realist novels here.

 

Evie Woolmore joins Ascribe

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore     Cover Design for Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore

allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore has joined Ascribe, the review site for indie published books where every book has to carry a recommendation from a publishing professional. If you are looking for quality fiction with believable ratings, then Ascribe is a great place to start. Founder Mark Farrell will be blogging here soon about why he set up the website, but in the meantime, go and find out why other writers recommend Evie’s novels, and what other great indie novels are worth reading.

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When standing out just isn’t enough

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore shares her latest experience with a literary agent.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am happy to be publishing independently, and have largely enjoyed my experience with publishing direct to Kindle. But when I came across Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Firebird (which I reviewed recently) and realised that there were some elements in common with my own novels, I thought I would approach Kearsley’s literary agent, Felicity Blunt, to see if she thought the same. After the usual seemingly endless waiting period (in fact, a modest 4 weeks, which is short by many standards), I received this week a reply.

The Salt Factory by Evie WoolmoreWe enjoyed reading these sample chapters, which stood out from the many we
receive. Ultimately, though, we didn’t feel strongly enough to take the
project further, and therefore I’m afraid we are not able to offer you
representation. This is of course an entirely subjective response, and I
encourage you to continue with this project, and wish you every success with
your writing.

I wasn’t surprised, nor was I disappointed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made so plain in my covering letter that I was writing out of curiosity as much as desire for representation. But what struck me was the same question that always arises: what exactly are they looking for? A book they love, or a book that stands out? Everyone wants to feel strongly about books they read: therein lies the pleasure. But doesn’t pleasure belong to the reader? Surely from a commercial point of view, as the seller of books (agent) to another seller of books (publisher), you would rather represent a book that stands out, something original or different, something that isn’t like all the rest. But apparently that still isn’t the case. For if the book market has not moved on then nor has the same reply I have heard so many times before, from agents and editors alike: “I just didn’t feel strongly enough.”

And yet I do. I do feel strongly enough about writing original fiction to publish it myself.

Evie Woolmore’s novels The Salt Factory, Rising Up and Equilibrium are available from all Amazon sites, including UK and US

 

Magical Realist Book Review: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore, herself a writer of magical realist historical fiction, reviews The Firebird. 

I’m a relative latecomer to Susanna Kearsley’s work, as the first of what I would describe as her magical realist novels, Mariana, was published in 1994. Kearsley’s books could be defined broadly as historical fiction, where the past offers a portal for the present day heroine to witness history first hand and understand the truth of her own situation in some respect. It could be more simply described as time travel fiction, but what drew me to reading The Firebird (2013) was the focus on a more specifically psychic skill, psychometry or psychoscopy. This is the ability to ‘read’ something of an object’s past by touching it, explained by the psychometrist picking up traces of the energy of past owners or inhabitants. The word psychometry was coined in the nineteenth century, and literally means ‘reading the soul’, which in itself is an apt metaphor for this particular novel.

The Firebird‘s heroine, Nicola Marter is an expert in Russian art, and when she comes into contact with a small carved wooden bird, she instantly senses something powerful and significant in the object’s past, that it once belonged to the Russian Empress Catherine. Compelled by the tragic circumstances of the bird’s owner, she seeks the help of an old friend whom she hasn’t faced for many years. Rob McMorran possesses a psychic gift of a strength matched only by his purity of spirit, and in revisiting her past decision to deny her own ability – and her feelings for Rob – Nicola becomes able to revisit the past. The novel then becomes two stories in one, the events which lead to Nicola’s acceptance of her own ability and the events which lead us to the bird’s original owner.

Kearsley’s approach to historical fiction – and to the historical story in the novel – is as thorough as any fan of traditional historical fiction would expect. Indeed, The Firebird is the second in the Slains series, novels which draw on the rich and dramatic history of Scotland’s Slains Castle. Kearsley is detailed, accurate, and readily gifted at reimagining the past for her reader, although at times I think the historical authenticity slightly weighs down the pacing. There are also an enormous number of characters in the historical story, and in the last third of the novel, as the plot became more complex, it became occasionally difficult to keep track of everyone, especially after a break in reading. This is though a mark of Kearsley’s determination to tell a historical story properly, and not to oversimplify what were key historical and cultural events in Scotland’s past.

