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Books

The Reunion (Coming of Age in the Age of Aquarius)

A Novel by Gary Wells

The Reunion (Coming of Age in the Age of Aquarius). Gary Wells, 2021.

Have you ever been to a class reunion or casually met an old school friend you haven’t seen in a very long time? If the answer to any of these questions is YES, you know way too well how it feels: awkward moments, all sorts of memories flooding back to you (mostly bad for some reason), idle chit chat and reflections on how the world has changes (as well as you).

This is exactly the situation our protagonist Nick Taylor finds himself in. A retired Media PR expert and former journalist, he is reluctantly attending the 50th high school reunion of the Class of 1969. Despite a successful career in a relationship-based profession, Nick is an introvert by nature and finds it challenging to interact with his former classmates, especially those he hasn’t seen in ages (he actually keeps count of how many people he’s managed to talk to during the evening, so he can tell his wife). Nick has also a fatal flaw: he remembers absolutely EVERYTHING: events in the past down to the tiniest detail, songs (lyrics, singers, writers and trivia) and futile information nobody else would normally remember – basically a living encyclopaedia. 

Utilising copious references to 60s songs and key events in American history, Nick – who narrates in first person – explores crucial parts of his past, gradually telling us more about him as the story progresses. It’s coming of age in reverse: page after page, we discover how Nick evolved from a chubby, insecure teenager with several interests (mostly music and sports) and a small bunch of friends to a more mature, self-confident (but not quite) young man. The narration also focuses heavily on the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s, from the Vietnam War and the Mobe activist movement, to student protests (especially around Kent State, given our protagonist went to college there), the Moon landing and even Woodstock. In all this, we also gauge his thoughts about a potential face-to-face encounter with “THAT Girl”, his high school sweetheart who rarely attends reunions: will she turn up this time? Nick reflects on his friendship with those who were there for him all along like the very social, charming Tom Baker, (almost his polar opposite), those who have just appeared briefly in his life and those he’s never shared a moment or memory with. 

‘The Reunion’ is not an easy read, especially if you are not well versed in American culture (being originally from Southern Europe, it was a crash-course in 60s history, politics and music). However, I mean this in the most positive way: Gary Wells is an extremely gifted writer, his style showing enviable wit and a complexity I honestly haven’t come across in any other self-published author so far. Real-life, historic events are masterfully intertwined with the protagonist’s many personal memories brought to the surface every time he meets somebody new – the level of detail in describing each one so impressive it’s almost disturbing (and perhaps overwhelming at times).

While Wells drew from his own life experience for inspiration (see his Amazon bio here), there are certainly elements of his book we can all relate to, regardless of our age: moments in the past that stayed with us forever, the inner struggles of being a teenager, the difficulty to socialise and be true to ourselves, fears and expectations around the future or something as simple as a specific soundtrack to our memories. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the fact that I too remember everything: my friends find it mostly entertaining (and sometimes annoying, exactly like Tom in the book) but some things are better left in the past where they belong. Well, Gary/Nick seems to think otherwise: “Preserve your memories, son. They’re all that’s left you”. Want to find out what’s yours? I thoroughly recommend you buy a copy and start reading now to find out.

The Reunion is available for purchase at: https://amzn.to/3RsOhHS

Books

Breath And Mercy

Book Two of the Phineas Mann Series by Mark Anthony Powers 

Breath And Mercy – The Phineas Mann Series. Hawksbill Press, 2022.

There are stories and Stories. Breath and Mercy is part of the second category.

The book begins with Phineas, the main character, starting his day at the hospital. He is still a student, but he’s already reached that brilliant, hellish stage of his career where doctors study and work at the same time and sleep becomes a commodity they are too poor to buy.

He is a kind, caring, goofy and sensible young man, who does everything by the book and loves his job: helping people makes the many hours he spent on books memorising as many names and diagnosis his brain could store worth it. He is enjoying his internship in the cardio-pulmonary unit as well as his flatmate’s company, and life is plain sailing towards a brilliant future. Life is looking good for Phineas. He meets a girl, Iris, who almost immediately tells him that she loves what he does and she would like to be of some help too, but she is too terrified by blood – risking to pass out at the mere idea. This doesn’t discourage them from getting together and, eventually, get married.