My key reason for reading this book, of course, was the paranormal aspect, and the reason why I would broadly call her novels magical realist. Not having read any of her other books, I was struck immediately by two things: the direct way in which Kearlsey introduces the psychic ability into the story, and Nicola’s implied sense of shame at her ability. It becomes apparent as the book goes on that Nicola’s attitude to her ability is complex: having volunteered years before for scientific tests of her ability, she did not complete the process and her emotional entanglement with and abandonment of Rob has left her with unresolved feelings about everything. Indeed, the direct acceptance of the psychometry as valid, right from the outset of the novel (we are left in no doubt that Nicola believes what she has ‘seen’, even if it has left her unsettled), is somewhat at odds with Nicola’s doubts and uncertainties about her own psychometric ability: she is afraid of what Rob can do, and of what she might be capable of doing, but is never in any doubt about the validity of the ability.

This comes to a head when Nicola must decide whether to admit to the owner of a painting she has been sent to buy that she knows it is a fake because she has seen its true and far more contemporary artist painting it when she touches the picture. Rob confronts her reluctance to admit publicly who she truly is and thus who he is too, and although Nicola ultimately accepts her ability, I was left with the sensation that this was ‘a cross to bear’, so to speak, for all involved. The potential for being a social outcast in any community which did not readily accept their psychic gift, and the unending requirement for proof of ability, is a common theme in any novel which tries to resolve or explain the paranormal, and in many respects The Firebird is framed as Nicola’s search for her own authenticity. I was left wondering though what I was meant to believe about psychometry, which was a curiosity because the novel is constructed around that original assumption that it is valid. We can’t access the careful historical truth Kearsley has written for us, if we don’t believe that what Rob and Nicola can do is actually possible. And yet they are arguing about how publicly acknowledging that ability is part of what makes it genuine.  I felt slightly as if I was being given something at the same time as it was being taken away from me. And I think this is the core conundrum of what makes novels which try to reconcile the ability so problematic. And in this case, paradoxically, we need an explanation for the journey from fiction (where anything is possible) to fact (the historical aspects of the story).

Would I recommend it? For fans of historical fiction, yes, without question. For fans of magical realism, probably not, because Kearsley doesn’t really say anything new about psychic ability, or craft any originality with it as a story element. But I will read other books of hers, if only to satisfy my curiosity about how she uses this time travel device in other contexts.

To find out more about Evie Woolmore’s historical magical realist novels The Salt Factory, Equilibrium, and Rising Up, visit the pages on this website or go to Amazon to download samples.

In admiration of….Ruth Dudley Edwards

In the latest in a series of blogs, new allonymbooks crime author EJ Knight discusses some favourite crime writers. This week, Ruth Dudley Edwards.

My next choice is a quirky one in that Ruth Dudley Edwards is more famous as a historian and journalist, including for The Economist and Financial Times. Since 1993, Dudley Edwards has also written a crime series based around the shenanigans of Robert Amiss and the memorable Ida Troutbeck.

In many ways, the series is less about ‘who-dunnit’, although each book has at its central story-line Amiss’ attempts to solve, or help the police solve, a vicious murder or murders, and more a vehicle for a funny, sharp and accurate satire on various pillars of the British establishment – from the civil service, to the Church of England, and to the British education system. In each book, Amiss is ‘persuaded’ to become involved by Troutbeck’s manoeuvrings and his own admiration for police detectives Milton and Pooley.

I read seven of the first eight in the series in the 1990s and remember vividly how upset I was that my copy of the second – The Saint Valentine’s Day Murders – had been printed so that I had the first hundred pages twice and no-more. My frustration was compounded by the fact that the bookstore had no more copies and all attempts to find another copy were fruitless. So, it was with great joy that I recently discovered that not only were all Dudley Edwards’ books now available on Kindle but also that, while I thought she had stopped writing fiction, Dudley Edwards had written another three in the series, with another on the way. Hooray!