For a number of reasons, they move from Boston to New Orleans, at the end of the 70s. They find a decent apartment with a nice landlord that helps them with a few repairs and they also get a dog, as Iris is not very happy to spend her nights alone in their new house on the outskirts of the city. Life goes on, Iris gets a new job, her father dies, her mother falls into a deep depression and Iris leaves everything behind to temporarily look after her. In the meantime, Phineas is about to face a terrible outbreak of pneumonia at the hospital, which is also accompanied by a mysterious bruising on the skin. All the patients die within a very short period of time and no one can explain why, until months after, when the word AIDS enters the world, with all its scary connotations. It’s terrifying, they are all worried – to catch the disease, to not being able to find a treatment, scared of the paralysing uncertainty of the unknown – but eventually things begin to ease. They don’t find a cure, but at least they find some form of treatment that gives a little hope to the sick.

When things seem to finally turn for the best again, a hurricane hits New Orleans. Its name is Jezebel, and just like the biblical princess, it brings destruction on a vast scale. Phineas shockingly finds out that the electrical system of his hospital is located in the basement which will probably be flooded, meaning the only power supply available to the hospital is external power units. Nedless to say that they won’t last forever. Phineas is simply brilliant at organising all he can think of, moving patients and giving directions to his staff, but despite all their efforts and the relatively quick passage of Jezebel, a hard time is ahead of them, made of difficult choices, unbearable heat, no water, no sleep, barely any food. Help will arrive but it will only bring Phineas to a court of justice, his reputation smeared with the accusation of euthanising some of his patients.

Breath and Mercy is a brilliant book, full of plot twists and unexpected events. The way some events are shaped and presented is so relatable. HIV, for example, still scares older generations – both the ones who saw it happen in real time and the ones right after, who grew up in the fear of the disease. It also resonates with a younger public; think about Covid: no one knew what it was, what to do and we could only powerlessly look at people dying. On the other hand, there is the humanity of doctors: we almost look up to them as if they were gods and had all the answers and could fix anything, not realising that they are people, they see terrible things and take incredible decisions and are required to do it everyday and move on to the next patient. I think that telling a doctor’s story from the voice of someone who has been there is simply brilliant (Mark himself was an Associate Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Duke University).

However, there are times when the drama of it all doesn’t come across in all its brutality. I would have loved a touch more pathos, perhaps digging deeper in the testing, desperate and hopeful moments that are typical of any hospital, along with the smell of disinfectant and the cheap linoleum flooring. As much as we don’t want to scare our readers off, some stories deserve to be told in all their ugly details.

Other than that, it’s a brilliant book that I loved reading. It’s a dramatic story told with a very light touch and an incredible ear for words and constructions, making the hand of the writer disappear completely behind a curtain, letting the reader enjoy the ups and downs of human lives with a pinch of irony and a bittersweet insight on the medical profession and all the challenges medical staff have to face.

Breath and Mercy is available for purchase at: https://www.amazon.com/Breath-Mercy-Novel-Phineas-Mann/dp/1737032929

About Mark Anthony Powers

Mark Anthony Powers grew up in the small town of West Lebanon, NH. At Cornell University, he strayed into Russian and Creative Writing while majoring in engineering. After receiving his MD from Dartmouth, he went south to the University of North Carolina for an internship and residency in Internal Medicine, followed by a fellowship in Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine. 

After almost forty years in clinical practice and teaching, he retired from Duke University as an Associate Professor Emeritus of Medicine and began his exploration of other parts of his brain. Writing, gardening, IT, and magic courses were just some of the enjoyment that followed. A deep dive into beekeeping led to his presidency of the county beekeeping association and certification as a Master Beekeeper. Two cups of coffee and two hours of writing most mornings produced A Swarm in May and other works. To learn more or connect with Mark, please visit http://www.markanthonypowers.com. (Source: amazon.com)

Books

Secrets of the Volkovs

Book One of the Secret Series, a trilogy by Ellie Jay

Secrets of the Volkovs – The Secret Series (Book One). Ellie Jay, 2021.

Do what you have to do to survive in a world where everyone is your enemy“.