Why do I keep coming back to these novels and why is Dudley Edwards my first choice for this blog? Because the books make me smile and keep reading. There are many great writers who have written elegant detective stories that could be considered great literary novels. But I didn’t enjoy reading them because they were so serious. Dudley Edwards is a wonderful writer – the plot moves with speed, the characterisation is sharp, and the dialogue is as real as it can be in written form – but what always stands out for me is that I feel happier once I’ve read her books. And it is for that reason that I will always keep them to read on a wet British afternoon (of which Dudley Edwards’ characters will know all too well).

*****

EJ Knight is the author of the Lucille Landaus series of historical crime novels, the first of which –  Broadway Murder of 1928 – is excerpted here.

Read Different: quality fiction at allonymbooks

In this literary awards season, why not read different and try a high quality novel by a less well-known writer? From mystery to masculine satire, and historical fiction for adults and YA, there’s something for everyone. All allonymbooks books are available for Kindle at all Amazon sites.

Firstly, if you like historical fiction or magical realismEvie Woolmore‘s haunting and imaginative novels will draw you in from the first page. Find out why Read Dream Relax say that Evie is “one indie author worth reading”.

THE SALT FACTORY by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US) was described in a recent review as “a well-written page-lingerer”.

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‘I never shoot a man unless there is no other choice.’

The motto of Thelonia Jones, deputy Marshall, makes perfect sense in the silver-mining mountains of Colorado. But back in Victorian England, hoping to settle the debts of her half-brother Cadell, Thelonia finds much that bewilders her. Why has her wealthy stepfather abandoned his mansion to die alone in a rundown cottage by the sea? Who is the strange little girl who brings seagulls and sick people back to life? And why has the owner of the Greatest Freakshow on Earth followed her halfway around the world? For all her ease around matters of life and death, even Thelonia will be surprised by just how high the stakes are about to get. They say the past always catches up with you. For Thelonia Jones, that means literally.

~

EQUILIBRIUM by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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“…original, poignant, illuminating…”  “a “fine yarn” where spirits, mystery and love waver …”  “…evocative writing…highly recommended…”

Epiphany and Martha are sisters with a stage mediumship act in Edwardian London. When they are asked to give a private reading at the home of Lady Adelia Lyward to find out the truth about her brother’s death, Martha must face up to her past. For two years ago, her affair with Lord Rafe Lyward ended in pregnant disgrace, and her attempted suicide in the River Thames. But there is more at stake than Martha’s anonymous return, for Epiphany bears the burden of restoring the equilibrium, not just to the Lywards but to her sister and ultimately to herself.

The Historical Novel Society review says “the story is rich in complex characters … I recommend “Equilibrium” to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences.” Equilibrium is also Awesome Indies Approved.

~

RISING UP by Evie Woolmore (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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“…simple and beautiful, human and poignant…”   “…mystery, history and a bit of mysticism…” “….it’s one of the best books on the subject I’ve ever read…”

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?

*****

If you’re a fan of mystery, try EJ Knight‘s new novel, Broadway Murder of 1928. (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US).

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Introducing Lucille Landau,  this is the first in a series of four novels set in New York in the Roaring Twenties. Lucille, an East End piano player with dreams of being the next Lil Hardin, has killed a man in London and marries another to escape on a boat to America. She seems to fall on her feet, finding somewhere to stay and the perfect job – playing piano for a new show by rising Broadway stars Tommy Anzonetti and Manny Wolfe. But surely Lucille can’t escape the past forever, and when actor Alfred Duff sees through her story, she’s relieved when he is murdered in his dressing room. But the police aren’t far behind, and they’ve got plans for Lucille. It couldn’t get much worse, could it? Except that Lucille is falling in love with Tommy Anzonetti and her husband keeps showing up…

****

If you yearn to be a teenager again – or are one still – try Flora Chase‘s luxurious young adult historical saga:

THE STRATTONS by Flora Chase (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

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The Strattons, the first volume of The Strattons young adult historical saga, is set against the backdrop of the luxurious late Edwardian era, on the eve of the First World War. Four young people, aristocrats and servant, are about to find their safe, comfortable world changed forever. Each must come to terms with the expectations of their class, their gender, and their destiny, and decide whether to embrace them or find the courage to fight against them.