Antonin Jelennski is a young, ambitious police officer originally from Moscow who has been given his first solo undercover assignment in the town of Yaroslavl, 173 miles away from home. He is tasked with investigating the Volkovs, a local family allegedly running mysterious criminal activities – an actual plan for world domination nonetheless. Despite receiving help from the inside by Daryia, daughter of the family patriarch, Anton will soon find himself in over his head, the investigation made more challenging by an omnipresent, omniscient, viciously persistent Vladimir Volkov, his huge progeny and a mole within the local police department, putting Anton’s own family in mortal danger. Will justice prevail or was it too much to handle for our hero?

Secrets of the Volkovs is the first book of the Secret Series trilogy by English author Ellie Jay, a fast-paced story masterfully built through robust dialogues, very easy to read and written in an informal, unpretentious language that is honestly a breath of fresh air.

The book could probably have done with an additional reading and further editing, as typos and repetitions sometimes stand in the way of fluency. Descriptions could also be improved, to make the story more powerful. For example, there is hardly any reference to the space the main characters move within, except for a couple of brief, generic descriptions, leaving the reader to figure it out by themselves. The story could actually take place anywhere in the world, which is a shame, as the Russian winter setting is an interesting narrative choice.

Character development could also be improved: characters do have goals, face obstacles and conflict, but we hardly know anything about their background, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, or motivations informing their actions and decisions, elements that could give them further depth.

The overall impression is that Ellie Jay sees the world she is painting so clearly and vividly she sometimes forgets that the only way we can experience it as readers is through her own words. We strongly believe this book could have been absolutely magnificent if the author took more time to scratch beyond the surface of the story.

Having said that, the Volkovs saga does not stop here, so we cannot wait to tackle the rest of the series!

The Secret Series is available for purchase at: https://amzn.to/3dmKLkk

Books

Free Radical

The debut novel by Tyler Black

Free Radical. Friesen Press, 2021

What could possibly go wrong when your tech firm sends you abroad on a trip to Eastern Europe? Nothing, right? It’s just a work trip. Accommodation is already taken care of and you’ll surely find some fine company to keep you entertained.

Wrong.

Free Radical opens with James, who is also the narrator, sitting in an old truck filled with cigarette smoke and a lot of vodka, with one of his colleagues/companions of misfortunes, Kieran, and Valentine, their local guide. They’re waiting.

This already tragicomic situation will get worse before it gets better, as they say. The night before, over a lush feast and too much alcohol, the unlikely trio has taken the improbable decision to pack and go hunting “the Russian way”. This means, as we will soon find out, a lot of waiting in the truck, drinking and smoking and chatting. As much as James and Kieran are grateful for the hospitality, enclosing three such different personalities into a confined space for such a long time, adding Valentine’s linguistic barrier and the fact that Kieran is the stereotypical IT geek more interested in programming computers than surviving in polite society, is a recipe for disaster.

In a flashback chapter, we discover why James, Kieran and a bunch of other colleagues are in Estonia: they are working with a Japanese company, the Hayashi Corporation, on an Artificial Intelligence product called Taro, a dog-shaped robot. Taro is programmed to pair up with the owner’s voice, learn about their needs and provide for them before they ask for it. The team believes it’s a great idea that will help elderly people feeling less lonely and be taken care of at the same time. Estonia appears to be the perfect place to gain access to a suitable production plant and all the raw materials needed to build this top-of-the-range IT product.

The hunting trip takes a turn for the worse almost immediately: Kieran is shot by mistake and requires urgent medical attention. The trio therefore drives on frozen roads and the amount of alcohol Valentine downed doesn’t do any favours to his driving skills, culminating with them capsizing the car. They are lucky enough to come across an old couple of farmers leaving nearby who help them with basic first aid. In all this, Taro – who’s travelling with the party in Kieran’s backpack – is active and learning. After having been paired up with Kieran, it will actually find a solution for his master’s deteriorating mental and physical conditions, of which no one is aware of. 

How we went from a modern office in Canary Warf, London, to an isolated, snowy forest somewhere outside Tallin, Estonia, will be revealed chapter after chapter, in a ping-pong of scenes set in the present and immediate past. It actually takes a while to piece all the elements together and the temporal sequence of events is not always straightforward, making it difficult to follow the story at times. Overall, there’s a good balance between descriptions and narration, with dialogues sounding very natural, underlying the writer’s talent. However, the narration is sometimes weighed down by too many technical references, be it jargon, Russian talks or explanations on how computer programs work, which could be quite discouraging for computer novices or non-techies.

The story structure itself could benefit from a thorough polishing of the timeline: while I don’t mind a medias res opening (it’s actually greatly appreciated and a clever thing to do), there are too many back and forth in-between events that don’t seem to have a clear connection to one another until the end of the book. The risk is to lose the timid sci-fi reader, who may never get to the end to see how events are actually knitted together.

Characters composition, though, is great: they are so realistic they may seem the guy sitting three chairs down from yours in your office. As Black himself says in a back cover note, he took inspiration for many of his characters from people he actually met along the way, and that made, in my opinion, a big difference in their personification, making them lovable, laughable and relatable.

All things considered, I found it an interesting debut story, with its ups and downs. We always need to remember that even the best books are not perfect and while this one could do with extra editing, it’s an enjoyable, funny and gripping story that deserves a chance.

Free Radical is available for purchase on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3ByB6R9

About Tyler Black

Tyler Black is an author currently based in Reading, Berkshire, England. Free Radical, his standalone debut, was inspired by two specific periods in his life: first, a backpacking trip that drew him to Estonia in the late 1990s, preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his experience of the chaos of that short-lived period; and second, a two-year stint in the UK’s tech industry that lapsed into decades, and which allowed him to pick between the teeth of the corporate beast and glean much from colleagues’ treatment of others. Many friends were made along the way, and many sights seen, all of which shaped his writing and the characters he crafted.

Blog

7 Reasons Why Reading is Good for You

Investigating the science on the benefits of reading for National Read a Book Day (6th September 2022)

Today is National Read a Book Day, an annual awareness day to encourage people to take a break and start reading. This day is not about finishing a book from cover to cover in 24 hours (even though we won’t mind if you do), but about spending at least a few minutes of the day reading. For this reason, we thought we’d try to understand – from a scientific perspective – why reading is good for you and how it can help improve your overall health. Here’s 7 reasons:

# 1: Increased brain strength

Using MRI scans, researchers found that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. These get stronger and more complex as your reading ability improves. In addition, the brain appears to be increasingly stimulated as the tension within a story builds up. This positive effect lasts for days after the reading period. 

# 2: Increased ability to empathise

Reading literary fiction long-term (stories exploring the inner lives of characters) contributes to an enhanced ability to understand feelings and beliefs of others, an effect called theory of mind”, i.e. a skillset essential for building, navigating, and maintaining social relationships.

# 3: Reduces stress

A 2009 piece of research measuring the effects of yoga, humour and reading on stress levels of science students found that 30 minutes of daily reading lowered blood pressure, heart rate, and psychological distress just as effectively as yoga and humour. A routine that’s easy to incorporate into everyone’s daily schedule, don’t you think? 

# 4: Helps alleviate depression symptoms

People with depression often feel isolated and estranged from everyone else, a feeling books can help mitigate. Reading fiction allows to temporarily escape your own world and lose yourself in the imagined experiences of the characters. Nonfiction, self-help books could also be useful to learn strategies to manage depression symptoms.

# 5: Prepares you for a good night’s rest

Reading before going to sleep can help you relax significantly and should be part of a good sleep routine. It is advisable to choose a print book over a screen, since the light could keep you awake and lead to other unwanted health outcomes. If you have trouble falling asleep, you should consider reading somewhere other than the bedroom.

# 6: Helps prevent age-related cognitive decline & potentially help you live longer 

Studies show that seniors who read and solve math problems daily maintain and improve their cognitive functioning. Those who have engaged in mentally stimulating activities all their lives are less likely to develop the lesions found in the brains of people with dementia. Research conducted on a sample of over 3,500 people also showed that those who read books survived around 2 years longer than those who didn’t. People who read over 3.5 hours a week are 23% more likely to live longer. 