When their diplomat father, the 4th Marquess of Stratton, is killed in Germany, Freddie, Julia and Blanche Matchingham, and their housemaid Dinah, find their world changed forever. Freddie must abandon dreams of university to become the 5th Marquess. Julia is wrenched from the contented obscurity of her books to face the nosy aristocracy keen to marry off her brother. Shallow, sociable Blanche finds her ambitions to take London by storm thwarted by mourning and social restriction. And why is Dinah, the first housemaid, suddenly being sent away from Stratton? The arrival of a German prince and a factory worker will turn all their worlds upside down and each of them must decide what their future holds, and whether they have the courage to face it.

****

Finally, if you like a contemporary satire with a dark side, look no further than CRASH COLE IN ‘THE RAKE SPARED’ by Cadell Blackstock (Available at all Amazon sites including Amazon UK and Amazon US)

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' cover

This is a scandalous tale with a supernatural twist. If you like your heroes to be decent honourable men, then look away now.

Crash Cole’s fans love him enough to literally keep him alive. But who hated him enough to want him dead? Just like Don Juan before him, celebrity TV biker Crash Cole finds himself at the gates of hell as a consequence of his dissolute and promiscuous lifestyle. Except this hell is of his own making. Hauled back from the brink of death by the unfettered love of his fans, Crash can now hear every one of their voices inside his head, a chaotic din that obscures his memory of how he nearly died in the first place. Learning to live with it proves more than Crash can bear, and with his body mending at a phenomenal rate due to the healing love of his fans, he goes on the run, aided by Julia, a nurse with a bit of a crush on Crash.

Virtually unrecognisable due to terrible scars on his face, Crash revisits his life and the accident, a voyage of discovery constantly overshadowed by the thoughts of those who wished him live and the silence of those who didn’t. But will he learn the truth before his fate catches up with him?

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him.

Another great review of Evie Woolmore’s Equilibrium

And hot on the tail of the lovely review of The Salt Factory, a review by Emmy of the Flaming Colours blog of one of Evie’s other novels, Equilibrium.

Equilibrium is a haunting tale of guilt and longing. Set against the backdrop of London and the Boer War, it shows Britain in a state of change. And as with all change, it is not welcomed by everyone. Between reactionary forces and those of change, the characters in the book struggle to find their own balance.

The atmosphere of London is captured beautifully in the book. The strict class divisions were still very prevalent in social Britain around the turn of the twentieth century. And it plays a huge role in the story. It illustrates poignantly the position of women at the time and the dire consequences for those who try to reach beyond its confines. Add to these the ingredients of the paranormal and a skeptical scientist and you get an idea of the historical depth and detail of the book. I found it absolutely captivating.

We learn much of what drives the characters because we spent a lot of time in their minds. But instead of it bringing me closer to the characters, I mostly felt it slowed down the story. The real engagement came when the pace of the story picked up. At that point, the dialogue and action brought them to life much better than the musings in their mind did. This is illustrated by the characters with whom you don’t get to spend time in their heads; Rafe (who at the start of the story conjured up echoes of Mr. Rochester for me. You’ll have to read the book to see how that works out!) is an excellent example.

The paranormal aspects in the book are well handled. There was a surge of interest for mediums and the paranormal during the time the book is set so it blends in seamlessly. Epiphany, ethereal as she may seem, is the real driving force behind the events of the story and the magical realistic elements are the author’s well used tools to portray what is in essence a very realistic tale of human losses and how to deal with them.