# 7: And remember: flipping pages is good for you! 

Studies have shown repeatedly that people who read print books score higher on comprehension tests and remember more of what they read than people who read the same material in a digital form. That may be, in part, because people tend to read print slower than they read digital content.

Disclaimer: The above article is for informative and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.

Sources

  1. Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-reading-books
  2. Why Should You Read Every Day: Scientific Benefits of Reading Books. Available at: https://www.scientificworldinfo.com/2021/03/why-you-should-read-every-day.html
  3. The science-based benefits of reading. Available at: https://nesslabs.com/reading-benefits
Books

The Reaper Chronicles (Book One & Two)

The Reaper’s Quota and Chasing the Reaper by Sarah McKnight 

“I want to be human again. I want another chance to live life the right way, without going into a murderous rage. I think I’m perfectly capable of pulling that off if I ever get the chance”. 

The Reaper’s Quota starts in medias res by introducing Grim Reaper #2497 (who suspects he was called Steve in a previous life, because “it just feels right”). He’s behind with completing his monthly 30 Random Deaths quota and faces extermination if he does not meet his targets. While he understands how critical his situation is, Steve is also a Grim Reaper with a conscience, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he needs to kill additional humans for fundamentally no reason. However, work is work so he sets on a worldwide journey – physical, metaphysical and spiritual – to find his victims, always looking for a good motive to terminate them, making sense of life (or death, more specifically). During this journey, he encounters all sorts of humanity: good, harmless people, evil people, not so remarkable people, until he meets somebody who can actually see him, changing his afterlife forever (pun intended). Spoiler alert: Book One ends with a cliffhanger. 

In Chasing the Reaper, Steven Kelton from Indiana (it was his name after all) gets the second shot at life he was hoping for, starting from when he left off. However, he cannot remember anything about his previous human life (let alone his Reaper life) and doesn’t understand why, mistaking a trauma he doesn’t know he had for a midlife crisis. He is also gifted with the ability to see Grim Reapers, which really unsettles him – to the point that he starts seeing a psychiatrist. In his quest for logical explanations and answers to the meaning of life he’s so desperately trying to grasp, he will find love and start the most surreal exchange with Reaper #1632 who constantly follows him around (for circumstances we cannot explain without additional spoilers). His past as a reaper will eventually catch up with him, leaving Steve to make the most difficult decision of his life. 

The Reaper Chronicles is an extremely well written series, the two stories intertwined in a subtle, clever way, every scene flowing seamlessly into another, taking the reader on a journey. It is incredible how Sarah McKnight managed to pack so much action into only 200 pages of writing! In more than one occasion, the story brought a tear to my eye and I found myself hoping that Steve would ultimately find happiness and meaning. His character is the ultimate positive hero that everybody can’t help but cheer on.

While McKnight manages to keep the tension up for most of the narration with imaginative, vivid descriptions and masterful dark humor, there are some slow moments that could have done with a bit less detail (especially in Book One). However, she presents a slow and steady stream of events that make the reading very pleasant.

My advice to you, dearest reader: if you have 24 hours to spare, do put your hands on a copy of both and start reading NOW. You won’t be able to stop.

The Reaper Chronicles Series is available for purchase at: https://amzn.to/3AP5CWF

About Sarah McKnight

Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St. Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats.

Books

The Mage’s Journal 

The debut novel by L.A. Lewins

The Mage’s Journal – the Soastan’s Magic Trilogy (Book One). L.A. Lewins, 2020

Once upon a time, there was an apprentice, a brigand and a lost journal. It seems the beginning of a joke for nerds, but it actually covers the very core of The Mage’s Journal, Lewins’s debut novel.

Seren is a 19 years old boy who has just finished magical high school and is waiting for a letter from the Megacastle Academy of Advanced Magic, like many Earth kids his age would wait for an acceptance letter from college. And just like any other Earth kid his age, he is unfortunately rejected. Sorry darling, you are not good enough for us. Try again next year. It’s a hard blow for Seren. But Mr Merryman, a local shop keeper who has known him forever, offers him a job in his bookshop. While sorting out some second-hand and returned books, Seren comes across the personal journal of James Berryton, who’s been captured after gradually losing his powers, leaving his journal behind. Inside it, there’s a magic formula for a potion that no one has ever come across, its use and effects unknown. Prompted by Berryton’s words on the journal, Seren sets out to find the missing mage.

Laurentis is Seren’s friend and school mate. Having run away from home a few years earlier, she is part of a brigand company led by Archimon, a powerful old man who’s acting as chief. Archimon tasks Laurentis with preparing a poisonous potion. As she succeeds, she is given increasingly difficult tasks, that she accomplishes the best way she can. What she doesn’t know is that her powers are coasting black magic, which use is forbidden. Archimon, who knows it perfectly well, pushes the girl to learn how to use and control them. While she struggles with this decision, she convinces herself that it might not be such a bad thing: if black magic is part of what she is, why should she reject it?

In the meantime, Seren has teamed up with Marcus, a friend of James, who is looking for the captive mage too. It takes them a while to find out where James is being held – in Archimon’s citadel – and come up with a plan to free him. The reasons why Archimon is doing all this are still a mystery, as it’s the reason why James was starting to lose his powers before vanishing. It will all become clear in the end, also thanks to Laurentis’s help, in an ending that brilliantly paves the way for Book Two.

The story itself is pleasant: good action-driven plot, nice mix of characters, good potential for future developments. However, the way it is delivered could be improved: the narration is inconsistent and slightly confusing, with some chapters abruptly ending in the middle of an action, different sets of characters suddenly appearing out of nowhere without giving the reader any cues (the conventional three asterisks in the middle of a page to signpost a change of scene would really help ). This results in quite a lot of confusion, making the story challenging to follow. On occasion, the choice of language is poor or not completely appropriate. Too often the magic rule ‘show, don’t tell’ is discarded in favour of a narration that deprives of excitement what could otherwise be a brilliant story. This is an absolute shame, and we are sure a more careful editing could make this book great and let its potential shine as bright as it deserves.

The first two books of the trilogy are available to purchase at: https://amzn.to/3Pqa9D1

About L.A. Lewins

L.A. began writing during her University Christmas holidays one year, bringing the first of her fantasy worlds to life. She has since been writing at every available opportunity and made the decision to self-publish in December 2019.

Aside from writing, L.A. Lewins is a former archaeologist with a love of ancient history, although her first love will always be dinosaurs! An avid fossil collector, she makes the three-hour drive down to Dorset to look for fossils when she has a spare day. Her bookshelf is full of Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic, and Alien and Predator novels, as well as an extensive history collection, spanning Ancient Egypt to World War II. Her other interests include drawing, gaming, tending the fern garden (had to be prehistoric plants) and walking her dog. The cat doesn’t much like walks!

Books

Soul Strung

Book Two – the Stones of Power Series by Rachel Hobbs

“Soul Strung” – the Stones of Power Series. Rachel Hobbs, 2021

There’s a whole lot of stories out there about vampires and demons and a broad range of supernatural creatures, but so many of them end up following the same pattern and the result is a flat, “seen-it-all-before” final product that leaves the reader disappointed, if not deluded, by the waste of time and money.

Soul Strung does not belong to that category. It is instead a fresh, brilliant and, as much as it could, realistic portrait of demon-human relationships. The story begins with Ruby, the protagonist, wondering about this piece of jewellery her grandmother left her: there is something uncommon about it, but Ruby doesn’t know that the pendant is called lapis vitae, the stone of life, which makes the owner untouchable and immortal.

What also Ruby doesn’t know is that creatures from other dimensions are after this particular stone. The charming and dark figure that made her head turn in the bar where she works, Drayvex, in one of them. He is the Demon Lord and darkness incarnate, who’s on Earth to obtain the lapis vitae and use it, back in his dark world, against Saydor, a traitor demon who’s actually trying to depose Drayvex from his throne and become the new king and destroy humanity.

Unfortunately for them – but luckily for us – Saydor gets his hands on the lapis vitae, in a very difficult battle where Dayvex is forced to choose between the stone and Ruby’s life, leaving Saydor free to go.

We then need a Plan B to save the situation, or die trying, and while we rush against time – to get Saydor, to save Ruby, to save the Earth too – we have these two brilliant, witty and stubborn characters who never fail to voice their displease or underline their specific view on any matter.

Between twists and turns and difficult decisions, the plot moves forward almost effortlessly, rich of events and memorable moments. The characters are very well painted and far from being cliché: she doesn’t cling on him, he doesn’t fall for her beauty the first second he sees her and it actually takes them time to grow close. They are both stubborn and volitive and, despite the changes in their relationship, they maintain their main traits.

The narration may result confused at times, the narrating voice is omniscient but too close to each character and there are some passages where it’s not exactly clear who is talking, but that is an easily forgotten mishap, thanks to the amiability of the story, the curiosity that it naturally instils in the readers and the amazing ending that of course, I won’t be spoilering.

This far, Ruby and Dayvex have the best romantic, non-toxic, not cliché relationship I’ve ever come across in a book. An extremely pleasant surprise that leaves you hungry for more.

Soul Strung is available for purchase at: https://amzn.to/3bWreqj

About Rachel Hobbs

Rachel lives in South West Wales, where she hibernates with her bearded dragon and her husband. By day she is a dental nurse at a small local practice. By night, she writes.

​Her debut novel Shadow-Stained is the first in a dark fantasy series for adults, inspired by her dark and peculiar experiences with narcolepsy and parasomnia. She’s since subjugated her demons, and writes under the tenuous guise that they work for her.

​Fuelled by an unhealthy amount of coffee, she writes about hard-boiled monsters with soft centres and things that go bump in the night. ​

(Source: amazon.co.uk)

Blog

Writing Theory (Part 1): The Story

In a series of articles starting today, our Chief Editor Ella analyses the main principles of creative writing

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

So, you are a writer…That means that you, just like me, are part of that broad, eccentric category of people called ‘artists’. Welcome!

Let’s make two things clear from the very beginning:

  1. You have a special talent that not many have, which is staring at the void and see and hear, but not in a serial killer way; and
  2. You have no idea how you are doing what you are doing, even less if you are doing it decently or, heavens help us, well.

Being a writer means sitting in front of a blank page and not seeing the blank page at all. For you, and me, and any other just like us, it’s like a cinema screen: when the lights go out, the film start to reel and the magic begins.

How we do that, we will never know. It just happens, like it happens that a kid is able to kick a ball or solve complex math problems without blinking an eye. But talent without discipline is nothing. Just because you are able to see a story on a blank page it doesn’t mean you will actually be able to put that story on the blank page, even less that you will do so in a way comprehensible to others.

If we have to break down the act of writing to its components, we can say that writing is a bunch of basic rules, a lot of polishing and a ton of reading. To be a good writer you have to be, first and foremost, an exceptional reader. There are no two ways around it. What you read doesn’t matter: there is plenty to learn from different reads, even instruction manuals and comics.

But before we discuss point of views, grammar or the importance of being consistent with verb tenses, let’s talk about the most important thing of all: the story.

What is a story? And why does it deserve to be told?

A story is an ordered sequence of events, put together in the best possible way according to a set of rules we all agree on. It has a beginning, a development and an end. However, given essays or newspaper articles are also an ordered sequence of events with a beginning, a devolvement and an end, why are they not a story?

The key is the concept of transformation: the events in a story ordered in a sequence that underlines the transformation of one into another: we begin with a stable situation, its equilibrium is disturbed and this disruption sets into motion a series of actions that, eventually, will lead to a new stable situation.

To make a story something more than just a sequence of events, you need the plot, which is nothing more than a crafted plan of the events you want to tell.

Christopher Booker (irony!) has actually written an amazing book about it called The Seven Basic Plots. It’s a terrific read and I suggest you get a copy too and keep it on your shelf, between Syd Field’s Screenplay and the Oxford English Dictionary. The basic principle is that no matter what the story is about, there are no more than seven types of plot and every story you tell can be traced back to one of them. It’s true, and it has been true since before the first Greek authors put pen on paper to transcribe what, up to then, had only been transmitted orally. This, though, doesn’t stop the publishing of new books, as it doesn’t stop readers from reading them. 

And this leads us to answer the question: why do we write a story if there are already so many out there and we stand no chance of writing something completely unheard of?

Because even if the plots are only seven, there is nothing out there like what we are writing and this distinctiveness is given by ourselves, by the experiences we lived and by the unique way we see the world. There will always be space for a new story. So don’t be afraid of not being original, because plot-wise you won’t be. But the way you will tell others how your characters met and what they had to overcome in order to have their happily ever after doesn’t exist yet. Happy Writing!

The Seven Basic Plots: An Overview

# 1: OVERCOMING THE MONSTER

A “good” main character and an evil villain that is threatening to destroy the main character or the place where they live. The main character will do all they can to avoid it.

# 2: RAGS TO RICHES

The main character starts their life as a poor, desperate soul. Throughout the narration, they gain power, wealth or a mate, will end up losing it all but getting it back and growing as a person.

# 3: THE QUEST

The protagonist, usually accompanied by a mate or a team, is set out to acquire a specific object or go to a specific place. Along the way, though, they will be tempted and diverted.

# 4: VOYAGE AND RETURN

The main character usually find themselves a stranger in a strange land. After overcoming a series of threats and difficult situations, they will make it back, enriched with a new wisdom.

# 5: COMEDY

A light and cheerful character triumphs over adverse circumstances, conflict becomes more and more confusing, since they will get themselves into bigger problems while trying to solve the previous one, but the result is a happy ending.

# 6: TRAGEDY

The main character is a hero with a major flaw, which in the end will be their ruin and cause of great pity for their fall.

# 7: REBIRTH

An unexpected event forces the main character to go out their usual path, or change the way they live their life, until they understand the source of their mistake, change their behaviour after learning an important lesson, and carry on living as better people.

Books

Project Eight Ball (Books One & Two)

Flash Back and Extreme Peril by John Turiano

Project Eight Ball Series. John Turiano, 2020

What if time travel was a possibility? What if it actually was a reality and people could move back and forth in time? What alterations would it cause and what would be the consequences?

That’s what John Turiano delves into with his Project Eight Ball Series (three books in total so far).

In Book One, Turiano considers the possibility of going in the past and describes the vicissitudes of a group of scientists studying time travel. How great would it be to go back in time and prevent events with considerable impact on world history? We all probably would love that. Unfortunately, each time trip opens a new dimension, some sort of alternate reality, where the untampered reality keeps existing, while the new one develops in parallel. 

Problem is, not everyone goes back in time to prevent catastrophic events. Ultima Imperium is an example. Ultima Imperium, a radical secret society rooting back into 18th century Illuminati and considering itself the “Final Reich”, are using time travel to shape a new reality where they will be the only winners.

Book Two presents an alternate universe xenophobic Germany, no longer part of the European Union, where a black American soldier is accused of raping a civilian white girl. Ultima Imperium is behind a lot of decisions and the fear of an incurable disease pretty similar to Ebola has everyone on edge. It’s a scary, out of control situation that no one seems capable of stopping.

With events being unpredictably altered by a multitude of players and references to a too close home reality (unstoppable pandemics, the rise of far right movements), the book is a captivating, hard to put down read. Turiano depicts some very strong characters, each of them characterised in a way that is reminiscent of 1940s noir stories. However, the pace is somehow broken by the too frequent changes of narrative voice, space and time, unsettling the reader just like the characters are when they time travel. The lack of basic descriptions leaves a sense of dissatisfaction for not drawing the reader more into such a brilliant fictional world and idea, making us live, breathe and see what the protagonists are seeing.

But all in all, this is one of the best time-travel ideas I’ve come across since Back to the Future. As the author reiterates on a number of occasions, time travel presents an incredible paradox: if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, you would actually prevent your father and yourself from being born, but if you don’t exist, how can you kill your grandfather? Turiano, keeping this paradox top of mind the whole time, is able to escape it an a magistral way.

The Series is available to purchase at: https://amzn.to/3SHBkMe

About John Turiano

John is the author of three time travel adventures, blending science fiction and history in an exciting new way. He wants to write in multiple genres and next up is a psychological thriller.

John lives in upstate New York with his wife Sue and their dog Duffy. When not writing he can be found camping, hiking and biking. His most recent trips: Puerto Rico, where he hiked the El Yunque National Rain Forest; Alaska where he visited the Denali National Park; and Mexico where he explored the ruins of Tulum and an amazing river cave.